Friday, June 25, 2010
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
This one is a break from blood and gore. It also introduces my parents and my seven brothers.
A very dear friend of mine is impatiently waiting for me to explain how I came up with this strange, unSikh sounding name of Mai Laya. Since I haven't told this story online before, I decided to put it here, in case anyone has ever wondered. Actually, it ties together two of the great events in my life, my birth and my marriage.
First I'll dispose of 'Laya.' Blame that on Google. I was always Mai, just Mai, but when I registered for an account, they wanted, no, they insisted on a second name. I could have - probably should have - used Kaur, but at that time, I had not yet returned to the Sangat and all things Sikh and I felt I had no right to use that name. I almost randomly chose Laya from Himalaya. It does sound euphonious with Mai, eh?
"Mai", however, has a real story.
I Am Born
(That reminds me of Melanie reading David Copperfield from the movie Gone With The Wind.)
When it was time for my birth, my mother went to stay with her family. I'm not sure why. I think that she and Dad were not getting along and she didn't want him around. She waited and waited, getting angrier and more impatient by the day. It seems I was in no hurry to get into this world and arrived two weeks after the projected due date.
In being born, though, I made up for lost time. There was no time to call the doctor, much less get her to the hospital. It must have been the shortest labour in history.
After all that, I was a girl.
No, not that silly Punjabi prejudice against the girlchild. Dad had enough sons anyway. In his family, there is a genetic condition that affects all the girls born. Usually, they die as babies or very young children. My mother said, "They live just long enough to break your heart." She had three girls, all of whom died, before me and was not at all willing to go through that heartbreak again. She hadn't wanted another child to begin with and now she had as little to do with me as was possible. Beyond feeding me, she paid little attention to me.
Of course, Dad was called and he and my brothers, all seven of them, came running, along with a friend of the youngest. He arrived in a few minutes, bellowing "Waheguru!" partly from joy and partly he wanted that to be the first word I ever heard. (It wasn't, of course, my mother was cursing in furious anger the whole time.)
In those days, doctors were more willing to make housecalls and her ob/gyn came to the house. I don't know all the details, but she stayed home and didn't go to the hospital until going to be checked up a few days later. I guess there weren't as many malpractice suits then as now. After a time, all the medical details were taken care of - it was not true that Dad cut my umbilical cord with his kirpan, I'm not sure who started that story - I was cleaned up, wrapped up in a baby blanket and my mother gave me my first meal and then went to sleep.
He whispered "Waheguru" in my ears a few more times and slipped a tiny kara on my wrist.
Dad threw back his head and laughed and laughed and laughed. Finally he bellowed, "This one won't put up with cowards. I see we have another Mai Bhago on our hands!" I have been Mai ever since.
Mai is, after all, a Sikh name. At least my Mai is. I was always brought with that lady as my ideal, a true warrior princess and servant of Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
In Punjabi, Mai also means a very old woman, which certainly gave a comical air to using it for a newborn baby.
WHY TRY TO FIT IN? YOU WERE BORN TO STAND OUT!
NOTE: I am Mai, age 34 in 1984, Mani was my husband, age 44, Sandeep was our son, 13, Suni, 34, is Mani's cousin.
Warning, this post does get a little bit graphic.
We think it was 3 November. Everything had been very quiet all morning. We, of course, were on edge, but had done our prayers and a lot of singing, some kirtan, but mostly popular stuff. About 1:30 PM, we heard a commotion outside and knew that this was it.
Suni: A few minutes before, I saw a party of shaheeds enter the house. There were about quite a few of them, I didn't count, but I think maybe 40 or 45. Mai: None of the rest of us saw the shaheeds.
