We made the turn ascending on a hill towards our destination. A mixture of sadness and excitement inside, it had become real. We were going to meet the ones whose wounds were still raw. It was a slightly chilly day. The warmth of the sun made you raise your face to embrace it and the chill of the shade left you wanting an embrace.
I can’t remember the initial interaction with the villagers but I remember walking on the grounds of the charred school building which had been lit on fire to send out an SOS. I remember sitting in a room filled with women and children, a middle aged and an old man. I hear the words but in a state of disbelief as they share the details of that day, “The jawans had come and asked us to go round up the men working in the fields. We happily obliged as these were our jawans, what did we have to fear.”
Walked outside of the room, down the steps and looked up at the Gurduara. Then the middle aged man brought our gaze down to the brick wall serving the perimeter of the Gurduara. There were pictures of men on the wall in a linear horizontal line, some smiling others posing for a picture, looking at the pictures a smile forms. This is where, you suddenly realize, it all happened. Made to kneel down and executed point blank. Imagined the confusion, “these are our jawans”, for those kneeling and those gathered inside, wondering. What? Why?
Once affixed, it was difficult to raise the gaze; it would mean looking into the eyes of those who loved these men dearly. How do you? Don’t have the courage to face what their eyes express. There was silence, for how long I’m not sure. Then the silence broke. The old Singh in the gray slate kurta pajama and a navy blue disheveled blue dastar utters, “Bhana Vart Gaya” as if it originated from somewhere in the depth of his being. My eyes closed, the heart let go its tightness, the warm tears flowed all the while in an inexplicable comfort akin to an embrace of a loved one.
There are many concepts within Sikhi with which I continue to struggle with (seva, simrin, sangat…), I know them intellectually but have yet to be graced with the experience. The concept of “Bhana” is the closest I think I’ve come to, first in the presence of Bapu ji from Chithi Singhpura and second my father in his attitude toward his illness. I don’t know if Bapu ji is still alive but I know he will continue to live in my heart and ardas along with the others: two Singhs, little Singhs and the brave Singhnian I met that day.