December 4, 2020

Karam

(c) J. Singh, 2017

It had only been ten days since Kashi Kaur and her husband Kavan Singh had moved into town, and they were just getting to know people in the local community. They found the local Gurudwara and made the twenty minute drive on Sunday morning. It was a small building just outside the main city center. The air was filled with the sounds of children’s laughter and the inviting aroma of spices and fresh, hot food. It was a bright and sunny day, with hardly a cloud in the blue sky. Kashi and Kavan were met with the smiling faces of the local sangat as they walked up to the main doors of the Gurudwara.

Before they entered the Darbar, they met the administrator for the Gurudwara committee. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man with green eyes and a bright red beard that gave away his Scottish ancestry. He wore a maroon colored turban which added an interesting hue and contrast to his appearance.

"I'm Joshua Singh," he proclaimed loudly, "Welcome! Glad to have you here!"

After the divan, Kashi and Kavan made their way to the langar hall for lunch. It was spacious and open, and the wall-to-wall windows let in ample natural light. The soft, lush carpet was a mixture of green and blue, with accented patterns and designs in gold, cream, black and red. As they sat down to their meal, a slim woman with perfectly braided long black hair and a beautifully embroidered dress approached Kashi and introduced herself.

"I'm Neeta," she said, smiling, "You just moved here?"

Kashi nodded. “Just a few days ago. I’m Kashi, this is my husband Kavan.”

“So nice to meet you. It’s always good to see more sangat, we’re a fairly small community. Where are you coming from?”

“Michigan.”

“Oh wow, that’s far. Job related move?”

“Yes, it was a great opportunity for Kavan, and I also was able to find a job at the hospital here, so it actually worked out great for both of us.”

‘Wonderful!” Neeta clapped her hands gleefully, her smile revealing her perfectly aligned, pearly white teeth. She glanced at the red bangle’s on Kashi’s wrists. “Just married?”

Kashi blushed. “Yes,” she answered, “Well, eight months ago.”

“Oh, you’re still in the honeymoon phase!” Neeta cooed. “How wonderful. So, I’m having a little get-together at our place, just a simple potluck dinner with some friends. It’s on Thursday evening. You are welcome to come join, if you’d like. You can meet more of the local community?”

Kashi turned to Kavan, and he nodded in agreement.

“Of course, we’d love to,” said Kashi. “What can I bring?”

“Oh, just bring yourselves! No need to cook anything,” Neeta said with a wave of her hand.

They exchanged phone numbers, and Neeta promptly texted Kashi her address.

That Thursday, Kashi and Kavan followed the GPS turn-by-turn directions and drove the thirty seven minutes to Neeta’s house. Neeta greeted them with her characteristic smile and a huge hug.

“Welcome! Welcome!” she chimed, before introducing her husband, Ishaan. Their home was abuzz with guests, and Neeta took Kashi around introducing her to everyone. Kashi smiled and nodded through the formalities, hoping she would be able to remember everyone’s name.

Dinner was more akin to a feast than a simple meal. There were five different sabzi’s, three daal’s, rice, naan, roti’s, raita, mixed greens salad, and multiple options for dessert, from mango ice cream to gulaab jamun or four flavors of cake. Kashi was overwhelmed with such variety, and soon found herself politely declining any more food.

“I’ve never been this full before,” she said, only half-joking.

The conversation settled down somewhat after dinner, as people sat around and sipped tea with their cake. Eventually, a few families began to take their leave. It was getting late, the kids had to be up early for school, etc. But Neeta didn’t allow Kashi and Kavan to leave.

“You’re newlyweds, you don’t have any kids, and you just got here, so you can stay a little while longer!” she said, “Besides, it’s your first visit, so you shouldn’t rush off so soon!”

When there were only two or three families left, Neeta brewed another pot of hot tea, and they all sat outside in the back-yard under the starry sky, enjoying the cool night breeze, and talking about various subjects. The conversation meandered from the local news to the problems with classroom size in the middle school, to the rising cost of real estate, to the price of onions, and finally to one particular family - the Kanra’s.

“I don’t know how they go on as if everything is just fine,” Neeta shook her head in disapproval.

“And it’s not just Jyoti, it’s both of them,” someone else added, “Even Manish does the same things.”

Kashi was clearly at a loss as to what they were talking about, but she remained quiet. Seeing her puzzled look, Neeta filled in the missing pieces.

“Jyoti and Manish Kanra, they have done so much bezti, you can hardly imagine. I mean, just the other day, they say Manish was drunk outside the bar on Hocken avenue, and he was leering at the girls coming out of there. Can you imagine such behavior?”

“Hmm,” Kashi was feeling slightly uncomfortable with the direction this was heading.

“And Jyoti, she’s no less!” someone else volunteered, “flirting with every man she sees, whether he’s married or not! She has no shame, a married woman behaving like that! And do they ever do any seva? No!”

“They were so insulting to Joshua Singh, they left their broken furniture on the Gurudwara premises and they made him haul it away at his expense! Imagine the nerve!”

Kashi looked at Kavan and as their eyes met, he understood what she was trying to tell him. He nodded slightly and they both stood up.

“It’s rather late,” Kavan said very diplomatically, “and as much as we enjoyed dinner, we must really be going. Thank you so much for your hospitality, we really do feel welcomed. Thank you for dinner, it was delicious. So nice to meet you all. If there is any way we can be of service, please do not hesitate to call upon us.”

