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Image on Homepage box: Hardit Singh Malik receiving the French Legion of Honour from the French President in 1952.

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A Little Work, A Little Play:
The Autobiography of Hardit Singh Malik

A Book Review by Dr. GURNAM SINGH BRARD

 

 

Sardar Hardit Singh Malik's autobiography, "A Little Work, A Litle Play", has been selected as sikhchic.com's BOOK OF THE MONTH for May 2011.

 

 

A LITTLE WORK, A LITTLE PLAY: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF H.S. MALIK. Introduction by Lester B. Pearson, late Prime Minister of Canada. Book Wise, India, 2011. Hard cover, Black & White photos, pp 296. Rs. 395.00, U.S. $24.00. ISBN #: 978-81-8733031-7

 

THE REVIEW

The book serves as a chronicle of the times from the Victorian era to the modern age.

The casual sounding title, ‘A Little Work, a Little Play,' may understate the importance of the book by Sardar Hadit Singh Malik, but it is consistent with his style of handling history-making events and people with natural ease and equanimity.

The book covers many decades of fascinating history, some of which he helped shape. The fact that he was a good sportsman in cricket, tennis and later on in golf, may have molded his character as much as the spiritual grounding did, as his family had emphasized discipline, honor and integrity as well as religious faith.

Being a good sportsman ‘opened a lot of doors' for him in early life and later provided him many opportunities to cultivate the friendships with princes, lords, kings, prime ministers, military leaders, and other world-famous, powerful and glamorous personalities.

In the book, Hardit Singh also recalls vividly, many of his interactions with ordinary people, showing his great humanity and his consideration all.

My mind was transported to a very different time and environment as I read the description of his life of privilege in a prosperous family in Rawalpindi, Punjab, starting in the horse-and-carriage days of late 19th Century. I found it to be fascinating and informative. He mentions ‘a lavish house, good food, horses and carriages, servants galore and money' as well as private tutors, but incorporating religious devotion and convictions.

The British had conquered and started their rule in Punjab only 45 years before he was born, and he describes the interactions of his father with the British officials, and their attitudes in general toward the ‘inferior' subject races.

I enjoyed reading about his experience of travel to England at the age of 14 in the days when buses in London were still pulled by horses. He describes his attending the preparatory school, and then entrance into Eastbourne College, ‘a good public school', and other experiences in those times, including the All India Home Rule Movement.

Later at Balliol College in Oxford, he developed many important friendships and contacts as he had done at Eastbourne; students who went to such schools in those days were the elites of society and attained positions of great power in their fields. Such contacts were helpful to Hardit Singh at some critical stages, such as when trying to enter the Royal Flying Corps.

The First World War started in 1914 and when Hardit Singh finished college in 1915, he wanted to play his part in the war effort. But the British military authorities could not accept an Indian as an officer in their forces. The best he could do was to join the French Red Cross, and he spent some memorable days in Cognac, France.

Then it seemed possible that he could join the French Air Force and based on that possibility, one of his influential friends shamed the British Air Force general into accepting Hardit Singh as an officer as the French were willing to do.

He served with great courage in the Royal Flying Corps as a fighter pilot.

In one combat mission, his airplane took 400 bullets, of which a couple pierced his leg. He was seriously wounded and after a crash-landing, he became unconscious because of loss of much blood. But after the War ended, a brilliant career in Indian Civil Service - once mainly the privilege of the British elite - became possible for him; every success after that became easy. It is a great credit to his convictions that he accomplished all this in a foreign country with beard and turban, starting in the days when attitudes were not so enlightened or tolerant as they are today.

As he describes the circumstances of his marriage to Parkash Kaur in the year 1919, it is quite revealing how Hindus and Sikhs comingled and inter-married, especially in the western part of Punjab, where some members of the same families became and remained Sikhs, while others would remain Hindus.

I learned many new things about the days when Hardit Singh became an Indian Civil Service (I.C.S.) officer, setting up new district headquarters in some small towns where the British administration was still taking shape, traveling through his territories on horse back, and dealing with superiors who were all British. Just as I expected, he states that although some of the British had foibles, eccentricities and prejudices, "the average Britisher in the I.C.S. was highly intelligent, well educated and hard working."

