Kids Corner


Part II








Continued from Part I



I was unsure whether the tall and slim man who had called out my dad’s name and handed him the tickets was real or a part of a never-ending dream.

After this very exhausting journey nothing felt real. He seemed to have come out of nowhere and vanished in seconds into nothingness. I couldn’t help but be confused.

The train started to move slowly, I could only make out blurry shapes under the yellow lights of the small town platform.

My mother who was equally surprised by his appearance immediately phoned my maama. He told us he had met Aneel at IIGS (a camp for Sikh youth held in India). Aneel was a real person, I realized. He lives in Ludhiana (Punjab) where he owns a paper trading company.

The stress we had experienced through the journey had made it seem much longer than it actually was. The hours had stretched, and we had experienced the passage of each minute of the 10 hours ‘The Flying Express’ takes to get from Delhi to Amritsar -- the name and the claim of the train is completely misguided, trust me!

The fatigue alongside the emotional angst we had experienced over the last few days had imbued the scene with a sense of surrealism. As the train reached its final destination, there was a unanimous sigh of relief from our group.

At Amritsar there was a screeching sound as the train approached the assigned platform. It seemed dark and forlorn as we looked out from the coldly lit train compartment; night had fallen on the sacred city. My eyes unaccustomed to the dark could not make out distinct shapes; it seemed all the people on the platform were fusing together somehow. Everything seemed so strange, so alien to my tired sleepy eyes.

After regaining our balance from the jolt of the stopping train, we began to gather our few belongings. There was a fury of activity within the compartment. Many coolies (porters) entered the train, haggling over the price for their services with the tired travellers.

Through the commotion, I heard someone call out my dad’s name once again. “Who could it be now?” I thought. 

Another man had entered our train cabin and was approaching us rather eagerly. I was horrified when, without a moment’s pause, I saw him heading straight for my mom’s feet. He followed by touching Amma ji’s feet as well.

Amma ji was unperturbed. I jumped to a side as I didn’t want a strange man touching my feet.  As he straightened up to his full height I saw that he was carrying the entire luggage we had carried with us. For once in this journey my mom seemed neither confused nor surprised.

We came to know Aman very quickly as he led us to his red Maruti van.

The Maruti van is a strange looking vehicle, it looks like a metal shoe box on wheels. The people who made it didn't seem overly concerned with its aesthetics. They seemed to be guided with the sole purpose of fitting as many people as possible into the contraption. On occasion, I have seen as many as 12 people compressed and packed into one.

Aman was a good friend of my maama also from his IIGS days, and owned a cloth trading business in Amritsar. Like everyone I ever met in India, Aman insisted on feeding us before dropping us to Darbar Sahib.

He was very hospitable. When we firmly refused his offers to take us to his house for a meal, he led us to the next best alternative for food. I believe the place was called Kesar da Dhaba.

The café was still teeming with people even though it was rather late at night. My mom insisted she was full while Aman listed the things she must try. My dad’s eyes were strangely luminous. He is at most times what I would call a moderate eater, but something else had seemed to have taken over him that evening. Only recently does he admit his behavior was unnatural and that the smells in that place had driven him crazy. His salivary glands were working overtime and he experienced gluttony in its unabated, unmitigated and most forceful form.

I remember my jaw dropping when I saw three men carry his order onto our table. My eyes searched my mom’s face. I could trace a faint smile around her mouth. She was, to put it mildly, amused.

I still remember the palpable feeling of relief that swept over us as we finally reached the entrance to the Golden Temple. We were finally at ease.

It was beautiful and tranquil. The moon made the Amrit Sarovar glitter with jewels. The Darbar Sahib was lit up, it looked as if a thousand splendid gold lamps were melting into the dark waters.

For a brief minute I felt as if the beauty was almost too painful to take in. I couldn’t breathe. Speechless, I turned around to see all three adults as entranced by the sight as I was.

Amma’s eyes were fixed, she held the Golden Temple in an unblinking stare. The light from the gold radiated like the rising sun, and everything around it shone in its aura.

I remember thinking that Amma ji looked very beautiful in that moment. Her frizzy white haired head covered with the crumpled cotton sari pallu that she had been wearing for more than 12 hours now. I couldn’t help but watch her pray. She looked so strong, like she could do anything but at the same time so vulnerable and fragile.

I remember staring at her breasts. There was a lump there that was eating her up. The thought was painful. I really didn’t understand the magnitude of what was going on around me. Everything was done in such a rush that I almost didn’t know why we were here and not in the hospital getting medical help.

