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Sardar Harbinder Singh Rana:
Here Was A Man!
August 16, 1959 - December 27, 2018

T. SHER SINGH

 

 

 

 

 

 

His life was gentle; and the elements
So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, THIS WAS A MAN!”

      William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar




It is with deep sadness and a profound sense of loss that I write today about the passing of Sardar Harbinder Singh Rana.

Having turned 59 only a few months earlier, he passed away on December 27, 2018.

It is a heart-rending loss not only to his loving family, friends and colleagues but also to the Sikh-Briton community and the Sikhs worldwide. I find myself personally reeling from his untimely death because he was a dear friend too, and one I admired immensely.

Best known as the chief steward of The Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail and The Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust, he stood on the Anglo-Sikh scene like a colossus, casting a strong and indelible foot-print in every field of cultural and public life.

A tall and handsome Sardar, he was a perfect gentleman, always impeccably dressed and sweet-spoken. Those who have heard him at any of the umpteen events he helped put together, each in a grand style, will know him as an orator who touched you with his well-smithed words and his well-researched homework. I must confess I envied him his social ease, his diplomatic mien, and his ability to zero in on projects and enterprises which urgently needed to be addressed but had otherwise been overlooked or not given due care.

To list but a handful of his achievements as an impressario – it’s the one word that I find describes him best:

He had Prince Charles unveil the memorial to Maharaja Duleep Singh in Thetford, England.

He spear-headed the celebration of the Duleep Singh centennial.

He launched the bicentennial celebrations of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s 'coronation'.

He led the inaugural Anglo-Sikh Heritage Tour across England.

He began and carried through with his pet project - the marking of the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.

He helped establish the annual Saragarhi Memorial Cup to honour the heroes of the great battle.

He was the stalwart behind the centennial commemoration of the Sikh role in the First World War.


What makes him stand out even more is that he did everything with great aplomb, with finesse, with style ... to perfection. On top of it all, he was selfless ... his commitment to public service was unequivocal and completely free of any personal gain or agenda.

Several years ago, I wrote the following about him:


He is a wonderfully decent man, humble and wise.

Much of what I have done in recent years has been inspired by him and his work.

I have seen him from up close doing incredibly selfless things for the sake of the Sikh community, the British nation and for “sarbat da bhalla”.

Again, honestly - those who know me well know me as one who is, to a fault, never prone to either exercising flattery or doling out baseless compliments - I couldn’t think of another Sikh alive anywhere who I could cite for doing better, selfless seva than Harbinder Singh.

Now that I think of it, I would extend that observation for anyone I know within any community, including the world at large.


It is with a heavy heart that I mourn him, but nevertheless celebrate his life and all that he did for us. My prayer today is that someone within his team of brilliant young men and women will rise – one, preferably more – and take his baton and carry on his unique legacy.


*  *  *  *  *

 

FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS

 

Visitation (Antim Darshan) at Residence

Thursday, 10 January 2019

10:15am - 10:45am

261 Broadway North, Walsall, WS1 2PS, UK



Cremation

Thursday, 10 January 2019

11:30am – 12:00 noon

Streetly Crematorium, Little Hardwick Street, Aldridge, Walsall, WS9 0SG, UK



Bhog / Ardaas / Langar

Thursday, 10 January 2019

12:30pm

Guru Nanak Gurdwara Sahib, West Bromwich Street, Walsall, WS1 4DB, UK



For more details and directions, please CLICK here.


 

 

 

 



 

Conversation about this article

1: Dr Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), January 04, 2019, 1:53 PM.

A great loss. My deepest condolences to Harbinder's family and loved ones. I had known him for some time and had the good fortune of spending some time with him on several occasions. Indeed, an extraordinary man who dazzled me with his ability to do the impossible. We have all benefited from his life-work around the globe and owe him so much. I share Sher's hope that some good souls will step up to the plate quickly and take on his mantle.

2: Bicky Singh (Yorba Linda, California, USA), January 04, 2019, 2:36 PM.

There are very few, if any, Sikhs or non-Sikhs as dedicated as Harbinder ji, to bringing Sikhi into the awareness of the mainstream all over the world. Not only was he dedicated, he was very successful. He opened the eyes of common folk, as well as experts and of course Britons at all levels, about the greatness of the Sikh religion, history, and culture. He never gave up on his mission. I communicated with Harbinder ji just three hours before he passed away so tragically. He was most excited about a new film he wanted to develop with Sikhlens and Chapman University Film School students. 2019 is the 100th anniversary of of the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre of Punjabis, mostly Sikhs, by the British Indian Army under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer. Harbinder shared with me his contacts and the role his team could play in turning his idea of a documentary film into reality. This is but one example of his legacy. Rest in peace, my warrior friend, Sardar Harbinder Singh Rana.

