Sukhinderpal and Samelans

Almost everybody in Samelans for the past two decades knew who Sukhinderpal Veerji was. If you didn't, you'd know by Day 3. And you either loved his passion and straightforward manners, or avoided his sarcasm dead in the eye. Most just didn't get him. - JAGDESH SINGH

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Sukhindarpal Singh

By Jagdesh Singh | Opinion |

I wasn’t that tired. The excitement hadn’t subsided. After many years missing the Annual Gurmat Parchaar Samelans, it genuinely felt good to be back seeing so many familiar faces. I had been distracted for a few years, and strayed away from this part of my youth, from the people I’ve made friends with at these Samelans during Christmas weeks. Now, an adult just out of university, I came back and the familiar faces smiled back at me again, albeit some of the boys were now young men with facial hair and some of the girls now matured, assured ladies.

I, too, had some changes, a turban now shoddily tied on my head, with patches of some facial hair trying the best to resemble a beard. Of course, it being a Sikh camp for kids, this new look of mine got the approval nods and pats on the back from many.

I remember it like it was last week.

Out of nowhere, as I walk through the corridor of the public school used as the grounds for that year’s Samelan, I heard his thundering voice call out my name as if I had trespassed somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. He was in the middle of his lecture, and he was very well known through the years for being the no-nonsense-take-no-prisoner lecturer. I stopped dead in my tracks and knew instantly who’s voice it was.

READ ALSO: Sikh activist-lawyer Sukhindarpal Singh passes away

Almost everybody in Samelans for the past two decades knew who Sukhinderpal Veerji was. If you didn’t, you’d know by Day 3. And you either loved his passion and straightforward manners, or avoided his sarcasm dead in the eye. Most just didn’t get him.

“Everybody, have a look at this young man!”, he commanded to his students in his low baritone voice as I stood there unsure why he had called me into the classroom. I had imagined this was his same demeanor in the judicial courts as well.

He goes on to explain that he had known me since I was 10 years old, during one of those mini Samelans we had in Sungai Petani, Kedah, way back in the mid 80s (yes, we’re that old). Apparently, and I didn’t remember this, I had responded to his challenge back then of keeping my hair long as if to prove to him that I had learned what was being taught at that time. I had promised him that eventually, in my adulthood, that I would have some form of a Sikh with long hair.

“Look at him now! Lo and behold! He did keep to his promise and I can’t explain how proud that makes me feel!”

The ship of memories: My first time to India in 1972 I was all of 17 years old traveling alone. The last time I saw my father through a porthole on 6 June 1972. Bitter sweet memories of a 6 day journey through stormy waters. SS Rajula – Sukhindarpal Singh on Facebook

I was instantly uncomfortable being made a yardstick for the young impressionable minds he was lecturing to, to follow in my footsteps. I could see some rolled their eyes. For context, getting kids at these Samelans to keep their hair uncut was a personal mission Sukhinderpal had from his early days as a volunteer. He had repeatedly lectured the many classes over the years about this, and from the reaction in that class that day, I’d say this wasn’t the first time that Samelan that he had brought up the topic.

But that was Sukhinderpal. Passionate, unwavering in his principles and very direct about what he thought was right. His manner did rub a few of us the wrong way, but his intentions were always about making us the better Sikhs that we were meant to be. Be it with outer appearances like keeping our hair long, or being the best version of ourselves in our academic pursuit as school students, or being a representative of our community at the big stage. He would call out those he thought was wrong, and shout out to the masses about those he thought did good for themselves and for all.

He loved everything about life, about his family and about his favourite football team – Liverpool Football Club. He loved Liverpool as a city and adored the Beatles, who were from Liverpool. He would grab me at the Langgar hall, to complain about the club when it wasn’t doing so good, and then to celebrate when we were doing better. Just like how he celebrated his life, and his family.

It’s going to be a little different walking down the hallways of the next few Samelans, organised by Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia. I won’t bump into him as he strolls around observing how the kids are growing so fast these days, with his arms behind his back relaxed.

For now, I’ll admit it. He did play some role in my life and the direction it has taken. Maybe even why I’m maintaining my outer appearances as the Sikh he lectures about.

You’ll Never Walk Alone, my dear brother.

Jagdesh Singh, a Kuala Lumpur-based executive with a US multinational company, is a father of three girls who are as opinionated as their mother

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Brilliant observations dear Jagdev. Yes, Sukhinderpal will be missed – even by those he rubbed the wrong way.

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