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Shanti Emerson: A life worth examining

 

My friend Gobind died in London of cancer at the age of 83. With no regrets, he left this world with his adoring family at his side. His life is interesting and worth examining.

The second of seven children, he was born in a place called Sindh, which is the eastern part of what is now Pakistan. Even though Gandhi wanted to have one India, he could not get agreement with his Muslim counterparts and had to settle for two countries —India and Pakistan. He was dissatisfied with this compromise but realized at a certain point that there would be no independent India without a separate Muslim state. He unenthusiastically signed the accord, and the two nations were established.

Many think that the Mahatma wanted the separation, but he didn’t, as he writes in “An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth.” It is because of his participation in launching the two separate countries that he was assassinated by a Hindu extremist.



Isn’t it amazing that the world leaders who stand for non-violence are so violently killed​? And so when partition happened in 1947, Gobind and other Hindus had to leave their family homes, wealth, businesses, etc., and became immigrants. The road to India was covered with carnage caused by the violence Gandhi so abhorred.

Today there is one entry between Pakistan and India in the state of Punjab near Amritsar, the home of the Golden Temple of the Sikhs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Temple). I have been there on three occasions at nightfall, when the flags of the two countries are lowered together. For at least an hour before the ceremony, military women and mustachioed men on both sides of the fence that divides the two countries strut and pirouette with big military feathered hats, bright uniforms and swords. To view this nightly event, one must have passports in order and go through at least three checkpoints.




The ceremony is somewhat like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, but much more exciting. The Indian citizens are on one side and the much smaller crowd of Pakistanis on the other. Both countries have cheerleaders who rev up their audiences as they chant “Hindustan,” the old name for India, and “Pakistan” on the other side.

At a certain point the military prancing, high kicking and stomping stops, and the flags of the two countries start to come down diagonally crossing each other. With bugles and drums sounding, an officer from each country shakes hands with his counterpart before the gates on both sides are locked. This is for that tiny glimmer of hope that one day there could be peace. You can view the ceremony at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZ0ue-XGl9c.

As the nightly affair goes on, dozens of trucks line up on the road with merchandise for trading with the other country the next morning. The goods are brought to the gate and put onto other trucks on the other side to be sold. They do not allow trucks to go through the gate. As far as I know, only diplomats and corpses are allowed through.

The partition between India and Pakistan is an open wound on our planet. It is most unfortunate that these neighboring countries who share so much in common cannot get along.

So anyway, back to Gobind. His family settled in Pune, Maharashtra, which is in the same state as Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Gobind’s father went with other Sindhis to Lagos, Nigeria, to start businesses. Gobind and his brothers went to a Jesuit school, and his four sisters were educated in a convent. These schools, which taught English, were considered by many to give the best education in India.

Instead of college, Gobind joined his father in Nigeria and after a while, he and a brother took over the enterprise and let their father retire to India. The business did well, and Gobind was very successful. He bought luxurious condos in Mumbai and London.

He had a wonderful 50-plus-year relationship with a woman with whom he had an arranged marriage. A more loving couple you couldn’t find. As a child, when I first heard of arranged marriages I was shocked that people would live their lives with someone they didn’t know until their wedding. But as the years go by, I see that arranged marriages have the same odds for happiness as “love matches.” Parents who select spouses for their children are very particular and want the best and often think clearer than their infatuated kids do.

However, if the marriage goes south, who’s to blame? Hey, I didnt choose her/him! Divorce is still shameful in India, and most don’t do this except under extreme circumstances or if they are really rich.

Gobind and his family thrived. He lived on two continents and worked on another. His funeral, like his wedding, lasted for several days, each ceremony following a sacred schedule. The first was with only close family members going round and round his open casket. The last was a memorial service on Zoom with 200 to 300 people attending.

At one time, Hindu widows would self-immolate by jumping onto of their dead husbands’ pyres, but that was made illegal in the 19th century. After all, we need grandmothers.

Gobind was a patriarch in the best sense of that word. He was always available for his intergenerational family and helped in any way he could, whether with business advice or college tuition. Every day he received telephone calls from members of his international clan and treated each one as if he were the most important person in the world. Yes, his was a life well-lived.

Shanti Emerson is a Nevada County resident and a member of The Union Editorial Board. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the board or its members. She can be reached at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.


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