"Welcome dears," says the sign opposite where I hand in my shoes. "For more knowledge about the Sikh religion, please visit Central Sikh Museum at the main entrence [sic] of clock tower side."
I went to that Museum on my last visit here, three years ago. Not much could have changed -- not the gory paintings, not the memories of a bloody history, not the martyr's gallery. Yet I went again now, drawn there again now, only to see again now what I could scarcely believe then. What left me conflicted and disturbed then.
This time I walked past most of the gory paintings. Walked straight through three halls filled with them and dozens of other portraits. Walked right up to the spot. Not much has changed. Just as I remember.
On my left, a handsome portrait of Shahid -- note, Shahid, meaning martyr -- Bhagat Singh, in shackles in his British prison, awaiting his fate. Below him, photographs of the mangled and bloodied faces of thirteen men who "sacrificed themselves to up keep the dignity of the Holy Book" on April 13, 1978. On the wall in front of me, a reverential portait of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Immediately in front of me, an artist's rendition of "Sri Akal Takht after Military Attack, 6 June 1984".
That is, at the climax of Operation Bluestar, when the Indian Army assaulted this ground holy to Sikhs to defeat armed men who had holed up here.
Below it, in tiny fading English letters, are these lines:
"Under the calculated move of Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi, Military troops stormed Golden Temple with tanks. Thousands of Sikhs were massacred. Sri Akal Takht suffered the worst damages. Sikhs rose up in a united protest. Many returned their honours. Sikh soldiers left their barracks.
The Sikhs, however, soon had their vengeance."
I feel the same frisson of unease I felt three years ago, as I absorb that last sentence and as my eyes now move right. There are three portraits there, all the same size as Bhagat Singh's. These list only names and dates, no short explanation in English as most other portraits have warranted. For these, the explanation is only in Punjabi.
These are those names and dates, copied verbatim off those portraits:
Shahid S Beant Singh Ji, 1949 to 31 Oct 1984
Shahid S Satwant Singh Ji, 1967 to 6 Jan 1989
Shahid S Kehar Singh Ji, 1940 to 6 Jan 1989
You know these three men. Note, again, Shahid. All three times.
She has plenty to answer for, Indira Gandhi. I mean, my feeling is that a great number of our myriad seemingly intractable problems can be laid at her door.
Yet she was, when assassinated, India's Prime Minister. To look up at her killers accorded the same reverence as Bhagat Singh, mentioned and portrayed in exactly the same way, is to ask some serious questions about martyrs. About terrorism. About freedom and those who fight for it. About nationhood. About what all those so easily-used words mean. About India.
The questions leave me, all over again, profoundly disturbed.