3: Mehtab Kaur (London, UK), January 04, 2019, 7:08 PM.

I am a long-time fan of Harbinder's work and am heart-broken by the news. I know that Waheguru will have a special place at his feet for Harbinder Singh ji. May his legacy live on.

4: Ranjit Singh France (Paris, France), January 05, 2019, 7:13 AM.

Harbinder Singh Rana avait de nombreux projets, qui ont permis de sensibiliser les européens et les français à la culture et l'histoire sikh. Ces activités sur la Grande guerre et les Sikhs ou Maharaja Dalip Singh ont permis à beaucoup de jeunes sikhs de connaitre leur histoire... Cette terrible nouvelle nous a touché au plus haut point. Nous sommes près de vous par la pensée faute de ne pouvoir se rendre aux obsèques et vous adressons toute notre affection.

5: Michael Singh (Los Angeles, California, USA), January 05, 2019, 9:27 AM.

This shocking news is indeed so very sad. I remember Harbinder fondly. We worked together. A few years ago, Harbinder flew me from Los Angeles to London and put me up in a 5-star hotel. He thought my 21-minute film “Prisoner’s Song,” about a WWI Sikh POW captured by the Germans, told an important story that people should know about, both Sikhs and non-Sikhs. So he arranged for a screening at the National Army Museum in London’s Chelsea District. We showed the film to an appreciative audience, I did a Q&A with Harbinder, and then he flew me back to LA. Harbinder's profound respect for Sikh history, and for storytellers like me, went far beyond the usual platitudes and congratulatory back-slapping. He took action. He put his money where his passion was: spreading the word about all things Sikhi. The general apathy I have sensed from a majority of Sikhs about Sikh history has always frustrated and challenged scholars of Sikhism, as well as those of us who see the history of ANY ethnic or religious group, as a critical factor in the members' self respect and self identity. More than one Sikh has told me that history is irrelevant because “it’s over and done with.” And that Sikh history should be limited to the lives of the Gurus. Despite the efforts of legitimate Sikh scholars worldwide, I’ll wager that most Sikh youngsters today don't know Maharani Jindan Kaur from Mai Bhago. With so many Sikhs themselves living in such ignorance, it is no surprise that non-Sikhs the world over have very little idea who Sikhs are and what they stand for. Harbinder took it upon himself to tackle this problem head on by supporting filmmakers such as myself, and by creating ASHT, the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail. It traced various people and places in the United Kingdom where Sikhs had ventured, or settled, or fought, or lived and died. I went on that trail with him and Bicky Singh and The Singh Twins. It was an absolutely unforgettable experience, Harbinder’s vision come to life, of bringing us Sikh history in a fascinating way. Harbinder also helped with my own work, a 31-min history of Maharani Jindan Kaur, titled “Rebel Queen.” He sat for an interview for that film, and introduced me to scholars and experts who could augment that documentary bio-pic with their own versions of the lives of Jindan and her son Maharaja Duleep Singh. It was a delight to film with him: no fussing about the lighting or his looks, no vanity, no demand for re-takes. He had a talent for effortlessly speaking in perfectly formed, beautiful English sentences. A masterful storyteller, he brought Jindan and Duleep’s tragic story to live for my film. At one point, he switched to Punjabi and quoted Jindan, blind and heartbroken. She had just touched her long-lost son’s head and realized he had cut his hair and no longer wore a turban, having converted to Christianity. In quoting Jindan, Harbinder created a moment of so much pathos, it’s my favorite scene in the film. I’m forever grateful. He and I sometimes talked about the successful British campaign to degrade and smear Jindan as an immoral woman, perhaps even a harlot. How could the British be so successful in selling the public such an outrageous lie, he wondered. He knew the answer: by spreading the lies effectively. Rather than express fury or outrage to me, he simply indicated that my making “Rebel Queen” would just have to set the record straight. Although he was a gifted wordsmith, more than that he was a man of action. “Just do it,” could have been his motto. We had our disagreements, even about money, which was always in short supply. It seemed to me he was perpetually raising, or trying to raise, funds for one thing or another, often “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” He never complained about the real reason for the desperate shortfall: Sikhs in general do not support either ASHT, or his other work, nor are they willing to pay for Sikh-oriented films made by filmmakers such as myself. That disregard is truly an outrageous and pathetic situation, but Harbinder carried on, channeling his disappointment and bitterness into doing something positive, and constructive, to champion Sikhi whenever and wherever he could. May there be many more young Harbinders out there. They and only they can assure that Sikhi flourishes.

6: Robert Kybird (Thetford, United Kingdom), January 05, 2019, 9:46 AM.

