Note: To read the first chapter, please click here.
“Seeing the swans swimming, the herons wanted to do it too. But the poor herons drowned and died, and floated with their heads down and their feet up.”
-Guru Gobind Singh Ji | The Tenth Guru of Sikhism
It was winter at that time of the year. As the snow fell, a small group of people huddled closed together as they tried to get into the entrance of a small house in a tiny neighborhood in Southall. Beatle’s Let it Be can be heard blaring from one of the neighbor’s houses.
But unlike the happy tune of the song, this group of people looked extremely serious and disturbed.
As they walked into the small house they observed and took in every bit of it’s detail; it was small and cramped and at the front of the entrance, there was a photo of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak.
Below his photo, there were captions, “Satguru Nanak is the Head of this house. The unseen host at every meal. The silent listener to every conversation”
Each one of them observed the photo for a couple of seconds until a voice welcomed them in. The voice sounded like an order more than a warm welcome. And so, everyone obeyed the command.
The group of people walked into the hall. It smelt humid with freshly baked chapathis and Aloo Ghobi and ghee.
The man who welcomed them, could be seen at the end of a long table in his tiny kitchen. He beckoned everyone to sit.
He was tall and lean, and yet he had the look of a leader. A man with quality and perfection. He had a serious looking face, beard as thick as a lion’s mane and he wore a red turban. He was twirling a Kirpan on the table.
He stood confidently and addressed the group with folded hands.
“Sat Sree Akaal”
Everyone greeted him back in unison, “Sat Sree Akaal”
He cleared his throat and then continued, “I’m sure most of you know the reason you all are called here, but I’m going to relate the reason and the incident once again as to formalize our meeting. I don’t want anyone to be left out.” He cleared his throat.
“Last week, my son, Jetinder” he stopped, cleared his throat again and continued, “My son, Jetinder was beaten up by a bunch of local kids.”
Everyone at the table gasped.
“He was pushed on the pavement, dragged, kicked, punched and then they made a mockery out of his Dastaar (turban).” Karnail swallowed as he said it.
Most of the Punjabi men who were seated there shook their heads in silence. One or two of them ‘tsked’. Karnail observed a few of the old uncles from the corner of his eyes, they twirled their moustaches, their eyes wide with concentration.
“They removed his Dastaar, and thre it into a rubbish bin nearby where my grandson could not reach it. They then proceeded to remove his hair by untying the little handkerchief that held his hair together.”
Two little girls could be seen peeping from their rooms, listening to Karnail. And old lady, observing the girls, shooed them in to their rooms and closed the door so that they minded their own business.
“They ended their insult by peeing on him. His hair was in a mess. He was in a mess. And he’s just 10 years old.”
Everyone started muttering to each other, obviously offended by what the local kids had done.
“How long are we going to stand this act of mockery?” Karnail’s voice boomed.
“How long are we going to let them make a mockery out of us, just because we’re a group of unique people who mind our own bloody business?”
There was pin drop silence. The Kirpan was still twirling on the table. The silence was so deafening that the only object that was making a sound in the kitchen was the sound of the Kirpan twirling. And this distracted everyone as everyone observed it twirling. It twirled fast and then slowly started to loose it’s momentum.
“It’s funny” Karnail broke the silence. “It’s funny because” he paused as he observed the twirling Kirpan which was now beginning to slow down to a stop. He kept silence as he observed the Kirpan twirling to a stop, and when it had stopped twirling, he continued, “Funny because, it’s pointless to have a Kirpan when you don’t make proper use of it.”
One young man then mustered up the courage to address him. “And what do you mean by that?”
Karnail stared at him. The young man stared at him back. There was silence. Everyone observed Karnail, waiting for him to answer.
“What I mean is, if we don’t protect our culture and tradition then who will? If we allow let them humiliate us like this, what will become of us? These bastards, they have their government. We’re just a bunch of fucking immigrants in this country! We have no value!”
The youth stared back quietly, too afraid to say something.
“The Londoners have their government. The Italians, their Mafia. The Asians, their Triads. Us?” Karnail swallowed. “Nothing! Absolutely nothing!” He hung his head in shame. “Here i have, my own boy, humiliated. His Dastaar being removed from his head. It’s like a crown removed from a king’s head! I can’t stand watching this. I’ve had it!”
He paused and then continued. “You walk into shops, the hooligans start calling us names. Paki! Paki! Paki! You walk in parks, everyone makes fun of you. You have your own business and shops, there are always atleast one case of harassment every once a week by the locals. It’s like we’re a joke to all of them where they all can play a prank on us”
He stopped talking. He was breathing heavily. Silence as everyone observed Karnail.
“I’ve had enough of this shit!” Karnail bellowed finally. There was pindrop silence. And then Karnail spoke again. “We have nothing. So we create something”
And old man asked, “What do we create?”
Karnail kept silence. He was thinking. He was in deep thoughts. And then he opened his mouth to speak again. “We form our own Mafia.”
He ignored them and continued, “A form of group or organization to safeguard our wife and children. To safeguard our culture, our tradition, our race and our religion.”
He swallowed. He was getting excited. Thrilled. The very same thrill he found when he wrung the neck of his challenger when he was a young teenager.
“Let’s form an organization that will shake the locals from under their feet. Make them think twice if they wish to mess with us or with our children or with our family!”
“Chakde Phatte! (Let’s bring the house down!)” someone from the crowd cried.
Karnail twirled the Kirpan and it spun so fast that it looked like a cobweb from a far.
That year, as the group of people stepped out from Mr Dhillon’s residence in Southall in 1969, they all stepped out as brothers in arms.