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My FATHER – Dr Kharak Singh

Dr Birendra Kaur*

jo rqy sih AwpxY iqn BwvY sBu koie ]
Those who are dyed in the love of the Beloved,
Feel love for everybody. – Guru Granth Sahib, p 557

This best describes my father, Dr Kharak Singh ji. He was, now I think back, the Almighty’s instrument; the Lord operated through him. No wonder the love he showered on everyone alike, and no wonder the love that was reciprocated by one and all. The emotions of grief at his passing away, and those of love, respect and admiration for him expressed by all his relatives, friends, associates, students, neighbors, and colleagues are beyond words. It was like – A person, the Dr Kharak Singh ji, much greater, loftier than the one we knew, emerged. Even for us, the family!

We did not know the extent to which he had carved for himself a place in the hearts and minds of so many people the world over. He never mentioned to us what all he was achieving in the missions closest to his heart; he never mentioned the honors that were being bestowed on him from time to time; he never mentioned that he would return by post the cash part of the honors (accepted on stage so as not to put anyone in an awkward situation); he never mentioned how he had lent a helping hand and/or provided emotional support to many a people at crucial times in their lives; he never mentioned all the difference he had made in people’s lives, who attributed their status and achievements solely to him. Many stated that he had influenced/impacted their thought process to an extent that transformed them. We learnt that his magnanimity and humility knew no bounds. Many conveyed that they felt like orphans at his demise. All these and many more instances and intense emotions were revealed to us either by countless of his admirers who reached out to us or through the speakers at his bhog ceremony. Further, all such favors and feats that he performed so naturally, were, as per his instructions, not even to be mentioned ever.

He exuded radiance, and there was an aura around him that one could feel from a distance. Whoever met him even once, took a liking to him and cherished the time spent with him. Captain Amarinder Singh ji condoled his demise over the phone, and also paid a kind visit later, as he had met him a few times over some concerns for the welfare of the State of Punjab. Chief Minister Sardar Parkash Singh ji Badal stated in The Tribune, as follows:

Kharak Singh’s death Irreparable Loss
Chandigarh 7, August. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal today expressed grief over the sad demise of Sikh scholar Kharak Singh, who passed away on Wednesday at Mohali. In a condolence message, Badal said Dr Kharak Singh was an institution in himself and would be remembered by one and all for his outstanding services towards Sikh research studies. In his death a void has been created in the literary circles, which was difficult to be filled, he added.

Sardar Avtar Singh ji Makkar, President, SGPC, having paid a visit at home, yet took a return journey from Delhi to attend the bhog ceremony. Heads/leading Representatives of various prominent organizations, like Chief Khalsa Diwan, Guru Gobind Singh Study Circle, Mai Bhago Brigade, Pingalwara, etc., and prominent personalities, like Dr Sardara Singh Johl, Sardar Bhag Singh Ankhi, Dr Khem Singh Gill, Dr Balwant Singh Dhillon, amongst others, personally paid rich tributes. On account of time constraints, many other prominent personalities belonging to the political, religious as well as academic fields could not share their sentiments. Many a sog-mattas could only be mentioned by name of the Organizations. Verbal condolences were conveyed personally.

The coming together of so many organizations and personalities of diverse hues and views is a reflection of Dr Kharak Singh ji’s multifaceted, open-minded, flexible, perceptive, thoughtful, kind, considerate, understanding nature. It was due to such a disposition, spirit, and temperament that he was able to come that far towards building a brighter, united future for the Panth.

As a child, I remember studying very hard starting from school days, through college to university so as to excel in exams – only to see a smile on my father’s face. Later, for the same reason, upon his suggestion and encouragement to write something about human hair from Biology (my subject) point of view, I wrote some articles that were compiled in the treaties Hail Hair! Lately, for the same reason again, I was assisting him to the best of my ability and availability, as he devoted himself to the cause of the Guru. I could see that he was passionately engrossed in a noble mission, towards the realization of which he was working round-the-clock diligently, industriously. On the one hand, he was finding solutions to the woes of the Panth and, on the other, he was taking the universal concerns of the Gurus of justice, equality and sarbat da bhala to the entire mankind. As such, I felt that it was a God-sent opportunity for me to be in my situation. I felt very fortunate to be a member of his immediate family as well as that of his extended family – the Panth. But, courtesy the same situation, my loss today is also doubled!

More recently, but this time for my own satisfaction, I have compiled Dr Kharak Singh’s editorials that appeared in the Abstractsof Sikh Studies and articles that he contributed to various seminars on Sikhism into two books, titled the Turn of the Century: A Commentary on Panthic Events and Selected Sikh Doctrines, respectively, to be published by Singh Brothers, Amritsar, shortly.

We are familiar with his achievements; I shall share with you his recent times, comprising mainly the around 5-month long illness, from which he never recovered. On learning that a recent surgery has been successful, his very first words in the post-surgery Recovery Room, even before gaining full consciousness, in a state of semi-consciousness, were, “If, by the Grace of Waheguru, I have survived then I am destined to do more sewa.” To him, his very existence and sewa were synonymous.

He considered himself fortunate that, in spite of his surgeries and treatments, there was not a single day when he had missed his nitnem. On this, I asked him as to how many times he had recited the Guru Granth Sahib? “Innumerable”, he replied, “I have lost count.” The bir of Guru Granth Sahib always illumined his home, whichever country of the world he served.

One would get to hear him singing, in a mystic trance, a shabad every morning – probably his vaak of the day. He was an exceptional singer with an extremely melodious voice. I wanted to record a few shabads by him for our personal collection, to which he agreed, but never could find the time from his ever occupied, busy schedule. But, his voice still resounds in my ears!

