Surjit was a handsome Sikh, a little over six feet tall with a slim athletic frame. Ever since his childhood he had been fascinated by airplanes and dreamt to be a pilot in the Indian Air Force (IAF). He joined the National Cadet Corps Air Wing in College and was thrilled when he first flew the yellow coloured Pushpak aircraft at the Patiala Flying School. At the end of the course, he was declared the best student pilot. Later, Surjit was selected for a commission in the IAF and after completion of training, was commissioned as a fighter pilot and posted to a fighter squadron located at Pathankot. His parents were thrilled when he came home on leave. They began to talk about his marriage. Despite protests from Surjit, his father said that he had promised his good friend Satwant Singh that Surjit would marry his daughter Harpreet. “No more arguments on this”, he said in a firm voice and Surjit complied.
Harpreet was a relatively tall, and a very beautiful girl. She was very happy when she heard about the forthcoming engagement with Surjit. Secretly, she had been in love with him but could never muster the courage to speak about it to anyone. While she was happy, there was a pang of apprehension too! When she was born, her paternal grandmother was very angry with her mother for producing a girl child. Her mother was called names and in a fit of rage the old lady had blurted “This girl will bring bad luck to our house. She is a curse on this family.” Harpreet had heard this from the family “dai” (mid- wife) and the thought that she was a cursed child, remained at the back of her mind.
With much fanfare, Surjit and Harpreet were engaged. The marriage had to be delayed till Surjit could officially marry on attaining the age of 25 years. A month after the engagement, the world around Harpreet crashed. Surjit, during a routine training exercise, had failed to return back from a mission. The grandmother wailed and announced to all and sundry that Surjit had died because of the curse on Harpreet. Harpreet was very distraught and went into a shell. No amount of cajoling from the parents had any affect and she shut herself from the world. It remained so for a couple of years, before the parents decided to settle her in marriage.
A suitable boy, Jaswant, from a neighbouring village was chosen by the parents. Son of a farmer, Jaswant was a college dropout and helped his father at the farm. Satisfied after matching the horoscopes his parents agreed especially since Harpreet’s parents had offered a hefty dowry. The engagement took place and a wedding date was fixed.
It was only after the horoscopes had matched and there was no indication of any mishap, Harpreet reconciled to getting married. She slowly came out of the dark corner she had pushed herself in to and began to savour the sunshine once again. However, her happiness was short-lived. Her fiancé, while returning from the city on his tractor, met with a fatal accident. A wayward truck had rammed in to the tractor killing the young man on the spot. That Harpreet was devastated would be an understatement.
Harpreet now began to believe her grandmother that she was a curse on the family. She shut herself from the world once again. Not wanting to be a burden on her parents, she decided to leave home. One day, early in the morning before anyone else was awake, she quietly slipped out of the house. With determined and firm steps she walked towards the far end of the farm. A canal ran all along the edge of the farm. After a quick look around, she jumped into the overflowing canal.
Raminder Singh, on leave from his unit in Kashmir, was jogging along the canal when he heard a splash. He saw a woman bobbing up and down in the waters. Without any hesitation, he jumped in and with strong strokes swam towards the woman. Holding her, ensuring her head was above water level, he quickly pulled her out of the water. Gasping for breath he softly asked her as to what had happened. “Let me die, let me die”, was what Harpreet kept saying as Raminder picked her up in his arms and took her home. Everyone was shocked to see Harpreet in such a state. Sobbing, Harpreet narrated her sordid story. Raminder was stunned. He stood up and made an announcement that astounded everyone present. “This curse stuff is sheer nonsense. Harpreet is an absolutely normal person. If there was any curse it was on the two men who died. If no one has any objection, I am willing to marry Harpreet now, right here,” he said. There was total silence. Raminder took hold of Harpreet‘s hand and said “Will you marry me? Together we will banish this so called curse forever! There will be no elaborate wedding. We will go to the city and register for a court marriage”. Amongst a few murmurs from some elders, the parents agreed since Harpreet seemed inclined to accept the proposal. It’s been seventeen years since Colonel Raminder Singh and Harpreet were married. They have two children: a girl Simran, 15 years, and a son Ranjit 12 years. They are a happy family, living a normal life having conquered the wrath of the curse!
Air Commodore Ashok Chhibbar, AVSM was commissioned in the IAF as a fighter pilot in Aug 1969. Apart from commanding a fighter squadron and two airbases, he has been Air-I of an Operational Command and Deputy Commandant of Air Force Academy. He is a regular contributor to the Air Force Flight Safety Magazine and has authored two books – Raindrops, and The Accidental Pilot. He is settled in Pune.