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From the ashes of grief

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Thornhill, Ont. — Venu Thampi didn't think much about it when he was invited to a friend's home for dinner more than a year after his wife was killed in the Air-India terrorist attack.

He was still grieving for his wife, Vijaya, and struggling with the burdens of life. He had a six-year-old daughter to take care of and a job that kept him away from home too much. But the dinner was supposed to be a casual evening and Mr. Thampi didn't know who was going to be at his friend's place.

Jayashree Lakshman was there. Mr. Thampi had seen her at meetings for families of Air-India victims: Her husband and seven-year-old daughter were also among the 331 people killed in the June 23, 1985, bombing attacks.

Neither of them was ready for any kind of relationship. It was too soon. But after the dinner party, Jayashree began helping with his daughter, Nisha, taking her to weekend activities and pitching in when he needed a helping hand during the week.

After a while they started talking about a life together. By March, 1988, they were married. "There was a chemistry there," he recalls. The following summer they had a son, Vivek.

"God has funny ways of working," Mr. Thampi, 55, said in an interview. "I question God's way of making us all live through [the Air-India disaster], but at the same time we now have peace at home."

"We learned to live happily," said Mrs. Thampi, who is two years younger than her husband. "The grief is always there ..... but we have a life."

The Thampis are unique among families of the Air-India victims — two grieving spouses who married and had a child who would not have been born but for the tragedy.

In the 20 years since the attack, the Thampis tuned out the government pronouncements on the disaster, the protracted police investigation and the convoluted processes of Canada's justice system. They built a new life, devoting themselves to their children and their life together.

For almost two decades they protected their privacy. "I carry on my life without wanting to make anyone miserable," Mr. Thampi said.

But they agreed to break their silence in the days before the verdict in the Air-India trial, which is to be delivered on Wednesday, March 16.

Vancouver businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik and mill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri face charges of murder for the deaths of 331 people in two co-ordinated bomb explosions, one in Japan and a second on an Air-India flight en route from Canada to England.

As many as 70 members of victims' families will be in the public gallery of the Vancouver courtroom to hear the verdict. The Thampis will not be with them. Long ago, the couple say, they started a new chapter in their lives.

"The past is not erased," Mrs. Thampi emphasized. "We are not avoiding or forgetting the past. It is going to be there forever and ever."

But their hope was to raise children who would grow up without grudges and without vindictiveness, despite what their parents went through. "Jay and I do everything possible to keep a civil approach to the whole matter," Mr. Thampi said.

Before they married, the couple weighed whether it was a good idea for two grieving Air-India families to join together. Both of them had happy first marriages, rich family lives. If the clock were turned back, they would never have met.

"It was a conscious decision on our part to be together in these circumstances," Mr. Thampi said. "We made a conscious decision to live our life. That is what made, for us, a difference. We became a true family."

***

The Thampis and their children were interviewed at their home in a quiet residential enclave north of Toronto, where youngsters of Korean, Chinese, Caribbean, Indian, South African and European background play together on the street and families get together on Canada Day to set off firecrackers.

The conversation took place in their front room, dominated by impressive statues of Hindu gods, representing birth, life and wisdom.

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