Brilliant effort to capture Sikh legacy in Pakistan

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Hb Singh | Malaysia| 22 Jan 2016 | Asia Samachar | 
Author Amardeep Singh enjoying a cup of tea with a Sikh shopkeeper at Jamrud in the North Western Frontier of Pakistan. - PHOTO / Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan
Author Amardeep Singh enjoying a cup of tea with a Sikh shopkeeper at Jamrud in the North Western Frontier of Pakistan. – PHOTO / Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan

Solid writing. Superb photographs. And the book takes you to places that have been, for some decades now, almost off-bound.

Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan by Amardeep Singh brings to life many of the places connected to the Sikhs and their Gurus. After the 1947 partition, many of these places were no more under the Sikhs. Some had been put to use for other purposes.

BREAKING NEWS: Author Amardeep Singh will make a presentation on the book in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, tomorrow (23 Jan 2016).  
Place: Dewan Angsana, Fakulti Bahasa dan Linguistik, Universiti Malaya Time: 9am. Those interested in the book, limited copies are still available. Price: US$80.

The book came about as Amardeep left for Pakistan in October 2014 to begin his journey in the search of his family roots. He was then based in Singapore. This was no ordinary travel. This was not a trip to merely gaze at the mountains and take in the sights.

The beautiful part of the journey is that Amardeep has the ability to capture the journey in both words and photos. I guess he may have some videos, as well.

SEE ALSO: Amardeep journeys deep into Pakistan in search of Sikh legacy

Getting to some of the key places connected to the Sikhs is not an easy task, more so in the present climate. Travelling to Pakistan is not as open as its neighbouring India. The other issue would be security.

My last trip to Karachi was with a Malaysian trade delegation just a few years ago. We were all advised against leaving the hotel. No walkabouts, please. Stay in the hotel compound as much as possible. And the roads leading to the hotel were heavily guarded, with heavily armed security personnel. They are there for security, of course.

So, Amardeep’s travels gives us a good insight into the places that we would probably not visit.

One of his early stops in Pakistan was in Lahore. Here, he stayed with Dr Mimpal Singh, the first qualified Sikh doctor of Pakistan. On page 12, there is a nice photo of Dr Mimpal attending to an Afghan child. Precious. And the photos just keep getting better.

Amardeep did not go in blind. He went to Pakistan armed with some ground knowledge and considerable reading, I suppose. He knew where to go, an in some place, what to look out. Of course, he had received considerable help from his local contacts.

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One example is his visit to the Fakir Khana Musuem at Lahore that holds a private collection of artifacts from the Sikh era. Here, he meets Fakir Syed Saifuddin, descendant of the Fakir family and a fifth generation custodian of the museum. He is shown a knife which is said to have been belonged to Hari Singh Nalwa, the legendary Sikh general in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army who led the empire’s expansion to the north-western frontiers.

“Fakir Syed Saifuddin’s ancestors…held ministerial posts in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s cabinet. Fakir was a title bestowed on them by Ranjit Singh for their piety. Ranjit Singh appointed people on meritocracy and his immense trust on the Fakir family of the Muslim faith is a reflection of his secular personality,” Amardeep writes.

Two things to reflect on the musuem bit. Amardeep has enough knowledge on what to look out for. And he has the ability to flesh it out with relevant substance, educating the reader as he goes through the book.

What the book lacks are references and bibliography. It’s not that the author has done his homework. He has. The book is peppered with references to historical books and quotes.

In the chapter on The North-Western Frontier, for example, he has this quote from History of the Sikhs by Hari Ram Gupta: “For 800 years, the Hindus could not close the Khyber Pass. The Afghans finally found their match in Sikhs.”

Knowing his penchant for details, I know Amardeep would have reads hundreds of books, papers and whatever that he can lay his hands on. It would have been great if he had captured, and listed, them into this book. Though this is not an ‘academic’ work, such an exercise would have further elevated the usefulness of the book.

On balance, I would highly recommend this book to Sikhs and students who have a craving for a slice of the Sikh history that lays in Pakistan.

 

[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]

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Harchand’s milestone work on Malayan Emergency Asia Samachar, 20 Aug 2015)

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2 COMMENTS

  1. http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/mid-life-crisis-prompts-singapore-sikh-put-successful-career-hold

    Mid-life crisis prompts Singapore Sikh to put successful career on hold

    TABLA, Friday, Jan 22, 2016

    In 1947, when India got independence from the British, it came with the price of a bloodied partition. Out of this bloodbath, in which millions of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs perished at the hands of each other, emerged Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi’s free India, which had a midnight “tryst with destiny”, and M.A. Jinnah’s “truncated, moth-eaten Pakistan”.

    The Partition of India was, in effect, the partition of Punjab in the West, and Bengal in the East.

    What was lost in the fog of a bloody history, besides precious human lives, was the Sikh heritage in Punjab.

    Two years before India gained independence, in 1945, a Sikh goldsmith Sunder Singh from sylvan Muzzaffarabad migrated to the dusty plains of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh in 1945 to explore new business opportunities.

    When Independence arrived in India, Singh’s siblings lost everything back home (now in Pakistan-administered Kashmir) in the unrest following the Partition.

    Consequently, they joined him in Gorakhpur. A son, Amardeep Singh, was born in 1966 in Gorakhpur in Sunder Singh’s family.

    The young Amardeep was sent to the prestigious Doon School in the Doon valley in North India. As a child, he grew up listening to stories about the tragic events of Partition in his family. His parents fondly shared memories of the region with the young boy. He heard accounts of how they were affected and uprooted, struggling thereafter as refugees in their endeavour to restart their lives. The positive and challenging accounts left a deep impact on Amardeep’s impressionable mind, sowing in him the seeds of curiosity about the region. A dream took root in his mind: When he grew up, he promised himself, he would travel across Pakistan to understand the impact of the cataclysmic event: Partition.

