| Opinion | Malaysia | 2 July 2016 | Asia Samachar |
By Sangat Singh
I first met Master Gurbachan Singh in 1959 in Seremban (Malaysia) where he had come to attend his newly-wed nephew’s wedding reception. He easily stood out in the crowd in his immaculate white turban that exuded a regal aura.
A few people approached me to find out if I knew him.
“No, I don’t know him yet but I will get to know him for sure,” I told them.
By the time the party ended we were talking to each other. I persuaded him to spend a night at the plantation in Port Dickson, since we had some common interests.
We had both read Bhai Vir Singh’s books and were inspired by them. More importantly, I felt strong vibes of meditative sensations in his presence. In the next couple of days he returned to his post as the headmaster of a school in Pekan, Pahang, leaving behind a delicious feeling of his presence.
My prayer for a gurmukh had been answered.
“Ha-oo bhaal vikunne ho-ee / aadhaarai raahu na ko-ee” – “I have searched in vain, and I am so confused in this darkness and cannot find the path” [GGS:145:11].
SEE ALSO: Naujawan Sabha is broke
In 1960, Master ji — as I came to call him henceforth — just before retiring got himself transferred to Port Dickson and bought himself a house on the seaside. He aptly named it ‘Mansukh’.
Since I was posted on Sua Betong Estate in Port Dickson and not far from where he lived, we started to meet regularly, particularly on Sundays to attend the Sunday diwan at the PD Gurdwara.
In 1961 I got married in India. It was an arranged marriage and my good lady, Upkar Kaur, coming from a large, well known family, found herself literally in the wilderness, living in a huge sprawling bungalow away from any habitation for miles. She was inconsolable and ready to go back to India the next day.
Luckily for me, there was my colleague Siva Nanthan’s mother living nearby, some 7 miles away on Siliau Estate, whom we fondly called ‘mum’ since I had my first posting as Cadet Planter. She literally saved our days old marriage and truly remained a ‘mum’ till she passed away in 1986.
The other family was that of newly arrived Master Gurbachan Singh in Port Dickson that became the nearest home. Then, of course, there was Dr. Dalbir Singh and his good wife Harmangal Kaur who provided the warmth of a home in Seremban.
We became a part of these extended three wonderful families.
The offspring from these two new families were soon to fully occupy Upkar and Mangal in rearing them. Those families remain the closest of friends to this day.
I worked for Guthrie & Company, then the largest plantation group in the world. It had mostly Scottish planters with the usual heavy-accented Scotish homilies to fight loneliness among the womenfolk. One recipe offered by them was: “Keep them pregnant and keep them in the kitchen”.
SIKH NAUJAWAN SABHA, MALAYSIA (SNSM)
In the company of Master Gurbachan Singh, I became a willing sounding board. The seeds of Sikh youth organisation in the community had been dormant for some time. “Catch them young!“ and “Look after the nursery!” became the key slogans.
The time was ripe for action since Master ji was on the verge of retirement. Others who were roped in were: Bhai Surjit Singh Bassian; Master Joginder Singh, a lecturer in Teachers Training College in Tanjong Malim; Master Karaminder Singh’ and Master Hardial Singh.
Unknown to many, there was this benign old granthi sahib of Port Dickson Gurdwara who was the first to bless the idea of a sabha (congress) for the youth. He was Bhai Bishan Singh.
I first met him in 1959. He was around 80, of frail frame that had suffered the ravages of time. He was a picture of humility and his lips flickering and eyes half closed, repeating ‘Waheguru’ at all times. He did no kirtan or katha but had profound knowledge of gurbani. He spoke little but smiled more. He was deeply respected by the sangat of Port Dickson. He was a living example of “jinh pat andar bahar gudar te bhale sansar“ – “Those who have silk on the inside and rags on the outside, are the great ones of the world” [GGS:373.16].
Baba ji was known to have ‘waak satya’ — that is, whatever he said would turn out to be true. I would try to sit at his feet at least once a week.
One day a car came bearing a sickly girl of about 16. She was helped out by her father to approach Baba ji in a typical fashion: “Baba ji, do something for this girl”.
“Oye bhalay loka, if my saying something would come true, shouldn’t I cure first my own asthmatic affliction,” he replied. “Nevertheless, let’s go up and do an ardaas. If it pleases Him, He will help.”
Every year during the Annual General meeting, Baba ji’s usual refrain was to reduce his already paltry gaji (salary in Malay) … because, he said, he was now quite old.
There was a small Muslim mosque nearby and was in need of repairs and some extensions. The mosque committee decided to raise some money by organising a film show and sell the tickets at RM1/- each. They went to see Baba ji, hoping to sell him a ticket or two. But Baba said that he had never been to a cinema hall, but since they needed money for a House of God, he donated RM100/-. The mosque committee was astounded.
This was more than his month’s salary, which he gave away without a second thought.
The Port Dickson Gurdwara had a few rooms that they would sometimes rent out. There was a Public Works Department (PWD) labourer by the name of Kikar Singh who approached Baba ji, asking if he could rent a room. The rental fixed by the committee was RM30/- per month, but Kikar Singh said that he could afford only RM20/-
“Koi gal nahee – Never mind, you pay RM20,” said Baba ji.
