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Terrorist to Homeopath
A review of Dreams After Darkness: A Search for a Life Ordinary Under the Shadow of 1984 by Manraj Grewal (Delhi: Rupa); January 2004; pp. 224.


The Hindustan Times, Oct. 23, 2004

Photo: Dreams After Darkness by Manraj Grewal

If one believes Manraj Grewal, then several dreaded Punjab militants were actually misunderstood, heroic youth driven to the gun purely because of the desecration of the Golden Temple or the post-Indira Gandhi assassination riots.

Karamjit Singh Sunam, the man who hid for 10 days at Raj Ghat, waiting to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi, is a young man studying to be an engineer who now, after 14 years in prison, is a teacher working towards becoming a lawyer. With Napoleon Bonaparte as his mentor, he survives despair in the kingdom of his mind. It is 'voices' in his head which tell him that 'Rajiv must pay' for the Delhi riots which were 'not spontaneous,' but orchestrated: 'The wet grief precipitated into this mad desire for revenge.' Karamjit barely escapes a murderous mob in Nandnagri and this drives the demons in his mind to seek revenge.

Gian Singh is reared on tales of bravado and grows with one burning ambition - to be famous. And his road to fame was the assassination of Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. Jail turns him into a gardner, planting roses and feeding kittens, but the 'maniacal craving for fame or else its dark sister, notoriety,' does not leave him.

Nirmal Singh Nimma, cousin of General A.S. Vaidya's assassin Harjinder Singh Jinda, is described as someone who got carried away . . . into being an accessory to bank robberies, apart from the famous assassination. Grewal's summation that the assassination was 'just an idea. An ambitious fantasy that slowly snowballed into reality' appears too simple. Though she tries to retain a voice of reason, the sub-text seems to indicate that she is quite willing to believe that they were all victims. The description of the last days of Jinda seem to paint him in the same league as Bhagat Singh. There is little mention of the terror he and his associates had struck and the innocent lives they had taken.

Grewal, city editor for The Indian Express, Chandigarh, writes like a reporter. The book is engaging as it tries to satisfy some curiousity about what happened to those dreaded names like Gurbachan Singh Manochahal, chief of the Bhindranwale Tiger Force [B.T.F.], Wassan Singh Zaffarwal, chief of the Khalistan Commando Force [K.C.F.] and now a homeopath, Atinder Pal Singh, chief of Khalistan Liberation Organisation [K.L.O.] and others. Tighter editing would have rid the book of irritating errors.