Mai: Mani shouted, 'Bole so nihal!' We responded, "Sat Shri Akaal!" and took up our positions. Suni was seated in the big chair, holding Guru Ji. I was on the stairs leading to the second floor balcony. My brothers were to the left and right of the front door. Sandeep, my son, was in the kitchen doorway. Mohan and Balbir, Suni's husband and son, as the least experienced fighters (Suni: totally inexperienced) were upstairs on the balcony. (I had argued with Mani that I should be in Sandeep's position, since I was a strong fighter, but he refused because of my pregnancy.) Mani, as our commander, was across the room, but directly in front of the door.
What none of us had expected was that they entered from the front and back simultaneously. That one came so fast behind Sandeep that I don't think he ever knew he was hit. I saw it, though, and felt the blood rush to my head in an anger and fury indescribable. He went down with the first blow of the iron bar across the back of his neck, his head at that bizarre angle that I'll never forget.
I remember then Mani shouted, 'Guru Gobind Singh! Waheguru!' and lunged forward. I ran from my position toward the bastard that had killed my son, intending to kill him. Something happened, time seemed to stop. Suddenly there was no noise and no one was moving except me and him. I approached him with my kirtan/dagger (it was now a weapon) drawn and ready. He was terrified. If I live forever, I will never see such fear in anyone's eyes again. His eyes were wide open, as was his mouth - although I heard no sound from it - as I slit his throat from ear to ear. I think I nearly decapitated him. Blood spurted out all over me, my face was wet with it. He stared at me for a moment and then fell at my feet, mouth still gaping open, eyes staring wide. I felt a great satisfaction, as I licked the blood from my lips. Is that enough detail for everyone?
Suni: When I sat down with Guru Ji, two Singhnis took up positions on either side of me. Both were tall and strong-looking and heavily armed. The one on my right smiled at me and gently patted my stomach. I could feel her hand.
When Mai went toward that [person]. I also saw everything stop and it happened as Mai has described it, but she could not see herself. The person [he] confronted looked nothing like my cousin/sister Mai. She was huge and tall and black. Her eyes were red and she was the very embodiment of the outraged mother. In short she looked like a most terrifying depiction of Ma Kali. I think that is what that person saw that scared him so much. Of course, I do not believe in Ma Kali, but he did and that's what matters. All the shaheeds just stood and watched.
Mai: Normal time resumed. Mohan and Balbir were side by side on the main floor, doing their best to strike with drawn swords, but I saw Balbir get hit in the stomach with an iron bar and drop his sword. I saw my brothers moving, but I couldn't see clearly what was going on. Two [males] had converged on me and I was busy with them. They kept hitting my body, but I was able to protect my head and kept going. I felt no pain. I could not see Mani, at all.
Suni: They never seemed to notice me sitting there Somehow the shaheeds were able to make me invisible to our enemies, I think. I saw my son drop his sword and get hit in the head with one of their bars. My husband foolishly went to his aid and forgot to protect himself. The two fell in a heap together. The Hindus beat them and beat them with their iron bars.
Mai's brothers were expert fighters, but each was fighting off three opponents and fell. Someone picked up their kirpans and stabbed them over and over in the chest. There was a lot of blood. By this time, the smell became overwhelming. Not just blood, but also urine and feces. I could barely breathe.
Mani was in control of himself. I could see his mouth moving. 'Vaheguru, vaheguru, vaheguru...' He sword was swinging in rhythm to his words. There were just too many of them and eventually he went down. Mai was a fury. She looked like something out of a Chinese martial arts movie. Eventually, though, she went down, too. They beat everyone after they were down, over and over, with their bars until all of them were bloody all over. I am sure many bones were broken, too. I could tell when someone died because shaheeds would gather around that person, I think to act as an escort and honour guard. I knew that Mani and Mai were still alive, but all the others were dead.
When they finished beating the bodies, for some reason, they left. I'm not sure why. I just sat and clutched Guru Ji. My two lady shaheeds were still with me, so I knew it wasn't over.
We have already described how Mai regained consciousness and got to Mani and their talk, his death and then cleaning the faces. We are not going to retell that now. (Note to Buzzers: That is another post that I will send, if you like.)
