Seven hours after he spoke to his wife over phone, a Kashmiri Sikh serving in Indian Army as Major was found hanging in his room at Saharanpur Uttar Pradesh. Back in Srinagar, his family is unable to comprehend what happened to their ‘full of life’ son in a matter of hours.
With wasted face, red eyes and parched lips, a young widow cuts a devastating image for herself in this gloomy Sikh house at Srinagar’s Alochibagh. Swarmed by her sympathetic relatives, she sits distressingly quiet. They repeatedly plead her to “eat something so that you could at least breastfeed your four-month-old daughter.”
She obeys none.
A vacant stare is all she manages to give. Perhaps losing the lively husband—so young, so soon—that too, to a mysterious death at a faraway land is mounting a silent mental assault on her.
Dr Sanjeet Singh Bali has become a widow only in her late twenties. She is unable to come to terms of the fact: how she spoke to her husband at 8pm on May 31—only to be left shattered by 8am next morning, when the devastating news of his death came.
Before she hung up the phone, her late husband Gurjeet Singh Bali, 34, who was serving Indian Army as Major, had told her that he was shortly leaving for an official party.
But what happened to a “jolly, courteous, affectionate and diligent man” so suddenly that they found him hanging at his workstation, Remount Training School and Depot in Western Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur, remains a mystery.
His father Trilok Singh, mother Slinder Kaur, elder brother Gurmeet Singh and younger sister Supinder Kaur have no answers.
Their depressing faces and tearful eyes are perhaps signs of their uneasy pact with Gurjeet’s fatal fate. They knew a different life till recently.
Only four months ago, they were celebrating when the late Major became a proud father of a daughter, Harsheen Kaur.
The shift from their ‘heart-warming’ to ‘heart-wrenching’ moment proved swift. That the Major’s newborn daughter became orphan without even receiving her father’s love and care is making most of them inconsolable.
Among the mourners, the Major’s brother, Gurmeet acts as the family spokesperson.
“He called his wife at 8pm on 31st May, had dinner at 9pm and between 12am to 3am, he died,” he says, amid a pervasive melancholy. “We don’t know what happened. We are now waiting for his post-mortem report.”
The family is also waiting for his belongings, which are yet to reach home!
On the fateful morning, June 1, when the news was on way to Alochibagh in summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, Gurmeet was returning from a wedding in Delhi where he teaches.
At around 7:15am, Gurjeet’s colleague rang up the family to deliver the devastating news.
“I was at the Srinagar Airport when I heard about it,” Gurmeet says. “We immediately booked a ticket and left for Saharanpur.”
That morning, Delhi was sheltering with summer heat when Gurmeet along with his close associates embarked on the 5-hour long journey to Saharanpur. As Gurmeet recalls it now, it was the longest and heaviest journey he ever undertook.
By 4pm, he brought his dead sibling’s body home only to trigger unabated mourning. The next day, they cremated their son.
“He was like our child,” says Dr R N Singh, Gurjeet’s cousin, turning up for condolence. “The lively and a God-fearing person like him can’t die like this. You won’t believe how he single-handedly managed his sister’s engagement only a couple of months back in Jammu.”
His sister’s engagement ceremony was held on 25th February.
That was the last time his family had seen him physically. But he would stay in touch with them through Whatsapp, where they would send him pictures of his beloved daughter.
“He loved his daughter and would often wish to spend more time with the family,” Gurmeet says. “The job of course was hectic but it wasn’t like he would kill himself.”
Gurjeet, he stresses, had no harmful habits, like smoking and drinking.
Seven years ago, Gurjeet’s agrarian family (originally from Renkipora, Beerwah) had shifted to Alochibagh.
The upward mobilisation was perhaps a sign of happy times the family was passing through. Gurjeet, an alumnus of Sainik School, Nagrota, had played a major role in it.
After his Bachelor’s degree in Veterinary Science (BVSC) from Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, he had served the Punjab Government as Veterinary doctor for six months.
He quit the job in 2009 when he qualified the SSB examination and joined the Indian Army as a Captain and eventually rose to become a Major.
He had his military stints at Joshimat (Uttrakhand), Hisar (Haryana), Nowshera (Jammu) before being posted at Remount Training School and Depot in Saharanpur, nine months back.
Notably, the news of his mysterious death made rounds recently on social media when some of his relatives questioned the manner he was found hanging in his room.
Ruling out the suicide, the relatives asked for thorough probe.
Even before floating the newspaper obituary for Gurmeet’s Satsang—a sacred Sikh gathering—his lamenting relatives appealed the Indian Army to come clean on his death.
“We have full faith in the Indian Army,” Gurmeet says. “We are hopeful that they will investigate and after a fair trial, justice will be served.”
Meanwhile, his young widow remains wretched on the earth. As mist and melancholy still surround the Major’s death, making it hard for this Sikh family to understand how it all happened, no amount of convincing seems working on the widow.
She sits numb, while her daughter is being pampered by her relatives.
Only five years ago, in 2012, Dr Sanjeet—pursuing her MD in Psychiatry at Government Medical College, Srinagar—had tied knots with Gurjeet, whom she knew as the best life partner.
That person is gone now, and, the very loss is crushing.