What are Samelan friends for

A major annual Sikh camp has just concluded in Malaysia. JAGDESH SINGH reflects on friendships forged at the camp

Sikh camp in motion. An achieve photo of SNSM’s annual gurmat parchaar samelan

By Jagdesh Singh | Opinion |

She was visibly tired. Only the excitement that she and her friends could finally stay up a little later to enjoy their last night together at the camp kept her wired enough to converse with me. “I miss Mama very much, Papa,” she tells me. I assured her that she would be reunited with her mother in the next 14 hours, after the night is ceremoniously done and the Sun God decides to flood Her light and warmth over Khalsa Land. She then kisses me on my forehead and wishes me a good night, before walking gingerly to her sleeping arrangement for the night at the camp grounds.

Khalsa Land sounds like some mythical land from some Bollywood movie, but it’s actually located at cozy small valley snuggled between small hills in Kuala Kubu Baru in Selangor, Malaysia, with fresh waters gushing along at the northern perimeter of this camp site, from the top of those hills. Everyone could literally taste the pristinely clean fresh air after coming from cities and traffic congestions. Between the greenery and grassy open land, buildings peppered the area, including bunker rooms fashioned from used cabins and a Darbar Hall fit for 70 odd children.

I felt pride of my youngest girl, having endured staying here for a week, without her mother to fuss over her. She ate well throughout the week surprisingly, even though the food did seem a little spicier than home. There was never a minute to catch hold of her, their daily schedule was packed, even with enforced nap time slotted in after lunch. Whenever she did find me, she gave me her typical hug that would last half a minute, and would then do the same to whoever was with me at that time. Her hugs were always therapeutic, new recipients would find out and tell me immediately.

This was the first physical Annual Gurmat Parchaar Samelan organised by the Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM), held after the pandemic in the last two years. The last two were held in the virtual world through the magic of Zoom technology, and were pretty successful in continuing the paarchar (preaching) part. Kids got to learn about their Gurus through retelling of sakhis (stories) and through activities using tools like Whiteboarding and polls on Zoom. We did what we could do, under the circumstances. I dare say we did ok. The show did go on despite lockdowns and restrictions while Covid decided to extend its check out date indefinitely.

This year, however, just like how the World Cup showcased the planet’s return to life normality, the Samelan resumed to being the Sikh camp for children from all over the country, more than 700 of them, to physically converge and participate in. It was literally like a breath of fresh air, pun intended. Newcomers, making up to almost half of the crowd, struggled in the first few days acclimatizing to the early mornings and intensive set of activities including lecture classes, prayers and keertan and evening games. For the old timers like me and my elder daughter, driving into Khalsa Land on the first day of the camp felt like finally reaching home, and meeting family members again.

The elder girl immediately got busy with her old friends but quickly made new ones, widening her social circle even more. To my genuine surprise, she hung around kids her age that didn’t really fit the profile I had expected her to gravitate to. I mean, these are kids that seemed to have different interests my girl has. At the end, they all seemed to appear like birds of the same feather, roaming together and chattering all the time. As for the younger one, she too hung around with girls that she had grown up with in the last 10 years, and made new ones from the older age group.

To me, after being part of the Annual Samelan, both as a participant during my younger days and as a sewadar in my adult life over the past 35 years, the most vital lesson gifted to me during the 7 days of the Samelan is the lesson of making friends, new and old. Strong bonds are intertwined when we were made to endure some form of discomfort (I’m refraining to use the word ‘hardship’ because nothing over the 7 days resemble any hardship whatsoever), and my friendship with a handful my age or older over these decades have hardly waned. To the point that some of these are now referred by my children as their Taya Ji (father’s older brother) or Chacha Ji (father’s younger brother).

I know this is the same for many Samelan participants over the years. I would refer to this form of friendship as Sanggat. I have seen how many of these circles of friendships been put to test but at the same time seen as saviors to teenagers succumbing to social ills. It may sound dramatic, but never underestimate the power of a friend listening to you at the time of need, and being there to advice. Personally, I believe Samelan friends tend to follow the more conservative behaviors that can navigate through life’s challenges without falling into social ill traps. I know it sounds very much ‘holier than thou’ but friendships were bonded while learning about Sikh values expounded at the seven-day camp.

I’ll save my opinions about the Samelan template, and why we would need to go back to the drawing board to keep it relevant for Gen Z and Gen Alpha kids, for another article. For now, all participants are home, feeling pretty good and happy that they’ve experienced another wonderful Samelan. My youngest girl is now reunited with her best friend, her mother. They’ve been hugging for a quite bit now.

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.


Freedom in thought, Freedom in action (Asia Samachar, 24 Oct 2022)

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  1. Thank you. Great insight. Glad everyone there appears to have had a great time – having fun, making new friends, spending time outdoors for which KhalsaLand is heaven and … learning a little more about Sikhi and about their own selves. Kudos to the organisers and sewadhars. And great missive by Jagdesh Singh. Guru meher.