The lioness takes eternal rest as the world settles to cry

A touching farewell to Baljit Kaur in West Auckland on January 10, 2023

It poured in New Zealand because Baljit Kaur liked the sound of rain 

Venkat Raman
Auckland, January 11, 2023

The world in general and the families and friends of Baljit Kaur will never be the same again.

The great lover of humankind, who was adored by everyone with whom she came into contact, including her adversaries was laid to rest at a private ceremony immediately after a public service was held at the Morrisons Funeral Directors in Henderson on Tuesday, January 10, 2023.

Baljit’s son Karamjit Singh Bains said that it was a celebration of Baljit’s life, which emboldened a speaker to evoke some laughter from the assembly. Laughter at a funeral is stated to be non-verbal support but the ones at Baljit’s farewell were momentary. For, the realisation that the larger-than-life personality would no longer be seen was hard-hitting.

Baljit Kaur Singh lost her battle with cancer which began about a year ago following a diagnosis but she never lost the spirit to fight. She breathed her last at 10.48 am on Wednesday, January 4, 2023 in her home, surrounded by her immediate family.

She left behind her husband Manmohan Bains, son Karamjit Singh Bains and daughter Dr Malvindar Singh Bains and scores of members of her extended family and hundreds of friends.

It is hard to come to terms with the reality that Baljit is no longer in this world. For many of us, who had known and worked with her for more than 20 years, she was the epitome of kindness, community service and everything that came with a Samaritan.

Dr Malvindar Singh Bains, daughter of Baljit Kaur speaking her Mother’s end of Journey (INL Photo)

Dr Malvindar Singh Bains braved herself to speak about her Mother at the funeral service but the pain was evident in her voice. More than a daughter, she was a friend of Baljit and took great care of her in the fading months. As I mentioned at the Funeral, if there is one family that is well-stitched together it was that of Baljit and if there is one family that would never be able to come to terms with the harsh reality, that would also be that of Baljit.

Many have said a lot about Baljit since her passing. But the words of Dr Malvindar continue to resonate in our ears. Those were words of love, companionship, compassion, care and wisdom. She described her Mother as her ‘beloved Sherni, our Lioness.’

Following is the text of her speech, with a few minor modifications.

My Mother described herself as a Kiwi Punjabi through and through. Her granddad Jogti Singh Khaila migrated to New Zealand in the 1890s from Sahungra, Hoshiarpur, Punjab.

Those early years

In 1929, Jogti went to Fiji and married Mother’s Grandmother Gayatri Sharma. They came to New Zealand and their son (my Mother’s dad) Tej Singh Khalia was born in Wanganui in 1932. Tej Sinch married my Grandmother (Baljit’s Mother) Chanan Kaur from the village of Garhi, Hoshiarpur, and together they had three sons, and one daughter- our Kohinoor, our Mother.

She was born in Hamilton in 1960. We still joke about Mother’s Waikato twang to her accent because people who meet her for the first time cannot believe how ‘Khiwi’ she sounds. Much of her young life was spent moving around Auckland because her dad had different business ventures and was an entrepreneur.

Karamjit Singh Bains, son of Baljit Kaur conducting the proceedings at Baljit’s Funeral (INL Photo)

In 1979, my dad, Manmohan Singh Bains immigrated from Fiji to New Zealand and married Mother in Muriwai. She was 18 and he was 21.

Life for Mother and dad as a newly married couple was focused on ‘making a living’ rather than ‘shaping your career.’ Mother worked in a variety of government departments from 1979 to 2009 in clerical roles including Animal Control, Inland Revenue, The Department for Courts, Legal Aid Services, the Public Defence Service, Te Whanau O Waipareira (The Waipareira Trust) and the list goes on. Mother entered the not-for-profit space in 2011, commencing her role as the Coordinator and later the Manager of the Waitakere Ethnic Board which was her final role.

We all know the contributions that she made to the betterment of ethnic communities in Auckland and New Zealand, which is highlighted by our speakers and many of you gathered here today.

When dad was working incredibly long night shifts at Carter Holt Harvey to support us, Mother was teaching me and KJ to read before we went to Kindergarten. During the day, when dad was catching up on sleep, Mother would sit with me and KJ in the garage and make pictures and patterns from shells that we would collect from Muriwai. She played with us non-stop.

Baljit Kaur fought and won everyone’s cause except her own (INL Photo)

She always kept an eye on us and put us first.

She was the best cook ever. Her broccoli saag, aloo paratha, lamb curry, and stew were her signature dishes and everyone who had the privilege of eating those dishes knows they have been to the promised land.

She ran our house in its entirety and everyone knows the level of hospitality you would receive from Mother whenever anyone came to our home. No one would say No to Mother because she was so cute, it was impossible.

Challenging the patriarchy

Mother always challenged the patriarchy. She was the woman who would sit at a table full of men and give directives because she was not afraid to speak her mind. She stood up for immigrants and refugees in a way that was meaningful – she used the power of the pen and law to make impactful changes for the betterment of our ethnic communities.

She wore a red lippy and dressed boldly because she always stood out. She was never boring.

She encouraged my and KJ’s interests, whether that was my desire to play the drums or KJ’s desire to style the hair. She pushed me and KJ forward to achieve our dreams and study for as long as we could because she did not have that opportunity.

She encouraged us to see the world, create networks, make connections, to serve others.

Mother did not faff about. If she wanted to do something, she got on with the job. She was not a talker but a doer. When she wanted to make her first trip to the Motherland in 2019, I took her to the land of our ancestors so that she could visit the historic locations that she had only read about in books, and she was an avid reader. She always said, “I don’t want to wait until retirement to travel, I want to travel when I am fit and able.”

So, she did make it to the top of Harminder Sahib and the Attari Wagah Border Ceremony, she did make it to Jallianwala Bhag- her dreams did come true. This was exactly four years ago before Covid threw a spanner in the works.

Handling C with dignity

When Mother was diagnosed with small cell lung carcinoma on 20th January 2022, she handled the cards that she was dealt with practically and pragmatically. She sorted her affairs, ensured that we knew how to run the house, followed the medical advice and handled the chemo and radiation and clinic visits and side effects with dignity and decorum. She was given three to twelve months to live and in that time, she installed a chandelier to keep our lives bright, installed security lights to keep us safe, and built a pergola so that we can listen to the sound of the rain (notice that it has not stopped raining Mother has passed- she loved the sound of rain), she bought eight pieces of artwork to complete our home, casually launched the first ever report quantifying the economic contributions of ethnic communities to New Zealand’s GDP, taught me all her signature dishes and taught us how to run a household.

Baljit Kaur with her daughter Dr Malvindar in February 2022 (Photo Supplied)

To close, Mother has left a huge impact on so many of our lives. Every time we hear the rain, visit Muriwai, eat a mint Choco biscuit of cake, see anything made of elephant or peacock designs, her Queen songs, make her signature dishes or wear red lippy or dance at celebrations like no one is watching, we will be channelling Mother.

Our family is so grateful for all the tributes, food, flowers and time donated by everyone who loves Mother. We are so grateful to those who accompanied us and Mother on her journey – you know who you are and what you mean to us. We thank everyone who is with us today and tuning in live to celebrate Mother and the icon she is. To me, KJ and dad, Mother will always be the most adorable, favourite, the apple of our eyes. She will always be our resilient Sherni who fought for all of us, she fought for justice and she indeed was the Champion, the Queen who kept fighting to the very end.

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh.

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