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AP Exclusive: Sikh shooting victim slowly improves

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 19, 2013 at 2:58 pm •  Published: January 19, 2013
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"A lot of people are praying for him in their homes and temples," Raghuvinder Singh said. "We want to thank them and ask them to please continue offering prayers there."

Punjab Singh sat propped up in a chair under several blankets when an Associated Press reporter visited this week. He breathed on his own but had a tracheostomy tube in his throat and was fed through a tube.

His wife, Kulwant Kaur, woke him by gently squeezing his hand and asking him in Hindi, "Are you OK?" He opened his eyes slowly and squeezed them shut in what appeared to be a deliberate blink. He moved his right arm slightly and turned his neck, representing the extent of his physical abilities.

Recent improvements have left his family euphoric.

A few weeks ago, a follower in California called Raghuvinder Singh and began singing a Sikh hymn. Singh put the phone near his father's ear, and his father's mouth turned up ever so slightly. It was, Raghuvinder Singh said, the first time he'd seen his father smile since the tragedy.

It happened again this week, when his wife spoke about his grandchildren in India.

"Whenever he heard the name of his grandson it was like a light bulb went on," he said. "She was talking about what grade he was in, and he began smiling again."

Singh's speech therapist, who also asked not to be identified at the family's request, believes there is intent behind the minute twitches and eye movements. The therapist describes Punjab Singh looking on as the therapist talks in English, then looking to his son for the Hindi translation before looking back to the therapist.

And when Punjab Singh's two daughters visited him from India, he had tears in his eyes, his son said.

Raghuvinder and Jaspreet Singh, who have been away from their own families in India since the attack on their father, aren't sure what's next. They can't work in the U.S. because of visa issues, and they worry that if they return to India they may not get visas to come back. They support themselves with help from relatives, and eat meals at the Sikh temple.

Each day when he returns to the temple, Raghuvinder walks into the bedroom where his father tried to barricade himself before the gunman broke in and fired. He runs his eyes across the fresh plaster where bullet holes were repaired, and he looks at the spot where his father fell.

"That reminds me always about what happened that day," he said. "It reminds me to always think of forgiveness, of oneness."

Sikhism teaches peace and forgiveness, and the entire family embraces that message and a faith summed up in one word.

"In his whole life he has chanted, 'waheguru,'" Raghuvinder Singh said. "If he's sleeping and he opens his eyes it's the first thing he'll say."

It's also a word they hope Sikhs worldwide continue saying for Punjab Singh. His wife had only one comment for those who cared about her husband.

"The prayers are working," she said in Hindi. "We believe in that."

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.