“Oh, thank you for coming!” Neeta replied. As she and Ishaan walked them to the door, she had some advice for them, “Be careful of Jyoti and Manish, they are very cunning and sneaky. The last thing you want is to get caught up in one of their webs. So just consider this advance warning, stay clear and stay safe!”

Kashi managed a weak and awkward “Okay, thanks!” before she hastily retreated out the door.

Back in their car, as they drove back to their home, she asked Kavan what he thought.

“It was weird,” he said, “It’s the first time I’ve ever heard people talking like that about someone.”

Kashi nodded. “What if they’re right? Could it be that this Jyoti and Manish are really that bad?”

“Who knows,” Kavan shrugged, “But hey, if you don’t feel comfortable with anyone, you don’t have to talk with them.”

As the days passed, Kashi and Kavan got settled into their new jobs, spent some time exploring the city, and continued visiting the Gurudwara every Sunday. It was not long before they caught sight of the infamous couple, Jyoti and Manish. Kashi was sitting with her eyes closed, focused on the kirtan, when Neeta elbowed her gently in the side, and motioned to the couple who had just walked in.

Kashi felt slightly uncomfortable when Jyoti came and sat right in front of her. She avoided eye contact and took the first opportunity to get up. She quickly found Kavan and sat next to him.

Later, in the langar hall, Kashi again kept her distance from Jyoti. She was relieved when they found a place to sit that was far removed from where Jyoti and Manish were sitting.

Kavan seemed a little perplexed at her behavior.

“You seem a little tense,” he remarked casually.

“Well, it’s just,” Kashi struggled for words, “I’d rather not have to mingle with someone like that.”

“That’s okay,” Kavan replied, “you are under no obligation to become friends with everyone.”

“Yes, I know,” but she still sighed and looked uncomfortable.

On the way out, they ran into Joshua Singh again.

“How are you both?” he asked in his deep, booming voice, beaming a huge smile at them.

“Oh we’re doing fine,” Kavan answered, “just getting accustomed to the city and the weather here.”

“Yes, it’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Joshua stared up at the cloudless blue sky and seemed to be lost in his own thoughts for a moment.

“Uh, I was wondering,” Kavan began, sounding a little uncertain.

“Yes, sure, anything,” Joshua’s attention was immediately and intently focused on them again. “What do you need?”

“Well, I was just curious about something,” Kavan said, looking for the right words.

“Of course,” Joshua nodded. “Ask me anything, I am here to serve.”

“You know there is a Manish Kanra, and his wife Jyoti?”

“Oh yes, of course! Jyoti and Manish.”

“Do they usually come for the Gurudwara programs? I mean, are they very involved, you know, like for seva … and stuff?”

Kavan trailed off as he realized how absurd his question probably sounded. But Joshua didn’t even seem to notice. He nodded enthusiastically.

“Oh yes, indeed!” he replied, “Jyoti and Manish are here all the time!”

Kavan could sense Kashi groaning soundlessly in despair at the thought of having to see this wretched couple every time they came to the Gurudwara. But Joshua was still talking, and so Kavan tried to focus on what he was saying.

“Just the other week, we had replaced some of the furniture in our guest quarters. Sometimes we get visitors, people traveling, it’s useful to have some bedrooms where they can have lodging. I was talking to the owner of Banner Furniture, it’s just down the road a few miles. He actually needed to move some old inventory and agreed to let us have some of it at a very discounted price. So it was great. But the only catch was that we’d have to haul it away on our own, since delivery companies are very expensive. Well, wouldn’t you know it, but Jyoti and Manish came with me to the store, and they paid for it all.”

Kavan blinked. “You mean they paid for the furniture that was going to be put in the guest rooms of the Gurudwara?”

Joshua nodded. “Yes, and they even rented a truck to help move it here. Unfortunately, we hadn’t secured some of it properly when loading it, and a few pieces were damaged by the time we got here. That was probably more my fault. But most of it was still intact, and we were able to use that in the guest rooms. Manish took the damaged pieces away in his rental truck and disposed of them.”

“He didn’t ask you to take care of them?”

“Oh no, he took care of everything. Jyoti even helped set up the guest rooms. She ran over to Bed, Bath and Beyond and got some nice bedsheets and pillows and all kinds of stuff. She made the rooms look quite lovely, really.”

Kashi could not believe what she was hearing. “They helped, then? They did this seva?”

“Oh, yes, they did this seva, and so much other seva too! They are always helping. They’re really wonderful. You really should meet them. I know they came today, they’re around here somewhere.”

Kavan nodded. “I see,” he said quietly, “thank you so much. We will be really will make it a point to meet them.”

Conversations with other sangat members followed a similar pattern. It did not take long for Kashi and Kavan to realize how they had been misled about Jyoti and Manish.

“I feel like such a fool,” Kashi said to him in the car, “I completely misjudged them, based only on what I had heard.”

“Don’t feel too bad,” replied Kavan, “I fell for it, too. At least, we know now. Whatever reasons Neeta and her friends have for bad-mouthing them, they should have realized that the truth always comes out.”

Kashi nodded, lost in her own thoughts.

“I feel like I should apologize to them,” she said finally, “I judged them.”

“Maybe we can start by meeting them and perhaps offering to help them with any seva they are doing?”

Kashi smiled. “I like that idea, let’s do that.”

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