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USA Georgia On My Mind


Jun 1, 2004
Georgia On My Mind

Every time I hear the song “Georgia On My Mind,” it stills my mind and soothes the soul. There are scores of classic renditions, but my favourite ones that I return to regularly are the soulful rendition by Ray Charles and the languid version by Willie Nelson.

Imagine my delight last night when I heard Gurpreet Singh Sarin croon it on his guitar on American Idol (Thursday, February 7, 2013), not only doing it justice but also adding his own trade-mark flair to it. The image of him frolicking with its nuances will henceforth always accompany the lyrics in my mind‘s eye.

Gurpreet has a visceral connection with Georgia where he was raised. He schooled at Northview High in Johns Creek, a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Sadly, the meditative state of mind that the song unfailingly conjures up now has an added pathos: the tragedy earlier this week in Johns Creek.

We know little more than that the four members of a young Sikh-American family -- two boys, Sartaj Singh (12) and Gurtej Singh (5), the mother, Damanjeet Kaur (47), and the father, Shivinder Singh Grover (52) - were found dead in what appears to be a murder-suicide perpetrated by the latter.

It’s still too early to know all the facts. Investigation by the police is still ongoing. Certainly, we don’t know how such a horrific tragedy came about, or exactly who, why, when, what, etc.

The Grover family moved to Atlanta approximately four years ago from Michigan and have since been an integral part of the local community. They attended the “Sewa Gurdwara” in nearby Roswell, which caters to Sikhs from the northern Atlanta suburbs such as Alpharetta, Marietta, Johns Creek, Suwanee and, of course, Roswell.

“Sewa” is a very tight knit community – close to 10 years old. Everyone -- parents, children, families -- knows everyone else. They are together on every birthday and graduation, wedding and funeral, in health and in sickness. Children’s holiday camps bring the families together regularly.

The community is grieving, wondering how this could have happened here to a family, one of their own, right under their noses.

The Grovers were at the gurdwara every Sunday and most Friday nights. The boys participated in kirtan, played the tabla, recited speeches and ardaas. The family often hosted the langar seva. Sangat members remember them fondly as a joy at all times.

The mother of the children, Damanjeet - nickname ‘Daisy‘ - was an excellent and reputed health care professional and a lovely human being, but most important of all, a dedicated mother whose biggest concern was to nurture her children into the path of Sikhi in the most loving way.

More than a dozen of her co-workers from the Long Term Acute Care Department showed up at the funeral yesterday (Thursday, February 7, 2013) and spoke of her kindness and compassion and her always going above and beyond the call of duty to make her patients comfortable and put them at ease. For her older Sikh and Indian patients, she would bring in home-cooked meals as they didn’t like the hospital food.

The words that the Atlanta community uses to describe the couple are: educated, polished, pleasant, warm, gurmukhs.

There were many families in the sangat that were very close to them, especially through extended association with their children, and everyone has said that no one had ever come across any signs of a stressed relationship or any emotional issues –- none whatsoever. And none of the family members from either side - the mother’s or the father’s -- had an inkling of any thing that could go this wrong.

The Grovers lived in an apartment complex in an upscale neighborhood and their next door neighbors heard and saw nothing more than a loving and friendly family with a very healthy life-style.

The day of the last communication anyone had with the family was the afternoon of Sunday, February 3, 2013, when Damanjeet had gone for grocery shopping and her sister who lived in Chicago had a phone conversation with her. Everything was alright.

Damanjeet came back home and went to unload the first batch of groceries into her apartment … and never came back for the rest of the bags. The police found the remaining bags of groceries still in the car the next day when they responded to a welfare check requested by Damanjeet’s co-worker when she did not show up at her hospital as scheduled.

It is in times like these that it becomes important for the community to rally around family and loved ones, to offer support and comfort. The local Sikh community has effortlessly risen to the occasion.

It is time to mourn and grieve … and celebrate the lives lived. The coming together of the sangat, the helping hands and the comforting shoulders, help those who are left behind to pick up the pieces.

But while we put our collective arms around them, there is a greater responsibility for our institutions to do their job while remaining above the fray of pain and loss.

And I don’t mean the gurdwaras … whose mandate is limited to providing spiritual succour to the sangat.

This is when our advocacy institutions need to instantly step up to the plate and fulfill their duties.

There are issues arising from this tragedy which affect the larger Sikh-American community, and fall within the mandate of our community leaders -- which in this case means our advocacy institutions and their leaders -- and cannot be, should not be, left to those who are grieving and directly impacted by the loss.

For example, two obvious questions arise:

1 If the tragedy was a result of stress or mental illness, what are the facilities available to our communities to identify and address symptoms on time, and to assist when they reach an advanced stage?

2 Was this really a murder-suicide, or is there more to it than meets the eye?

In either scenario, there is an urgency that requires our community representatives to be asking the right questions and seeking full and complete answers. This role cannot be fulfilled by family or friends, the gurdwara or even the local community.

It’s the mandate for groups such as The Sikh Coalition and SALDEF.

Now that more than four days have passed since the tragedy, are they involved? Are their representatives on the scene?

I can’t think of anything else that could be more important in their duties at this moment that would keep them away or allow them an excuse to refrain from involvement.

Here are my concerns.

The Johns Creek community is a new one. So is its police force. Self-avowedly, this is the first incident of its kind in their midst. Which means they have no history or experience in handling situations of this magnitude.

I’m sure they are a top-notch police department, but do they have the wherewithal to deal with all the intricacies of such a tragedy?

I don’t need to spell out to you, do I, how easily things can fall through the cracks, despite the best of intentions?

Remember the Trayvon Martin case in Florida at around this time last year?

The local police force had initially, summarily, dismissed the case as revealing no wrong-doing. But upon the community demanding greater transparency and accountability, the facts then showed a completely different picture.

I am not suggesting that the Johns Creek situation is necessarily similar.

All I’m saying is that our advocacy institutions have a role to play here.

Are they doing their job?

The ball doesn’t stop with those who run our institutions on a day-to-day basis.

In such situations, the overseeing boards -- Boards of Directors; Advisors; Governing committees -- have a responsibility, nay, a legal obligation, to make sure that all the ’i’s have been dotted, all the ’t’s have crossed.

This is the primary reason they’ve been placed on the board and committees.

Have they done their job?

[The author is indebted to the contribution by Gurmeet Kaur of Atlanta, Georgia, for this article.]

February 8, 2013




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