Kids Corner


My Grandfather's Story




On my last trip to Delhi, I sweet-talked my father into recording the family history.

The recording sessions were not easy. There were moments of intense silence; moments when tears flowed; moments of laughter and moments filled with gratitude.

It was a very special time and I will cherish it forever.

Dad and I share a very close relationship. I am his first-born. In his eyes, I can do anything that I set my mind on, and I will never do anything wrong. His simple trust has played a huge part in my life. It has prevented me from doing things that may not have been kosher.

In my eyes, “My father is a very noble man.” In today’s world, the word noble is rarely used to describe an individual. But that is the word that comes to mind when I think about my father. Even people, who do not get along with him (I cannot understand why), begrudgingly acknowledge his compassion, sincerity and honesty. I could go on and on about my father. But that is for a later piece.

This story is about the man who brought my father, Bawa Gurnam Singh, into this world -  my grandfather, my knight in shining armor.

“Dad, tell me about Pitaji,” I ask, as we begin with the recording.

Dad looks at me: “You were his favorite. He adored you the moment you were born. No, I think he loved you even before you were born. None of the other grandchildren had his complete undivided love and attention, like you did. In fact I think none of his own children got his love like you did.”

“I know, Dad, I know! Sometimes, I wonder why he chose to love me the way he did. At other times, I’m filled with gratitude, to have experienced love of this purity. But Dad, I know so little of his life?”

“Your grandfather, my father - Bawa Hari Singh - was born in 1898 in Chakwal, Panjab,” Dad starts. “His father, Kalyan Singh, died when Hari Singh was only five years old. He was raised by his three older brothers, Jivan Singh, Bishen Singh and Bhagwan Singh. Jivan Singh and Bishen Singh were saints. Yes! I know, for you Pitaji was a saint. And you are right. Pitaji was saintly but his two older brothers were the real saints. I’ll tell you about them at another time. He also had two older sisters, Ram Lubhai and Ram Rakhi.

Pitaji studied at the Khalsa High school in Chakwal up to Grade 10. After that he joined his brothers. The family had about 500 acres of farming land in Chakwal, with about 400-500 people working for them.

When World War I broke out, Pitaji enlisted in the British army and joined the Sikh Regiment. His Regiment was sent to Bombay and from there they sailed to Iraq. They landed in Basra. From Basra they made their way into Baghdad and from Baghdad onwards they fought the Turks. They captured the town of Kirku, and established a base there.

Pitaji rarely spoke about his days in the army. The story that I remember well is his telling us how his Regiment would look after the Guru Granth Sahib. Wherever the Regiment landed or was stationed, the first thing they did was to make sure that the Guru Granth Sahib was placed in the most appropriate place. Only then did the Regiment undertake their other tasks. The British Officers also showed proper respect to the Guru Granth Sahib.

When Pitaji’s Regiment was in Kirku, the best tent was put up for the Guru Granth Sahib. It was also the first tent that went up. The Hindus and Muslims in the army used to get very upset with the preferential treatment given to the Guru Granth Sahib. A few of them went to complain to their commanding British Officer about this disparity.

The British Officer told them that he would decide on this matter the next day. He asked them to come the next day at 4 pm with their respective holy books. The Officer also asked the Sikhs to come to his tent at 4 pm with their holy book.

The next day, the first people to appear before the British Officer were three Hindu soldiers. They had brought the Gita with them in a torn shoulder bag. The British Officer asked them to sit down. They sat down and placed the Gita on the table. The Muslims came next. They had the Koran wrapped up in a cloth which they also put on the table. While they were sitting, they heard singing. Everyone came out of the tent to see what was happening.

There were two Sikh soldiers leading a procession. They were throwing water on the ground. Behind them were five Sikh soldiers (Punj Pyare) properly dressed with kirpans in their hands. Behind them were a few more soldiers singing a shabad and behind them was the Guru Granth Sahib properly decorated and hand-carried by four soldiers with bare feet. Pitaji was one of them. Behind the Guru Granth Sahib was the entire Sikh Regiment in full uniform.

