03 February 2008

Coping - A Reply To Sundari

Every day you must arise and say to your heart,
I have suffered enough and now I must live because the light of the sun must not be wasted,
it must not be lost without an eye to appreciate it.
Simone Schwarz-Bart
with thanks to Ramina

A few days ago, I read a post on the site The Langar Hall, about a novel concerning, among other things, the events of 1984. As readers of this blog know well, I was involved in those events. A series of comments ensued between the author of the article (not the author of the novel), Sundari. That exchange follows, first with a comment by me, and the rest of the exchange following

By Mai Harinder Kaur on Jan 30, 2008

I am a survivor of the Delhi Pogrom (1984). I have been trying to write a semifictional account of what happened to us: two fathers, two sons, two pregnant mothers, two brothers and three unborn children. We have told the nonfiction story on the blog in various posts. It's hard to write.

I would like to make the point that it has never been proven that we Sikhs were behind the bombing of AI 182. That belief has been fostered primarily by the reporter Kim Bolan of the Vancouver Sun, who seems to have an antipathy toward the Sikh community. There are other viable theories.

By Sundari on Jan 30, 2008

Mai Harinder Kaur, Thank you for your comments. I cannot imagine what you went through but believe these are the types of stories that need to be told. I wish you luck with your writing!

You are correct that it has never been proven that Sikhs were behind the AI 182 bombing, and I hope my post did not come across as suggesting that. However, it was interesting to me that an association was made in the media and it stuck… and I was reminded of it when i read Badami's novel. Personally, i don't think she did a good job at making the connection, but from what i have read of the author it is clear that she believes the AI 182 bombing was a sort of reaction to the events of 1984.

Nevertheless, this was a work of fiction…

By Mai Harinder Kaur on Jan 30, 2008

Your post neither states nor implies that we Sikhs had anything to do with that horrible bombing. I just wanted to state explicitly what I said.

The nonfiction version of our 1984 stories are on our blog The Road To Khalistan. The title refers to the way we three women became convinced that we cannot be safe without our nation. The links to the stories can all be found at


Our stories lack some features I have read in others. No one of us was burned alive or raped. We do tell our stories in a very personal way and in some detail.

BTW, I love your website.

By Sundari on Jan 31, 2008

Mai Harinder Kaur, I appreciate you sharing your experiences. After reading through some of your posts, I wonder what coping mechanisms you have used over the years to deal with what you went through. On this blog we have previously discussed the psychological impact of torture and the effect is has on the health and well-being of victims. So, i wonder how you dealt with the experiences (I'm sure your writing is therapeutic) or whether there were any services offered in the community you live in now.

By Mai Harinder Kaur on Feb 1, 2008

Sundari Ji,

Really, there is no short, easy answer.

I wrote quite a long answer, but upon reading it, I realise that it would not be appropriate for a comment here.

I would however be happy to share it with you personally, if you would email me at simayanan@gmail.com

I have not yet heard from Sundari, but I think all this would make an interesting blog post, so I decided to publish it here. And this is my reply to her.

I read that article with some interest.

Strange. I have never really thought of myself as a torture victim survivor (there, that's better!), although certainly the encounter in Amritsar would qualify me.

Talking about coping with the effects of the whole experience - Amritsar and then Delhi - that would, I think take a book.

Physically, I have a few scars, only a few cuts and burns on my arms are visible. From the beating in Delhi, I lost most of my disposable internal organs, and my right knee was damaged. Today that has developed into advanced osteoarthritis; some days I have trouble walking. In addition, I have a torn rotator cuff on my right shoulder and a torn gastrocnemius in my left leg. These still bother me - cause pain - from time to time.

Coping mechanisms: running, hiding, denial, withdrawal, drugs, alcohol, plotting revenge, from about 1985 - 1997. Not very successful. I was plagued with depression, backflashes, insomnia, nightmares. During this time, I spoke of what had happened to almost no one. I left my family and the Sikh community and lived in a sort of limbo. I got married in 1989; I'm still married to him, but have never discussed these events with him.

In 1993, I had a mild stroke. After that, my mental state deteriorated gradually over several years.

In 1997, I had a complete breakdown, physical and mental, and spent some time in a mental hospital. They gave me some psychological tests and determined that I had PTSD, but as far as I know, never inquired into why. I might be wrong, as this time in my life is still a bit foggy to me. I do know they dosed me with all sorts of drugs that made me act more acceptably outwardly and did lessen the backflashes, but simply forced me deeper inside myself. So I guess I didn't cope very well.

