A Diamond in the Dust: T. SHER SINGH
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
People surprise you. Even those who normally disappoint you sometimes rise to the occasion, inspired by a greater power, and do the good thing, the right thing.
In this day and age, the surprise is all the more pleasant when it comes from those who have disappointed us so relentlessly - the men who have taken over our religious institutions and are using them to cater solely to petty and corrupt politicians.
But I write today not to hold their feet to the fire, but to praise them.
A single act on their part recently has touched me deeply because it is right, it is good, it is timely, it is appropriate … it is well-thought out and well-executed.
On Saturday, June 23, 2012, two men deputed for the mission by the Akal Takht in Amritsar flew into Calcutta and arrived at a residence on Alipore Road at 10:30 am.
They were received by Sardarni Suksham Kaur Singh, joined by senior members of The Sikh Cultural Centre and a few other local luminaries.
Shortly thereafter, her father, Sardar Saran Singh appeared, assisted by a nurse.
Bhai Bhupinder Singh and Bhai Mangal Singh then proceeded to honour the 90-year old stalwart with a siropa (robe of honour) and also present him with the “Shiromani Sikh Lekhak Sanman” ( The “Great Sikh Scholar” Award) - both on behalf of the Akal Takht and the SGPC.
The honour was originally to be bestowed in the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar, but S. Saran Singh’s age and health did not permit him to travel.
A large divan had then been arranged at the historical Gurdwara Bara Sikh Sangat in Calcutta for Sunday, June 24, 2012, to publicly do the honours, but that was ruled out too on medical advice, at the last moment.
Hence the gathering on Alipore Road on Saturday, June 23.
Despite the frailty, S. Saran Singh was his usual sweet and chipper, measured and erudite self - those who have met him would immediately understand what I mean.
In receiving the panthic ’sanmaan’, he spoke briefly to the gathering, reminiscing on his harrowing ordeal while fleeing across the new border during the Partition of Punjab in 1947.
He concluded with a short quote from gurbani:
jo hummri bidh hoti mairay satgura sa bidh tum har janoh aapey / hum rultay firtay koi baat na poochhta gur satgur sung keerey hum thaapey [GGS:167]
O Lord, you know what I am:
I belong in the dust.
Though I be of no consequence,
‘Tis only your grace that exalts me,
An insignificant creature.
This extraordinary man retired from his day-job - he was one of India’s top civil administrators, widely acclaimed by the people of every state in which he was posted, and by his peers! - in 1983.
And has been twice as busy ever since, if that is at all humanly possible.
He didn’t waste any time in 1984 in publicly denouncing - on the international stage! - his former boss, Indira Gandhi, and fearlessly taking her to task for her crimes.
He has headed an educational foundation which has been successfully running one of the leading schools - and a Sikh one at that - in the Simla hills.
He has given life-long leadership to a large publishing venture which focuses on gurmat literature.
And the crown achievement of his life: he has been the Editor of The Sikh Review for the last three decades. That is, during the full span of his “retirement”!
I have had the extraordinary good fortune of knowing him ever since I was a young boy growing up in Patna - where he was then Chief Secretary to the Government of Bihar.
Now, more than half-a-century since I first met him, I can say unequivocally that I have known no man or woman who exemplifies Sikhi in its pristine beauty as S. Saran Singh does.
It can be argued that I am influenced by my biases.
Sure. There is ample cause to think so. It is he who insisted I read for 20 minutes serially from the books of Bhai Vir Singh every Friday evening when a handful of Sikh families got together for sangat - through my teen years.
He inspired me to keep a journal as he bid my father, sister and I off at the train station, as we headed out on a month-long trek in the Himalayas to Hemkunt - in the early 1960s. And cajoled me into sharing it with him so that he could critique it, when I returned.
And to write for The Sikh Review, which I did, even before I entered my teens - long before he took over its helm as Honorary Editor.
I have known no man or woman more persuasive, yet no one more kind, gentle, sweet …
If you met him once, I’ve been told by many, you remember him for life. Others have told me of the same, indelible after-glow though they have only talked to him over the phone.
An equal number claim the same for having merely corresponded him. He touches you through his writing - his words, his script, everything - like I‘ve heard of no one else.
I know, I know … I sound as if I have a vested interest in this man.
I don’t. But with all the objectivity I can muster, I feel truly honoured for having known him, for having had him sow seeds in me the fruits of which I still enjoy.
I know of no man or woman who deserves the honour recently bestowed on him, as much as he does. If anything, I don’t think we as a community can honour him enough.
Because he so fits the Sikh definition of ’scholar’. For he is, above all, a Gurmukh.
My eternal thanks to the Akal Takht and the SGPC for rising to the occasion.
Conversation about this article
1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 04, 2012, 1:01 PM.
I have never met this gentle, soft-spoken Gurmukh, although his imprint on "The Sikh Review" can be felt in its pages. I know him through our daughter Dr. Simran Kaur who never tires of talking about him. She and Suksham are like sisters and treated in equal measure as such. Despite his most distinguished career, S. Saran Singh ji has remained untouched by the fires of the ego. His latest honour is well deserved.
2: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), July 04, 2012, 8:04 PM.
I met S. Saran Singh ji in Loa Angeles in 1993 during a Sikh conference, and he was much more than you describe him, a fine gentleman. Sitting next to me, when I told him all about my Calcutta days and The Sikh Review connection, and the little work I did with another two dedicated families there, S. Mohan Singh and S. Raghbir Singh Bir, he never wanted to leave! What an honor! We shared many things on Sikhs and the media ... well, thanks, Sher, for the reunion online.
3: Simran Gupta (Kolkata, West Bengal, India), July 04, 2012, 11:08 PM.
I am so fortunate to know S.Saran Singh ji well. Their home is my second home in Kolkata. Suksham, Uncle ji and I have regular kirtan classes every Tuesday and it's such a joy to hear him explain gurbani to us. I remember the day he received the siropa. He was so ill the previous night, yet received his guests with elan. God bless him.
4: Harnek Singh (New York, U.S.A.), July 05, 2012, 9:08 AM.
Truly a gem of a man. And, single-handedly, an entire treasure trove for the community ... and humanity! May we be blessed with more like him, O Lord.
5: Pritam Singh Grewal (Canada), July 05, 2012, 12:52 PM.
S. Saran Singh ji always encouraged me by accepting my humble contributions in the form of poems and prose to The Sikh Review. He has painstakingly edited the journal for decades. It is the first time I saw his picture in this interesting article. Laudable indeed is his selfless seva to Sikhi. The honour he has been given is well deserved.
6: Balbir Kaur (Singapore), July 05, 2012, 2:12 PM.
May Waheguru give him many, many more years of good health and seva, and blessings to his family!
7: Manjeet Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 06, 2012, 6:10 AM.
I met S. Saran Singh ji twice in Kolkata. I was privleged to break bread with him. Throughout the conversation, he came across as steeped in gurbani. Whilst talking to him, I reflected: During the terrible times of the 1700's, Sikhs showed their tenacity, bravery and resilience. Now, this man showed me the softer, genteel, polished side of Sikhism. He was fully alert, despite his age, and had a sharp wit. He laughed heartily at a good joke. There was no pretense to the man. He had an excellent knowledge of gurbani and peppered his talk freely with quotes from Guru Granth. Saran Singh ji is a credit to the Sikhs. He showcases the learned Sikh. He is proud of his religion and has contributed tremendously to Sikhsim. And the ever smiling Sukhsham Kaur! She is always gentle and welcoming. Yet, she handles tough work happily, without moaning or complaints. Affable and polite to a fault, she too is steeped in gurbani. I am proud to know her and her father.