When the Sikh Regiment reached the British Officers tent, the Officer covered his head and bowed. He thanked the soldiers for bring their holy book and told them that they could go back. The Sikhs then took the procession around the entire cantonment. It took them nearly two hours to take that round. Only after that was completed did they go back to the tent and placed the Guru Granth Sahib in its rightful place.

After the Sikhs left, the British Officer asked the Hindu and Muslim soldiers whether they still needed an explanation as to why the Sikhs were being given preferential treatment.

He told them, “How can you expect me to respect your holy books when you yourselves do not respect them. See how the Sikhs respect their scripture. I too bowed my head. I felt compelled to do so because of their faith in their scripture.”

The Sikh Regiment was stationed in Kirku for some time.  After the war escalated they were sent to Istanbul. They fought their way through Turkey to reach France where they fought the Germans.

While they were in France the new helmet law was introduced. It became mandatory for all soldiers in the British army to wear helmets. The Sikh Regiment outright refused to wear the helmet. They told their British commanding Officers that it was against their religion to remove their turbans and wear the helmet. The British Officers told them that they had to abide by this law. The Sikh Regiment once again refused. Pitaji somehow became the leader of this struggle. The British Officers decided to court-martial him and two other Sikh soldiers over this. The Sikh Regiment revolted. They told the British Officers that if this action was taken against Bawa Hari Singh and the other two Sikh soldiers they would not stay in the army. Seeing the mood of the soldiers the British Officers decided to dismiss Pitaji and the other two Sikh soldiers and they were sent back home.

In 1918, at the age of 20, Pitaji came back to India and joined the Akali party in Amritsar. He was very sympathetic to the Bhagat Singh movement and became an active participant in the movement to gain independence from the British. For that reason he was jailed many times and was often tortured. The British used to lay him on slabs of ice for hours. They wanted two things from him; firstly to apologize for his actions and secondly to leave the political scene. But Pitaji refused to apologize and neither was he prepared to give up the struggle for Independence. Needless to say he spent quite a bit of time in prison.

While he was in prison, his older brother got him engaged to Harnam Kaur of Jhelum. Harnam Kaur’s father, Sardar Mehtab Singh Maini was also very active in politics. He belonged to the Congress party and later became its head. Pitaji met his future father-in-law for the first time while at at Lahore jail. Both of them were sentenced by the British for their political activities.

In 1918, Pitaji got married and brought his wife to Chakwal to live with the rest of the family.

13 April, 1919.

Pitaji was at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar when the army opened fire on the crowd that had gathered there peacefully. He managed to escape with just an injury to his leg. His older brothers became very concerned about his political activities and feared for his safety. They persuaded him to leave for Iran. Pitaji very reluctantly agreed. His brothers persuaded the British authorities to release him from jail. He was released on the condition that he would leave the county. 

So in 1920 Pitaji went to Iran and worked for Sardar Mota Singh for five years. In 1924-25 he and Sardar Jai Singh Bhasin established their own business under the name of Bawa Hari Singh & Jai Singh in Zaidan, Iran. That is how Pitaji came to Iran and we became known as Iranis.”

“Dad, this was an amazing lesson in history! But how come Pitaji agreed to go to Iran? It sounds so out of character?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it was the love and respect he had for his brothers. They were the ones that raised him. As far as I can remember, he never went against their wishes for anything. My marriage to your mother was also arranged by his older brother,” replied Dad.

“First session over,” states Dad getting up and leaving the room. I continue to sit on the couch absorbing what I’ve heard. Memories of my dear, dear grandfather flood in.

Once, while I was still a child, I saw his back and remember asking him about the scars on his back?

He smiled and said nothing. He was a man of few words. He didn’t need to speak, his presence said it all.

His is the photograph that I carry in my wallet. He is still my knight-in-shining armor.

Shukar, shukar and more shukar for the love he bestowed on me.


Inni Kaur is the author of the children's book, Journey With The Gurus, which is available at

August 31, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 31, 2011, 9:48 AM.

"Babani-a kahani-a put saput karen" [GGS:951.5] - "The stories of one's ancestors make the children good children." And you, Inni ji, must have been a special bargain grandchild that never ran out of hugs. You were lucky to have had your grandpa's lap. What a lovely account ... look forward to your next offering.