A seasoned orator, no more will I hear: “Aah Robert, we were hoping to arrange in Thetford”. As is said in the article above, who will pick up the mantle of Anglo Sikh heritage?

7: Marketa Holtebrinck (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), January 05, 2019, 10:31 AM.

I have met Harbinder on several occasions in the last year, and knew from hearsay what extraordinary work he had been doing. Having a long non-Sikh history, I did not instantly grasp the nature of his work and, in extension, the nature of this man. Until I met him again a couple of months ago in Thetford, England and Eleveden Hall nearby for the 125th anniversary commemoration of Maharaja Duleep Singh's death and then again in London at the V&A Museum for T. Sher Singh's lecture on the Maharaja which Harbinder had also organized. In Thetford I saw many Sikhs in attendance, but surprisingly even more non-Sikhs - 'white' English men and women. All of them seemed to be confidently personal with Harbinder, as much so as with the other Sikhs in attendance. Only at that moment did I realize what a galvanizing force this man was, tirelessly working on bringing together people from all walks of life (and politics) and setting milestones. When I saw the spectacular statue of Maharaja Duleep Singh in the river park in Thetford, just a couple of miles from Elveden Hall, the palace residence now off-limits to the public, and read through the writing on the pedestal to the very bottom, my sense of awe rose even more. The last two lines, set in gold on the grey granite, say: “To this day the Sikh nation aspires to regain its sovereignty.” Coined in these simple words by Harbinder Singh and unveiled in July 1999 by no less then H. R. H. the Prince of Wales. At that point, with the sheer weight of the stone, my appreciation of the kind of work Harbinder was doing turned real. In the rare more private moments I had the opportunity to talk and share food with him, he was also unsurprisingly the gentle, generous and attentive man I saw him as with others.

8: Pritam Singh Wadhwa (United Kingdom), January 05, 2019, 1:44 PM.

Sad he is gone too early.

9: Neena Kent (London, United Kingdom), January 05, 2019, 4:07 PM.

Shocked and upset by the sad news. Harbinder was a credit to us all. Will be missed by a lot of people. May he rest in peace.

10: Kulbir Colin Singh Dhillon  (Caledon, Ontario, Canada), January 06, 2019, 7:30 PM.

I am not one for shock/drama when it comes to the passing of an individual. We are all on a journey that carries an expiration date on our personalized ticket stub, but when you hear of certain people passing, it does stop you in your tracks. Harbinder Singh is one such individual. The Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada (SHMC) was established because of Harbinder Singh. His magnetism, knowledge and passion for all things related to Sikh heritage were so inspiring, you could only let yourself be pulled in, and leave after you'd drank from the cup of knowledge. His passing is a great loss for the global Sikh community. I echo T Sher Singh’s words, hoping his legacy and hard work will be continued by some strong individuals.

11: Master Hari (Birmingham, United Kingdom ), January 08, 2019, 4:18 PM.

Was sad to hear about the sudden passing away of Harbinder. He was a gentleman. He was a very good friend of my late brother Nirmal Singh who also sadly passed away from cancer. I had occasion to meet Harbinder on a number of occasions and it was always wonderful to hear him speak enthusiastically about further projects that he was working on. He laid the seed of ASHT and may it grow. He will always be remembered in the annals of Sikh-British history.

12: The Singh Twins (United Kingdom ), January 11, 2019, 12:22 PM.

We just wanted to add our voices to and echo the heart-felt tributes that have already been made in honour of Harbinder ji. Our paths first met in 1999 when Harbinder ji commissioned us as young artists to create the crest for the Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust and we had the pleasure of attending many of the events he organised over the years. He was indeed a man of vision and of great charisma - with a drive and passion for preserving Sikh heritage that was inspiring. What he achieved and contributed during his lifetime to the community and for promoting Anglo-Sikh relations will remain his legacy for generations to come. We, like so many others, are shocked and saddened by Harbinder ji's sudden passing. He will be missed greatly and our condolences go out to his family.

13: Hari Singh (Kalala, Barnala, Punjab), January 11, 2019, 1:19 PM.

'Tin dha(n)n janedhee maau aae safal se' - "Blessed are the mothers who gave birth to them, and fruitful is their coming to this world." These lines of Baba Sheikh Farid aptly describe the personality of Sardar Harbinder Singh Rana.I never met him but have been following his contributions to The Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail and The Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust. Guru Amar Das ji in Raag Sarang says: 'Sach Sa(n)jam karanee kirat kamaveeh aavan jaan rahaiee' - "They practice truth, self-restraint and good deeds, their comings and goings are ended." May his soul rest in Peace.

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Here Was A Man!
August 16, 1959 - December 27, 2018"









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