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Georgia On My Mind

T. SHER SINGH

 

 

 

Every time I hear the song “Georgia On My Mind,” it stills my mind and soothes the soul. There are scores of classic renditions, but my favourite ones that I return to regularly are the soulful rendition by Ray Charles and the languid version by Willie Nelson.

Imagine my delight last night when I heard Gurpreet Singh Sarin croon it on his guitar on American Idol (Thursday, February 7, 2013), not only doing it justice but also adding his own trade-mark flair to it. The image of him frolicking with its nuances will henceforth always accompany the lyrics in my mind‘s eye.

Gurpreet has a visceral connection with Georgia where he was raised. He schooled at Northview High in Johns Creek, a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Sadly, the meditative state of mind that the song unfailingly conjures up now has an added pathos: the tragedy earlier this week in Johns Creek. 

We know little more than that the four members of a young Sikh-American family -- two boys, Sartaj Singh (12) and Gurtej Singh (5), the mother, Damanjeet Kaur (47), and the father, Shivinder Singh Grover (52) - were found dead in what appears to be a murder-suicide perpetrated by the latter.

It’s still too early to know all the facts. Investigation by the police is still ongoing. Certainly, we don’t know how such a horrific tragedy came about, or exactly who, why, when, what, etc.

The Grover family moved to Atlanta approximately four years ago from Michigan and have since been an integral part of the local community. They attended the “Sewa Gurdwara” in nearby Roswell, which caters to Sikhs from the northern Atlanta suburbs such as Alpharetta, Marietta, Johns Creek, Suwanee and, of course, Roswell.

Sewa” is a very tight knit community – close to 10 years old. Everyone -- parents, children, families -- knows everyone else. They are together on every birthday and graduation, wedding and funeral, in health and in sickness. Children’s holiday camps bring the families together regularly.

The community is grieving, wondering how this could have happened here to a family, one of their own, right under their noses.

The Grovers were at the gurdwara every Sunday and most Friday nights. The boys participated in kirtan, played the tabla, recited speeches and ardaas. The family often hosted the langar seva. Sangat members remember them fondly as a joy at all times.

The mother of the children, Damanjeet -  nickname ‘Daisy‘ - was an excellent and reputed health care professional and a lovely human being, but most important of all, a dedicated mother whose biggest concern was to nurture her children into the path of Sikhi in the most loving way.

More than a dozen of her co-workers from the Long Term Acute Care Department showed up at the funeral yesterday (Thursday, February 7, 2013) and spoke of her kindness and compassion and her always going above and beyond the call of duty to make her patients comfortable and put them at ease. For her older Sikh and Indian patients, she would bring in home-cooked meals as they didn’t like the hospital food.

The words that the Atlanta community uses to describe the couple are: educated, polished, pleasant, warm, gurmukhs.

There were many families in the sangat that were very close to them, especially through extended association with their children, and everyone has said that no one had ever come across any signs of a stressed relationship or any emotional issues –- none whatsoever. And none of the family members from either side - the mother’s or the father’s -- had an inkling of any thing that could go this wrong.

The Grovers lived in an apartment complex in an upscale neighborhood and their next door neighbors heard and saw nothing more than a loving and friendly family with a very healthy life-style.

The day of the last communication anyone had with the family was the afternoon of Sunday, February 3, 2013, when Damanjeet had gone for grocery shopping and her sister who lived in Chicago had a phone conversation with her. Everything was alright.

Damanjeet came back home and went to unload the first batch of groceries into her apartment … and never came back for the rest of the bags. The police found the remaining bags of groceries still in the car the next day when they responded to a welfare check requested by Damanjeet’s co-worker when she did not show up at her hospital as scheduled.

It is in times like these that it becomes important for the community to rally around family and loved ones, to offer support and comfort. The local Sikh community has effortlessly risen to the occasion.

It is time to mourn and grieve … and celebrate the lives lived. The coming together of the sangat, the helping hands and the comforting shoulders, help those who are left behind to pick up the pieces.

But while we put our collective arms around them, there is a greater responsibility for our institutions to do their job while remaining above the fray of pain and loss.

And I don’t mean the gurdwaras … whose mandate is limited to providing spiritual succour to the sangat.

This is when our advocacy institutions need to instantly step up to the plate and fulfill their duties.

There are issues arising from this tragedy which affect the larger Sikh-American community, and fall within the mandate of our community leaders -- which in this case means our advocacy institutions and their leaders -- and cannot be, should not be, left to those who are grieving and directly impacted by the loss.