Eventually, the mob returned with cans of petrol. They looted the house, then drenched all the bodies with the petrol. Just at that moment, by Guru's grace, a loud voice shouted 'Naamaste!' They stopped dead in their tracks. It was our neighbours, the Brahmins. They ordered the mob out and came and rescued me. I knew Mai was still alive and they carried her, bleeding profusely - she was in premature labour by that time, in addition to her other injuries - to their house. The shaheeds followed her and, I think also acted as an escort to her two daughters.
They wanted to relieve me of the burden of carrying Guru Ji, but I wouldn't surrender him to them for anything. As we left the house, the mob, waiting impatiently outside, entered and torched the house. I really didn't know that brahmins had that much power still, but the mob was willing to let us two live. I don't think they ever knew that Mai was a woman.
Picture: We do not know who these women are, just our sisters, survivors like ourselves.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
My next topic, having disposed of the BB and Dad, would have to be Mani (Mandeep) Singh Khalsa, 42 in 1984, my husband. How can I write about him, knowing some other man will read it? He was, possibly, the only perfect human being of our generation. I married him in 1970, lived our whole life together, every single day, until he achieved shaheedi in November 1984. I have absolutely no complaints about him as a person or as a husband. I knew him literally from the day I was born, when I threw up on him, until that day. I had never had any interest in any other man. I knew him to be intelligent, self-disciplined and a bit fastidious. I knew he would never be interested in any woman who didn't live up to the standard he held himself to. Dad was always afraid I'd get involved with some idiot boy at school. He had nothing to worry about. How could a boy interest me, when I had always intended to marry this man? He was ten years older than me, so he was settled and grown up by the time I was expected to start to notice boys. One day, when I was 17, I went to Dad, and said, 'I want to get married.' He looked at me a minute and said, 'Aren't you a little young?'
No, I know what I want. After all, you taught me.'
'When a young lady comes to her father and says she wants to get married, I would assume she has someone in mind.'
He looked at me for a minute. I said nothing.
'Not one of those little boy fools you go to school with, I hope.'
I shook my head. 'I don't want to marry a child, damn it. I have a little more sense than that.'
'Anyone I know?'
I felt suddenly shy. I nodded again.
"Dare I ask who?'
A third time, I nodded.
'Princess, you're driving me mad. Who?'
In an uncharacteristically tiny voice. 'Mani.'
Booming, 'MANI??? You've got to be kidding. Why him?'
'I never thought of anyone else. I always wanted to marry him.'
Dad gave me the strangest look. 'Really?'
'Didn't you notice I never wanted to date or anything?'
'I just counted my blessings. I'm an old traditional Punjabi Sikh. I wouldn't have any idea how to handle a dating daughter.'
I giggled at the thought. 'You'd scare the poor boy half to death.'
'I'd try, I'm sure.' He kept looking at me with that weird look.
'Why are you looking at me like that. Is he secretly my brother or something?'
Laughing, 'No, no, no. Nothing like that. Are you 100% sure?'
'I have absolutely no objections. In fact, if you'd let me find you a husband which is, after all, my responsibility, I would have chosen him.' In an uncharacteristically small voice, a bit sheepishly, 'In fact, his parents and I did choose him. We've been trying to figure out how to get you two stubborn, modern kids together for years.'
'Daddy!' I was appalled.
'Are you still serious? Do you really want to marry him?' He was staring at me.
'OK, I'll call his parents. How much have you discussed with him?'
'Not a word, but he's always wanted to marry me, too. I know you think I'm young and inexperienced, but I have always known. Especially after he sang at my sixteenth birthday party.' I mimicked him singing. 'Since you've grown up your future is sewn up. From now on you're gonna be mine.'
By that night we were informally engaged.
His family and ours had always been close. Dad had been the business partner of Mani's grandfather and of his dad. He was his parents' only child and also my youngest brother's best friend, so he had always been around. In fact, he was the first nonfamily member to meet me when I was born. The way the ten-year-old boy and new-born baby looked into each others' eyes and then she threw up on him had become a favourite family legend.
