Susheel Gupta’s mother, Ramwati Gupta, was a victim of the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182.
Turtles and Watches
I was 12 years old one Sunday morning when I awoke to the sound of our home phone ringing at about 6:35 a.m. Within minutes, my father told my big brother and I that our mother was gone. Her plane had crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. She was dead. The sound of my father’s pain still echoes in my ears today.
I did not understand what my father meant when he told me she was gone that Sunday. I didn’t really comprehend what death was, but I somehow understood that I would never see her again. Shortly afterwards, I left the house and went to deliver my newspapers on my paper route. I cried the whole hour and a half. Just near our house is a creek where I sat down along the path. There, I stumbled upon a turtle, overturned on its back, struggling to get back on its feet. Being a 12-year old kid, I collected a bunch of rocks with the intention of throwing them at the turtle. I never did. I sat there for over a half hour with that turtle. What was going through my head? I remember clearly.
I sat there thinking to myself, what a horrible world we live in. Here was a turtle, innocent and vulnerable and through no fault of its own, stuck in a situation where it needed a hand, but some kid with no relationship with it was going to hurt it. I thought about all the people who were in situations living life peacefully, respecting everyone, just trying to live a good life. I thought of my mother. Through no fault of her own, with no political leanings, she was murdered by some strangers. I decided right then and there with that turtle that I was not going to be part of that evil, that I was going to try to be on the side of good for the innocents in our world. I walked over to the turtle, lifted him up and placed him on his feet towards the water. I watched as he slowly made his way back to the creek.
With this epiphany, I got on my bike and went home, feeling angry but filled with purpose.
The last image and one of the only images I can bring up in my mind is of my mother lying on a table with a stitched scar running from below her ear, down along to the middle of her chest and then down further.
Being the son of an engineer, a child who used to take apart watches into a hundred pieces and then put them back together, take apart an electronic toy and then rebuild it, I looked at my Mum and for days and months afterwards tried to understand death. All I knew was that with cars, machines and watches, one could take something that was broken, insert a new part or fix a part, put it back in and make it work again. I tried to understand, after seeing that my Mum’s body was stitched up and appeared to all be there, why somebody wasn’t fixing the parts in her so she would speak and wake up. I never asked anyone about this, but I dwelled on it internally. It angered and hurt me that no one was fixing her and making her alive to be my mother again. That is what I understood of death at 12 years old, seeing her body on that table.
That summer, in 1985, I embarked on a course of doing all I could to make my mother proud. I started volunteering heavily with several community organizations, worked extra hard in school and did all I could to help my father at home. I promised myself and my mother that I was going to work in a field where I could make my country, Canada, safer, healthier and happier. That decision turned into my decision to be a prosecutor, for I hold great respect for our institutions and our community. I wanted to do my part to make sure another child didn’t have to learn about death and try to understand it.
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