01 February 2007

Vini Speaks

(We have stayed up all night and day working on this. Again, please read gently. Our Maman is very reserved and we're really proud of her having the strength and courage to tell this. Almost all the words are hers exactly as she told us.)

I usually let my two daughters-in-spirit, Mai and Suni, do the talking, but they are insisting that I tell my story and Mai, especially is an irresistible force, so what choice do I have? They say to do it however I want, they'll transcribe, we'll edit together and put it together to sound good and make sense.

I was born in 1926 in Srinigar, Kashmir to a Sikh family. Girls married very young then, so I married my husband, Jotinder, in 1939 and we came illegally to America shortly after our marriage. Both families thought I was far too young to travel so far only to live illegally, but I insisted on going and they finally fgured out a way to smuggle me in. This was unusual because quite a few young men emigrated at this time, but very few risked taking their wives into foreign countries illegally. But young as I was, I adored my husband and refused to be separated from him. Both of our families have strong-willed women.

We joined my husband's father who had been in Canada for quite a long time. I bore our son Mandeep in 1941 when I was 14. My body was too young for child-bearing, so he was our only child. We were in America when he was born, so he was American by birth, but we moved right away to Canada where eventually we managed to get him legal papers like a birth certificate.

We were not really welcome in either country at that time, but we were resourceful and, as they say now, flew under the radar. We always knew Mai's family. Although they were Punjabi and we were Kashmiri, our families had always had close ties. It was good that we had friends.

Mai was born 10 years after Mani, as he was always called, and we always hoped the two would get married. It was one of our happiest days when they did. About a year later, their son was born. Guruji said that the child's name should start with 'S' and Mani thought that 'Mandeep and Sandeep and Mai,' had a great sound, so that's how he got his name. Everybody was very happy for a long time.

Mani and Mai had often spent summers in India when they were young, but Mai was never comfortable there and after their marriage they stayed in Canada. Mani, however, wanted very badly to go back to Harimandir Sahib in Amritsar and was always pestering Mai for them to go.

He finally persuaded her and they left in early May, 1984. I remember Mai was in a dither about the trip and tried to get him to postpone it until their fifteenth anniversary in 1985, but he refused. As far as I know, it was the only time he ever refused her anything. I don't know, but I have always wondered if he had some particular reason for wanting to go then.

They went to Amritsar.

I got letters from them, telling that there was a lot of tension, you could cut it with a knife. During Operation Blue Star they were taken in and questioned. I have saved the letter I got from Mani about that which he wrote after their escape from the Punjab because the Indian government wasn't letting anyone in or out at that time. A whole post earlier in this blog was devoted to that incident. He was so proud of her and her behaviour, but I began to urge them to come home. I had a bad feeling about them being there.

They stayed, though, and travelled some, but not much because Mai was pregnant with twin girls and he didn't want to risk her health. I love her, but even she will admit that she should be more careful about her health, and she wanted to keep moving around. They spent most of the time in the countryside near Delhi, but outside of the city because with her pregnancy, the smell of the air pollution made Mai sick.

The last week in October they returned to Delhi, with plans to fly home during early November. As you know, that didn't work out.

I remember hearing the news on the radio that Mrs. Gandhi had been shot, followed immediately by the news that it was Sikhs who had shot, or more properly executed, her. I immediately called them in Delhi and by a miracle, got through. They said it was good they were in the capital, that if there was trouble, that at least Delhi would be the safest place to be. We said good-bye. I never spoke to my son or grandson again, of course.

We soon heard about the antiSikh violence in Delhi and I nearly went mad. We tried and tried and tried to call, but couldn't get through. For nearly a week we had no idea what had happened to them. Then, Alain, Mai's eldest brother, came and told us that they had Mai and Suni and Guruji, but the others were all dead, and Mai was badly injured and would probably die. I am trying now, as Mai would say, not to bleed emotionally all over the computer, but that was the worst moment of my life.

I wished I could faint or maybe wake up and it was all a nightmare, but it was real. Every mother loves her child, but Mani was the kind of son everyone wishes they had, but not many really have. He was so wonderful, loving, strong, good to everyone and funny, he always made us laugh. I didn't understand how anyone could kill him. And Mai was as close to me as any daughter could be; growing up her own mother was usually gone and useless when she showed up - I'm sorry to say that, Mai, but you said to tell the truth - and when her father needed a woman to deal with her, I was her second mother. My grandson was pure joy, full of life and laughter - how could they be dead?

