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When I Met The Sardar

by INNI KAUR

 
 
“Have you met Khushwant Singh?” asked Harinder Singh of the 1469 shop in Delhi.
“Nope,” I reply.

“Well, you just have to. Change your plans - we’re going to meet him this evening.”

During my recent three week stay in Delhi, not one day had turned out the way I had planned. Why would I think this was going to be different?

To save my nerves I had gracefully resigned to the fact that in Delhi my life was not in my control.

Precisely at 6.00 pm we rang the doorbell at his home in Sujan Singh Park and were ushered it.

And I got to meet “The Sardar.”

To say that he took my breath away would be an understatement.

Even at age 96, he is imposing, witty, charming and totally charismatic.

“Are you a drinking girl?” he directly asks me.

“No,” I reply.

He smiles.

“Well then you must have the sherbet.”

Promptly a glass of sherbet arrives for me.

Harinder Singh hands him my book, “Journey with the Gurus.”

He flips through the pages.

“How long did it take you to write this book?”

“Four years.”

 “It’s an expensive book. Our people don’t read.”

“Yes, I know.”

All of a sudden he stops on the page of Bhai Vir Singh’s poem.

“Can you recite his poetry?”

And before I can reply, he starts reciting not one, not two, but three of Bhai Vir Singh’s poems.

I’m flabbergasted.

Our ‘Sardar’ is a marvelous orator. What a memory!

“You know, I met him in Kasuli. He was very close to my in-laws. They sort of worshipped him. I don’t think he liked me very much.”

He continues to talk.

I listen.

I’m mesmerized.

He questions me. “Have you read Amarinder Singh’s book? What do you think of it?”

I’m silent.

He persists.

I relent. “Lacks substance!”

He roars with laughter.

Being with him is like being with your favorite professor. The 45 minutes that I spent with him just flew.

To spend a day or two in his company would be enchanting. Listening, chatting, being silent, and hearing him break out in poetry would be heavenly. Any man, who can recite poetry at a moment’s notice, captures my heart.

And “The Sardar” has definitely captured mine.

I would love to read an essay titled “The Divine & I” by him. For, I found something quite sacred in “The Sardar”, something which he keeps hidden in the deep recesses of his heart.

Till we meet again...

 

June 18, 2011

 

Conversation about this article

1: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), June 18, 2011, 7:50 AM.

And may I add that he read you perfectly too, when he commented "She was single-minded in spreading the message of Guru Nanak ...". http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20110618/saturday/above.htm

2: Roop Dhillon (Reigate, United Kingdom), June 18, 2011, 9:08 AM.

He's right, our people don't read. That's sad as it makes our culture poorer for it. The English are stuck to their books in trains, planes, etc. If I wanted to make money out of writing, I would write in English, not Punjabi. And the sad thing is that even if we write about Sikhism in English, few read. Ironically it was Khushwant Singh's comment that Punjabi language is lacking in word power that made me defiantly take up Punjabi. I think he was wrong in that.

3: Raj (Canada), June 18, 2011, 11:52 AM.

Hmm ... Bhai Vir Singh Ji, Khushwant Singh and Amrinder Singh mentioned in one article? Bhai Sahib was a divine poet, novelist, historian and human. Khushwant is a good historian and a cheeky novel writer. Amrinder Singh is an excellent military historian and lousy politician.

4: Ranbir Singh (Ludhiana, Punjab), June 18, 2011, 1:17 PM.

As mesmerizing as he must have been, equally good was your narrative.

5: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 18, 2011, 5:22 PM.

I met this vintage Sardar three times. The first time it was in early 60s when he was in Malaysia researching for his book, "The Sikhs". I was the occasional translator for Punjabi, which heavily laced with Malay language from the first generation veterans. The second and third meetings were more social when he regaled us with his engaging and sparkling observations. I will share one such: Soon after the attack on the Darbar Sahib in 1984, he found himself in the bad books of the Bhindranwala Taksal, was declared a tankhaiyya and summoned to explain his conduct. With some trepidation, he produced himself to answer the charges if any at their court in Chowk Mehta. The Taksalis welcomed him and read out the first charge: "Khushwant Singh ji, we want you to do something forthwith - stop dyeing your beard.". That was the main charge, and then: "Kee chhako gay?" - "What shall you eat?" Case dismissed and go and live a hundred years and more!

6: Karan Singh (United Kingdom), June 22, 2011, 4:32 AM.

Sangat Singh, its ironic that Khushwant Singh never did stop dyeing his beard or worse still, actually stop drinking! For me Khushwant Singh like many of the sevaks who spent years in the company of Guru Ji ... but being stone-like, did not change an iota!

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