These stories capture the horrors and uncertainties of 1984 through Sikh eyes around the world – Scroll

An excerpt from the eponymous short story from ‘Night of the Restless Spirits: Stories from 1984’, by Sarbpreet Singh.


Book Excerpt | The Scroll |

Fateh Singh lies on his cot half-asleep, flirting with the faint breeze and listening to the sounds of the summer night and the musical snores. The rumble of heavy trucks is one of the sounds of the night as he continues to drift midway between the bloodsoaked dreams of his boyhood and the bloodier realities of his beloved Punjab today.

Even the whoosh of heavy hydraulic brakes does not sound any alarm bells in his head. They don’t make any effort at stealth at all. The crunching of their loud metal-soled army boots on the gravel outside belies the administration’s claims of a covert operation. They are not slit-eyed and bow-legged; they wear olive green fatigues. They quickly form a single file and enter the courtyard on the double, the Sten guns hanging from their shoulders marking time on the sides of their torsos as they slap back and forth.

There is no hatred in their eyes, but no compassion either. They are dumb, mute automatons out to do their job.
Hukam Singh swings off the cot with an oath, displaying the kind of agility that only extremely fat people have, and a rifle butt comes crashing down on the back of his unprotected head. Fateh Singh is too old to fight and continues to lie on the cot until he is jerked roughly to his feet.

The sevadars huddle together like Siamese twins mumbling incoherently out of fear, but their protests of innocence crumble before their eyes after bouncing off the inscrutable masks that are the soldiers’ faces. Their lips are silent now, but their eyes dart around looking for a saviour or an escape route. Their keskis, which Hukam Singh insists every man, woman and child must wear at all times inside the gurdwara, are rudely snatched from their heads and used to tie their hands behind their backs.

The old woman from Udhampur is lying prostrate on the ground, begging for her husband’s, or at least her son’s life, who cowers against the south wall with his hands tied behind his head with his turban. Fateh Singh looks around and sees that there are at least twenty-five or thirty Sikhs in the courtyard. There are old men and women and little children. And there are young men with hard expressions and sullen faces who stare back proudly and fearlessly at death, clad in olive green and black shiny metal.

There is Hukam Singh groaning with pain and muttering the foulest of curses, ones that would make truck drivers blush. The woman on the floor is wailing now and her mournful dirge is interrupted by gut-wrenching sobs that can see what is about to happen, even as her eyes cannot. The mouths of the Sten guns look as large as annons as the white marble wall behind their backs begins to push them, slowly and relentlessly, towards the shiny black circles of death. Their eyes can only see row upon row of neat geometric circles getting larger and larger until they look as big as railway tunnels and blacker.

Read the full excerpts here.

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