Sunday, August 28, 2011

Return of Daadi -- by Om Juneja

Now that Daadi had died lying in bed and not on the floor, that too without lightening the oil lamp, who was going to guide her to heaven? How was she to find the way because there was no black cow with white patches in the room when she died?  The pure white money that Daadi thought could be used for buying the cow that would carry her soul through the oceans of life remained in her clenched fist unused. What was to be done with this money that rightfully belonged to the maternal uncle? Should it be given to Punditji or to the temple in donation or should it go back to Mamaji, our maternal uncle? Do we still need to donate the cow to expiate the family from the sin of selling chrome leather?

All these questions needed answers before the cremation. So all the male members of the family went in a conclave, while all the women got busy with preparing Daadi for cremation. Some neighbours went to buy huge logs, the bamboo sticks, dry grass, white and red cloth sheets, earthen water pots, cow-dung cakes, flower garlands and a host of other things for performing the last rites for the dead.

Hearing the news of the death of Daadi, Mahashaji, a neighbour, came to pay his last respects to her. Seeing him there the women had a sigh of relief. He was a practicing priest in the reformist Hindu movement of Arya Samaj and was knowledgeable in such matters. So the women requested him to guide them in performing the funeral, as the elder males, who were in conclave debating the issue, had not resolved the big riddle of Daadi’s place in heaven or hell. Punditji, who had suggested expiation of the sin by donating a cow, followed the traditional Hindu scriptures of Sanatan Dharma and the Puranas. He was yet to be called for.  

Taking control of the situation, Mahashaji started chanting Vedic mantras. Hearing the chanting, the elders dissolved the conclave immediately without resolving the riddle. Father asked Mahashaji to stop the chanting, as they were yet to reach a consensus on the issue of cow donation.  Quoting the authority of the Vedas, Mahashaji said there was no such thing as heaven or hell. Everything is here on this earth, he said quoting some verses in Sanskrit. We must live our lives in such a way that death facilitates the journey of the soul into a new life, which happens as soon as the soul departs from the body. Denouncing the authority of the Puranas, he asked how can a black cow with white patches save someone from damnation if there is such a punishment for selling cow’s leather?

Reciting some more verses from the Bhagwat Gita, he told us that Daadi had not died. She had only changed her body. Like we change our clothes when they are torn, Daadi had just discarded this body. She would soon come in a new body, which would be more beautiful because she was so pure, loving, chaste and giving that the Almighty would certainly give her a very beautiful human body. Such a good soul, Mahashaji declared always gets a human form and not the body of a cat or a dog.  

The idea that Daadi was not dead and that she would be soon with us as a young child excited me and my brother, who wanted her to be a boy like us so that we could play with him.  Now the face of Mahashaji looked very radiant to us. Gloom started disappearing from our minds. We saw a glow on the face of Father and his brothers who seemed to agree with Mahashaji as he was so learned that he recited a mantra from the Vedas or a verse from the Bhagwat Gita after every sentence that he spoke. Unlike Punditji who had frightened us with a vivid description of hell, Mahashaji took us out of the dark that had enveloped the family. The feeling of guilt that I had because of our disclosure about the business of Father started disappearing. After all Daadi was going to be with us soon as a child.  Comforted in this belief, we started watching the ceremony with interest once again.

Men prepared a stretcher with a few bamboos, some hay and dry grass. Daadi covered in a white sheet was laid on this. Neighbours, friends and family members laid floral garlands and wreaths on her corpse. Women who were wailing so far, started crying and weeping loudly. Attired in white pyjamas Father carried a water pot in his one hand and burning incense sticks in the other. Four uncles and cousins now lifted the stretcher on their shoulders and all the males lined up to march to the cremation grounds on the banks of river Yamuna behind Taj Mahal. Mahashaji again recited some verses and sprinkled water on the road. The procession then started marching. Some one spoke ‘Ram Nam Sat Hai’ loudly. The name of Lord Rama is the only Truth thus became the strain that was repeated in a singsong voice by the marching congregation, which soon disappeared on its way to the cremations grounds.