By the time we got engaged, he had been to medical school and was a fully certified oncologist. He was also a devout Khalsa, which he would put before being a doctor or a husband or a father. It was the only thing, in fact, that he put ahead of me, which was fine. That came before everything, even wife, even child, even country, everything.
I think I can describe him in that one word: Khalsa. Pure. A true son of Guru Gobind Singh ji, if I can sound a bit cheesy, from the moment we woke up before dawn and took those horrible cold showers to when he fell asleep at night. He never tried to force me to do as he did, like those pre-dawn cold showers but in a true marriage, it's natural to stand together. He admitted to me after some years, that he didn't like those cold showers any more than I did, but the Guru asked it of us, and he did it out of love and also as self-discipline.
I would like to say something about him that doesn't involve being Sikh, but that is so much of him that there is nothing to say. Maybe a physical description. Tall, athletic, kind of light brown skin in winter, darker, of course, in summer, as we spent a lot of time outdoors, rather bushy eyebrows, thick, curly black eyelashes (why do the men always have those?), steel grey eyes, courtesy of his Kashmiri mother, and all that hair. He wouldn't even let me see it until after we were married. I told him he was as bad as a Muslim virgin, but he just laughed at me. It was thick and straight and longer than waist length and was as black and shiny as obsidian. I felt almost naked with my dark brown, rather thin hair. At least I could match him for length in those days. His beard did have just a touch of red in it, maybe again from his Kashmiri side. I enjoyed looking at him, and he could hardly take his eyes off me. We were the most perfectly matched couple I could ever imagine. We had fourteen incredible years together, and would have had many more, if he hadn't been killed.
I don't feel like describing that day again, so let me jump to immediately after the mob had left and I had regained consciousness. As it turned out, at that time he was also still alive.
Whatever kind forces exist in the universe, whether Waheguru or Guru Nanak Dev or some other benevolent being or just the universe itself, we had a few peaceful minutes talking together before he died. Most of that conversation was so intensely personal that I can't write it down. I will only mention three things.
First, I pulled lightly on his beard and asked him, 'Has it all really been worth it?'
He said softly,'Yeah.' Then he breathed in deeply, and said in his strongest voice, 'Yes. Hell, yes! People don't even dream of living the kind of life we've lived because they could never believe it's possible. Too short, I guess, but better too short and too good, than longer in the hell most people seem to live in. And, you know, for me there's really no better way to die.'
Then he insisted on a promise from me that I would remarry, so as not to spend the rest of my life in useless grieving for him. As if marrying another man would end my grief! But I have done as I promised, and my current husband treats me like a queen, and I have come to love him deeply, too.
Then he asked me to sing the last verse of How Can I keep from Singing?, an old Quaker song. My singing voice is between a crow and a foghorn, and I can't carry a tune, but I complied.
When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death knells ringing,
When friends rejoice, both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
On gallows high or dungeons vile,
Our thoughts to them go winging.
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?
As Mani lay in my lap dying, he looked into my eyes and said, 'Good-bye for now, love.' Then he closed his eyes and, holding onto my hand said his final pronouncement, in a loud, clear voice, slowly, syllable by syllable, a battle cry and an affirmation:
I have never known who he was greeting. As the final sounds came out of his mouth, he opened his eyes and looked, first at me, then beyond me. An expression of astonishment and pure joy (ananda?) came over his features. 'A glimpse of gold in the steel, the proof of all you never dared to believe.' His hand went limp in mine, but I held it for I don't have any idea how long, until I dropped it, closed his eyes and gave him a last kiss. It all sounds so romantic now, the fallen martyr soldier-saint, the grieving, loving pregnant widow, herself nearly fatally injured, the lull in the battle. At the time, with the signs of violence all around us, I, paradoxially, felt a peace I had never felt before and have never felt since. I lay down beside his body and passed out/went to sleep. That is the end of his story.