The growing and spreading cancer within him was simply bhana (will) of the Lord – a testimony of his unflinching faith in the Almighty and absolute submission to His will. Even in this state of terminal illness, when one could succumb to mental agony, he devoted all the energy he had in him and continued indefatigably the activities that he was engaged in and sharing his vision with his associates.

The glow on his feeble face had to be seen to be believed, when he learnt, only recently, through Col Jagtar Singh Multani, Offg CEO, ISC, that Dr Manmohan Singh, PM, had sanctioned the finances for the standard translation of Guru Granth Sahib – a project that too was his brainchild. He was much concerned that only a translation, which is collectively approved by a galaxy of Sikh scholars, should be referred to by English-knowing readers as well as by those who are going to take up its further translations into other languages of the world – so as to guarantee, as far as possible, the true spirit of Gurbani to one and all. He conceptualised numerous such projects, utilizing every moment of his life meaningfully – to the last.

He waited eagerly to recover and get back to work, since he had a long list of activities to complete and initiate. One day, he did appear poignant, and expressed his helplessness, saying, “Now what exercise can I do for cancer?!”
Countless of his well wishers prayed that some years of their lives may get added to Dr Sahib’s life, for they felt convinced that his guidance was indispensable for a progressive, brighter future of the Panth, and the exercise of its responsibilities towards humanity. He valued their emotion, but he was clear, “The lifespan is pre-determined by the Almighty; it is what deeds one performs during this period, that is of significance.”

His approach was that whatever holds approved on the touchstone of Gurbani, one must endeavor to accomplish the same with grit and resolve. And, irrespective of the political party to which we belong, whatever be our economic or social status, we must all stand united, work together to achieve new heights/levels.. His modus operandi: “We must ferry our kishti across, even in the face of the tempest; rather now is the need, and consistency in efforts a must. Under favorable conditions, everything functions smoothly anyway.” Some would ask him, “Two earlier efforts of making a world-level organization by the Sikhs have not materialized, then why are you putting in so much effort into it again?” He would reply, “Because earlier two efforts have not materialized, that is why. Such an organisation is indispensable; this is the only route to the destined glory, promised by the Guru.” Nobody on earth could stop him from executing his clear-cut convictions!

The genre of the institutions that he established with the support from his able friends have the capability to cater to and handle effectively the contemporary unresolved issues as well as those that may arise in the times to come. These think tanks are also in a position to chalk out programs and offer guidelines for progress of the Sikh community along an appropriate course from time to time.

I shall also touch upon another aspect of his personality, with which many readers may not be familiar. Reading about his numerous achievements in the fields of education, religion, and social service, one would visualize him to be a serious, somber, solemn personality, who, probably, also couldn’t care less about his appearance. But, on the contrary, he would dress up fondly, and looked handsome and dignified in every kind of attire. I am reminded of the 20th Jan 2003, when he had invited his local friends and relatives to a surprise party, and disclosed only on the occasion that it was the golden jubilee of their wedding. And, also that he was wearing the same achkan he had worn 50 years ago on his wedding day! Making, at the same time, a point that he still fitted it. Taking care of health was a priority with him; he followed a regular regime of fitness exercises that included, walks, PT, yoga, etc. His job and passion demanded frequent travelling, yet the fitness regime was followed, no matter which city of the world he would wake up in.

I am reminded of another occasion -- the chatth (house-warming) ceremony on 1st May 1983. On this day, after the bhog ceremony, he acknowledged the hard work put in by all the contractors and labourers, and honoured them individually in the sangat.

And, far from being the grim, grave kind, he was jovial, light-hearted, cheerful, and relaxed. His workload did not accompany him out of his office. He was at home in every kind of gathering, be it that of high officials, laypersons, relatives or children. His childlike innocence, sparkling eyes, honest expressions at once made one feel comfortable. He had a great sense of humor and was witty to the core. Just to mention two instances:

* Once his friend was boasting about his own brilliant performance at school to a young child, who was not performing as well at school. He proudly impressed upon the child: “I never got 99% marks in Math!” Noticing that the child was coming under pressure, Papaji, in a bid to release the child’s tension, told him that you can also say, “I also never got 99% marks in Math ever!”

* Once someone was lamenting that the girl’s family has conveyed: “…there should not be more than 11 bandey in the baraat.” Papaji suggested that he could tell them, “Bandey taan 11 hi hongey… ”

There was never a sitting with him in which you would not get a slice of his wit. It was always fresh comments, as per the conversation in progress – custom-built, on the spot! For that reason, you had to be with him to relish his crisp wit.

Even towards the end, when he was confined to bed, one of my cousins said, “So, Mamaji, you have fallen sick.” “Yes,” he replied, “for a change.” It was indeed a change, for even at the age of 86, his verve and nerve matched that of the youth. And, even this ‘change’ did not deter him from his mission. Meetings began to be held at home, and then around his bed. The latest two Editorials of the Abstracts came from the hospital bed. Even on the 4th of August, he dictated me a letter (reproduced on p 128) addressed to Sardar Waryam Singh ji, Secretary, Dharam Prachar Committee of SGPC, referring to some ongoing projects along with the ones to be undertaken in the future. Next day, he became unconscious, and the next his light merged with His.

He was truly dyed in the love of the Almighty and was one with the Guru to such an extent that the last words we heard from him were ‘Waheguru’ ‘Waheguru.’

Blessed are those on whom Waheguru entrusts noble responsibilities, and also gives them the competence to carry these out. Blessed, thus, was Dr Kharak Singh ji, who was chosen by the Almighty for participating so significantly in the service of the Panth and humanity at large.

Fortunate am I to be the daughter of such a gurmukh.

(Watching my father’s burning pyre, I felt that it was his 'jalau' that had set the logs afire!)

¤


    ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2009, All rights reserved.