When left on my own, I stopped taking all their drugs, which at least let me feel less like a zombie and more like a human being.

I remained more or less in that state until about 2004. I had some counselling, but it accomplished little, as I never opened up about 1984. My bad, I guess.

Then one day, I just sort of seemed to wake up. I found myself at a gurdwara and gradually returned to the Sikh community, much to the dismay of my Christian husband. That was really, when I started some sort of recovery, though. In preparation for taking amrit a second time, I began writing the story of what had happened to me and, and sometime later, in a moment either of clarity or insanity published these stories in a public blog.

I want to make it clear, that in the years from 1985-2004, although I was in bad shape - except for the breakdown in 1997 - the people around me had no idea there was anything wrong. I was able to outwardly keep up a good front and live a 'normal' life.

It was my return to the sangat that really advanced my recovery, but as these things happen in life, shortly after I took amrit for the second time, I had a major stroke and died twice - no vital signs - and have had to work very hard to recover from that. That stroke might well have been my salvation, though. It forced me to either fight the battle of my life or to just quit. Obviously, I chose to fight and in many ways, I'm in great shape today. The body is a mess, but I can walk and talk and my intelligence is mostly intact. The left side of my body is partially paralysed, but I'm working on that. And I have a love for all things Sikh that I can't even begin to describe.

Over the years I seem to have lost some of my social savoire faire, but I hope to regain that with practice.

Today, my main residual problem from 1984 is insomnia. You know, 'Sleep no more, Rajiv hath murdered sleep.'

So now I have told you more than you ever wanted to know. What can I say, I'm a writer. I write. And there is no editor with a metaphorical red pencil looking over my shoulder!



  1. Dear Mai Bhenji:

    I have been reading your blog for well close to a year, and have wanted to commend you for sharing your story with the world.

    This post in particular sheds light on how the spirit of Guru Gobind Singh Ji is alive and transforming even the most strong survivors into living "The Impossible Dream," as you have so eloquently linked on the side of your page here.

    I have nothing to say except thank you for the inspiration.

  2. Dear PK,

    Vaheguru ji ka khalsa
    Vaheguru hi ki fateh!

    Whoa! How cool. I have often wondered why people so rarely comment in this blog. I have about a fourth the number of readers in my personal blog, and get many more comments there.

    Is it because people are embarassed to talk to a 55 yr old woman who bares all in public on the Internet, lol?

    You even read my right hand column!

    Some time ago, when we had told our stories, I was going to quit writing this blog, as its purpose was accomplished. Several people emailed me, asking me not to do that, ergo, I kept writing, although Suni and Vini bowed out, for the most part. A message like yours tells me it's worthwhile.

    Guru Gobind Singh Ji has saved me several times in different ways. He is a good and loving father who doesn't give up on us even when we've given up on ourselves. Even when we purposely break the rules. As I wrote a few days ago, he flat refused to give me back my worthless head. Vaheguru's kirpa! I am only just beginning to discover how good and wonderful he really is!

    Thank you so much for writing.

    Now, I need to go tilt some windmills...

  3. Oh, darn, I guess I forgot to ask. Who were you when you were born in 1746? Anybody I'd remember? Just curious.

  4. Vaheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
    Vaheguru Ji Ki Fateh

    Brilliant post Mata Mai, after talking to you sometimes I forget just what you've been through as you like you said 'I'm in great shape today'

    Vaheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
    Vaheguru Ji Ki Fateh

  5. Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa,
    Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!

    Dear Mata Mai (I am borrowing this greeting from the anon above, because I like it's sweetness.)

    In 1746 I was a nameless small bird flying over an endless ravine. I am still that small bird.

    I am glad I commented on your page today... I hadn't commented earlier because of the gravity of what you write and I simply wanted to respect your thinking and writing space without intruding my own thoughts. But I shall comment more often now that I know it is sustenance for keeping the words flowing.

    Yes I have read your side widgets etc. I appreciate the way they complement the spirit of your writing. This blog often feeds my dreams for (self)-liberation so I read the details carefully.

    Anyways I shall continue to read and comment. :)


  6. Dear Mai,

    I apologize for my delay in getting back to you. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. What you describe shows me that not enough has been done to provide treatment and services to torture survivors. Nevertheless, I'm glad that you found strength in your return to the sangat and through taking Amrit. I wish you well... keep writing!

