By Asia Samachar | Singapore | Tribute |
Many Singaporeans and Malaysians growing up in the 1980s and 1990s would most probably held a gutka, a Sikh prayer book, printed by a Singapore businessman. Gurcharan Singh Narula, the man behind bulk printing and distribution of free gutkas, passed away on 14 April 2021. He was 95.
The textile entrepreneur played an instrumental role in both business and promoting the Sikh faith.
“Two generations of young Sikhs in Singapore and the region grew up acquainting themselves in Gurbani through gutkas he sponsored,” veteran Sikh leader Surjit Singh Wasan told Asia Samachar.
Born on the Pakistan-side of undivided Panjab in 1926, Gurcharan enjoyed a long life in which he gained respect as a businessman and a kind-hearted community elder.
“A loving Gursikh, he was passionate about Sikhism and donated generously to promoting Gurbani, Punjabi education and general welfare of Sikhs in Singapore and overseas,” said Surjit who was the former chairman of Sikh Advisory Board, Singapore.
Gurcharan leaves wife Karamjit Kaur Narula and four children Ranjit Singh Narula (married to Kiran Kaur Narula), Gurmit Singh Narula (Satnam Kaur Narula), Manjit Singh Narula (Arvind Kaur Narula) and Jasbir Kaur Kuckreja (Surjeet Singh Kuckreja). His second eldest child, Jasvinder Kaur Kuckreja (married to Sohinder Singh Kuckreja), had passed away earlier.
After the demise of his wife Vidya Vante Kaur Narula many years ago, Gurcharan remarried. In his later life, Surjit said the support Gurcharan drew from Karamjit helped him maintain his optimistic outlook on life.
“His passing leaves us with many lessons on a life of quiet contribution. He will be missed but today we celebrate his life and legacy,” he said.
Around the Southeas Asia region, his tireless efforts of making available Sikh-related material will be long remembered.
“He was the first person who started doing it in a big way, sending them all over the world. Anyone could ring him up and it was done. He would underwrite the entire cost, printing to delivery,” said former Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM) jathedar Master Daljit Singh.
Among others, he recalled that the gutkas and other religious books were widely distributed at the annual Malacca programme in the memory of the late Baba Sohan Singh.
Gurcharan rose to become one of the larger textile entrepreneurs in Singapore via his company Gurcharan Singh Co Pvt Ltd. It used to import textiles of all kinds from South Korea, Japan, China and Indonesia, and resold them in Afghanistan, Myanmar and the Middle East.
“A lot of Pathan traders used to come to Singapore to buy them,” said his son Manjit.
The company opened up offices in South Korea in the 1970s and Japan in the 1980s. Later, they also had an office in Bangkok, Thailand. They also had presence in Myanmar and Dubai.
“After my 0-Levels and army stint, I was sent to Seoul. I was stationed there,” said Manjit.
What advise did his father give him when dispatched to South Korea at the age of 20?
“Go out and find more business,” he told me. “We were determined to make money. We were into business, and he was very enterprising. He used to visit South Korea.”
In 2006, the family decided to exit the textile business.
Manjit noted his father’s life-long passion for Sikhi and seva. Among others, he used to organize Sikh groups to Hemkunt, India, and Nankana Sahib, Pakistan, from the 1990s onwards till about 2005.
“He wanted Sikhi to grow. He did path (prayers) day and night,” he said. “And he used to teach us a lot of Gurbani.”
In Singapore, he was a livewire at Katong gurdwara, where he made a constant presence. Gurcharan helmed the gurdwara’s committee in the 1980s and 1990s.
Reflecting back to his younger days, Gurdwara Sahib Katong committee president Harpal Singh said he remembers Gurcharan would come be present at the gurdwara almost every day. He would volunteer for various community projects, never shirking responsibility when it came to the betterment of the community.
“He was a pillar of the community. He was always encouraging the youth to meet each other, to come together for seva,” he said.
Gurcharan also played a matchmaker’s role with some introductions ending up in marriages.
“It’s important to help people to settle down, so went the thought process. Our elders used to do that. He stepped up to the role of doing introductions,” he said.
A GIVING PERSON
His eldest grandchild Avinder Singh Narula said he would remember his grandfather as a calm and a giving person, someone well-liked by everyone.
“Anybody could show up and they can meet him. He would make the phone calls – from money to clothing. He would do all that. He went out of his way to do what he could do for the community. He was a good human being,” he said.
Over the years, Gurcharan had also done numerous charity projects in Myanmar. Avinder, who runs a telco-related business in Myanmar, has seen first-hand its impact.
He says: “I’ve gone to small villages in Myanmar, met Sikhs in far flung places. When they hear that I’m from Singapore, they will mention Narula. He has touched so many lives there.”
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