Kids Corner




My Friend & Hero
Sardar Jarnail Singh



When the shoe flew towards Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram's face and the camera showed two men packing off a Sardar from the Congress Party venue, I knew it - the face was turned away from the cameras but that gait had to belong to my friend, Sardar Jarnail Singh.

Jarnail Singh, who hates getting out on zero, who tonks the tennis ball a long way during winter weekends of cricket and chucks the ball a long way from the fence, too, had thrown - and missed - a target two metres from where he was sitting.

But he had made the transition from byline to headline.

He is repentant hours after the incident. "As a journalist, I realise now that I should not have done it," he says this evening.

"I should not have chucked my shoe, but I was emotionally overtaken. But do try and understand that in the last 25 years every party has got an opportunity to give justice (to the Sikhs), but no one has."

Jarnail is still emotionally surcharged. But he does not forget to mention a story The Telegraph broke last week. He says he wants to follow it up.

He says he is not going to take up politics as a career, now that Sikh parties are queuing up at his door. He is still unsure about his job, though.

The condoning of Jagdish Tytler by the Indian government and Chidambaram saying that he is happy about it, is something that Jarnail says he feels "very strongly about".

In our many chats and conversations, I never once asked Jarnail about his personal travails in 1984. Like he has never asked about mine. We have assumed that we have both travelled painful roads. He is a few years younger than me.

In 1984, at the time of the carnage that killed thousands of innocent Sikhs, Jarnail would have been in his teens, his formative years. Someone in his family, or extended family, would have been lost to him.

But today I break that barrier and ask if he was personally affected. "No," he says. "No one in my immediate family." But he knows of many who have.

Reporters on the beat like him do not cross that fine line between journalism and activism easily. For six years and more, Jarnail has been a regular on the defence beat. He and I and others from almost every major newspaper, television channel and magazine have been visiting the armed forces headquarters nearly every working day, taking most trips on the air force's turbo-prop transport planes from Delhi to Kochi to Jammu to Dimapur.

For hours, the drone of the aircraft has stymied conversation inside but Jarnail has this enviable quality to sleep through the flights. It means he reaches the destination fully rested. As soon as the aircraft - usually the noisy AN-32 with benches (instead of the comfy seats you usually have on commercial aircraft) - take off, Jarnail stretches out and snores, his loose beard splayed on his chest also rising and falling.

Sometimes he carries a portable CD player, too, and listens to Gurbani and very often he carries a miniature Guru Granth Sahib.

In the evenings, after deadline time, with the reports for the day filed, he interjects in discussions when the talk is about Palestine and on the Irish question or, of course, on Kashmir and on the Indian Army, and on Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and the militaries of the world. That is what it is like on the defence beat.

He jokes often enough. An army major once told him the entire force had only one "General" - distorting Jarnail's name to make it sound like "General" - and that too was a rank achieved after decades. Jarnail shot back: "Arre, you haven't even met my brother, he is born a Colonel (Karnail)."

Jarnail is incorruptible.

At cocktail parties, he has fruit juice. I have never once seen him accepting gifts offered by armament companies.

It's funny that the Shiromani Akali Dal (Delhi chapter) has today offered him a reward of Rs. 200,000 for chucking his shoe at Chidambaram.

In news conferences, Jarnail is dogged. His questions are sharp and he wants to follow them up with supplementaries. He takes his religion seriously, but he is no preacher. More a live and let live type.

In the last six months, he's put himself through a strict regimen of diet and exercise and is now fitter than at any time since I have known him. He's also become a father for the second time recently.

Jarnail used to be rotund, rather sweetly roly-poly. Now he is lean. He never tucks his shirt in and always wears sneakers. The puppy fat on his face isn't quite hidden by his flowing beard.

Jarnail is mild-mannered. He has lost his temper while playing cricket. That cannot apply to his general approach to life. I can imagine him getting angry over a particular event if someone were to deliberately, personally humiliate him.

To feel hurt enough and act in the way Jarnail did this morning, and to make the transition from byline to headline, must take something special for a journalist on the beat.


[Courtesy: The Telegraph, Calcutta, India]

April 9, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Sant Singh Sethi (Delhi, India), April 10, 2009, 2:06 AM.

Sujan Dutta deserves compliments for a superb write up. The whole Sikh community is proud of Jarnail Singh. He achieved what no other self-style Sikh leader could do for the community. We need more Jarnail Singhs.

2: Niranjan Singh (Glendale, Arizona, U.S.A.), April 10, 2009, 11:42 AM.

The Indian community is still sleeping after attaining freedom. Wake up! Just like Jarnail Singh.

3: Umendra Dutt (India), April 10, 2009, 2:11 PM.

Well done, Jarnail. Thanks to Sujan for this nice article. I too take pride in being Jarnail Singh's friend.

4: Bhupinder Singh (Melbourne, Australia), April 11, 2009, 3:25 AM.

You are a hero to the Sikh community. Rather, a hero to humanity. Hats off to you, my big brave brother.

5: Harman Singh (Philadelphia, U.S.A.), April 14, 2009, 1:30 PM.

If only the Sikh community had more role models like Jarnail Singh, and less shifty politicians cum religious leaders, the Sikh youth today would not be so easily dissuaded and misled by anti-Sikh voices. Bravo, my friend. Although I have not been a big fan of vigilante justice, 25 years of impunity is enough to drive any rational being to the brink. In a country that makes a caricature of the judicial system, vigilante action sadly seems to be the only hope left to somehow get the authorities to act. I commend Jarnail for what he has done.

6: Apaar Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), April 15, 2009, 11:29 AM.

Jarnail Singh's actions express the feelings of the entire Sikh nation. The community is frustrated to no end in obtaining justice. It was the wrong action to take for a journalist but the right action for a human being.

7: Preet Ranjan Singh (New Delhi, India), May 16, 2009, 4:35 PM.

Having read numerous reports on the incident, I fail to understand why no one has remarked on the way the shoe was thrown. Contrary to many media reports, the shoe was lobbed, similar to a ball being lobbed towards a kid. It wasn't chucked or thrown with the aim of hitting the Home Minister. Jarnail Singh was sitting in the front row, barely two meters away from the Minister. And he did the right thing. He made a statement without saying a word. And he woke up everybody.

8: Jarnail Singh (India), July 27, 2009, 3:14 PM.

Thanks to everyone for these kind comments.

9: Raminder Singh (Pune, India), January 01, 2011, 2:28 AM.

Excellent write-up, Sujan Dutta ji. We now know a lot more about Jarnail Singh ji. We are proud to have Jarnail Singh as our inspiration, hope he hurls a shoe again at the home minister. The whole lot deserves it.

10: Shalinder Kaur & Surjeet Singh (India), January 21, 2011, 7:55 AM.

My husband and I are proud of him. He has helped awaken so many of us.

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Sardar Jarnail Singh"

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