Night Of The Restless Spirits
Author: Sarbpreet Singh
Publisher: Penguin Viking
Publishing Date: 12th October, 2020
Genre: Literary Fiction
Cost: Rs. 325 (Paperback), Rs. 219 (Kindle edition), Rs. 1,790 (Hardcover)
A young Indian in the USA embraces a cause rooted in his motherland, but one that he doesn’t fully understand. A student’s world is turned upside down when his friend and her family are caught in the cross hairs of volatility and violence. A train burns as it enters Delhi, and the sole Sikh survivor shares with the nation the harrowing tale of his survival. These and many other stories form this heart-rending collection that evokes the horrors and uncertainties of 1984, through the tales of ordinary people caught in something bigger than themselves.
Set during a time of monumental upheaval, Night of the Restless Spirits blurs the lines between the personal and political, and takes the reader on a journey fraught with love and tinged with tragedy, frayed relationships, the breaking down of humanity and resilience in the face of absolute despair. These stories tell us that people are capable of the best and the worst, but that ultimately there is always hope.
Night of the Restless Spirits is Sarbpreet Singh’s recounting of the Sikh massacre of 1984. Like most Indians who were not in Delhi during those three fateful days in November 1984, Sarbpreet Singh considered any account of the massacre as an instance of civil unrest blown out of proportion.
“Even though I had to bunk in a friend’s hostel room for two days to avoid miscreants, I considered it a stray incident,” says Sarbpreet, who was a 24-year-old engineering student, at the time.
Sarbpreet Singh informs about his denial on accepting the whole disaster. He was informed by accounts by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and the People’s Union for Democratic Rights. It’s then that the enormity of what had transpired began to dawn upon him. The fact that the documentation was undertaken by non-Sikhs who had nothing to gain added to its credibility.
Responding to the turmoil in his heart, Sarbpreet penned Kultar’s Mime, a poem that captures the trauma of children who witnessed their parents being butchered. Written in 1990, Kultar’s Mime was resurrected in 2014 by Sarbpreet’s daughter, J Mehr Kaur, who adapted it for the stage. It ran to packed houses for two years in over 90 countries, including India.
“The feedback we got was terrific. People were grateful the play provided them with a platform to address their trauma, to open up about their own experience of this incident which they had never shared with a spouse or child before this,” says Sarbpreet, over a phone call from his home in Massachusetts.
The overwhelmingly positive response to Kultar’s Mime encouraged Sarbpreet to revisit his notes, which resulted in Night of the Restless Spirits. The book is a fictionalised version of real happenings comprising just eight chapters.
Night of the Restless Spirits, shows the events of 1984 through the prism of many lives and explores its far-reaching impact on members of the community as well as on non-Sikhs associated with them.
Sarbpreet believes that there was never an incentive for any party to talk about it- neither the perpetrators who allowed things to get out of hand nor the victims who had always identified themselves as warriors and defenders of the weak, throughout India’s history.
With this book, he hopes that it helps mitigating the numbness that society has against minorities; that the voices of the stifled and subdued are given a just hearing and that we all learn from the past and such horrors are not repeated.
This book touches on the fragility of life, survivor’s guilt, mob mentality and the power of one’s conscience to bring out the best and worst of human nature.
About the Author:
Sarbpreet Singh is a playwright, commentator and poet, who has been writing while pursuing a career in technology for several years. He is the author of Kultar’s Mime, a poem about the 1984 Sikh Genocide. His commentary has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and Worldview, The Boston Herald, The Providence Journal, The Milwaukee Journal and several other newspapers and magazines. He is the founder and director of the Gurmat Sangeet Project, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of traditional Sikh music and serves on the boards of various non-profits focused on service and social justice. He is very active in Boston Interfaith circles and serves as a spiritual advisor at Northeastern University.