An exciting journey of life within an ever expanding COSMIC space
An exciting journey of life within an ever expanding COSMIC space
Tejinder Singh Bedi
We all live in space. In-fact all creation has to. Beginning with the space gifted within our mothers’ wombs until ending with the end of our present life cycles. My space-walk dates back to 1953, the year God put me in my mother’s womb but does bring with itself the childhood and other memories of the past even a few years before that — in particular from 1947 to 1984 and through some years later too that altered all of my outer, personal and living space paradigms. Entrenched so deeply in the mind from the tales heard from my elders, ancestors or lived through in person.
My grandfather, Bawa Shiv Das (13th in descendance of Guru Nanak Dev) was a leading educationist and reformer of the pre-independent India. Father, (Bawa Amarjit Singh) after graduating from the Foreman’s Christian College, Lahore had started with the Food and Civil Supplies department a few years ago. His younger siblings included four growing sisters and one youngest brother, just about nine then. Granny (Abnash Kaur)being the legendary housekeeper.
Having stood first at the Prince of Wales College in Jammu in BA (Honors) in English and Sanskrit in 1919 — a whole range of careers from police to defense were open before my grandfather but looking at the extremely low levels of literacy in the country, he decided to make teaching, education and social-service his life long passions after topping yet again in his Bachelors in Training from the Central Training Institute in Lahore. Teaching I heard from my ancestors that gave more than half a dozen *BA, BTs or B Eds to society during the sixties to our developing country had continued by then as a very highly respected profession, even in its outer space. His having topped at the Graduation, family’s successful bout with the infamous pandemic of the last century and a miraculous survival at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre the same year led the elderly have him baptize as a Singh giving all his following generations this middle name of a Singh, now also supporting well-kept unshaven long hair, mush and beard alongside all other strict tenets of Sikhism as against Dev, Chand or Das for the name in the earlier gens since Nanak. In his outer space thus Bawa Shiv Das had now become Bawa Shiv Singh with the tradition taking over down all the generations following him thereafter. While the baptism personified the family’s personal space, its living and outer space did undergo a series of frequent changes as the time went by and has kept going.
The D Day arrived and India’s partition was announced. Reckless mayhem erupted as communities got divided on Muslim and anti Muslim lines. Mass scale arson, loot, murders, rapes became the order of the days following for long. Massive migrations commenced across the borders. The space the ancestors had been enjoying for decades was suddenly no longer for keeps. The 1947 divide forced the family to shift to India. We were lucky that our ancestors survived and that they had escaped death staring right in their eyes on more than many occasions somehow though all that my grandfather had raised through over 25 years of his service there had been lost for good and had to be left behind. My father lost his service record of over two years back in Pakistan and had to start life afresh in the new India. The man sitting next to my father on a bullock cart — used as the first escape vehicle while shifting from the present Pakistan back to the border across in India was attacked by a few armed rioters and brutally murdered. Another lost his arm with a few others close by falling like pins too. A divine blessing saved my father and other members of our family as the attackers fled on seeing an army of young Sikhs following them to combat these butchers. A kind hearted trucker halted immediately and gave lift to my grandparents, the other elderly and most female survivors and dropped them safely at **DeraBabaNanak, my grandfather’s ancestral living abode on the Indian side. My father and my uncle found refuge in separate overloaded public transport vehicles to somehow make it to **Ambala but by now separated from each other!
From everything to almost nothing, starting life from the small space a tented accommodation could offer however did not deter their willpower to overcome the huge setback and to strive for recovering and reclaiming all the space lost in a matter of a few hours only. After all, if some space might get pilfered by the ill intending, nothing stops the residual left from continuing to expand again like the cosmic galaxies themselves!
As luck would have it, for his illustrious past my grandfather was soon restored to his gazetted position and assigned additional responsibility as a Camp Commandant for these largest refugee camps being set up from **Jullundur to **Ambala to **Faridabad. Both my father and my uncle joined a team of young volunteers dedicated to serving free meals; out of langars set up by a large number of well to do Hindu Sikh families jumping in to offer all kinds of support for the unmanageable streams of refugees. The volunteering service was also God’s design to reconnect all the family members together once again and the family soon came to terms with the losses and the possibilities of a new dawn, new seasons and fresh challenges life was now offering to all to plan a new beginning. Creating a whole new space for the entire family afresh was a huge challenge before my grandfather. The loss of Chevrolet or Ford; as his pet dark brown robust horse was called, troubled the family more than the loss of his house, his Willy Jeep, other belongings including grandma’s jewelry that she herself had decided to leave in a Gurudwara in Gujranwala.
As this new phase of life started in the new India again, my generation started arriving too. Being a bright student all-through; a topper both in academics as well as most co-curricular pursuits my grandfather wanted me to become an engineer. Father wanted me to become a bureaucrat and my mother — a playback singer, as she herself was a great singer. And finally, I did end up as a corporate technocrat — a sandwich of sorts between the three expected! But my engineering degree had sealed an option that for a better future I would have to move out and away from both my grand-parents and parents as back in my home-state of Punjab the choices were limited. This change in my outer as well as living space however was to look for a better career at the cost of personal space always desirous to be with my parents.
I was the youngest to qualify as an engineering graduate from the Punjab Engineering College of Chandigarh in 1973
and had maintained this spree until becoming the youngest functional manager in Maruti — a prestigious new company of the Government of India by 1984.
But then 1984 turned out as another test to reclaim the space we had just started consolidating for shared living with all once again. But that was not to be and this time there was no partition of the lands but a man-made divide of one common soul — once a Dev or a Chand or a Das before becoming a Singh and one that ripped through many unsuspecting souls through an organized massacre that could even be easily classified as a genocide. The unfortunate incident of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India by her own Sikh bodyguards had polarized the social fabric of the nation against the entire Sikh community in less than a few hours.
