Title: Stolen YearsStolen Years

Subtitle: A Memoir of Simranjit Singh Mann’s Imprisonment

Author: Pavit Kaur

Book Review

Let the bygones be bygones! – but I ask, is it really practical for making bygones the bygones? Well, personally speaking, my answer is sometimes but not always. For rest of the times, it is really painful and beyond acceptance. Many people turn to writing in order to share their thought and if not at-least to shred the agony or least to, went of the pangs of pain, one is going through. It is similar to waging a war with one’s self! Biographies and auto-biographies are the best of such examples.

Stolen Years by Pavit Kaur is an enriching addition to the genre. She is the loving and brave daughter of Sr. Simranjit Singh Mann, one of the accused in then Prime Minister – Indira Gandhi’s assassination. This is a memoir, an account by a forlorn daughter, who witnessed the separation of her father on wrong grounds and how they just fell bait to an biased government. Surprisingly, she has not said a word against the government or the officials or the prevailing systems. I bow to her for such a daring attempt.

I call her a daring darling daughter, primarily due to two reasons; the first being able to gather the courage to sit and recollect to write those pitiful years and their hardships and secondly for keeping heart and mind balanced and coming out with a pure and transparent account of what all she and her family had gone through during those times. The chain of memories starts opening straight from the starting words of the memoir, when her father was being tracked down for being convicted for a crime, which he never committed and this trail of memories continues till the concluding words when her father reaches back to home after passing five painful years, behind the bars.

I will not summarize on all what she had shared rather, I would prefer to highlight what all you will get to learn, after completing the read. First, it was really sad to learn how Sr. Simranjit Singh Mann was traced down and imprisoned, barbarically. These are my personal thoughts and are not meant to defame any person or any political party for that matter but it was really depressing to learn how he was framed and not allowed to keep his view-point. Just to present you in a gist, advocating a separate nation for Sikhs was not in any way synonymous with Indira Gandhi’s attack.

Secondly, the agony of the family was the high point in her version. I agree that accused person’s family goes to a mammoth of emotional turmoil but then, he was not a person of wrong values or wrong deeds at all. He was a hard-working and a committed IAS officer, serving the nation of India in the capacity of senior personnel. Had he been, a person of wrong deeds, he would not have been flourished to such a responsible professional position. He was a family oriented man. Every Punjabi is indeed one! He was a person bestowed with a taste for finery, be it art or music. Irony was he loved uniform and it became a bottleneck in his otherwise well-off life.

Thirdly, you will notice the effect on the marital relationship i.e. how the things turn topsy-turvy for the spouse, left behind. In this case, it was the female partner. How difficult, it became for her to tend three young school going children. Thankfully, both the families were there to support and more importantly support her.

Fourthly, the most heart-breaking was the emotional out-burst of kids. How do they felt on learning that they will not be able to meet their father for an unknown duration of the time? How they tried hard to evade questions and scenarios involving the mention of their father? But then, time is the ultimate healer. They learnt to accept and held their head and spirits, high!

Lastly, as it said and meant since ages – Truth wins finally. It was actually inspiring to learn how he faced hardships behind the bars but remained hopeful of truth, unveiling and it did. His experiences, the atrocities he faced were enough to reduce the readers to tears. How he accepted the turn of events and made them work in his favor was motivating to learn that we should not fear and always collide head-on with them.

The letters (re) produced and photos captured at different instances were silent spectators and protestors, as well, of the hard times. In addition to being the mute testimonies, they carried a high level emotional quotient also. I can understand how painful and hurtful, it would have been for Pavit, the author, to recollect and relive those harsh moments but her hard work has paid off well, in the shape of a nice work.

I just have one concern with regard to the impeccable effort put in and it was that I felt as if there were so many hops from one incident to another. Moreover, the format interchanged abruptly from a reporting anecdote of a daughter to the diary entries of Sr. Mann from prison days. Nevertheless, it can be easily ignored for the commendable effort put forth.

To summarize, this is a thanksgiving prayer of a daughter to the almighty for bringing her father back home and a string of hope of an innocent man to be spotted with a stain-free image in this democratic territory, called India.

About the Book

In 1984, Simranjit Singh Mann resigned from the Indian Police Service in protest of Operation Blue Star, the Indian Army operation ordered by Indira Gandhi, then prime minister, that cleared the Golden Temple complex of Sikh militants. Mann was subsequently charged, among other things, with conspiracy to assassinate Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. A passionate Sikh whose radical beliefs were honed by his family, Mann went underground and was apprehended while trying to flee the country. He spent five years in Prison, after which all charges were dropped.

Three decades after Blue Star, his daughter Pavit Kaur looks back on the years her father spent in prison. In this disarmingly honest and emotionally charged account, Pavit Kaur documents her father’s hellish journey through the Indian prison system. This is also a personal story and the story of a family during one of the most fraught times in India’s history.