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The Truth About Balraj Sahni

by SANGAT SINGH

 

 

I am troubled by a comment I read recently, posted to one of the articles on sikhchic.com. It branded the late Balraj Sahni - a film, TV and stage actor, and an author of renown - as an Arya Samaji, which is nothing less than a serious, albeit erroneous, blot on his character.

What little I know of Balraj Sahni comes from at least three different sources.

The first one is Dr. Ganda Singh's Bhai Jodh Singh Abinandan Granth published in 1962, wherein Balraj Sahni has an exquisite contribution on page 161 that presents, at the same time, a perfect profile of himself.

The second one is Balraj's own books, chiefly, his memoirs of his Pakistan trip.

Thirdly, his close friendship with S. Ranjit Singh who used to edit and publish Ranjit Weekly from Bombay. (I wonder if it is still in business.)

It was our good fortune that S. Ranjit Singh stayed with us during his first visit to Malaysia in the mid-sixties. This is what he had to say about Balraj: that he was more Sikh than most Sikhs he knew, and that he, Balraj, had the deepest regard and love for Guru Granth Sahib and gurbani.

Balraj Sahni regularly contributed for Ranjit Weekly and had the last page reserved for him.

Balraj himself tells of his love for gurbani in his article in the Abinandan Granth. He was deeply fond of kirtan and S. Ranjit Singh was himself an accomplished kirtania. Balraj used to tell Ranjit Singh: "Yaar, lokee mera thay marda nay and mein tharay thay!"

Quite often, he would slip into the gurdwara incognito in the wee hours to immerse himself into kirtan.

When Balraj Sahni passed away, Khushwant Singh wrote a beautiful piece on him and mentioned that when he went to his house to pay his respects, he found on his table - an opened sainchi of Guru Granth Sahib that he must have been reading not long before he passed away.

I would urge the readers to look at "Nimani Jahee Shardanjali", Balraj's piece on Bhai Jodh Singh, and you will see for yourself what I mean. Unfortunately, I only have the Punjabi version and therefore cannot re-produce it here. 

It is such a lovely, almost biographical piece that I strongly feel requires an English translation and ultimate publication in the pages of sikhchic.com.

Those who have known Balraj Sahini, or even know him as I do, will - I'm sure - agree that Balraj Sahni in no way deserves the slur thrown at him so casually by a reader. 

 

May 28, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Prabhjot (London, United Kingdom), May 28, 2010, 9:09 AM.

I knew Balraj Sahni well. Every Vaisakhi, he invited Sikh artists from Punjab to visit and stay with him in Bombay. He was very close to Sikhs. If he was an Arya Samaji, then I'd say he was an exception - he was a good one.

2: Jarnail Singh Gyani "Arshi" (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), May 29, 2010, 3:18 AM.

I agree wholeheartedly with Sangat Singh's conclusions on Balraj Sahni. I have had occasion to read the Ranjit Weekly and the Illustrated Kaumi Ekta of Rajinder Singh, and do remember vividly that Balraj Sahni was one Punjabi in Bollywood proud enough to stand up for his Punjabiat and Maa Boli and be counted. Despite the fact that almost all the Bollywood actors and directors, etc., were Punjabi, none showed their love for their maa boli and Punjab as much as Balraj did so openly and wholeheartedly. I am sure he was no Arya Samajist ... and if he was, then he was a good one and different from all the others who had been taught to hate Punjabi, punjabiat and who disowned their maa boli for Hindi.

3: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 29, 2010, 7:50 AM.

Balraj Sahni was a frequent visitor to our neighborhood where his mother lived. He was better looking in real life than reel life, I thought. My experience (being that I was a kid in the "mohalla") with him consisted of chit chats - a cherished memory. He was a poet at heart - gentle and sensitive. At least that is the impression I have of him. Don't know about his Arya Samaj antecedents but his Marxist leanings were no secret.

4: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), May 29, 2010, 8:28 PM.

Now that Balraj Sahni is back to his pristine self, might I add a bit more luster to his otherwise impeccable antecedents. After reading Giani Gurdit Singh's "Mera Pind", Balraj's comment was "I can only say this, that you have brought about a revolution. This book is a distilled cultural museum in words, and bound to bring a millennia of change, and infuse new life in Punjabi language. This diamond borne of a wretched Punjabi Ma's womb provides a tremendous encouragement to such as I, to write in Punjabi. It has renewed my unbounded love for my watan once again." Balraj made a special trip to Chandigarh to visit Giani Gurdit Singh. He also persuaded him to spend a month with him in Bombay to quench his thirst at that fountain. Reminds me of President A. P. J. Kalam's visit to Khushwant Singh to wish him on his 92nd Birthday. Talking of Arya Samajis, we have missed yet another famous one in Daulat Rai who wrote "Sahibe Kamal - Guru Gobind Singh", a much quoted book. We have our own Arya Samajis but are named differently, like the ones who wanted to remove 'Bhagat Banis' from the Guru Granth Sahib and re-arrange the Guru Granth according to their own twisted logic.