Do not seek Death. Death will find you. But rather seek the road that makes Death a fulfillment. Dag Hammarskjold
Friday, June 18, 2010
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Fish. I like fish a lot. And there's a lot more to pet fish than you might realise.
I use to have a nice, rather ordinary smallish freshwater aquarium. (I saw the same one on Star Trek - The Next Generation, although I think it was sans fish.) Mostly I kept small goldfish or, if you're going to be fancy, tiny koi. Cute little things and quite friendly. Whenever I would walk over to the aquarium, they all swim over to the side and say, in their fish way, "Hi. Glad to see you!"
My favourite was a black bug-eyed fish named Alaska. (Don't ask.) He was especially friendly and seemed always happy to see me. One day when I went to greet my fish, he was missing. My heart sank as I saw him floating upside down, dead. I do not easily accept the unnecessary death of a friend. I gently lifted him out and took him to the bathroom sink. I ran cool water over him while gently stroking his gills. Ridiculous, I know. Still...Wait, are the gills moving? Is that a tiny heartbeat? They were and it was. Just to be sure, I kept him in his own little white bowl for a few days, feeding him sparingly - Goldfish should always be fed sparingly. Most people overfeed them and then wonder why they die - and then returned him to his friends. They were all happy to see him and he lived for several more years.
I no longer have my aquarium and my dear fish. I lost them through a great tragedy. Once in a while my husband gets the grand idea of adding to the aquarium. I didn't like this, but he's stubborn and knows everything. One day he brought some fish home and dumped them in the tank before I could intercept him. Immediately, my very innocent little goldfish were under attack and before I could get the net to pull them out, they were all dead, in pieces. You can imagine how upset I was. "Simon, what were those fish."
"Well, the guy at the pet store said they shouldn't be put in with other fish, but I thought..."
I glared at him.
"I wasn't thinking."
I continued glaring. "Did you ask what they are called."
"Perennials , I think, something like that."
"Piranhas," I gasped.
"Yeah, that was it."
So my fish were dead and I was left to care for piranhas. I dutifully fed them, but I didn't make friends with them and I wasn't too unhappy when they died off one by one. (No, no, of course, I didn't kill them. I would guess that the water was too cold for them, something like that.)
I gave away the aquarium and haven't had the heart to keep fish since.
Now I just look after pixels in FishWorld.
And my beloved readers, please refrain from putting barbed hooks in those delicate mouths and do not, I repeat, DO NOT drown them in the air.
Remember, fish are people, too!
Giving credit where credit's due (all from the the Creative Commons):
Snippy the gold golfish is courtesy of the renowned Rubyblossom
Alaska the black goldfish is played by Concerto of Katie@!
The piranha is from marcelometal
Monday, June 7, 2010
What could I possibly need to add?
Credits, all under Creative Commons License.
The background is courtesy of my dear friend, Angie, better known as rubyblossom,
who also supplied Snippy the goldfish,
Ms. Palin's cash was donated by chego 101,
The eagle flew in from belgian chocolate,
The airplane is thanks to brentdaley,
The noose is from fangleman
Pygment shots armed the two wolves with the AK47s.
The multi species wolf pack came from far and near for this hunting party:
Douglas Brown, www.flickr.com/photos/dougbrown47/4516081663/
Andreas Solberg, www.flickr.com/photos/andreassolberg/448628185/
Wildlife Art Reference, www.flickr.com/photos/49989861@N07/4589483585/
Pascal Vuylsteker, www.flickr.com/photos/pvk/92775757/
Law Keven, www.flickr.com/photos/66164549@N00/2703993448/
Dennis from Atlanta, www.flickr.com/photos/dennis_matheson/4332300009/
and the star of the show. former Governor Sarah Palin is from
Jim Cassady, www.flickr.com/photos/jcassady/3069121513/
and, no, she was not lifting her middle finger in the original picture.