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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

by RUBIN PAUL SINGH

 

My father always kept a large collection of "Sikh" books at home, covering all aspects of Sikhi - history, Gurbani, contemporary issues, etc. I rarely delved into these books, because the English was so hard to understand - often written by authors from the early 1900's or non-English speakers.

But on a hot summer day, while on break - one book caught my eye.

It was a series of essays - easy to read, easy to understand and, most of all, captivating!

I read the entire book in one sitting. I was able to relate to it so well, as it spoke about Sikh history's significance in today's society.

One essay, titled "What Is a Head Worth?" blew me away. Although I had heard the story of the 1699 Vaisakhi Day dozens of times, this essay brought it to life for me, and I connected with it in a way I hadn't before.

More importantly, the author made it relevant to today ... and relevant to me. He explained that 300 years later, the Guru is still asking for our head. And we are being tested every day by our choices and actions the same way Guru Sahib tested his Sikhs on that day. The author concluded the essay with a question that shook me. I immediately jotted it down in my journal.

"Three hundred years later, once again the Guru wants your head. Many will slip away, just as they did three hundred years ago. Many more will look away, just as they did then.

"The question is: How are you going to answer the call?"

I was so moved by this book, I did something I never did before. I wrote a letter to its author. This was long before email and commenting on blog posts were in vogue ... it was a hand-written note.

I wanted to tell the author how much I loved the book and how much this essay meant to me as a young Sikh discovering my faith. To my surprise, a few weeks later, I received a call.

Sure enough, it was the author. He was appreciative of my note and we engaged in a discussion. I couldn't believe a professor and published author would take the time to call me, a mere college freshman.

I invited him to speak at a conference a few of us university students were organizing and he obliged.

The conference was a disappointment, as it turned out most of the participants were more interested in partying than attending the workshops - very few actually attended his talk. But he gracefully understood and encouraged me not to get frustrated and continue organizing such events. So I did.

As years passed, the author and I lost touch, but we would run into each other from time to time in various cities - at workshops, retreats, seminars. He was always a featured speaker and it didn't matter what the topic or theme was - he was always an expert.

And each time we would meet, he would mention the letter I sent him as a kid - and remind me that he still keeps it!

I have followed his writings over the years, through his books and his articles here on sikhchic.com, and they still captivate me.

Often times he titles them with something provocative, as though he may make some controversial declarative statement at the end - but he rarely does, sometimes to my frustration. He instead raises pertinent issues, analyzes both sides of the argument down to the intricate details - and then leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind.

As I've gotten older, I've learned to appreciate this more. As I've seen in Sikh politics and Sikh leadership, we often rush to make declarative statements without the necessary discourse and debate. And we become more comfortable just following the "loudest talker," rather than thinking for ourselves.

Late last year, on a whim, I sent an essay of my own to the author for his feedback. I respect him as a writer and was hoping to develop my own writing. I had rarely shared my essays with anyone else before. He promptly replied with some feedback and encouragement. He also suggested I send my essay to sikhchic.com.

With that encouragement, I've continued to write and share pieces - which has been a tremendously reflectively experience and one where I've discovered a lot about myself in the process. It's funny, that same person who patted me on the back and encouraged me then as a kid, is still doing the same 15 years later.

I thank Dr. IJ Singh (Uncle ji) not only for his guidance and encouragement of me, but of umpteen Sikhs of my generation.

Although he is a self-proclaimed "gray-beard," he has a knack for connecting with youth activists unlike any other, serving as a trusted mentor and advisor to several Sikh organizations. He has filled the gap as a "visionary" and "thinker" for our institutions, something we as a community often lack.

In one of Uncle ji's previous columns, "Seeds To Flowers," he poignantly addressed the youth of today:

"Sometimes I like to tell them to keep in mind that if they can see farther and act more purposefully, it is because the young stand on the shoulders of giants."

True indeed!

I wish Uncle ji the best of health, the highest spirits and - most importantly - the strongest of shoulders!

 

May 21, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Manjyot Kaur (New York City, U.S.A.), May 21, 2009, 6:16 AM.

So many of us have been blessed to have I.J. Singh as our "lamp-lighter" along the Sikh Path. I consider myself most fortunate to be one of them.

2: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), May 21, 2009, 7:00 AM.

Dr. I. J. Singh is like a whirlwind, churning out thought-provoking writings that cover the whole spectrum of Sikh issues in a way that awaken the reader from the slumber of spiritual and social lethargy. His essays are a must read for every Sikh, period!

3: Kaviraj Singh (Massachusetts, U.S.A.), May 21, 2009, 7:08 AM.

I have been fortunate to know both Dr. IJ Singh & Rubin Paul Singh for many many years. I read each one of their articles as soon as they appear on sikhchic.com and I follow Rubin's blog quite closely. I appreciate the fact that they both encourage the readers to think and express their views and concerns freely and do not force their view/judgement on others. Beyond this, they both connect well with the youth, which is very important in this day and age, and they also listen and reflect on what the youth is trying to say (they don't pretend to listen like many people, but they actually really listen and give credit and comments to the ideas of the youth). We need more and more Rubin Paul Singhs & I.J. Singhs in our panth. May Waheguru bless them both!