I will tell what I have never told anyone ever. I cursed life, I cursed the Gurus and I even cursed Waheguru. Not the way a Khalsa woman is supposed to react to the shaheedi of her family.

Mai was in a coma for 24 days, as I recall. During this time, Suni gave birth to a healthy baby girl, but refused to let her be named. She said Mai would name her when she woke up. We were all afraid that the baby would never have a name.

Then, one day, we were in her hospital room, where we spent most of our time and we heard a loud voice cry out,"What the fuck am I doing here?" (That really is exactly her first words.) We all jumped out of our skins, but we were overjoyed. "Where are Mani and Sandy?" We all fell silent. Someone had to tell her, but we all hesitated. Then she said that she knew they were dead, why wasn't she with them? Alain looked her square in the eye and said," I guess you weren't found worthy of martyrdom." They glared at each other for a time. Then she started laughing. Mai usually laughs like that when she doesn't know what to do.

We all gathered around her, not knowing what to expect next. Then the baby started crying. Suni held her out to Mai, who touched her wet little cheek. Suni said at once, "Mai, she needs a name." Mai said, "I'm not Guruji. But it seems we all need a little hope." So she became our little Hope, and she has always lived up to her name. She is now a lovely young lady of 22, just ready to graduate from the university. (She asks us to also include her name Harjinder, even if it's rarely used since it wouldn't do for her to have only a Western name.)

I remember all this vividly, but it all happened through a thick fog. It cleared a little with Mai's survival and I realised that I could not go through life filled with hatred and bitterness. The words of the Mool Mantar washed over me like a cool, healing stream,... nirbhao, nirvair... and I began to recover my senses. I have never recovered completely. As I have heard, you don't recover, you don't get used to it, you just learn to live with it. Or you don't.

Mai left us in 1985 to deal with her loss in her own way. Unknown to her until recently, I always made sure that I knew where she was, always, always hoping that some day she'd come back to us. It took twenty years of her searching for peace and healing and nearly dying again, but now we have become a family again. Although I am visiting now from India, we still live half a world apart in distance, but we are united as a family. Suni stayed with the family, went to the university and earned her doctoral degree in clinical psychology, while raising her daughter. She has specialised in helping people deal with and overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Neither of the girls has ever returned to India.
(We two add: Or ever intend to.)

In 1986 my husband died of a heart attack, a broken heart. He hardly spoke ten words from November 1984 until he died. I am not ready to discuss this part.

Since the bitterness and hatred, with the gracious help of Waheguru and the very Gurus I had cursed, had left me, I felt the need to take Amrit again, which I did.

After my husband's death, I moved to Amritsar, where I have lived since with his family. I shouldn't say this, but I went in hopes of helping to build our Khalistan by any means necessary, so this could never happen again. I still hope there is some way we can have our country, our sacred homeland, but now without killing and bitterness. The people of the Punjab, Sikh, Hindu and Muslim have been through too much. I pray we find a way to establish our Khalistan without causing more pain.

I have started talking and it seems I can't stop. I'm afraid that I am bleeding all over the computer. I hope someone will read this and then be willing to tell their own story. It is difficult, especially after being silent about it all for so long, but it is also a relief. We are Sikhs and we are strong and we are truthful, and this is a truth that needs to be told. It was not only those who were there whose lives have been devastated. Each of us who lived through that time has a story to tell. For me, this has become my time to tell.


Now I complete my account of the events of November 1984. I last left off with Mani's death.

I lay down and either slept or passed out. I believe I slept because I was aware of the passage of time. When I woke up, it seemed that my mind had cleared a bit. I sat up, still on the floor, and looked around.

Bodies and blood everywhere. And the smell. I have never read a description of the smell of the aftermath of a battle; I think no one really wants to describe it. Blood, of course, and urine and, pardon me, shit, mixed with the odour of violent death. Yes, there is an odour associated with violent death. Having experienced it, it cannot be forgotten.

Suni was sitting in a large chair, seemingly uninjured, still clutching the Guru with both arms around him. She glanced at me, but there was no recognition in her eyes. She turned her attention back to Guruji and ignored me.

I struggled stiffly to my feet and stood up. I had been badly beaten and, as it turns out, had gone into premature labour; in fact, it would take me many weeks to recover. At this time, though, I was experiencing no physical pain; my body must had produced a surfeit of endorphins.

