Kids Corner


Part II
Prem Kahani

A Short Story by T. SHER SINGH





Wednesday, November 14, 2012



Continued from yesterday …


DR GULSHAN KAUR - 1961 - 2012 Passed away after a battle with cancer. Dearly beloved wife of the late Dr Mehtab Singh. Beloved daughter of the late Sardar Labh Singh and the late Sardarni Sahib Kaur. Loving mother of Biba Kaur and Kabir Singh. Funeral and Bhog details to be announced shortly. Visitation on Saturday, 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm at Hillside Funeral Home, Ethridge. For online condolences, please visit

A mere three days after Mum had been transferred to the hospice!

I had rushed home to my own apartment. It had been a long and painful day. I wanted to be alone. Kabir was on his way. He couldn’t get a flight-connection at such short notice, so he was driving through the night and would be here by the morning.

I sat at the computer, struggling with a flood of tears, as I drafted the obituary. Short and simple though it was, putting it together was a monumental task.

How does one announce the death of one’s parent?

With my brain numb, my fingers frozen and hovering over the keyboard, I thought of the last - and only time - I had attempted to write an obituary.

My boyfriend then and I had run into difficulties. As a last-ditch attempt to save our relationship, we had gone to see a couples therapist. One of the exercises she gave us … to mend and heal, she had emphasized! … was to write out each other’s obituary.

“Think about all the good things you remember from times together. List what you like about the other. Why? How much? Sift through all you now know about the other, and zero in on what you treasure.”

Try as I might then, I remember, I couldn’t. Not because we hadn’t had good times … we had … but because my brain just wouldn’t co-operate and unclutter. Every now and then, I would attempt it. But it was too painful. And then, his e-mail popped up on my screen. With an attachment. My obituary.

It had listed how we’d met. The good times we’d had. Our travels together. The things I had done that he liked. My qualities as he saw them. Etc., etc.

I read it over and over again. I noticed that there wasn’t a single mention of the word ’love’, not even once. I had balked at that. I knew then it was over.

But now. Now with this real life precipice in front of me, how do I bring closure to the life of someone who gave me birth, who sculpted me into what I am, nurtured me, loved me, comforted me, through thick and thin, at great personal sacrifice?

I knew the words in the brief announcement I had put together were too bland. They had no life in them. But I could do no more.

Before I changed my mind, I clicked the button. It was posted. On my blog!

The deed was done.

It then became easier. Step by step, I went through all the motions. I called the city’s two dailies and gave them the announcement. They said they could still get it into the morning edition.

I sent out a mass e-mail to my entire contact list, not just family and friends. I had no energy to sort out the personal ones from the rest. I did the same with Mum’s own list of addresses. I sent it to the two hospitals she was attached to. I sent it to each of the organizations she volunteered with. I sent it to the granthi and the committee members at the gurdwara we attended. 

When I had exhausted all of the things I had to do, I simply stared at the screen. I had no strength left to get up. What had I done? I had spread a pall over the earth. I imagined people across the city and across the country, around the world, all one by one opening their emails and gasping and wincing … What had I done?

*   *   *   *   *

The day had started off like any other. I had caught up with my sleep in a nearby motel where I had taken a room for the duration. I got up early, washed up, dressed up, grabbed a coffee, and walked to the hospice.

Mum was up when I got there. She smiled wanly, and hung on to my hand as I pulled up my chair close to her. She was comfortable, she assured me. The pain medication was working, the nurses were kind and attentive.

She told me she’d been having a whole slew of dreams. Little snippets, flitting from one to the other before any of them finished their narrative. People she had known and long forgotten were turning up. One recurring one was of a little servant girl who had attended on her when she herself was a child in Delhi.

Mum’s voice faded, and she closed her eyes, as if in reverie. I knew she wasn’t asleep because I could see moisture glistening from under her eye-lashes.

Are you okay, I asked. She nodded, but didn’t say more.

It was over lunch hour, when I had gone next door to the cafeteria to get a bite, that I began to be seriously troubled by what I was seeing: a woman who had lived a full and fruitful life, spread so much goodness, lived in chardi kalaa through peak and valley, now reduced to a false summation of her own life. Had she done enough to make her life worthwhile, I could see, she was asking herself over and over again.

There are no manuals that tell us what to do when we are face to face with impending death. Even if there were, would they help? Are our minds then calm and collected enough to pay heed?

I knew there would be a blanket of sadness that would envelope all of us once she was gone. Not just Kabir and I, but everyone she had ever known. I had never met anyone who’d been so universally liked and appreciated. Not a week passed when I didn’t come across someone who knew her, had been touched by her caring and kindness, wanting to tell me what she had done.

I could imagine the exact words they would say at her funeral, as they would walk by, offering their condolences. I could think of each and every person who’d want to stand up and want to say something, struggling through sobs and tears, eager to share how she had changed their lives.

Strange, isn’t it, that she’ll be there but won’t hear a thing.

Or will she?

My mind wandered into fantasy. What if her spirit hung around, hovering over the coffin, and she did hear it all? What if she could see all those who loved her, and judge how valuable her life had really been?

I pulled out my cell-phone and called Kabir.

“Bir, can you talk?”

“Yes, of course,” he said, “What, what?”

“No, she’s fine. Except she’s still sad and I don’t think it is right. It’s not her. She keeps on mulling over what she could’ve done with her life …”

“It’s the medication,” piped in Kabir. “It must be. It’s bound to have an effect on her emotions. So, don’t worry … maybe it’s just the chemicals talking.” 

“No, Bir, I can see she’s suffering. And I want to do something about it.”

“You’re doing so much, Sis. Just hold her, distract her, assure her. Are you doing paatth?”