Without his knowing, Baba ji added RM10 from his own pocket. This went on monthly for nearly 2 years.
Since Kikar Singh did his own cooking, one day following a ‘jhor mela,’ he couldn’t find his half-filled ghee tin and approached Baba ji in a rather abrasive manner.
‘Oye Baba, mera ghayo da teen kitthey gaya?”
Baba ji told him that he never used any ‘ghayo’ and usually had a bit of cereal.
“No, who else is in the gurdwara, so it must be you,” Kikar Singh shouted at the top of his voice.
Just opposite the gurdwara lived S. Bhagat Singh, an erstwhile Head Clerk of the PWD, who knew how to treat the likes of Kikar Singh (who looked every bit like the acacia tree, too). He came out and held Kikar by the neck and informed him that the Baba had been paying RM10/- a month from his own pocket to make up the shortfall in his, Kikar’s, rental for the last two years. “Why would he take your paltry RM2/- worth of tin?”
Hearing this, Kikar fell at Baba ji’s feet, and soon after did find the tin lying in a corner.
There are hundreds of other stories about Baba ji … but for another time. I thought I would give you a glimpse of a real Granthi.
More importantly, Master Gurbachan Singh and I would often visit Baba ji and seek his blessings for the Naujawan Sabha which was still in a formative stage in our minds. Quite often, we would take Baba Bishen Singh with us to visit Sant Sohan Singh in Melaka to seek his blessings.
On one occasion, I remember he sat in my car to go to Melaka when suddenly he asked me to stop and said: “Let me take some sevadars with me.” He came back in a jiffy and said, ‘let’s go’.
Said I: “where are the sevadars, Baba Ji?”
“Oh! they are in my pocket!” Meaning – money, of course.
Such was the richest care-free man in seeming rags who was the first to bless the formation of SNSM.
I have it on authority from Master Joginder Singh that he offered half of his princely salary of RM80 per month to SNSM as his monthly contribution. This was, of course, graciously refused.
* * * * *
In 1963, the first ever, albeit a mini version, ‘Semalan’ took place in Port Dickson Gurdwara. If I am not mistaken, there were just 20 boys. Dya Singh (now a world-renowned musician), then a lad of 13, was prominent among the group. I had a group photograph from the period, which unfortunately I cannot track down now.
This batch was housed in Sunshine Youth Hostel and Camp — not far from Master Gurbachan Singh’s house on the 3rd mile. The children had a whale of a time and could swim in the sea just steps away. Dya Singh has already recounted the history of the period in his excellent article earlier on sikhchic.com.
An application was finally made to the Registrar of Societies to formally register SNSB. It took quite a while to meet all the requirements and finally the much awaited letter of approval arrived. The registered address was the Gurdwara Sahib, Seremban, and I believe it is so till this day.
Bhai Isher Singh was then the presiding Granthi of Seremban Gurdwara. Master Gurbachan Singh quite rightly was chosen the first Jathedar. According to the constitution, the Jathedar appointed his cabinet. I was elected as the first treasurer with a opening balance of RM50/- in the kitty. The monthly subscription was just RM 1/- so as to make it affordable. I also became a life member and if I am not mistaken, my number was ‘10’ (das numberyia) … which in Punjabi parlance was considered a slur (in good humour) for some reason.
The first eminent guest we invited was Dr. Ganda Singh, the celebrated historian. This was arranged by S. Joginder Singh, a lecturer in Teachers’ Training College in Tanjong Malim. We had the honour of hosting him at the plantation for a week. What an exhilarating period it was to sit at his feet and learn first hand from him and see him bring Sikh History alive with his vivid descriptions.
He did go on a lecture tour and the last one was at Ipoh. An interesting thing happened. On his return to Seremban, he realised that he had left his shoes at the Ipoh Gurdwara. The next day he had an appointment with the Indian High Commissioner, Tayabji. I offered to buy him a pair of shoes but he flatly refused and chose to go in his suit … and wearing a pair of plastic chappals.
His retort was that Tayabji was meeting him, not his shoes.
For a full account, I commend you to read Dya Singh’s excellent account, “SIKHING OUTSIDE THE BOX” and the comments that follow.
Dya Singh ji — together with his brother, S. Gurmukh Singh ji — has filled in some of the missing details to complete the picture of SNSM. They have retraced their own fateful journey when they were amongst the first ones to attend SNMS’ seminal beginning – a modest inaugural sammelan in the early 60’s at the unassuming wooden Port Dickson Gurdwara, followed quickly by a couple more sammelans.
It was really one man‘s dream — Master Gurbachan Singh’s — that has made SNSM a force to reckon with today. Dya Singh ji, you were a part of that seeding operation. In so doing we relive that history through the eyes of our children and thus cheat death.
Now, we celebrate the Sikh Naujawan Sabha – Malaysia‘s 50th birthday.
[The article, dated 7 Jan 2013, first appeared at SikhChic.com and in the March 2014 issues of Calcutta-based The Sikh Review]
Naujawan Sabha is broke (Asia Samachar, 14 March 2016)
SNSM AGM: Win back trust, scrutinise Khalsa Land samelan plan (Asia Samachar, 18 Oct 2015)
Are our Gurdwaras Dysfunctional? The Root Causes (Asia Samachar, 26 Jan 2016)