It was with great sadness that we recently received the news of the death of my husband Sulakhan’s mother, Kishan Kaur. Sharing my, husband’s grief, I also thought of sharing some plain words of homage to this courageous lady. I always admired her forward-looking spirit in life, and the special way she embodied all the best Sikh values.

Born in district Ferozepur (Jalalabad) 78 years ago, Kishan Kaur showed an early love for education. In those days education for girls was not emphasized, and so she had to struggle to pursue it. Her mother died when Kishan Kaur and her younger brother Narinder Singh were very small. After a while, their father, who was a police inspector, remarried and had two more daughters. She had to work very hard helping to care for the family, and was forced to hide away her beloved schoolbooks under the straw in the police horses’ stable, snatching odd moments here and there to practice her reading and writing. Then, while she was still quite young, her father also died — and before long she found herself married and settled into a then-remote village (Sursingh Wala) in dist. Ferozepur. Here, there was no end of work for the young bride: her husband Ganga Singh’s mother was no longer living, and so she was the only one to cook and care for her husband, his younger brother, the father-in-law, as well as various hired farmhands. She named her first child Sulakhan Singh (the fortunate one) because his good nature afforded her the time she needed to work so hard at her tasks. Ultimately, he was to be her only surviving child. She took special pains to teach him beautiful Sikh scriptures and stories, and to inculcate in him the burning love for education and progress which she never lost, in spite of many difficulties. It was a legacy that he carries with him even to this day.

There was no junior high or high school in the village at that time, so when it was time for Sulakhan Singh to study at that level, she saw to it that he was enrolled in a good high school in the nearest town, and then moved there herself for the duration. This move gave her a chance to pursue studies of her ‘own: while Sulakhan enjoyed his high school experiences, Ma ji took intensive courses in practical nursing, finishing first in her Class. She then became a certified mid-wife, something atypical for a lady from a Jat family to do. Upon her return to the village, she was able to help women there as well in neighboring villages to give birth safely, and in fact, under her care, no mother ‘or child ever perished in childbirth. She saw to it that her son became not only the first person from that village to complete high school experiences, Ma ji college, and finally on to pursue progress and education in America. Anything progressive had great appeal for her, and she kept up a lively interest in uplift movement in Punjab, to a degree unusual in a simple village environment.

I came into her world in 1962 as a new daughter-in-law. She was totally accepting of me, very loving and supportive. No matter that I mangled Punjabi syntax and pronunciation, or that my dupattas kept sliding off my head — Ma ji had only kind words for me.

Before the current tragic political situation in Punjab, our family would go there nearly every year to enjoy a wintertime family reunion. Sadly, we were not able to be with her in her last illness. It seems that both Mother and son have had to pay a very heavy price in emotional deprivation due to the political upheavals in Punjab. She understood this, but felt the heartache of separation, as must so many aged parents still in Punjab whose adult sons have been prevented from fulfilling their filial obligations by the cruel realities of the suppression in Punjab. (Sikhs are paying heavily in all respects, due to being caught up in the politics of suppression of their community). Sulakhan says, “My mother wanted to know all about America, Christian values, Sikh theology, and 0 many other things which I enjoyed sharing with her in the depth of cold winter nights of Punjab whenever I visited her. Now, all those pleasures are gone forever.”

Kishan Kaur Is survived by her husband Ganga Singh, of village Sursingh Wala, as well as by her son Sulakhan Singh, Berkeley, and by three grandchildren, Manjit Singh, Hanjit Kaur, and Kanwaljit Singh, and by four great grandchildren: Randit Singh, Regina, Kabir Singh, and Ranbir Singh, all of the Bay Area.

Bhog ceremonies and final rites were performed in India.

Article extracted from this publication >> June 10, 1988