“Yes, we do Sukhmani Sahib together every day. In spurts, though. Because she gets tired quickly. And then, at night, when I ‘m leaving, she gets me to sing Kirtan Sohela.“

“Well, that’ll help. Sorry I’m not there. But I will be … four more days. Hang in there! Or do you want me to come now?”

“I don’t know, Bir, I don’t know.”

I went back to her room, and we did some paatth together. We talked about Dad for a bit and then, again, she began to talk about those who peopled her dreams. Her voice changed again, and so did her expression. I could see she was moping again.

I knew then that I had to do something. There was no way I could let her spend her final days like this.

I stepped out of the room, and made my way to a bench outside. Chilly. But the sun was out. I pulled my shawl around me tightly, and dialled Kabir again.

“Bir, I have a plan. I want you to listen. Don’t say a word. Just listen. It is crazy, but I want you to listen first.“

He was quiet. “Are you there?”

“Yes, yes, go ahead, Sis.”

“I’ve been making funeral arrangements. Mum doesn’t know. But I have to. And It’s got me thinking. All the love and caring and the compassion that comes out at a funeral. Isn’t it all a waste?”

“You’re not making any sense …”

“You promised you’d listen. So, let me finish. What’s the point of all that love if it comes out after she’s gone. The one person they need to show it to is long gone. Just think about it: we wait till a person dies, and then we tell her how much we loved her?”

“Yea-h-h …?”

“Why can’t we have a wake before she dies? So that she can get all this love. And see all that her life has really amounted to. Get the love at the one time in her life she needs it the most. What’s the point in waiting till she’s  … gone …?”

“I get what you’re saying, Sis, but I don’t know … what you’re saying. So, what can we do? Nothing.”

The more I talked about it, the clearer it became for me.

“What if we get them all to come before she goes? Not after!”

“And how’re you going to do that?”

“Well, I am. Somehow. I just wanted you to know that I am going to do something about it. It’ll be crazy, what I’m thinking. Wild. But I think I need to do it. So hang in there … I just wanted you to know … I’ll call you later!”

I hung up.

I was sure I wanted to do it.

I called my lawyer. Asked him if it was okay if I did it. Well, he said, I don’t know. You’re not defrauding anybody. It won’t do any harm. As long as the immediate family knows what you’re doing and doesn’t turn against you. But I don’t know …

I went to the hospice office and spoke to the Director. He was shocked. Never heard anything like it, he mumbled. I argued and explained and laid out the pros and cons … As long as we’re not involved, he said, I can’t stop you.

“Mum’s the word,” I said. He looked at me strangely, and barely, just barely nodded.

He directed me to a nearby funeral home. It was the perfect location. They were close to the city, close to the airport. And had a large chapel which could accommodate several hundred. And they were clear for Saturday. I locked them in.

Sat in the car for a long, long time. What am I doing, I said. Will this get me thrown in jail, I wondered. Can’t see why, I said, she’s dying anyway.  

I popped in to see Mum and told her I’m going home for the night, and would see her in the morning. We sang Kirtan Sohela together, she barely moving her lips. We did ardaas, but I kept my pleas and prayers silent. She did not know what I was up to.

I went home. Drafted the death announcement. And broadcast it into cyberspace.

Called Kabir. And told him what I’d done. That I’d announced Mum’s death … but don’t worry, I said, she’s … well … fine. The visitation is on Saturday. Or the wake … whatever.

“But … we don‘t have a … you know … a .. dead … body,” he spluttered.

“I know, I know,” I said, “but we don’t need one. You’ll see …”

“But …”

“It’s too late, bro. It’s done.”

“I’m coming home,” he said, “I’ll be there in a few hours.”

And then I collapsed on my bed. And cried myself to sleep.

I was up at the crack of dawn.

Saw the sunrise as I drove to the hospice.

And told Mum what I’d done.

It was an eternity before she turned her head towards me. And then, she smiled.

I knew. I knew she would. After all, she had such a great sense of humour.





Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), November 14, 2012, 7:54 PM.

Biba ji: you are a remarkable being, and how you stood on the real life precipice and bowed your head to Waheguru's Will. Let me share with you how Bhai Bikhari dealt with such a situation. Bhai Gurmukh, a Sikh, approached Guru Arjan and asked if he could have a darshan of such a gursikh who would be a picture of 'bhaana', of one who ever remained steadfast in obedience to His Will. Guru Ji sent him to Gujrat (in today's Pakistani Punjab) to look for Bhai Bikhari. When he arrived, his son's wedding was in progress, with all the normal festivities going on to welcome the newly married couple. Bhai Bikhari himself was sitting in a corner, oblivious to all the din in the wedding house. He was mending a torn durrie and arranging other stuff needed for a funeral. That night, the son developed a severe pain in his stomach and died. The wedding house turned into mourning at such an unexpected tragedy. But, Bhai Bikhari remained untouched and spread the durrie that he had mended. Bhai Gurmukh could not contain himself and asked Bhai Bikhari, that if he knew what would happen, why did not he ask the Guru to intercede for his son's long life. Bhai Bikhari's answer was: "Even then the body would still decay and die. I am happy in His bhaana." "dayh sajjan aseesarhee-aa(n) ji-oo hovai sahib si-o mayl" [GGS:12.14]. "gurmukh aavai jaa-ay nisang" - "The Guru-oriented one comes and goes without fear." "Like droplets of water go back into the ocean and get immersed in the Lord."

2: Sarjit Kaur (Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.), November 15, 2012, 11:27 AM.

My deepest condolences. I know how painful it is when you lose your mother, friend, confidant(e) ...

3: Sarjit Kaur (Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.), November 18, 2012, 7:14 PM.

The website for condolences does not work.

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Part II
Prem Kahani"

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