    Answer spiritual calling

    Years passed. Mr Amardeep (right) studied electronics engineering at Manipal Institute of Technology in India and Business Administration at the University of Chicago. For years, he worked in India and Hong Kong. In 2001, his job at American Express took him to Singapore where he decided to sink his roots and took up citizenship in 2005.

    In his late 40s, when the father of two hit mid-life crisis in 2013, he decided to hang up his boots to answer his “spiritual calling”.

    Mr Amardeep, 49, told tabla!: “A journey of life has to be experienced fully. Having led a successful corporate career, I decided to take a break to bring to the surface my innate creative being.” The result of that break is a voluminous book Lost Heritage – The Sikh Legacy In Pakistan, published by the Nagaara Trust in association with Himalayan Books. It is a tome with 507 pictures and over 55,000 words, in 504 pages – a rare work of photography and scholarship.

    The book is a travelogue across Pakistan, seven decades after Partition. In it, the author shares his exploration of the remnants of the Sikh community that once thrived in these lands across West Punjab, North-West Frontier and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. His work covers abandoned, occupied and functioning gurdwaras (Sikh temples), forts, battlegrounds, mansions, art, architecture, spiritual remnants, educational institutions, residential and commercial establishments that collectively reflect the erstwhile secularity of the region.

    How did he prepare for this grand journey that resulted in a remarkable work?

    “Unconsciously, I had been preparing for this journey for years,” he said. “Studying the history of the area of Greater Punjab has been my passion. Photography and storytelling is another skill that I had been enjoying and developing over time. The journey through Pakistan in October 2014 was supported by these sharpened skills, acquired over time. A personal journey subtly transformed into a deeper search.”

    But the journey was not easy. Even though the Pakistan embassy was very generous in granting him a 30-day non-restricted visa, the journey was fraught with apprehension for his family and friends. His calling, however, was much stronger.

    “I entered the country with no firm plan, just a desire to reach Muzaffarabad, our ancestral town,” he reminisced. “With 30 days at hand, I also wished to maximise exploring other areas in the country.”

    He entered Pakistan with an open mind and an open heart, which attracted similar energies. “Embarking on the journey, I kept connecting with like-minded people, who resonated with my passion for exploration and they all helped and guided me,” he said. “The research presented in this book is an outcome of the love and support showered by the common man in Pakistan.”

    Sikh heritage in ruins

    According to Mr Amardeep, remnants of the Sikh heritage are in abundance across Pakistan. For those fortunate enough to be able to visit Pakistan, they remain confined to the few functioning gurdwaras.

    According to the author, after Partition, visa restrictions and the unfortunate relations between India and Pakistan, have resulted in only a fortunate few being able to visit the limited functioning places of the Sikh heritage. Almost 80 per cent of the erstwhile Sikh empire (prior to the annexation of Punjab by British India) are in Pakistan.

    While travelling in Pakistan, Mr Amardeep had many questions on his mind. “Would the heritage of the land where Sikhism was born and the Sikhs had created an empire, be limited to just these few functioning gurdwaras? Are there any remains of the Sikh era that could provide insight into the erstwhile society?

    “This is what prompted me to be observant as I moved across the country. The remnants lie scattered, abandoned and some occupied. The abandoned sites were easier to access, but to view the occupied sites was challenging at times.

    “In addition, for North-West Frontier and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, I was advised not to travel in these areas because of the trailing effects of terrorism. However I consider myself fortunate to have been able to make brief visits to these places too,” he said.

    He added: “What struck me the most was that the footprint of the heritage is far greater than what the Sikhs across the world are currently able to freely access,” he added. “Over time, most of these heritage sites have fallen into a dilapidated condition. Only around 20 per cent survives. An effort can at best be applied only on the remaining few sites, which would still be a Herculean task to save them.”

    After making an emotional journey, Mr Amardeep returned from Pakistan in November 2014, with over 1,500 photos of the remnants of the Sikh legacy. However, there was no plan to write any book. It was only on Dec 26, 2014, that the thought of writing a book occurred to him. “This motivation arose from a glance by chance at the British travelogues in my library, published in the 1850s,” he said.

    After the book was written, getting it published was another Herculean task. “This being a voluminous book with 507 pictures and over 55,000 words in text, in 504 pages, traditional publishers were not keen as they were sceptical about the commercial viability of the project,” he recounted.

    “For me, this being a passion that had to be documented for posterity, I had no commercial interest. Hence I adopted a semi-self-publishing model.”

    Hopes for support

    Once the book was published and crowdfunded by 20 like-minded individuals, support from others poured in. “Organisational support was lacking but individuals who believed in the importance of this work, came together to support it,” he said. “But the value of this work is gaining recognition, organisations across the globe are creating platforms to promote it. My calendar is fully booked with events across many countries, hosted by local community forums.”

    Mr Amardeep hopes that people will support his mission. “I would consider my mission successful if we can restore some of the last remnants of the Sikh legacy across Pakistan,” he said. “Change starts at the grassroots and I believe the first step is to increase awareness of this collective loss. Pakistan could benefit from tourism from the Punjabi diaspora if these sites are maintained.”

    tabla@sph.com.sg

    Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy In Pakistan will be launched in Singapore on Jan 30 at the NUSS Kent Ridge Guild House by executive vice-president of Yale-NUS College Professor Tan Tai Yong. Those interested in the launch can register at lostheritagebook@gmail.com; the book can also be pre-ordered at lostheritagebook.com. It costs US$80 (S$115), excluding shipping.

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