5: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), May 30, 2010, 5:36 AM.

I have no first hand information about Balraj Sahni, the man, but I offer you a snippet from Punjabi culture a generation ago that might help some. I have a few Punjabi Hindu friends who insist that the only religion of Punjab is Sikhi. But, they also insist, the culture of Punjab and (of the larger India) is Hindu. This applies particularly so to those who appear Hinduized Sikhs like many Sikhs do, as also to Sikhized Hindus, many of whom raised one son a recognizable Sikh. (This practice is not much seen anymore.) In that milieu, to find a Hindu greatly influenced and shaped by Sikh beliefs and practices was not so unusual and nor were mixed marriages. Many sehajdhari Sikhs emerged from this mixed culture. Not that I agree entirely with such a formulation but sometimes the eminent thinker, Sirdar Kapur Singh shows somewhat similar thinking when he looks at the people of North-west India. Arising from many reasons, Sikhism and Hinduism are clearly on a divergent path, much as Christianity and Judaism became increasingly divergent after the first 300 years of Christianity which presented a more mixed record.

6: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), May 30, 2010, 8:29 AM.

Parents of Balraj Sahni were staunch Arya Samajists. This is written in his autobiography and also testified in his brother's (Bhishma Sahni) writings. Since he came from an Arya Samajist household, it certainly had an impact on him in the beginning of his life. Later on, both brothers became 'leftists'.

7: Kirpal Singh (Wellington, New Zealand), May 30, 2010, 10:35 PM.

He is the only non-Sikh I have known living outside Punjab who used to sign his name in Gurmukhi. He was pro-Punjabi language. Sunil Dutt is another actor who was also very pro-Punjabi.

8: Surinder (Massachusetts, U.S.A.), June 02, 2010, 9:18 AM.

I am the person who wrote a comment on the Tagore article and mentioned Balraj Sahni. First and foremost, I apologize if I caused any confusion. I did not mean to say that Balraj Sahni himself was an Arya Samaji, but all I wanted to say was that many Punjabi Hindus are and he might have reacted as many Punjabi city-dwelling Hindus tend to, as experience shows. As a matter of fact, I was giving a compliment to both Tagore and Balraj Sahni. By the way, the last thing I wanted to do was to say anything negative about Arya Samaj itself. I know the founder of this organization had rude words to say about all other religious leaders, including our Gurus, but I have no intention of delving in nindya. Many Arya Samajis have done great work. In our gurdwara, we have a Hindu gentleman who comes regularly, his family is/ was Arya Samaji. As someone pointed out, the writer of a famous book, "Sahib-e-Kamaal" (author, Daulat Rai) was initially an Arya Samaji, who was aghast at the insults against our Gurus by the Arya Samaj founder and decided to write a book on it. Changing topics: Balraj Sahni always impressed me as a classy man, gentle and at some deep level, very very inspiring. That he was so close to Sikhi is news to me, but only makes him more attractive to me. I always liked him as a person and actor. He spent lot of time in Punjabi villages AFTER he became a famous Bollywood actor. He wrote in gurmukhi, which is an achievement, dedication and commitment. We need to give him full regards. A more detailed biography on sikhchic.com would be very welcome.

9: G. Singh (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), August 27, 2010, 9:46 PM.

I did have a chance to see/meet Balraj Sahani in Cuttack in 1963(?). He was at a conference to promote Punjabi heritage and literature. Sorry, can't remember the name of the venue (but had to do something about Punjabi language), as I was only 10 yrs old at that time. All I can say, he was very passionate about anything Punjabi and was even more supportive of it than any Sikh at that conference. I still remember him reciting some Punjabi poems/verses written by him as he was an avid writer in Punjabi. It's sad to see a champion of Punjabi being maligned for the very cause he supported and which was so close to his heart and head.

10: Nashin (Canada), July 09, 2011, 1:31 PM.

He came from a bloodline of arya samajis, who are basically a brown version of the K.K.K. I have no respect for him at all.

11: Ish (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 20, 2012, 12:15 PM.

Ranjit Singh was my grandfather and Mr Balraj Sahni was a very close friend of the family. The weekly publication is not any more, but thank you for mentioning it in your article.

12: Rajyashree Tripathi (United States), August 19, 2015, 8:50 AM.

I am a great fan of the late Balraj Sahni. I have read online his Autobiography and also his biography titled "Balraj, My Brother," penned by his illustrious brother, the late Bhishma Sahni. Both clearly say that the family was Arya Samaji. This is not an insult. Just a fact. Also, his regular visits to the gurdwaras and utmost respect for Sikhs and Sikhism is well known. I admire him also for his love for his mother tongue, Punjabi. He cared enough to also write in Punjabi as he did in English. He was an intellectual and not trapped in labels and narrow boundaries of man-made religion. His passion was spirituality and that is what I respect most.

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