For example, two obvious questions arise:

1   If the tragedy was a result of stress or mental illness, what are the facilities available to our communities to identify and address symptoms on time, and to assist when they reach an advanced stage?

2   Was this really a murder-suicide, or is there more to it than meets the eye?

In either scenario, there is an urgency that requires our community representatives to be asking the right questions and seeking full and complete answers. This role cannot be fulfilled by family or friends, the gurdwara or even the local community. 

It’s the mandate for groups such as The Sikh Coalition and SALDEF.

Now that more than four days have passed since the tragedy, are they involved? Are their representatives on the scene?

I can’t think of anything else that could be more important in their duties at this moment that would keep them away or allow them an excuse to refrain from involvement.

Here are my concerns.

The Johns Creek community is a new one. So is its police force. Self-avowedly, this is the first incident of its kind in their midst. Which means they have no history or experience in handling situations of this magnitude.

I’m sure they are a top-notch police department, but do they have the wherewithal to deal with all the intricacies of such a tragedy?

I don’t need to spell out to you, do I, how easily things can fall through the cracks, despite the best of intentions?

Remember the Trayvon Martin case in Florida at around this time last year?

The local police force had initially, summarily, dismissed the case as revealing no wrong-doing. But upon the community demanding greater transparency and accountability, the facts then showed a completely different picture.      
 
I am not suggesting that the Johns Creek situation is necessarily similar.

All I’m saying is that our advocacy institutions have a role to play here.

Are they doing their job?

The ball doesn’t stop with those who run our institutions on a day-to-day basis.

In such situations, the overseeing boards -- Boards of Directors; Advisors; Governing committees -- have a responsibility, nay, a legal obligation, to make sure that all the ’i’s have been dotted, all the ’t’s have crossed.

This is the primary reason they’ve been placed on the board and committees.

Have they done their job?    

 

[The author is indebted to the contribution by Gurmeet Kaur of Atlanta, Georgia, for this article.]

February 8, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Mahanjot Sodhi (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada), February 08, 2013, 5:55 AM.

Very sensitively put, T. Sher Singh ji. The incident is incredibly tragic! We have our extended family which lives in Roswell, Georgia, and visit there occasionally, including the Gurdwara. The community is fairly small (compared to the numbers here in Greater Toronto, for example) but very close-knit, and hence the pain being experienced by the members could have an ever-lasting impact on them!

2: Simran Kaur (New Jersey, USA), February 08, 2013, 7:35 AM.

Our prayers for all the four ... may they find eternal peace in the hereafter.

3: Harcharanjit Singh (Idaho, USA), February 08, 2013, 7:50 AM.

How each one of us will die, when we will die, are mysteries. There's only one certainty: that we'll all go. The method or mode, etc., are referred to as "bahaana" in Punjabi -- mere excuses, details that have no relevance in the bigger scheme of things. Let's celebrate the wonderful lives of the four we have lost and put aside the rest of the story for a while.

4: Amarjit Singh Duggal (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), February 08, 2013, 7:53 AM.

"In such situations, the overseeing boards ... " You have hit the nail on the head. Our community leaders are becoming passive by the day. Every gurdwara has become a private club! Cliques work within their groups, and people with ideas and agendas to offer to the community are threatened to be thrown out of the boards and management positions, etc. The say, "We get what we deserve". So I urge the sangat to wake up and shake these boards, have more transparency and participate in building a new world which has more understanding, respect and compassion for one another. We need to be a pro-active community. Complacency is taking roots within our leadership, and these so-called leaders are wasting our time and resources by not willing to let any meaningful progress take over. The overall environment has quickly deteriorated within last the 7-8 years, and is to be blamed as well, with what is going on in the world today. People in general are loosing common sense and morality.

5: Harinder (Uttar Pradesh, India), February 08, 2013, 10:51 AM.

May God bless their souls and forgive those who have acted in fear.

6: Manbir "Manny" Singh  (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), February 08, 2013, 12:07 PM.

My condolences to the Grover family and may Waheguru bless the departed souls and give them eternal peace. I am pretty sure the police is doing a good enough job in investigating this case properly and are correct in their initial conclusions. But, as Sardar T Sher Singh ji said, it is necessary that the outside resources be used to ensure that no stone is left unturned to get to the facts. Police don't get offended if we ask the right questions through the appropriate channels. Next time around it will be the same tragic results if we do not do anything now.

7: B. (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), February 09, 2013, 1:48 PM.