All Sikhs without exception were suddenly seen as accomplices to Indira Gandhi’s assassins. On Oct 31, 1984, I was in my office chair when around 10.30 hours, the company’s chairman & managing director, a close aide of the PM’s family called in and said that a national calamity had occurred and that I along with all other Sikh employees should leave the factory/offices for our homes as soon as possible. He had not said anything beyond that. But later on having witnessed the massive mass scale attacks inflicted upon Sikhs everywhere in the country and on their businesses and properties it had become abundantly clear that the sudden immediate message was obviously based upon some hunch that some major offensives against the Sikh community were already being feared or plotted.
We were staying in a company leased accommodation owned by an elderly couple — Chopras by Surname who had both retired as Principals from the local colleges on their first floor. As mobs started organizing in large numbers & arson and violence started spreading, our landlord asked us either to leave or to shut ourselves inside the house, cover all windows, openings with curtains and keep the lights shut off during nights as they started getting the news that houses hosting Sikh families were being marked to be set on fire following a proper listing of all such locations in a phased manner. As feared, on Nov 01, the next day a huge mob of around 500 persons reached our residence around 11 am asking our landlord to hand us all over to them. The couple pleaded that we had already run away to seek shelter in some Gurdwara (A place of worship for followers of Sikhism and anyone else too) in the city in the middle of the night and now any loss inflicted will only be a loss to their property. As if God sent, a close friend Gulab Singh Yadav was kind enough to come by and whisk away my first family car to a safe place; a Landmaster — (another Chevrolet horse this time), that used to be parked in the porch below, only minutes before the mob had trickled in further supporting the impression that we had actually disappeared to some other place to save ourselves. This friend was kind enough to diligently return the car to us when the burning turmoil started cooling off after a few days.
It had taken me over a week to be able to resume my office but at the workplace too the scenario had completely altered. Sudden hatred towards Sikhs all around came as an easy tool at the hands of one of my highly insecure and jealous colleague, who in my absence had the audacity of referring to me as a terrorist in a formal meeting of the management committee we were part of. Although in normal circumstances a comment like this may have hardly been taken very seriously, in the continuing timeline of persisting tensions all around it did hurt me a lot. Before this unfortunate development, I had been listed on top of the first batch of key employees selected to be sent for training in Japan but now my name had been summarily dropped from the list as another obvious bias. As if this was not enough, my kids, then just 5 & 7 started getting taunted as children of a Sikh terrorist (!) — imagine children in such tender age groups being addressed as such for no reason or rhyme. On top of that my family started getting threatening calls in the middle of the night to leave Gurgaon and my position in the Government Company failing which my children would be kidnapped. Maruti in Gurgaon was a fast up-coming PSU (a Public Sector Undertaking) promising the first peoples’ car with cent per cent Japanese technology. Being a key change agent, I was on the forefront of implementing an altogether new work-culture and strict disciplinary norms dictated by the Japanese work practices. Though my little kids had been accustomed to travelling by a fixed rickshaw puller to school and back, with threats of their kidnapping this was no longer a possibility. Dropping the kids safely and then reaching the office ten minutes before the start of the General Office shift became a huge challenge. And the midnight threatening calls did not take a break. Invasion in my personal space by now was almost complete!
The message was loud and clear — to move out and away and clear the space we were still struggling to hold. We had become unwanted once again without any partition having taken place this time. Unable to cope with the daily taunts and threats to family, we decided to shift out. An unforgettable, an unmatchable selection by Hindustan Lever (now Unilever) as Personnel Manager of its Sewri — largest plant in Mumbai raised hopes of a reclaiming our lost space once again but then having learnt open threats that no new Sikh will be allowed to come to Mumbai.by the likes of Datta Samant — a powerful Trade Union Leader & Baba Bal Saheb Thakre — a Kingpin of State politics, my father threatened me that if I moved to Mumbai under the prevailing tensions, he would cut off all relationships as a son with me forced us to hold back. And back home in Punjab my parents were also struggling to manage life with a severe chronic state of schizophrenia of my youngest brother for many years already and they needed me to be as close to them as I could be. A second next opening came for Rajasthan in Jaipur, even where it became difficult to secure admission for our children in any good schools as also to fix a good house on rent as being a migratory Sikh family from NCR of Delhi, we were still being seen with suspicion! And thus a re-migration back to the divided Punjab to reclaim the space being continuously lost became the only answer. Back in Punjab, we did get another life but on the terms of the corporate sector in Punjab that dictated, “You have to accept what is offered for you have no choice” ! The schools for the kids were no different for considering their enrollments.
The space around us however was still shining and bright. Yet another phase of life had launched. Challenges in Punjab were no less daunting as ugly politics targeting migratory Sikhs was still quite ripe until some clarity emerged in the fabric again by the mid nineties and the likes of us were recalled by the NCR of Delhi once again. Our space — personal, outer or living — had been put to so many tests time and again but it had continued to retain its purity & dazzle all along!
Looking back, this entire flight of life through the ever expanding parallax of space now just looks like a yesterday’s take-off though now thanks to technology even the social distancing enforced by the outbreak of the current pandemic — the notorious COVID, (exactly a century after the one my elderly had survived past) has still not shrunk the space we can find to live in, survive and grow up further! Else, how would Medium connect and converse with me still or have me converse with it sharing space so vast & yet so close!!
(*BA, BTs or B Eds — Stand for Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Training & Bachelor of Education respectively — as Indian University Degrees, **Dera Baba Nanak, Jullundur, Ambala — names of residential towns)