A note found attached to their mother’s ashes led a family – who lost their sister in the Air India disaster – to perform a very special ceremony in Dunmanus Bay, writes Brian Moore
A FATHER’S dying wish was fulfilled last week when his ashes, along with those of his beloved wife, were scattered at the mouth of Dunmanus Bay, between the Mizen and the Sheep’s Head peninsulas.
Mr Rattan Kalsi, known as ‘Ron’, and his wife Harbhajan, known to all as ‘Jean’, lost their daughter Indira when she, along with 328 others, died when Air India 747 exploded off the West Cork coast on June 23rd 1985.
Mr and Mrs Kalsi had made the sad pilgrimage to Ahakista every year for almost three decades, to remember their daughter and the other victims at the beautiful memorial which looks out across the bay.
This year’s memorial was an event that Pradeep Kalsi, Ron and Jean’s son, could not miss, as he, along with his siblings and relations, had a very important and emotional mission to fulfil.
‘For my father and mother, this place was very special,’ Pradeep told those gathered around the memorial last week.
‘This is where they came to be close to my sister, to remember her and to pray for her and all the victims. And it is here that we were able to carry out my father’s final request.’
Mr Kalsi recalled the day his father was dying in a Toronto hospital. Pradeep’s brother went to their father’s apartment to locate their mother’s urn, which had a very special note attached to it.
‘We knew the note was from my father because of his terrible hand writing,’ Pradeep joked. ‘The note requested that when he died we were to mix his ashes with my mother’s and take them to Ahakista. He said he wanted us to find some local fisherman and ask him to take us out of the bay to the Atlantic ocean and there spread the ashes.’
And that’s exactly what the family did last week.
Local fishermen Tommy Arundel and Johan Horsemanshoff took Pradeep, his brother Rajiv, his sisters Anita and Rita, with their families, on the short trip out of Dunmanus Bay to a spot between the two peninsulas where they carried out their father’s wishes.
‘He died just a few days after we found the urn and the note,’ Pradeep said. ‘It is a testament to the love my parents had for this place that they wanted their ashes spread here and not, as most Indians wish for, on the scared River Ganges.
We are happy that we were able to do this for my mother and father and to be here together as a family to remember my sister and all the other victims of that terrible day back in 1985.’
There were other emotional stories at the memorial this year, as the cold rain and southwesterly winds battered the returning relatives, gathering once again with a large crowd of locals, to whom this event has become a familiar and solemn pilgrimage.
‘It feels almost like coming home,’ Babu Turlapati, who lost his sons and only children, Sanjay and Deepak, when the 747 exploded, told The Southern Star.
‘We know everybody here and the entire community have been so kind and welcoming to us ever since the first day we arrived to what was then just a grassy field and is now this wonderful memorial to our loved ones.’
Mr Turlapati’s wife, Padmini, spoke of her continued grief and guilt at the loss of her two sons.
Speaking directly to her lost children, Padmini said: ‘Daily in Toronto, before I sleep, I look at your photos and say, “forgive me” for there is no closure. Justice has not been served and will never be. Your deaths were in vain. Only I am responsible for the decision that took you to that fatal plane.
‘As I grow older and have retired, I have more time to mull, ponder and wonder,’ Padmini continued. ‘Over the years, faces fade a little, voices whisper silently, memories gather holes and a fear arises deep within, if in a few years of insidious seeping, creeping, setting in of amnestic dementia (will I forget them now? how can I live?), so if in the years to come you see me around, hold my hand, and bring me to this sacred place.’
Also at the memorial were Mrs Vijay Thakur Singh, the ambassador of India to Ireland; Canadian ambassador Kevin Vickers and representing the people of Co Cork, Cllr Seamus McGrath. They brought flowers to the memorial to remember the victims.
At the time the last message was received from the flight, exactly 8.12am, the relatives gathered around the sundial memorial to pray for their loved ones, and to remember the lives that were so abruptly, and cruelly, ended.