Punjab Singh spent a lifetime preaching the Sikh principles of optimism and hope the very principles that his family now relies upon to sustain them during his slow recovery from being shot in the head two years ago by a white supremacist.
Punjab, 66, can neither move nor speak. Doctors say his injuries were so severe that he may never recover further. But his family refuses to give up hope, saying that with prayers and God’s grace, anything is possible.
“We never lose hope,” his elder son, Raghuvinder Singh, said. Sikhism teaches forgiveness and peace, as well as the idea of living in ‘chardi kala (state of constant optimism). It’s that spirit from which the family draws its strength. There is no anger at the shooter, no agonising over why such a bad thing happened to a good person.
“My father never teaches me anger to anyone. He teaches me to always be in chardi kala,” Raghuvinder said. “I respect that and I practise that.”
Punjab, an internationally known Sikh priest, was wounded on August 5, 2012, when a gunman opened fire at the gurdwara in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek. Six worshippers were killed. The motive of the gunman (Wade Michael Page), who killed himself, is still unknown.
Punjab was in a bedroom at the gurdwara that morning. When he heard gunfire, he tried to barricade himself, but the gunman forced the door open far enough to reach his handgun inside and shoot Punjab in the face.
He was in coma for two months, and a pair of subsequent strokes nearly paralysed his left side. Today, he can blink his eyes to answer yes or no. While Punjab can’t speak, Raghuvinder said his greatest prayer was to hear his father’s voice again so he could learn what happened that day. Punjab now lives in a nursing home in southeast Wisconsin.
Raghuvinder and his younger brother, Jaspreet Singh, used to maintain 24-hour vigil at their father’s bedside, alternating shifts and sleeping in a bed next to his.
They changed their routines after Raghuvinder, 44, returned to his job as a priest at gurdwara in Glen Rock, New Jersey. He returned to Milwaukee last week for memorial services that last through Tuesday, the second anniversary of the tragedy.
His mother and Jaspreet remained in Milwaukee ever since they arrived from India, days after the shooting.
With the aid of federal officials, Jaspreet has been able to keep getting his six-month visitor visas renewed. When at home, he Skypes with his wife in New Delhi and with the one-year-old daughter he has never met. Ekampreet was born after he left India.
“Yes, I want to hold my daughter. But in the Sikh religion, if you are serving your mother and father it’s like you’re serving God,” he said.
Their mother, Kulwant Kaur, spends her days alternating between visiting her husband and worshipping at the gurdwara where he was shot. She, too, remains optimistic, drawing strength from the Sikhs around the world who pray for her husband.