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Truth Bandits
Part III







Continued from yesterday ...


I stared at the final line in the newspaper clip in my hand. I read it over and over again. To see, I guess, if there was some way it could sound benign or innocuous.

He says, if he had an atom bomb, he would drop it on New Delhi!

Did it matter that I had never said such a thing, that it was something I never would?

But who would I protest to? To the German newspaper? To the hundreds of thousands who had already read the story?

It was being distributed on the wire service. So, millions would’ve read it by now.

Who could I turn to?

The next few days brought calls from around the world, from family and friends who had read the story in their respective countries. It was carried in newspapers every where, often on front pages ... in India, in Britain, in France, in Australia … Some of the headlines even had the reference to the "bomb" in them, in large and bold type.

The mail brought in new versions every day. Some came in other languages, with my correspondents attaching translations of the key lines, with loud, multiple question- and exclamation-marks scribbled next to them. Had I taken leave of my senses, my distant friends and relatives were anxious to know?

I waited for the axe to fall.

Would there be a knock on the door and a visit from the police? The national security people?

I had already been sworn in as a barrister and solicitor and had started practising with a large, national office by this time -- Canada’s largest Jewish law-firm. I was the only non-Jewish lawyer they’d hired, with a hundred lawyers filling up multiple floors they occupied in the newest and fanciest building in the heart of Toronto. Would the partners want to have a talk with me? The Law Society? Would they question my ability to be an upholder of law?

I mentioned it to no one around me. I didn’t know what to say. What to do. What to ask. What to tell.

I privately struggled with the evil I could see, staring into the abyss where I stood and felt that since I had done nothing to contribute to this evil, I could do nothing to counter it. I felt totally, completely helpless.

I waited.

*   *   *   *   *

And then, one by one, trickle by trickle, something else began to unfold.

I was at a cocktail reception one evening, and a well-known reporter from a national newspaper quipped, by-the-by, as he was leaving: “Saw that piece on you, Sher. Lord, it was funny!“

I stopped him in his tracks. What piece, I asked, genuinely taken aback.

Oh, the one the Indian embassy mailed out to us, he said. It had this weird propaganda drivel. It gave us a good laugh …

I asked him if I could see it, I was curious what it said.

Sorry, Sher, I think I just threw it in the garbage. I don’t hang on to these silly things!

Then, a couple of days later, I was on the phone with a Deputy Minister in Ottawa. I was talking to him about a national 3-day conference I was helping organize then, called “Sikh-Canadians: The Promise & the Challenge”. 

As he was about to hang up, he said: “So, you’re getting popular with the Indians, are you?”

What do you mean, I asked.

Oh, saw the crap that arrived in the mail, he said. Looks like they’re cooking up stories about YOU now …!

The pattern continued for days and weeks that followed. What unfolded was a picture of a mass mailing by the Indian government apparatus from its embassy and consular offices across the country, to each major media outlet - print, TV and radio -  as well as every Member of Parliament, both federal and provincial, and every cabinet minister and deputy. All mayors had received it, all heads of government agencies.

The mailing, in a plain manila envelope - but with a stamp identifying an Indian diplomatic office as the source, in an attempt to give the exercise an air of legitimacy - consisted of a thin black booklet which contained a number of articles, all written by Unna. Each chapter focused on a different Sikh-Canadian or Sikh-American. Each a well-carved and sculpted portrait, but from the perspective of India, ostensibly the wronged party in the chaotic scene back in India.

The reaction of the recipients -- as it filtered in to me, in dribs and drabs from my scattered contacts in the media and the government -- was, miraculously, completely the opposite of what had been planned!

The Indians had missed out a key element in their mischief: you need to be credible to be believed, you need to command some degree of respect to be taken seriously.

What I learnt through this whole episode was that the leaders in the media and the government -- those who wielded real power and influence -- had had only negative dealings with the desis. Without any exceptions, each one believed -- certainly privately, if not publicly -- that the Indian bureaucrats they dealt with from time to time were incorrigibly incompetent and corrupt.

“Idiots” and “clowns” were the two words I heard most often in describing them. So much so that the terms became part of my own lexicon ever since, words that now automatically jump to the fore each time I think of India and its apologists.

*   *   *   *   *   

There was another unintended and unplanned result of this multi-million dollar campaign that India had launched on the heels of its mass crimes of 1984.

[I discovered not long thereafter that it was orchestrated through an international marketing agency which had been hired by the Indian government at great expense to permeate its propaganda throughout the West.]

I came into this whole picture as an accidental tourist, who had little interest in the goings-on, with no skills, no recognition, and no stature.

The mass mailings, conducted so efficiently to each and every decision-maker and influence-peddler in the land, albeit containing a distorted caricature of me, suddenly turned me, through sheer default, into a player, an entity, a person who needed to be dealt with, someone who had to be consulted or conferred with on related issues, as a man whose opinions were to be heard to complete the picture.

It was a hollow and contrived picture, I knew, but not of my making. I had no control over it ... it appeared my detractors were shaping my public persona, and I could do nothing but watch from the sidelines.

My name was entered into the rolodex of every major newspaper, TV and radio reporter in the land, coast to coast. And government bureaucrats in the nation’s capital and the provincial capitals, in the major municipalities, all began to recognize my name as one you could turn to if you needed info on a number of specific topics.

And, wonder of wonders, the more the Indians attacked me in their keystone cop fumbles, the more credibility I gained and garnered … in inverse proportion.

Suddenly, starting as a total non-entity, I now had national stature.