We spent hours silently and peacefully sitting cross-legged, hand folded, on the cool marble floor, taking in the tranquility that surrounded us. However, this time it felt like a few short minutes. After the heart-breaking news of Amma ji’s illness a few days earlier, I felt like this was the first time we had our emotions under control.

We ventured down to the Amrit Sarovar. My dad went to the main sarovar while my mom led Amma ji and me to an enclosure where the women bathed.

I was scared to enter the sarovar, the steps were slippery. My mom reached out and held my hand as I attempted rather half-heartedly to immerse myself in the cold waters.

A large fish swam up to me. I was surprised by how unafraid it looked. I jumped out of the water, afraid because I didn’t know how deep it was. My mom who was still holding my hand seemed distracted, she was looking the other way. One of the women in charge wasn’t letting Amma ji enter the sarovar.

“Mai,” she called her ‘you can’t bathe here.”

“Why?” my mom asked, ready to bite the unsuspecting woman’s head off. The woman retreated, muttering something under her breath. Amma seemed oblivious (or was she accustomed to it, now that I think of it now) to the disrespectful treatment.

My mom now held one of Amma ji’s hands, she asked me to hold the other, and the three of us immersed ourselves in the sarovar again. I felt like this dip was different from the previous one. We had done ishnan together. Three generations of women (I was only ten, but the term ‘women’ seems appropriate here) with one common purpose. All our stress and worry seemed to have been washed away by those waters shimmering in a psychedelic dance under the many tube lights.

It was unlike any bath I had taken before. The cold water and Amma ji’s warm hand were both emotionally healing and calming.

My dad was waiting outside for us. Dressed in fresh clothes, all four of us headed to Darbar Sahib. It was late, the such-aasan had taken place -- that is, Guru Granth Sahib had been ‘retired‘ for the day.

The gurdwara staff were cleaning the precincts. I wasn’t prepared for the crowds that waited inside. There was an energy about the place. I find it hard to describe in words, something like I have never experienced before.

The sevadars were reciting a line from gurbani and the thronging devotees were completing it in an unanimous, synchronized, energized voice.

It was a spectacle to behold. I was in a trance and yet excited and fully alert at the same time.

As we approached the Peerrha Sahib where the Guru Granth would be placed shortly, my fear of crowds vanished, and like the rest of the sangat I was anxious for my turn for a glimpse. My mom’s voice asking my dad for money for the donation box sounded other-worldly remote. 

In the front of the line, I tried to say my prayers as quickly as possible so as not to inconvenience the people behind me. My mom dropped the five hundred rupees in the donation box .The bhaiji standing in front of us gave her a large orange saropa which she took in both hands reverently and touched her head with it. I was a little surprised to see Amma ji hand in one thousand rupee note as charrhava.

With a swift dismissive movement, the same granthi now handed her a saropa too. It was much smaller than the one he had given my mom. Again, Amma ji didn’t seem to notice.

As we sat outside and waited for the parkash, we listened to hymns for some time. Finally my eyelids started to get heavy and soon after I was asleep on the cool marble floor.

Sometime later I imagine my dad and Amma ji did the same thing. I woke up reaching out for my mom. She was sitting by the sarovar, wearing an expression which all at once was sad and joyous, solemn and wonderous.

She had spent the night in contemplation and prayer.

She came and woke dad and Amma ji for the early morning prakash ceremony. I found everything so fascinating and beautiful. Still sleepy, I hardly knew what was going on. I held onto my mother.

The sun was out and Amritsar seemed to come to life. The shops in the Darbar Sahib precincts were opening up and the tea stalls outside were brewing large kettles of tea and frying pakoras. My mom, always a teacher) wanted to visit some book shops to buy books for her class back in Canada.

Dad spent that time getting us some tea and breakfast. We beckoned a rickshaw to take us to the Railway Station. After a very emotional night, we left the Golden Temple to catch the Shatabadi Express which makes a daily trip in the morning from Amritsar to Delhi.

As our train left the station I remember praying that the journey home would be an uneventful one.

When we got home, we found out that Amma ji was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer and a few days later she got a mastectomy. I remember feeling somehow let down. As if God hadn’t listened to my prayers or those of my heartbroken mother.

This summer, six years later, Amma ji visited our home in Canda. She was so full of life, her enthusiasm and her delight in everything was so infectious that I couldn’t but help think back of our trip to The Golden Temple.

*   *   *   *   *


For an earlier story on Amma ji‘s visit to Canada, please CLICK here.

November 20, 2015

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Part II"

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