On Guru Nanak’s Day of Revelation I realized Power of Words
Satbir Singh1 visited me in Texas in 1982. This was a meeting after pause of many years. He stayed with me in Arlington for a few days so that we could avail required time to reflect on our past. He reminded me of a two week period we spent touring outside Punjab sometime during 1948.2 That was an opportunity for us together to solidify a few life objectives and outline action plans for our future roles. In actuality, they triggered our drives in essentially a childish grandeur for re-writing Sikh history and elucidate Sikh theology in more contemporary idioms.
In our young days both Satbir and I were quite defiant of our scholars and our politicians. The Sikh scholars were writing Sikh history on heresy evidence so as to please their masters; our clerics were defining Sikh theology either to fatten their pockets or to advertise their innocent ignorance.
Then, Professor Sahib Singh inspired us with his writings on the theology and Sirdar Kapur Singh with his outspoken criticism of the political leadership. We were fortunate to avail periodic opportunities to spend hours with each one of them and were determined to move their crusade further into many realms. It was Professor Sahib Singh who advised both of us to avoid any political temptation. Rather he wished us to interpret Gurbani and Sikh traditions to the new generations.
Looking back, the 1948 idealism seems somewhat childlike but those thoughts still guided Satbir in his untiring efforts to write and author. He told me in 1982 that he was on his way to fulfilling his promise of 1948 but I was quite remiss on my part. I paused over his comments and then said, “You have done so much and still plan to do so much more that nothing is left for me to do.” He responded, “No, this is not so. My ability is limited in communicating with the Western world and you ought to fill the vacuum.” He expected me to have become fluent in Western idioms after migrating to America. I could not turn him down easily; he was a true friend and deeply committed to re-write Sikhee as it was imparted to us by the great Gurus.
No Wishful Thinking
Although in my heart I simply dismissed Satbir’s expectation of me as a wishful thinking, I did promise him to make up to him on the writing projects that he had outlined for me. The promise was essentially out of my love and respect for a dear friend and a colleague of many decades. In reality, it was not till I started thinking of retirement that I paid any serious attention to my promise to Satbir.
When I was only a few years away from retirement, I did make up my mind to seriously undertake writing on the Sikh subjects in English. After all I was considered a very effective author during my youth, when I wrote for vernacular papers in Punjab, such as Prabhat and Ajit then published in Urdu. I wrote for the Sant Sipahi, the magazine Master Tara Singh founded and edited for many years. I had published nearly 500 research papers in science or edited and written over two-dozen books on my medical research. This was in addition to my serving as an editor of a monthly published professional journal on new drug research for 15 years. But I was still afraid of popular writing on spirituality, history or politics in English; those subjects were near to my heart but I lacked vocabulary needed to put my thoughts in writing for the Western readers, Sikhs or others.
A reminder that built my confidence in my writing ability was the fact that I was once paid an honorarium of $30 for my column published in a popular English newspaper published from Washington, D.C. That was an essay on Guru Nanak.
In 1956 when I arrived in USA, my first celebration of Guru Nanak’s Parkash Day was a lonely experience. It was going to be a heartbreaking day for me as I was used to witnessing large gatherings of my community, year after year on this day in India.
In desperation I invited some students I befriended after my arrival for a luncheon meeting to the Cafeteria at the University of Kansas Students’ Union to celebrate my Guru’s day. Then I also wrote a small article on Guru Nanak and mailed it to the Asian Student, a newspaper published to cater the Asian foreign students enrolled in American universities. To my joyful surprise, not only my essay was published but also an honorarium arrived in mail a few days later. The amount may seem meager in today’s terms; it was nearly half of my monthly assistantship in those days.
Beginning is Made
Thus, to read and then to write is a hobby I chose in my retirement days. I realized that I would have to be dedicated and persistent until my writing in English improves. Evidently I am still working on it. There are several friends who help me and I am grateful.
Presently I am working out of chaos, as I did not get to organizing either my new filing system or cleaning my desk. Others used to do these chores for me as their boss until I changed to my new hobby since retiring from a job of presiding over a large academic enterprise.
Presently, I am starting to write with the understanding of my faith; I will add bits of my past biography around my faith a bit later to fulfill a desire of many friends. They seem to be eager on looking into my past as it intertwined with the Panthic history of the time.
It is not a bad idea to take things from daily life and view them at a distance from faith. It does not offend people and it still exposes the hypocrisy in our beliefs. Sometime by looking at our own myths we can help make sense of what wise men had said.
I know that there is a need to explain my faith to my neighbors in the Western societies and it will offer an opportunity to clarify my own thinking on many issues. I believe that pen of a writer is more effective than a sword of a martyr, as someone had said. I also read a quotation of Hoffer (1955)3 who said that “The self-styled intellectual who is impotent with pen and ink hungers to write history with sword and blood.”
Notes and References
- Satbir Singh was a Sikh student activist who rose to the rank of the president of All India Sikh Students Federation and published 72 books and numerous articles before his untimely death a few years ago.
2 The tour was taken on behalf of All India Sikh Students Federation to extend chapters outside Punjab particularly in UP. Satbir Singh was the general secretary and I was the public relation secretary of the All India Sikh Students’ Federation those days.
3. Eric Hoffer (1902-1983), U.S. philosopher. The Passionate State of Mind, aph. 65 (1955).
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2011, All