All, I hasten to add, undeserved and without merit. I say this in all honesty and sincerity, not through feigned humility, because I knew then, and know now, the full extent of my own lack of real abilities.

But hey, I had the best PR team in the world. Who needs more? If it wasn’t for the magnanimity of the desis, I would still be nothing.

Millions of dollars of PR, even if mischievously intended -- so says a friend of mine in the media -- can, like God Almighty Himself, turn a mere mole into a mountain hill. 

*   *   *   *   *

The bus rumbled on, heading into the heart of Washington, DC.

I stared at my fellow-passenger long and hard, searching for the Walter Unna I had met more than two decades earlier.

Here he was, grabbed by the ear, as if, by fate itself, and brought to me on a platter.

I had spent years trying to track him down, to hold him accountable for his mischief. And discovered, through the process, that he had lied to me. He had hidden behind an unknown middle name. He was no longer with the Washington Post when I’d met him in Toronto. He had been hired by the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC, and, for his nefarious project, given the sponsorship of a Calcutta-based newspaper as cover ...

The Indians had paid for his “reports”, facilitated the release of the stories in the world’s popular press, printed them as a booklet -- with a stark, black cover, giving it the air of an official document -- in large numbers, and used the machinery of their foreign missions to disseminate them.

He hadn’t answered my phone-calls. Hadn’t replied to my correspondence questioning his mischief.

And, after all the expert and efficient evasion, here he was, stuck like a sardine beside me, surrounded by strangers -- nay, a bunch of Sikhs, all my friends -- with his arm firmly entwined in mine.

I turned my head away from him, and stared ahead, at nothing in particular. The initial wave of surprise had given way to disgust, then awe at the power of poetic justice.

And then, slowly, I felt the weight lift from shoulders. It was closure, and I was done with the story. If anything, I needed to hug and kiss this man in gratitude. Hadn’t he help shape much of my life that followed, through that single, outrageous lie he had penned that day, all for a few silver pieces?

I felt a shuffle next to me.

Walter -- Warren? -- was struggling to get up from the seat. A passenger standing in front of us leaned over and helped him to his feet, and held on to him as he tried to inch towards the door.

A female voice from across us, coming from the direction of the passenger-seat facing us, cried out: “No, honey, this isn’t our stop. Sit down, sit down, it’s still ten minutes away!”

“No,” replied Walter, as he burrowed through the mass of bodies that blocked his way. “Driver, I want to get off here!”

The woman was on her feet too by this time. I could see her now, also old and crumpled like Walter. “Mrs Unna?” I asked as she locked eyes with me. She nodded and then turned frantically towards the front of the bus. “Honey, honey, this isn’t …”

Walter bellowed: “I want to get off here. Now!!”

The bus came to a screeching stop. I could see him through the mass of bodies as he stumbled down the steps, helped by Mrs Unna.

It was strange, I thought, that they had got off in the dark, in the middle of nowhere, as the bus harrumphed away into the night.



Re-published on June 4, 2016   

Conversation about this article

1: Kulwant Singh (U.S.A.), October 25, 2012, 8:34 AM.

Poetic justice indeed. A point scored for believers in karam. I find it quite amusing that the world can see through the lies of the Indian government. If they are listened to at all, it is only to placate them into allowing foreign corporations to take the money of their growing middle class. Had it not been for that sole advantage, the world would be laughing in India's face, instead of behind its back.

2: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), October 25, 2012, 10:18 AM.

Speechless, but smiling! And thanks for writing this.

3: Harmeet Singh (USA), October 25, 2012, 11:50 AM.

I am so glad to find this article. I am collecting documents on state-sponsored propaganda against Sikhs by India. Where are the anti-Sikh propaganda documents mailed by Indian diplomats? Can you post them on along with the propaganda story by Walter? It would be great!

4: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), October 25, 2012, 3:39 PM.

This is grist for a book, together with the article that made you famous and your own riveting account in these 3 parts. It is a resurrection, where the truth comes out as the winner.

5: Kanwarjeet Singh (Franklin Park, New Jersey, USA), October 25, 2012, 7:21 PM.

'jaako rakhe saiyaa(n) maar sake na koye'. Mysterious are God's men and even more mysterious are His deeds! Eagerly waiting to read part IV ...

6: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), October 25, 2012, 7:59 PM.

And the newspaper you talk about in Calcutta is the Statesman, where Warren W. Unna's articles used to be published. I have met Warren on two occasions in Calcutta around 1972-73 when he was covering the Bangladesh war, and I am really shocked that he did all this. "Truth Bandits" in its three parts is amazing ...

7: Harmeet Singh (USA), October 26, 2012, 4:31 PM.

Still waiting for part 4.

8: Jaspreet (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), October 28, 2012, 6:25 AM.

Maybe it is a good thing for Sikhs too that this happened to you, Mr. T. Sher Singh. Most people do not see the hand of the hidden players in events and think those who do are crazy. I remember one time in a Political Sociology I class, I brought up some fighting that had been going on in British Columbia gurdwaras. I said it was really caused by Indian government agent provocateurs and various Canadian institutions were helping with it too because India has a clear interest in who controls the gurdwaras here in Canada too. My professor agreed with me and said not everyone sees what is behind such events. If this hadn't happened to you, maybe your vision would have been dim too about the kind of mischief India is able to wreak even here in Canada.

9: Rosalia (Baltimore, Maryland, USA), June 15, 2016, 10:40 PM.

Looking forward to the next one! :) So far, "Truth Bandits" is riveting!

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Part III"

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