  7. Ms sundari,sikh made mistake.India made mistake.That is past.If India is strong nobody will make mistake.let us make India strong.

  8. Oh, boy, one of my favourite things! Talking to readers. Real live, honest-to-goodness readers!

    Anonymous, Dear Son,
    Vaheguru ji ka khalsa
    Vaheguru ji ki fateh!

    Always feels good to greet you. But I did a bad. Back to 186. I'm trying harder, though! Have to keep on keeping on...

    It's called recovery. Like most worthwhile things, not easy, but possible.

    Dear PK (I have decided you deserve capitals)- You may certainly call me Mata Mai, I love it!

    Little bird - that reminds me of the story I heard about that little bird that lives at Harimandir Sahib and spends her (his?) days on the roof singing kirtan. I think that would be a blessing for many, many incarnations, eh?

    I really do plan my blogs - all of them - carefully. I often wonder if anyone notices these things. Now I know that two people do! (Someone else told me in an e-mail.) sometimes - 2 has 'he's not heavy, he's my brother,' a song with a particular meaning to me.

    Dear Sundari - I'm glad you found your way here. I learned a lot writing this. At present, I live in the States. The quality of psychological help - like everything else here - depends on ability to pay. It does amaze me, however, how I could get a diagnosis of PTSD and no one wondering what happened. I would think there would at least be some simple curiosity, lol. And let me mention how happy I am with the pictures I found for this post. Sometimes it happens.

    Being a Sikh was a cause of all this, and also the cure. Life is strange. 'Whether it is clear to you or not, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Somewhere along the line, I began to understand what Dad meant when he kept saying, 'It's all the hukam of Vaheguru.

    Dear Jatinder Grewel - I am not Sundari, but I beg to disagree. We Sikhs were not wrong and all a strong India will accomplish for us is more oppression!

    Mai, TINT

  9. Hee mayee,I tell u India is a superpower

  10. Oyeeee! jatinder grendel, the only superpower is Vaheguru or whatever you choose to call her/him/it.

    Unless you worship Bharata Mata...some brahamanist do, I know.

    We will have Khalistan. It's not if, only when and how.

  11. Dear PK - I am hoping you have subscribed to this post comments. I came across an article in the Gurmat Learning Zone about birds in Guru Nanak Dev Ji's writings. Unfortunately, the link wasn't given and it's too long to reprint here. If you'd like the article, contact me at simayanan@gmail.com.

    Here is the end, which I really like. And please don't feel sorry I associate you with birds. I love bird. My own pet parrot even has her own blog!

    To anyone who looks on birds as the finest creations of God, the Adi Granth would make an ecstatic reading, an experience of such an inexpressible joy in which one is literally carried on the wings of the birds, singing unto the glory of the joyous dawns. For that is the characteristic of Guru Nanak's poetry, that is prophecy, and prophecy that is music and music that is divine.
    To the infinite human variations of intellectual endowments, the Adi Granth is a great communion. The birds that perish and the birds that in perishing live in this holiest of the books, cover a vast range.
    There are the chirping mynas, the prancing egrets, the snow-white swans, the shrieking koels, the forlorn papeehas, the fierce hawks, the migrating cranes and of course the ever present and ever cawing crows. They share the human characteristic of the body being made of clay and yet they are transmuted into images that live and abide; images that are so powerful evocative as much of a landscape as of a picture, a sound and a prophecy.
    Life has been compared by poets and prophets to a journey and sometimes to a bridge. The sun sets and the sun rises as the cycle of seasons rolls on inexorably. We, the airy nothings, caught in the cycle of birth and death appear and bow out of the world, more often unsung and unlamented. We can only achieve liberation through Him. But before that happens to the blessed few, we are the birds who rise in quest of food and drink in the morning and return to roost in our ramshackle nest-like abodes of concrete mud and mortar:
    Like birds of dusk settling on trees
    To roost for the night
    Some joyous, some sorrowing; all lost in themselves.
    When dawns the day and gone is the night
    They look up at the sky and resume the flight.



Please feel free to speak your mind. Dissension is allowed and welcomed. I only delete illegal comments and spam. OK, maybe obscene, but not usually.

If you want to contact me personally, my address is theroadtokhalistan@gmail.com