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The Extraordinaries:
Harbinder Singh & His Band Of Merry Men & Women







Harbinder Singh of the United Kingdom is no stranger to these pages.

I have written before of his role as the engine and guiding spirit of, first, The Maharaja Duleep Singh Centennial Trust, then The Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail, and most recently -- while still shepherding the other institutions and many more -- The 1914 Sikhs Project, which has taken on the task of commemorating the centennial of the First World War and the unprecedented role of the Sikhs in it.

My choice today of Harbinder and the phenomenal work done by his associates, and the staff and volunteers of the organizations he heads, as the next in’s ongoing series, The Extraordinaries, is triggered not just by their latest centennial event (held at St Martin-in-the-Fields to honour the Sikh Heroes of The Battle of Gallipoli), but particularly by the simple booklet I now hold in my hand: The Order of Service handed out on the occasion. It bears the following title:


I have had the pleasure of attending many an event put together by Harbinder and his crew. And I have in my archives a whole collection of documents produced by them for many more -- invitations, posters, broadsides, pamphlets, booklets, guides, programmes.

Each, like this “Order of Service” before me, captures the very quintessence of Harbinder Singh.

Therefore, not surprisingly, as I pored through its pages, it has proved to be the inspiration to write this piece and name him and his team members of the “The Extraordinaries” because it encapsules all the strengths and skills that Harbinder brings to everything he touches.

Where should I begin?

The very texture of the paper used, the size, the dimensions, the weight, the colors, the fonts, the colour schemes, the illustrations and graphics, the design … everything comes together to form a perfect whole.

Add to it, its substance … the contents.

And it instantly turns into a masterpiece. 24 pages of it.

There’s not a word in it that shouldn’t be in it. And they have omitted nothing that should’ve been there.

The choice of pieces -- lines from gurbani, poems, historical quotes, articles, speeches, images --  is impeccable. Each item is moving and inspiring, relevant and appropriate, and fits in perfectly.

The translations make sense, and there is nothing in them which breaks your train of thought.

There is just the right amount of text on each page to make it easy on the eye. Mercifully, it doesn’t have the history of Sikhdom or ’The Philosophy of Sikhism in a Nutshell‘. It stays focused.

It tells us what its mandate requires it to do: thoughts and ruminations on duty, sacrifice, war, Gallipoli. And a celebration of the Heroes.

There’s a list of participants, and a brief description of the performers. Five lines of acknowledgements, that‘s it; not someone’s family tree.

No typos. No Indianisms -- for good reason: this is England, where English is the lingua franca.

No ‘board of directors’ or list of committee members. Or any proclamation of who is President or CEO or Chairman of which (unknown) organization. No claims by any one to being ’leader’ of the Sikhs anywhere. Not even a mention of any kind of poobah to whom we need to sing paens later. 

Just a lone reference on the title page to “1914 Sikhs”. No address. No email address. No website. (Wow!)

No vacuous message or greeting from the head of any organization or from some self-important politician. No photo of anybody -- except an incredibly moving painting which fits the whole exercise like a glove.

No self-promotion. No braggadocio. No advertising. No marketing. No advocacy. No cause célèbre. No mission statement. No claim or promise to be a public relations exercise, or to teach the world about Sikhs.

Instead, it is what it should be: understated, steeped in humility, soft and gentle and serene in its tone. No sadness. No anger.

All in all, it is a thing of beauty that I want to keep in my office so that I can pull it out and look at it from time to time. And show it to those who aspire to do seva in the community. And tell them that this is how you do things if you choose to represent our community … with precision and perfection, a labour of love which is also a work of art. With professionalism and finesse, as if it is the last thing you’re going to do and will be judged and remembered by it.

It’s amazing how Harbinder does it, not once, not twice, not now and then, but e-v-e-r-y time he takes on a task. Your heart swells when you see his handiwork: either the tangible product or the event itself.

Ah, the event.

What a delight to NOT see a committee of 15 people standing on the podium, hovering over every speaker. And to NOT see the convenor’s relatives -- wife, brother, sister, in-laws, children, parents, uncles and aunts -- occupy the stage, or parade across it, one by one, under any pretext, or fill up the hall, merely because they can do so.

Oh, Harbinder, how I wish some of the good souls I see representing us here and there and everywhere, how much I would give to have them come and see one of your functions, and then learn from you, and at the very least imitate you.

What, no press releases? Especially, ones proclaiming what you are about to do, or the PR strategy you have once again dreamt up for the community, followed by a list of all the things you almost, but never, did throughout your lifetime as a ‘leader’ of the community?

No newsletters? No endless pleas for money and donations, accompanied by a litany of things you will do some day … but actually never do?

No photo-ops with endless arrays of anonymous faces jostling with the chief guest for space, until you can barely see the latter?

Oh, I could go on and on and complain about all the heartbreaks I have had every time I have had to attend some of the functions put together by our many busy-bodies.

But I won’t. I’ll merely settle for gushing over what Harbinder has once again delivered on our behalf.

Here, I‘ll do better: I’ll share it with you as well.

Starting tomorrow, we’ll present to you, piece by piece, the various contents of the Order of Service I’m so gaga about and you judge for yourself by comparing it with the last time you attended an event by one of the clowns I occasionally rant and rave about, or are handed something which you feel compelled to throw in the bin as you walk out of the hall.

Congratulations, Harbinder Singh and the ‘1914 Sikhs’ team. May you multiply and beget and beget … in the biblical sense, of course .. and bring forth clones who then populate the diaspora.

June 15, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Ishnan Kaur (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), June 16, 2015, 10:51 AM.

Wow. That's quite a set up. I can't wait to see this printed piece.

2: Dr Inderbhajan Singh (United Kingdom), June 23, 2015, 12:21 PM.

I too was at this truly auspicious and historic event, and I fully reiterate your sentiments. A truly remarkable, yet understated organization, devoid of corruption, heralding the methodology of gupt seva. Uplifting the value and honour of Sikhs in the eyes of the commanding military authorities and historians alike. Long may his admirable, steadfast efforts endure.

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Harbinder Singh & His Band Of Merry Men & Women"

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