His appointment as Trade Commissioner in Europe in the early 1930s prepared him for the post of Trade Commissioner in the Americas in 1938. Just as he had a good friendship with Lord Berkeley (he could land his airplane in the latter's castle's grassy meadow) and later played golf with the likes of Duke of Windsor, General Eisenhower and King Leopold of Belgium in Europe, in America he played golf with the likes of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Humphrey Bogart, partied with Greta Garbo, Joan Fontaine, Greer Garson, and had lunches with Aldous Huxley.

In the book, the reader will encounter some historically important events where the author made an impact. In 1947, when he was still the Prime Minister of the princely State of Patiala, he and a few prominent Sikhs met Jinnah, who offered the Sikhs some special rights and powers if they would join Pakistan. He was farsighted enough to reject the offer. As the first Ambassador (High Commissioner) of India to Canada, he was able to negotiate full citizenship rights for Sikhs and other Indians in Canada.

I am also impressed with the skills he used when he was Ambassador to France, in negotiating the release of French colonies in India (e.g., Pondicherry), the only case where no military force had to be used to regain territory in India.

He even did a stint as leader of the Indian delegation when the U.N. General Assembly was held in Paris.

The book, "A Little Work, a Little Play" depicts the exemplary character of Sardar Hardit Singh Malik with his attitude of friendship, goodwill, and fairness toward others, and full clarity of mind to obtain what is just. It is not only pleasurable to read, but also is a treasure house of information about the times past, in our Sikh and Indian society, as well as in the world. There is a generous index of references at the end.

 

[Courtesy: Sikh Foundation. Edited for sikhchic.com]

May 1, 2011

 

Conversation about this article

1: N. Singh (Canada), May 01, 2011, 3:32 PM.

A good book and well worth reading from a historical perspective, I am sure! It would be interesting to examine the role played by Hardit Singh Malik in the negotiations for the future of Punjab in 1947. It is pointless to start a discussion on Shaheed Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the repercussions of his decisions unless we thoroughly critique and dissect the actions of all those at the table in 1947 ... including Hardit Singh Malik, Master Tara Singh as well as Yadavindra Singh, the then Maharaja of Patiala. They are the ones who set the ball rolling and it has led us to where we are today! We need to openly and honesty hold these people, as well as our current leaders, to account otherwise, we will be no better off in the future.

2: Inderpreet Singh (Estevan, Saskatechwan, Canada), May 05, 2011, 9:16 AM.

Turned life into a beautiful way.

3: Devinder Singh (India), May 07, 2011, 8:49 AM.

N. Singh ji: We are all looking for a cause that makes us feel greater than we are now. The completion of our cause will fail to satisfy too. We are all unknowingly seeking a higher ineffable. We are now fragmented and fractured, reaching out to a unity. "The progress towards harmony accomplishes itself by a strife of forces ...", that is how Nature works itself out. So long as individuals and nations stay in the lower consciousness, this strife will be very much in evidence. The conflict is everywhere. And nations fish in troubled waters. Other nations see it as self-interest to instigate the diaspora to lay claims, to keep the strife going. Puny little creatures that we are, we play into the hands of forces we do not understand.

4: N. Singh (Canada), May 07, 2011, 10:23 PM.

Devinder Singh ji: I have heard this argument many times, in one guise or another, typically from Indian born Sikhs or non-Sikhs. Any attempt by a minority or suppressed people to assert their rights is often greeted by calls to 'higher consciousness', 'forgiveness' or worse still, state terrorism. Religion, or rather the misinterpretation of religion, has been constantly used to anesthetize the masses ... the Dalits are a case in point. Let us not forget that Sikhi calls for both Miri and Piri, and grants its followers free will ... we have the right and ability to ask for freedom both for ourselves as well as others. Please read the latest Wikileaks report on how the Government of India hates the Sikhs and were instrumental in the Nov 1984 pogroms.

5: Savneet (New York, U.S.A.), May 11, 2011, 2:13 PM.

Where can I buy this book?

6: Sucha Mann (Canada), August 14, 2018, 4:15 AM.

Where can I purchase "A Little Work, A Little Play: The Autobiography of Hardit Singh Malik"?

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The Autobiography of Hardit Singh Malik"









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