We went to Mother and other women who did not accompany. Women and children did not go for the cremation. They stayed at home wailing and crying. Soon this also stopped and women became busy with cooking which had not been done ever since Daadi died. Seeing no one around me, I particularly became morose and hid myself in a corner waiting for Father to return with a small baby from the cremation ground. Mahashaji had told us that Daadi was going to change herself into a beautiful baby soon after cremation. Thinking these thoughts soon I felt sleepy. I now clearly saw Daadi, who had changed herself into a small boy. This boy had the bright and loving eyes of Daadi. I tried to talk to him. He did not speak. I shook his arms. He did not respond. I shook his legs. Nothing happened. When I looked at his face, it was pale. I got frighten and shrieked. Mother came running. She shook me up and then hugged me. I told her sobbing what I had seen. She told me that Daadi had died forever and would not come back.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Unusual origins – A Sikh from Multan

Interview on Aug 05 2011

By Reena Kapoor

Camera, Lighting by Iram Nawaz

We interviewed Mr. Preet Mohan Singh Kapoor on August 5th 2011 in his San Ramon, CA home. Mr. Kapoor had graciously agreed to give us his time and share his family’s experiences and story. Iram Nawaz and I arrived a few minutes early to set up and get started. Pretty soon we were listening to Mr. Kapoor’s vivid descriptions of pre-partition life in the Lyallpur, Multan (now in Pakistan); and then he recounted how his family moved, just before partition, to Faridkot and Delhi and finally settled in Panipat after partition was announced.

Mr. Kapoor relied on his own remarkable young memory, as well as on accounts from family members that he had heard repeated over the years.  All of us with parents or other older family members who encountered partition know exactly what this means – you grow up hearing the stories of partition over and over again and pretty soon they are ingrained in your psyche as if you had been there.

Mr. Kapoor was only three years old when his entire extended family decided to leave their ancestral home in the Multan region and move initially to Faridkot (India). They were unusual in that there were very few Sikhs in Multan; in fact Mr. Kapoor is still unique as a Sikh in that he speaks a little Multani (language). In the summer of 1947, partition had not yet been announced but the air was rife with talk of trouble.  Many people like Mr. Kapoor's family left their homes thinking that once political negotiations were settled and communal tensions calmed, they would be able to return home. But that was not to be. Partition was announced only a few months later and in August 1947 all hell broke loose. Mr. Kapoor never went back.

Eventually the whole family resettled in Panipat and started a new life there. Mr. Kapoor recounted many incredible challenges they faced in their efforts to restart their lives; there was no running water or even electricity for many years in their home. It was inspiring to hear these stories and appreciate – as I have come to over the years – the strength and resilience of dislocated survivors to rebuild their lives from scratch. I thank Mr. Kapoor for welcoming us into his home, taking time out of his schedule and sharing these stories with us.

It is inspiring, enlightening – and sometimes incredibly saddening – to conduct these interviews and listen to these extraordinary stories. All in all I feel lucky to have this opportunity.  But sometimes during these serious encounters there are also moments of hilarity and lightness.  In an effort to capture these accounts with excellent quality audio and video we insist that we find a quiet room where we can interview our subjects uninterrupted. This was the case with Mr. Kapoor as well, which he and his wife fully accommodated.  However during the interview we did have some close calls, which in retrospect were quite funny.  At one point their son entered the home singing loudly, but quickly caught himself and we were able to recover and go on. And then right smack in the middle of the interview we heard loud cackling from the next room followed by high pitched “Hello, hello, hello” like someone was making prank phone call.  Iram and I both looked at each other in horror.  I continued the interview but Iram, my intrepid and smart partner, walked over to the next room and then came back apparently having quieted things down.  We did not hear these sounds again and I continued on wondering what had happened.  Once the interview ended Iram said with a twinkle, “Mr. Kapoor your parrot was quite a challenge…”, which is when I realized it was the talking bird that had interrupted us. Mr. Kapoor said, “Yes he loves to talk to anyone walking by the window!”. We could not help but burst out laughing.

Note:  Mr. Preet Mohan Singh Kapoor is not related to Reena Kapoor.