29 January 2008

Mohan And Balbir

This is Suni. I haven't written here for a long time, but now I'm married and pregnant and happy and I'm ready to tell you about my first husband and our son.

I come from a wealthy khatri Sikh family. I mention that because it is important to my story. While I was at university studying psychology in Delhi, Papa Ji decided I needed a husband. Without consulting me, he looked and looked until he found me the perfect man. Then he told me. I agreed to meet him, but you'll find out later why I knew it would be a useless meeting.

The man was very nice. He was about 30, fair and handsome, educated, sophisticated, rich and seemed like a good man. He was a turbaned Gursikh, of course. Under normal circumstances I would have wanted to get to know him and maybe I would have married him. He could have provided me with a very prosperous life. My life would have been happy and uncomplicated.

Mohan was the problem. I had met him at university and he was just the opposite. He was my age, tall and handsome, but dark and he came from a very poor family. He was Sikh, but before he knew me he had never grown his kesh and took off his kara at night and when he showered. In short, he was what is called a 'dalit Sikh' and was at university only because of reservation. Although he was intelligent, there was no other way he could have gotten an education. When I met him, he was a bit scruffy and countrified, but when he spoke up, he always had something insightful and interesting to say. His background was completely different from anyone I had ever known because I had grown up in a cocoon of wealthy Sikh India. Of course, he fascinated me.

I made it a point to get to know him. I have never been the shy, demure Indian lady of the stereotype. If I really want something, I go after it. The long and the short of it is that I fell in love with him. I knew my family would never let us get married, but I was young and reckless. We secretly got married. This was before I was introduced to Papa Ji's gentleman.

I didn't know what to do, but I had to do something soon because Balbir had already been conceived. Terrified, I took a picture of Mohan and visited my parents. I told them all about him and about our marriage. It was worse than I had imagined. My father screamed and hollered and yelled. And then he struck me and knocked me to the floor. I didn't expect that. I had never known him to be violent. Then he turned and stomped away, leaving me with my mother. She picked me up and put her arms around me and cried. That was when I told her that I was going to have a baby. Then she really cried.

When my father returned, he was more calm, but no less angry. He apologised for hitting me and handed me a large cheque. 'I won't have my daughter living in poverty, but I can't condone this marriage. Now go and don't come back. You have joined this nobody's family. You're no longer my daughter.'

I left, but nothing is ever that simple. I knew if I destroyed that cheque, there could never be any hope he'd ever soften, but if I brought it home, it would be a terrible blow to Mohan's pride as a man. I deposited it in the bank and didn't tell anyone.

The break with my family was painful, but also a blessing. Now we could begin our real married life. We moved into a small flat, not very pleasant, but it was our first home and I loved it. The estrangement from my family wasn't total, either. My mother secretly stayed in touch with me, and my younger sister and my brothers sometimes visited. It wasn't comfortable, though. Mohan wasn't comfortable with them and they were, I'm sad to say, a little snobbish toward him. By this time, he had a respectable jura and was tying a dastaar, so he looked like a proper Sikh. I think that helped a little.

Now let me tell a little about him. He was from a village north of Delhi and came from a very large family. He had 13 siblings. They were poor but not destitute by Indian standards, they managed to eat and stay healthy. I think they must be from very strong stock. They were the opposite of my family in every way. They lacked money, but there was so much love there. They laughed and worked hard and I think in spite of their poverty were much happier than we were in my family. At first they were a little bit afraid of me and I admit I was apprehensive about them, but we got to know and love each other quickly. His mother first looked at me and said something like "I don't know how to be a mother-in-law to such a grand lady!" I laughed and told her to treat me just like any daughter-in-law who married her son without a dowry. We became friends at once. We lived in Delhi and built a little vegetable market business and made enough money to send some to them. We also made some investments that turned out very well. Mohan had a talent for investing.

Mohan was very even tempered most of the time. He was calm and able to take life as it came. He considered his background uncouth though and was ashamed of his family. This hurt me because they are good people and deserved better from him. He was big and strong physically, but unlike my Canadian cousins, he was no warrior. He was a great negotiator. He acquired the reputation of someone who could get people to settle disputes and he became a sort of neighbourhood small claims judge, sort of like The People's Court. He was kind and loving to me, an almost perfect husband. He felt guilty about my estrangement from my family, but I did my best to convince him that we both knew their reaction would be negative and we just needed to accept it and move on. When he was blessed with Amrit, he changed. It was as if all the lack of confidence and that lurking inferiority complex just vanished literally overnight.

Balbir was a different story. From the beginning, he was always in trouble. He was a finicky, colicky baby who grew into a cranky toddler. Please don't misunderstand me. He was our son and we both loved him so very much, but he was a problem. He lied. He stole. He hit the other children. We tried to teach him our values, but he was always in trouble. When he was of school age, we sent him to stay with Mohan's family in the country. We were hoping that he would get into less trouble away from the temptations of the city. We had been sending money regularly and the village school was good enough for the beginning of his education. It was a good move. His aunts and uncles simply wouldn't tolerate his misbehaviour the way we did. He had to do his chores and they were greatly increased with each incident of stealing or lying. He was intelligent enough to learn really fast that good behaviour made life more pleasant and bad behaviour made life quite unenjoyable. This was really hard for me. I missed him and it seemed too much like training a dog.