From somewhere, I remembered that dead bodies were supposed to be washed with fresh yogurt (curds). We had some that Suni had been culturing in the kitchen. I went there and brought back a pail of water, some washcloths and the yogurt. Passing the body of the [male human] with the slashed neck, I kicked it in the head.

I went first to Mohan, washed his face with water and then yogurt, closed his eyes and kissed his forehead.

Next, I went to Balbir, washed his face with water and then yogurt, closed his eyes and kissed his forehead.

Having taken care of Suni's men, I went to my brothers.

I went to Bert, washed his face with water and then yogurt, closed his eyes and kissed his forehead.

I went to Eddie, washed his face with water and then yogurt, closed his eyes and kissed his forehead.

Last, I went to my men.

I went to Sandeep, washed his face with water and then yogurt, closed his eyes and kissed his forehead. Last,

I went to Mani, washed his face with water and then yogurt and kissed his forehead.

Done with that, I picked up the bowl of water, now red with blood, and the cloths I had been using. Glaring down at the body of the [male human] with the slashed neck, I stopped for a moment. Its eyes were still wide open in terror, the mouth gaped loosely. I looked at it for a moment, then tossed the cloths and dumped the bloody water on it. 'You wanted our blood? There, have it!' I cried out loud, my voice echoing in the silent room. I thought for a moment of mutilating the body in the way HT had been forged for, but, as our men's bodies were left intact, I chose not to.

I walked to Suni. 'Do you have a picture of Guru Nanak Dev Ji or Guru Gobind Singh Ji?' Still with a blank dazed look, she reached inside her shirt and pulled out some pictures. I looked through them and took the two I wanted. I held them up and told them. 'You see what has happened? They're all dead. You better be proud of them.' I started laughing, hysterically, I guess, and handed the pictures, now bloody from my hands back to Suni. She stuffed them back down her shirt.

My work done, I walked back to Mani, lay down beside him and

...the next thing I knew someone was trying to pull me off his body and I was refusing to let go. There was a lot of confusion and yelling in Hindi, a language I had trouble understanding in the best of times. I was, by this time more dead than alive; I couldn't move or talk or even open my eyes. My thinking was not rational. I knew only that nothing would get me away from Mani. Then I heard Suni scream at me, 'Mai, they're going to burn down the house. If you're here, you'll burn with it! You've got to let them take you! We're Sikhs. Even Hindus don't commit sati any more!' Sati? She really didn't understand. Or maybe she did. Please, just leave me with my husband. Looking back, I'm horrified. I can only say that, from the beating and from a large loss of blood, I was near death and my brain wasn't functioning properly. People kept pulling at me...

The next thing I was aware of was being in a hospital room in Montreal, about four weeks later.

Suni has many times assured me that the house burnt down with the bodies of our men inside.

I would love to be able to tell you how we were rescued. Unfortunately, the people who saved us, for their own reasons, do not want that story told and have refused me permission to write it here. So let me just say that, while their story will remain unwritten, their courage and sacrifice will not go unacknowledged.

Reading this now, I realise how gruesome it is. I have tried to tell the story without all the grizzly details, leaving those to your imagination. I have purposely not written a blow-by-blow description of the actual battle; it would add nothing positive to our story. Suffice it to say we fought hard and skillfully, but were too badly outnumbered to accomplish much. Also, I remind you that this was a home invasion, we were in no way the aggressors. All peaceful means had failed. And we took up the sword, as we had been taught.

I am most proud of the way we fought, each of us to the best of his or her ability, no one backing off. None of us, living or dead, are victims. Our dead men were, each of them, true saint-soldiers, deserving of the title 'Shaheed,' and we can all be proud of them and all the others who died during this battle. May the rest of us never forget their sacrifice and may we all live in a way that honours them and what they fought and died for!

Up to this point, all these posts have been adaptations of entries in Mai's personal blog. We are trying very hard to get Maman (Vini) to write or dictate her story, which has never been recorded. We hope that will be our next post.

If anyone reading this wants to start their own blog, go to the top of this page and click on the words 'Create Blog' in the right hand corner. and you will get full instructions. You have a choice; if you choose, you can make it public as we have and others can read it, or you can make it private, so only those you give permission to can read it. So please, don't hesitate. If you have a story to record please do it before it's too late. Remember, if we don't tell our stories, only the accounts of our enemies will remain.