4: Sandeep Singh Brar (Canada), May 21, 2009, 7:34 AM.

He is truly a visionary and if there were ever a 'Sikh Hall of Fame', he would definitely be my nominee for one of our greatest down-to-earth thinkers of the 20th/21st century in the Panth. I often wonder when we as a people will come around to the good Doctor's mantra that he has preached all these years - that we have to learn to disagree without being disagreeable.

5: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brantford, Ontario, Canada), May 21, 2009, 7:54 AM.

What sets apart the people like Dr. I.J. Singh, T. Sher Singh and other renowned Sikhs is their command of English and interpreting many Sikh-centric things easily for others. Today we are guided by them, as we were earlier by Duncan Greenlees and the like. I.J.'s books are superb and touching, making the Sikh religion an easy one to understand by all. I can see a whole new generation has grown, especially in the U.S.A. and Canada, reading them in the last 20 years. Great job in progress. Chardi kalaa.

6: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), May 21, 2009, 9:40 AM.

My family and I too have been touched by Dr. I.J. Singh's love, warmness and mentorship. As you rightly point out, his books are most easy to understand and relate to current environment. His essays convey the message in the simplest way without the use of unnecessary jargon. Only a few days ago, I was reading a popular subscription-based Sikh magazine from India and noticed the use of heavy english in its articles. A thought crossed my mind that perhaps Dr. I.J. Singh or T. Sher Singh should help this magazine's editorial board. The best part about Dr. I.J. Singh's writings is that he has an extremely solid understanding of Sikh, Indian and American cultures, even though he has now spent the major part of his life here in America. He is totally current on realities of both the worlds. His current piece on Dr. Manmohan Singh's second term as India's Prime Minister is yet another testimony of it. Also, his writings are extremely positive and uplifting, even if the subject involves a depressing reality. His lectures come across as unbiased and non-confrontational, even when the subject is a sensitive one. I really liked his essay on the history of Rehat Maryada - a great balance between historical facts and his own opinions. If only we could somehow clone a few more I.J. Singhs!

7: Pardeep Singh Nagra (Toronto, Canada), May 21, 2009, 7:39 PM.

I had the most honourable privilege of filling in as a keynote for Dr. I.J. Singh at the Sikhcess conference in Chicago a few years back, so much so that when the organizers told me that they would re-do the plaque that had already been made for Dr. I.J. Singh, I insisted it would be a greater honour for me to have the one with his name on it, as such I proudly have that momento. Thank you Dr. I.J., for your inspiring words of wisdom and all that you continue to do for our community, may Waheguru continue to bless you with seva. I am looking forward to joining the "Gray-Beard" club although I do not "work in a body shop!"

8: Amardeep (U.S.A.), May 22, 2009, 11:58 AM.

I also got the opportunity to meet him and listen to his talk. He has great reasoning and is less imposing. He is kind enough to continue to clear my doubts. Many thanks.

9: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, CT, U.S.A.), May 22, 2009, 6:19 PM.

There are many things that make Inder stand apart: His generous spirit. His non-judgmental attitude. His patience in enabling you to come to a decision with just a hint of his prodding: that is sign of a true teacher. I wish you good health and many, many more years of writing. Thank you, Rubin, for writing this piece.

10: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 23, 2009, 7:12 AM.

Quite clearly, Dr I.J. Singh has touched many lives for the better, mine included. In retrospect, our first meeting in 1995 (we found ourselves seated across each other on the 5:55 pm LIRR train from Penn Station to Long Island) was no coincidence. It was meant to be. For all of these 15 years, he has been a mentor, friend and guide, much like a catalytic agent - quickening the pace of change in my life. It has been a great pleasure. There are few Sikh writers today who write in English with the same fluidity and ease. Dr Singh has a "feel" for the language, which comes from being grounded in the western intellectual tradition, by which I mean being truly "educated", not just narrowly trained in a discipline or skill. But what makes Dr Singh a rare bird is that he is also rooted in his faith tradition and is a serious practitioner. A renaissance man! And Sikhs need more of those.

11: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), May 24, 2009, 5:17 AM.

This has been so unexpected and overwhelming that my response is somewhat incoherent. So, I offer you two citations from Guru Granth: "(God) graced my aimless life with purpose and direction" ('Moorakh kaaray laaiya' - Guru Ramdas, GGS:449 and 'Hum dhaadhi vekaar kaaray laaiyaa' - Guru Nanak, GGS:150). For those with a whimsical bent, I give you Hilaire Belloc's doggerel: "When I am dead, I hope it may be said; His sins were scarlet, But his books were read." I have been blessed with kind and generous friends. Thank you.

12: Dharamveer Singh (Mumbai, India), July 14, 2009, 12:21 PM.

I.J.Singh ji, where can I get one or all of your books?

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