I have known Shivinder well enough to be in a state of total disbelief. He was a soft spoken, warm, friendly gentleman. He would be the last person on earth that I would have suspected prior to the incident, as being capable of these atrocities. An engineer, an MBA from prestiguous schools, more than a decade at Ford, 3 years at McKinsey, Novartis ... these are the bluest of the blue-chip companies with an outstanding track record. So, when I hear that he committed these heinous acts it is confounding. In my opinion there is no greater sin a man can commit than this and I cannot accept that after 52 years of leading a sedentary life, Shiv has suddenly lost it. Something snapped in his mind that Sunday to destroy everything he has worked for and his life. In order for his friends and family to reconcile with these facts, we need to know what happened and why. This cannot be kept secret if the reason is to avoid embarrassment or privacy. There is much to be learnt from this. With what we learn, perhaps we can be proactive and prevent these tragedies from occurring again and save other families in need instead of being reactive like we are today. I am so glad that people and the author in this article are already talking about prevention. We need to find what the motive was or what led him to this. Does anyone know? - Was he employed at Novartis as an executive as his profile says or was he not? How was his financial situation? Any clues that he was suffering from depression? Did the demon suddenly unleash or was it gradually in the making? What are the possible motives? My heart grieves for the two kids and his wife who were taken away from this world prematurely. I do not grieve for the monster the man had become, but I do grieve for the man I used to know and that was an intelligent, empathic, kind, caring, loving family man. There can be no reason or excuse for this brutality. Absolutely none whatsoever. The Shivinder I knew would have completely agreed with me and that is the conundrum. I hope the police solve this.

8: B. (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), February 10, 2013, 12:05 PM.

I don't know why we are not talking about the possibility that this whole thing could have been a hate crime with others involved. I do not have access to any info that the close family and police have so I won't be able to offer anything other than perhaps a naive outside-the-box think. The following scenario is highly speculative: Consider the possibility of a home invasion. I know some of you are thinking, how do you explain the suicide by hanging. I don't know, this is a tough one, but think about this - How many people does it take to haul an unconscious person to the rope? What does it take to make a man unconscious? Chloroform and 2 people. What does it take to pin the blame on the husband? I hope that the police look into this carefully. The other thing we should be worried about is that there could be a conflict of interest here. I would think the police might prefer that this was an open and shut case. If it's a hate crime, they have a monumental case in their hand which they might be hoping for it not to be so they might (again, being speculative) have a preference to "look the other way" to evidence that showed this was more than a murder suicide. We know and hear about so many cases, complex, nationwide that were open and shut as it would have otherwise made the dept. look bad otherwise. How do we make sure that the law enforcement do their due diligence, honestly and ethically. My appeal: Please, community leaders, be involved and don't let them treat this as an open and shut case. We need insurmountable evidence backed. This needs to be more than just fingerprints on murder weapons and blood on the clothes, both of which could be setup by the real murderer(s) who wants to pin the blame on Shivinder. We need due diligence before we settle down to accusing this man of the most horrible crimes as this is what people will remember him by. It just does not make sense that he could have done this. The police and the ME were too quick in releasing their findings while at the same time saying this was "complex" and "still under investigation". We owe it to the gentleman we knew as a close friend, associate or as a member of our family.

9: B. (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), February 10, 2013, 12:30 PM.

If (again being highly speculative) this was a hate crime, this could be termed as the ultimate hate crime. As not only the perpetrators have managed to finish off a whole family but they also manage to convince everyone and pin the blame on the husband. What could be more sinister and cruel than this? I repeat, I am being speculative, but it is important to not get into the group think mentality and just accept whats given without incontrovertible evidence. We need to ask questions, offer help and the truth to the investigators while they do their investigation. We need some behavioral precursors to this. Someone close to the family should offer corroborating evidence to support the conclusion.

10: Iqbal Singh Bhan (Canton, Michigan, USA), February 10, 2013, 7:17 PM.

Since this tragic incident I am so sad and hurt that one of us could go through such a tragic and untimely demise of the whole family so quick. Never before have I come across such a horrible incident here in USA. The question is why ... and how? Maybe we will never know what really happened to this wonderful family but we as a community must take interest in building support groups where people can open themselves when in trouble. One thing is for sure that each of us must take this issue very seriously and see what can we do as individuals as well as groups. We pray to God for His mercy and peace to the departed souls. Waheguru ...

11: Sarjit Kaur (Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.), February 11, 2013, 2:47 PM.

