Brush with Death
In late 60’s I was gripped by enthusiasm for study of the Green Revolution. Therefore in early 70’s, soon after joining the Sri Ram Center in Delhi, I fashioned a research project to look into the phenomenon. Ludhiana district of Punjab was its acknowledged epicenter so I decided to make the Agricultural University my base and chose two villages some distance away for actual field work.
One of them named Ayali was situated less than 10 kilometers from the University. I knew a professor Sidhu whose in-laws belonged and actually lived in Ayali. Prof Sidhu introduced me to them and to another person named Raj Singh who worked as an administrative officer in the University. He belonged to Ayali and commuted daily to work on his motorbike. I visited Raj Singh’s family and was introduced to the Mahant of the Gurudwara and a couple of other villagers. Raj Singh kindly invited me to stay at his house, but I chose to locate myself in the Gurudwara.
My first day went off well. Many villagers came to the Gurudwara and willingly answered questions about the village and what was happening in the area since the Green Revolution began. On the second day too, I sat in the main hall of the temple and talked with the visitors. I joined in the evening path (recitation of the sacred book Granth Sahib), and noticed that there were more people than on the previous day. ‘It might be due to some festival,’ I thought. But as the hour wore on I heard a low murmuring sound outside the Gurudwara that kept becoming louder. A crowd was gathering very rapidly. I sensed high excitement growing higher.
Some sense inside me raised an alarm. I quickly went over the assembly to locate a known face. Luckily I saw Raj Singh’s 10-year-old son. I quietly went to the boy and asked if there was a backdoor to the Gurudwara. He said yes. I asked him to lead me to his house through it. He agreed and speeded me through the door and to his house in seconds. Raj Singh’s wife heaved a sigh of relief and offered me some hospitality. She had heard that a rumor had spread in the village that a Pakistani spy was in the Gurudwara. Fearing violence she had phoned her husband.
I learned that the crowd in and outside the temple was indeed the most dangerous mob ready for violence. Mobs are known to do their worst before finding out the truth, and Punjabi mobs are worse than others. I could have been badly roughed up, injured, or even killed.
In about half an hour Raj Singh came running to his house. Seeing me he calmed down a bit and said, “Thank God you are safe. I heard what had happened and feared the worst. You are indeed lucky to be alive.”
I had dinner with the family. Raj Singh asked me what I wanted to do next and I said to go back to the Gurudwara and continue the work. He walked me to the Gurudwara. On the way many people were sitting outside their houses. Everyone asked Raj Singh about the spy. He told them that there was no spy. The ‘stranger’ is my friend and he is walking with me right now.
I stayed in the temple for several days and finished my work. The Mahant was very kind. He provided for all my needs. The food I got was what villagers brought to the temple and it was always excellent. He specifically told me not to bother to come to the kirtan that he began at 4:00 am.
August 4, 2007