When he finished primary school, we brought him back to Delhi. At first, he was well-behaved, but I'm afraid I was too indulgent and before long, he was getting in trouble again. By this time, we had bought a nice house in a good area of Delhi and were quite respectable people. Mohan didn't want his son to throw jellybeans into the machinery of our lives. Luckily he took over the role of disciplinarian, but Balbir remained inwardly defiant.

It was in June, 1984, that Mani and Mai and Sandeep came to visit us. They had been in the hands of the Punjab police and had been let go when they realised they were Canadians, and then they had a hair raising escape from Punjab. When they showed up here, they were tired and dirty and Mai was pregnant like me but not so far along. The men were psychologically in bad shape, but Mai was in chardi kala. She has already explained about that. She was physically injured, but she didn't seem to care. I had known her from childhood when her family and Mani's would visit India in the summer. She always amazed me because she would do anything that came into her head that seemed interesting to her, no matter how outrageous it was. I'll leave it to her to tell about the time she flew off the roof. I think her biggest stunt was when she ran away and came home on the shoulders of a Nihung. That was Mai. She always had a sort of style.

You have heard that some people mix like oil and water? Well, Mohan and Mai mixed like sodium and water. BOOM!! He dislikes loud, brash, pushy, over confident, vulgar, uncouth women who think they're men. That was one of his more complimentary descriptions of her. Her description of him, under her breath was 'pussy wuss.' When he learned that her father was jatt, that did it. The only people hew hated more than brahmins, even our nice neighbours were jatts. She became 'that half caste jatt brahmin bitch who pretends she's a Sikh.' to him. Never mind that those terms are all contradictory, that was just his way of being insulting. He did admit she was beautiful, though. On the other hand, she sweetly shared with me that he was too damned weak to be a sant, much less a sipahi, but he was very handsome. I wonder if they could have gotten along if they would have both dropped their prejudices?

Sandeep had a wonderful effect on Balbir. He had a good effect on everyone, though. A few people are like that and Sandeep was one of them. Mohan was even willing to overlook that Mai was his mother and he loved Sandeep, too. Sandeep was a Gursikh like his parents and from the first had decided that he and Balbir had to arrange to take Amrit together. Amrit? Balbir? Our delinquent son started getting up at amrit vela to pray, can you imagine? He had always kept his kesh, but wore only a patka and really didn't take good care of his hair. That changed at once. Sandeep stuck out his chest and said, "What's wrong with you? I've been tying a dastaar since I was seven." So Balbir started tying a turban, and Sandeep insisted it be tied well. At this time also, Balbir wanted to be called Billy. Sandeep would have nothing to do with that. "They tried to call me Sandy. Sandy! What kind of a name is that for a Sikh? And Billy is even worse. Bilbar is much better. Isn't that the name the Guru Ji told the panj piyare to give you?" After a time, Sandeep relented a bit and they began calling each other Bilbo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. Sandeep also began teaching Balbir gatka. How I wish he had taught Mohan as well.

That leaves Mani. All he could see of Mohan was that he hated Mai. Mani was a very rational, logical person, except where Mai was concerned. She was perfect and that was that, so those two were metaphorically at each other's throat whenever they were together. Poor Mai. She wanted peace, I think. I think she also enjoyed the way he stood up for her though. As they say, he had her back.

We all went to stay for awhile with his family in the village. We were two pregnant ladies and the air of Delhi was thick and grey black and barely breathable. If only we had stayed there. We decided to have a big family reunion in Delhi. We invited their families from Punjab and Kashmir and Canada and Mohan's and mine. My parents refused to come, but my sister and brothers were there. In all we had 39 people, quite a big crowd.

That is how we were when SHE was executed. When it became clear that Sikhs were being murdered, we quickly divided into two groups, cut the hair and run and hide, and Sikhs. When the dust settled, we Sikhs were 11, including three unborn children. I cannot express how proud I was of my husband and son at that time. They both stayed. I think even Mai and Mani gained some respect for Mohan. Mohan, however, wasn't gracious. He went to the room where they were staying, brought her purse and passport and return ticket. He handed her those objects, then he tossed the car keys at her and told her to leave, this is a battle for Sikhs. I thought Mani would kill him, but Mai held him back. I have never seen anyone as cold as she was then. Her voice would have frozen hell. "It doesn't matter whether I'm a Sikh or not. This is my family and I stand with them. " She sat the purse and passport and ticket on the table, walked over to him and dropped the car keys at his feet. They glared at each other for a moment. I had no idea what would happen, but our sons stepped forward and separated them. They said that there were people who wanted to kill us, we should save our personal differences for later. Mani muttered, "This isn't over."

It was over though. They never had the chance to have it out with each other.

Those are my first husband and my son. We had a good life together and loved each other and made a nice family. In the end, when it counted, Mohan became a sipahi and they both died as shaheeds.

That cheque my father gave sat in the bank all those years building interest. I still had our investments and Mai's family in Canada have enough money, so I never needed it. It has been donated where I believe it has done some good.