December 6, 2020


(c) J. Singh, 2016

They had been married for just over a year. Slowly, gently, they were starting to get to know each other, to learn about each others personalities, quirks, likes and dislikes. It was a process of discovery and it was a new experience for both of them. Like explorers wandering into uncharted territory, they diffidently took each new step that grew their relationship and their attachment to each other.

Relatives and friends watched them with knowing smiles, offering their loving advice and emotional support. Seeing the newlyweds reminded them of their own experiences when they were first married, and how difficult and uncertain the first year usually is.

They had one thing in common, though. They were both devout in their faith - Tarsem Singh had been born into a Sikh family, and his new bride Karan Kaur had become a Sikh just a few years ago. By the time they were married, they were both completely devoted to the Guru. This dedication was something they shared, and it gave them common ground from which to build the rest of their relationship on. The support and guidance from the community helped enormously. It was reassuring for them both to know that they were on a road that had been traveled before, and that there was an exciting future life ahead of them, filled with potential and hope and promise.

It was Summer, and the long, hot days brought with them cool breezes and pleasant evenings. Like most other folks in their neighborhood, Tarsem and Karan took to going for evening walks together. The fresh air and lovely weather was a delight, and they both enjoyed the time spent walking together. Sometimes they would talk about their future plans, and what they each wanted out of life. Other times, they would be getting to know about each other - what was her favorite color, what was the most embarrassing thing that had happened to him while growing up, what was her favorite dessert, things like that. Sometimes the conversations were silly, sometimes serious, and every once in a while there was even a little argument. But by the time they returned home from their walks, usually after it got dark, they would both be smiling and holding hands.

On one such walk, they were so deeply engrossed in their conversation that they wandered far outside their neighborhood without realizing it. The path was winding and it seemed to go on forever without end. They followed it without giving much thought to where it was going, lost in each others words. As they continued on their walk, passing through different neighborhoods and parks, the dusk slowly and silently gave way to darkness, and the street lamps came on, casting a dim yellow light all around.

They stopped abruptly and looked around, noticing their unfamiliar surroundings for the first time.

“Do you know where we are?” Karan asked, laughing.

“No,” replied Tarsem, “never seen these houses before.”

“Let’s get back, it’s late,” said Karan, taking Tarsem’s arm. They turned around and started walking back along the path on which they had come. The temperature had dropped significantly, and there was a nip in the air. Karan lay her head against Tarsem’s shoulder as they walked, feeling warmth from the cold.

Their path wound through the neighborhood and into a wooded area. There were no lights here, and the large trees and bushes obstructed the view. The path was paved, but in the dark it was still difficult to tell where it went. In the night wind, swaying branches and bushes appeared as eerie shadows moving in the darkness.

They had almost cleared the wooded area, and could see the lights from the main street ahead, when they faced a sudden obstruction. Out of the shadows came a group of men, dressed in torn jeans and ditry t-shirts, walking towards them with a swagger.

“Yo, check this out guys,” one of the men called out to his companions, gesturing towards Tarsem and Karan.

Tarsem immediately stepped in front of Karan, confronting the four men who were blocking the path before them, and were now converging upon them.

“What you doing here, Osama?” one of them called out, pointing at Tarsem’s turban.

Tarsem growled. But Karan gave him arm a light squeeze. He recognized what she meant, and so he attempted diplomacy. Through gritted teeth, he declared, “You got it all wrong, I got nothing to do with Osama.”

“Oh yeah?” they were slowly being surrounded. More men had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Now the path behind them was also blocked. “Then why you got that thing on your head, huh?”

“It’s a turban,” Tarsem was still trying to explain, even as the men closed in on them. Karan was silently making a count of how many they were. So far, she had counted seven in total.

They roared in laughter. “It’s his turbin, yo!”

“Hey look,” Tarsem spread his open hands, “we got nothing against you, why don’t you let us pass and we can all just carry on?”

“Nah, I don’t think so,” the spokesman for the group stepped up to face Tarsem, inches away from his face. “You’re not walking away just like that, Osama.”

Tarsem’s eyes narrowed.

“Look, I’ve already told you—-”

The attack was sudden and unprovoked. The man closest to Tarsem landed several blows to his face. Tarsem stumbled back but regained his footing quickly.

“Hey!” he shouted, raising his arms in front of his bloodied nose, “Stop!”

Karan gasped in disbelief at what was happening. She swung around to look for a means of escape, but was met with the sneers of the other men who had blocked their path. There was no way out.

Three of them launched themselves onto Tarsem. Karan screamed, “NO!” but her entreaties went unheeded. The three men held Tarsem down while the others pummeled him with kicks and blows. Karan lunged forward, trying to protect him, but the men from behind grabbed her and dragged her back.

Eventually, Tarsem’s body sagged and he sank to the ground, unconscious. His face and shirt were covered in blood. They were still kicking his midsection and torso. Karan tore herself away from her captors and draped her body over his, sobbing. She could hear the voices of the men who had attacked them clearly, taunting her and laughing at her predicament.

She knew that the ordeal was not over. She could hear their voices getting closer as they closed in on her. It was her turn now. They were laughing and taunting her, describing what they were going to do to her.

She gently touched Tarsem’s bloodied face. “This attack was without provocation, and without reason,” she said quietly, “We begged you to stop.”

Karan’s hand slid down to Tarsem’s waist.

You didn’t listen, you only wanted to hurt us, out of your own ignorance and hatred.”

Her fingers loosened the scabbard.

Now I will give you an answer to your actions!”

One hand on Tarsems waist, one on her own. The attackers had closed in now. Some of them loosened their belt-buckles in anticipation. They were jeering and mocking her, shouting out obscenities and profanities. She was completely surrounded now. As they leaned down to lay their hands on her, she rose. Like a whirlwind she spun, in a blur she was on her feet, whirling and spinning. The men with outstretched hands felt sharp slicing pain as their skin was split open and their blood splattered out. Cuts across their palms, forearms, and faces. She kept spinning, twirling and twisting, like a dancer. The red blood of her assailants soaked her white clothes and splashed onto the ground. The earth soaked up the blood hungrily, as if thirsty for more. Blood sprayed into the air in fine droplets.

The circle of men who had surrounded her widened quickly as they reeled back in horrified astonishment at what was happening. Karan spun and twisted, kicking her legs up into the air, spreading her arms wide, the deadly blades slicing anything that came in their path.

She came to a stop a few feet away, and crouched low on the ground like a tiger eyeing its prey, waiting to strike again. The two kirpans in her hands were dripping red blood. Her attackers were crying in pain, petrified and traumatized, staring at their bloodied hands, some with their flesh hanging down in tatters. They would have continued their attack on her, but the agony of the pain was too much to bear. They dispersed, screaming in agony and clutching ineffectually at their wrists in vain attempts to stop the bleeding.

The hospital was not far from their location. That night, the ER nurses and doctors were met with a sight that they would not soon forget. A woman dressed in white clothes and a white turban, dragging her unconscious husband into the Emergency Room, their clothes soaked in blood. They left a trail of fresh blood behind them as she walked, with his arm around her shoulders, dragging and pulling him, struggling to make each step.