Water Pump Fix Tomorrow

Sukhdev Kaur

creative partner and reader Lana Citron

Image : USAID Africa Bureau, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

An engineer, my father installed water pumps in the villages and farms around Nairobi, Kenya. 

Late one night, hours from home, a wild animal appeared above the pit dug to install the pumps. On the prowl, the animal circled it, trapping the men below. The next morning, thankful to be alive, my father returned to my mother. She, too, had had an eventful night, giving birth to a baby girl. ‘For her I survived,’ he said. That girl was me. 

When little, my father took me to business meetings to help him communicate. His English was poor, but intentions clear. He’d say, ‘water, pump, fix, tomorrow.’ Deals were done and hands shaken.

His name was Mehar Singh. He lost his mother aged seven. He married aged 12, and left Punjab for Kenya with his father, who came to work on the railways. Mother was sent to join him age sixteen or seventeen. The fifth child of seven, I was named Sukhdev, to give happiness. He was my Pitaji, I, his favourite.

He never once told me off. But I was a good girl. I left school at 16, studied Shorthand and Typing, later gaining a Teacher Diploma in Shorthand. 

Mother forbade me to work Pitaji didn’t. He drove me to and from college, later work. ‘In this world of work,’ he’d say, ‘Be a man. Don’t be frightened of anyone. Be brave, strong, face all your battles with courage.’ 

Late 40’s, he had a car accident. Damaging his back gradually he lost mobility. He used a walking stick then a wheel chair, yet was always positive. Even when shot at in his pickup truck by gangsters, come to rob his workshop, he remained courageous.

Married with children, I left for England, worked as a dinner lady, eventually an ESOL teacher. I’d share my experiences and struggles with my students. I love teaching. 

Time passed and years later my parents were visiting India. I hadn’t seen them in seven or eight years. Sensing something was wrong, on the spur of the moment I decided to go.

Pitaji showed me Punjab. We visited the Gurdwaras temples, listened to prayers, meditated immersing ourselves in the holy water of the temple pool.

It was June, stiflingly hot. One evening we stopped for a drink at a service station. A fly lit upon Pitaji’s nose. Despite paralysis, he swatted it away, then showed me he could move his leg. ‘Don’t tell mum.  She’ll think I’ve been pretending all my life.’ Miraculously, he’d started to get better. 

On my departure my parents dropped me at the airport. A second attempt; my first delayed. ‘Don’t wait,’ I said. But Dad insisted. 

I flew on Friday, arrived in London on Saturday, by Sunday I was back in India.

Leaving the airport Dad asked Mum to let him lie on the grass so he could look up at the sky.  ‘Sukhdev is flying. I’m going to fly too.’  Afterward they went to the temple for a last dip.

He died following a heart attack. Women usually do not attend the cremations. Adamant I would, I did. In the end all the women attended.

Everyone loved Pitaji.

I tell students don’t let language be a barrier to communication. There are so many ways to understand one another. 

Water Pump Fix Tomorrow 

Sukhdev Kaur

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