Swaran Bhullar in San Diego

Today, we drove to San Diego to meet Swaran Bhullar, the Sikh Punjabi woman who was stabbed in her car a few weeks after September 11, 2001. She had immigrated from Kenya in order to find peace and security. After her attack, she said that she had lost that security here in America.
On the way to see her, I read again my transcript of our first interview together in November 2001:SWARAN: On September 30th, coming here [to my video store] from home, I was in the left lane and stopped my car at the light at Cabot Street. I saw two men on my left in a black motorbike. They opened my door. They said, “This is what you get for what you people have done to us, and I’m going to slash your throat.”

I knew to cover my throat, and I tucked myself down with my hands like this [to cover my head with my arms]. They gave me a few cuts on the head with a blade. There were three cuts here. A white car approached, and so they ran away. As soon as they’d gone, I decided to drive here [to my video store] instead of stopping to ask for help. At that moment, I didn’t trust anyone.

I was bleeding all over. They brought me down here, and took me to the hospital. The doctors called the police. They stapled my head with two or three staples, and the police asked me questions. They never found them.

I read this story outloud to my crew, and it gave me chills to hear it, even though I had written about it and analyzed it in my writings many times. Whenever I tell these stories to others, I am reminded again of their pain and gravity.

We arrived at Swaran’s video store, Bombay Video, and she was the same as I had remembered her. Soft-spoken, yet sharp and quick with energy. I called her Aunti, out of respect. We talked for a long time and filmed a half an hour interview. I asked her about her memory of her attack:

SWARAN: Every day I think about it. Every time I approach Cabot Street, it’s like a tape recorder in my head, playing over and over again. It was only forty seconds of my life but I live it over again every day.

Four years have passed and yet the trauma runs deep in people who have survived such violence. And they must learn to pass through the trauma encoded in the body, just as she had to learn to pass through that intersection everyday.

Through the entire interview, Swaran talked about what happened to her without becoming emotional. There were tears only at the end, when she began thinking of her grandchildren who call her Nani, and how close she was to never knowing them. She is grateful for being alive:

SWARAN: What happened to me shouldn’t happen to anyone. My wish is for all people to live in peace.

Swaran Bhullar

Swaran Bhullar speaking with me in her store at the end of the interview.

Swaran hard at work in her video store, Bombay Video.

Swaran recommending that I take Veer Zhara and some Punjabi folk music home with me (which I did).

Thanks to Anup Sugunan (writer/director/actor) who joined us as our production assistant for the day, and also took these photographs.