KUALA LUMPUR, April 15 ― As the wife of a politician, Gurmit Kaur, 69, was used to making sacrifices and enduring tough times.
When the late Karpal Singh was detained together with other Opposition politicians during Operation Lalang in 1987, it was difficult but she was able to carry on.
What nearly broke her though was seeing her husband confined to a wheelchair after an accident in 2005.
“I had to stop living for myself when he was grounded. Operation Lalang was not the hardest time... we still managed, we went to see him, the kids were there. I still had my husband who could stand and hold my hand. I could do things. In fact, I had no worries about him when he was detained in prison.
“But when he was wheelchair bound, that was the end of my life. I never lived for myself after that. We put up a big front... strong front... so that he could move on. Because he was the people's man, not only a husband and a father to us. He belonged to the people and they needed him,” she said with tears in her eyes.
This coming Monday will be the third anniversary of his death. The prominent DAP MP and lawyer was killed in an accident on April 17, 2014 while he was on the way to Penang.
Gurmit said the moment she would forever hold dear is the one when he spoke to her before he left for Penang that night. “Normally if it is long distance, I would follow him but that was the one fatal trip that I was not with him. Once only.
“Before he left, he held my hand and said, 'Girl, lock up nicely and put on the prayer hymn. You'll be okay. As soon as I reach, I'll call you.' The call never came.
“He never reached. That is the moment that I'll never forget. Him holding my hand. I just wish God had given him a little more time so that we could have said our goodbyes,” she said, holding back the tears.
The mother of five said work and politics served to distract Karpal from the pain he felt after being confined to a wheelchair.
“He never complained. He was in pain all the time when he was in the wheelchair. His nerves were all affected and it was very painful but he never complained. Mind over matter.
“We never welcomed holidays or any kind of public holiday because that was the time he would feel the most pain. The moment he gets up in the morning, has coffee, reads the papers and goes off to work... it's work, work, work, come home and sleep. He doesn't feel the pain... so the holidays were painful for us,” Gurmit added.
Being brought up in a conservative Punjabi family, getting involved in politics was a big taboo. But over the years, Gurmit enjoyed following Karpal on various campaign trails and even learned about politics.
Despite Karpal's absence, she will be busy at the next general elections helping her sons Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo and Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh.
She knows it will be a very emotional time when she campaigns with Ramkarpal as his current seat was once Karpal's for over a decade. “Ram was always there campaigning with Karpal. Behind the scenes, I think he will need a lot of support.
“The moment they say elections is going to happen, I know honestly I will get cold feet. I talked to some of my family members and friends... how is it going to be this time without Karpal around?
“But I'm positive we will do well. The children have worked very hard and they also have principles and roots from Karpal. They will fight till the end come what may,” Gurmit said fiercely.
Life without Karpal is definitely not as exciting as it used to be but Gurmit admits she has not been any less busy; she is still the general manager of Karpal's law firms.
“Legal firms need a lot of attention. Karpal left a lot of unfinished work. I thought after he left, what am I going to do next? I had become very lonely. Two or three months after his passing, I just took the car and drove to the office. When I went to his room and sat down, that's when I started my life again. His office keeps me going,” Gurmit said.
Once the election season ends, the grandmother of 12 hopes to spend time with her grandchildren commuting between Kuala Lumpur and her beloved Penang.
She would also like to travel, especially to Third World countries she has not had the chance to visit with Karpal. Gurmit, who stopped her daily walks when Karpal was wheelchair bound, has recently picked it up again as she learns to live without her husband of 45 years.
“After a long time, I've started... the doctors have pushed me to go back to my morning walks. I was not able to do that when he was in the wheelchair but now I am back,” she said with a shy smile.