Ask gurdwara members, how was Shivinder Singh on that Sunday, did he seem disturbed? Also, hard to believe neighbors did not hear a thing when the murders were going on, as I know how apartments in America lack privacy as their walls are not at all sound-proof. Our US Sikh organizations have failed us by not asking the right questions and demanding and obtaining full transparency.

12: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA.), February 11, 2013, 2:50 PM.

Reading various messages, one thing stands out clearly that the entire family is 'wiped out' from the face of the earth. Who did it and what were the circumstances leading to it, will always remain the key questions. One turns to the shabad in moments like these: "jayhaa cheeree likhi-aa tayhaa hukam kamaahi / qhalay aavahi naankaa saday uthee jaahi" [GGS:1239] - That is, "Whatever is written in His Hukam, has to be obeyed".

13: P. Singh (Canada), February 11, 2013, 11:40 PM.

I have been waiting to hear more news about the investigation. This article and comments, #8 and #9 in particular, are sensitive, supportive, and courageous. It appears that he added at least one and possibly two friends to his Facebook page on the same day the family was found on Monday. This would presumably have been sometime before 11:30 AM and sometime after midnight. Are investigators aware of that fact? Have investigators followed up with those people? If the reports are correct that groceries were only partially retrieved from the vehicle on Sunday, the recent adding of Facebook friends is even more strange and suggests a staged murder-suicide, or some sequence of a sudden psychotic illness. Prayers for the family and for their loved ones. You are not alone.

14: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), February 12, 2013, 6:33 AM.

For comment #13: Facebook adds are probably the result of the pending requests (initiated by Shiv earlier) being accepted by the people after they heard the news. Nonetheless, a thorough inquiry is definitely needed and we were told that only the immediate extended family is in-charge of all that and it's up to them to pursue it further.

15: B. (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), February 12, 2013, 7:50 AM.

As long as the prosecutor and the police are convinced that Shivinder is the perpetrator, they have no incentive to do any further investigation. For the perpetrator is deceased. Only the family and close friends have the motive to try to get to the bottom of it and to clear his name, if indeed there is any doubt that he did it. I expect the Police to be in a hurry to close the case. Surprisingly, there is no mention of this tragedy on their website. They list minor infractions, fights, etc., but nothing about this. We are yet to see a police report. Is the police report not yet available because investigation is still in progress?

16: Bir Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 12, 2013, 8:16 AM.

Precisely because of this, it is inappropriate for us to rely on family and friends to be objective and address the larger community concerns: they are too immersed in the immediacy of loss and grief. It is for this very reason that we need community organizations to be involved center stage in these situations in order to represent the community's best interests, which are not counter to any other, only more pointed. So far, it appears our institutions have been AWOL.

17: Maheep Kaur (New York, USA), February 12, 2013, 10:57 AM.

It looks like some people are missing the point completely. Even if it is confirmed that Shivinder was the sole perpetrator, having succumbed to a mental illness or breakdown, that does not absolve our institutions and community leaders from doing their duty. A crime is not a wrong against an individual or family; it is a wrong against society. I'm not making this up: this is the fundamental base of our legal system. That is why when a crime is alleged or proved, a victim cannot absolve the criminal by merely choosing not to "pursue the matter". It is a matter between the wrongdoer and the State, which in effect is the community. Thus, in this situation in Johns Creek, it is not up to the relatives who have come in from Chicago or India or wherever to say that they have been privately apprised of the facts and they are satisfied. It is the community, the society at large, that needs to be satisfied that all that needed to be done has been done. And that is where the likes of The Sikh Coalition and SALDEF have the mandate, and they have failed us. The issue is not settled merely because it is confirmed that it was a murder-suicide; it is that we, the community, need to be satisfied that the investigation was done properly, and we need to be told the complete facts when the investigation is complete. THIS IS NOT A PRIVATE MATTER; THE EXISTENCE OF A CRIME MAKES IT A PUBLIC MATTER!

18: Sarjit Kaur (Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.), February 12, 2013, 11:54 AM.

I agree with Maheep Kaur. In reply to Ajit Singh Batra, if all that happens is to be brushed off as His Hukam, then why would Guru Nanak Himself come to save the world, jio?

19: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA..), February 14, 2013, 12:42 PM.

Sarjit Kaur ji (#18), all that happens in this world, good or evil, is His Will. The root of all evil is that we turn around and blame it on human beings. "buraa bhalaa kichh aapas tay jaani-aa ay-ee sagal vikaaraa / ih furmaa-i-aa khasam kaa ho-aa vartai ih sansaara" [GGS:993] "The good and evil that prevail in this world only come in accordance with His Will and not from human beings."

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