2: Rupinder Kaur (Faridabad, India), August 31, 2011, 11:27 AM.

Inni is bestowed with the gift of storytelling. These incidents are exemplary; great history lessons; especially the way they are told in such a subtle manner. I could see the nobility in Inni as a person as well, the day I met her. Waiting for the second volume of 'Journey with the Gurus'!

3: Sandeep Singh Brar (Canada), August 31, 2011, 12:05 PM.

That is absolutely fascinating. I love it when history comes alive through stories like this one.

4: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), August 31, 2011, 12:38 PM.

Very interesting indeed. The author deserves compliments for her power of story telling. I have, though, one question. I have heard a different version of the story of the honoring of the Guru Granth Sahib in the British army from a number of people since my school days. I am just wondering whether Inni Kaur can confirm from her father that originally this event did happen in Kirku (Iraq). What was the year, if the exact date is not possible to remember?

5: Akal (Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.), August 31, 2011, 12:40 PM.

This story made me cry. I am looking forward to further installments.

6: Ari Singh (Sofia, Bulgaria), August 31, 2011, 1:25 PM.

Absolutely fascinating!

7: Chattar Singh Sahni (New York, U.S.A.), August 31, 2011, 5:26 PM.

I have seen both Inni and her father growing under the saintly and benevolent love of Bawa ji. I distinctly remember him as a leader and problem-solver for the Sikh and Indian community in Zahidan, Iran. This was a period of great turmoil just before the Partition of Punjab and India. In the IsImaic country of Iran, Sikhs were being pictured as ruthless killers of Muslim women and children in India. Life and honour of Sikhs in Zahidan was in real danger of disruption, in a concentration of Baluchi tribes. I, as a student in Lahore, on my way to my parents in Zahidan with another two students, was caught in a serious confrontation between Baluchis and a Sikh guard, on our way from Quetta to Zahidan in a train. Bawa ji was a great help in the whole episode and showed great diplomatic skill with Iranian authorities. Numerous such memories and associations with him and the family cover a long period in Chakwal, Zahidan and Kuwait. Inni was his favourite grand-child. When I had the opportunity of seeing Inni again in New York after a lapse of twenty years or more, I was astonished at the remarkable growth and elevation of her literary skills and her deep devotion to Panthic causes. This is what her grand-father had dreamt of and would make him so proud.

8: Anne Korde (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), September 01, 2011, 5:25 PM.

An inspiring story. How many of us are strong enough to put our lives in danger upholding the ideals we believe to be true?

9: Parminder Kaur (Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.A.), September 05, 2011, 2:09 PM.

Inni, this is a treasure, a legacy for your children and others to cherish. We should continue to write such stories, so history keeps getting recorded from different angles. May Waheguru bless you to continue with this endeavor!

10: Harinder Sandhu (London, United Kingdom), September 06, 2011, 12:14 PM.

Sikh soldiers did fight in Gallipoli, Turkey - but Turkey was never over-run and Istanbul was never taken. More likely he fought at Gallipoli and was sent to France.

11: Kiran Kaur (U.S.A.), September 06, 2011, 11:16 PM.

Inni Kaur ji: This is your legacy! Truly amazing what your grandfather went through for the sake of freedom ... the most important word in the human vocabulary. Question: what are you doing holding hands with Khushwant Singh ... a man who would undo what many have given their lives to do? What a shame!

12: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, CT, U.S.A.), September 07, 2011, 12:19 PM.

Kiran ji: There are many things that I have done in my life that I am uncomfortable about, but meeting Khushwant Singh is not one of them. I was hesitant to meet him; but I am glad that I did. Strange as it may sound, I found him to be a very spiritual man. I don't know why? But I did. If he ever got down to writing an essay titled, "The Divine & I," it would be an amazing read. Harinder ji: Thanks for the information. I am only a story-teller, retelling her family stories. Sardar Pashura Singh ji: Have checked with my father and my aunts. They all say that Kirku was the place. Dad said: "When Pitaji was in Kuwait, he wanted to visit Kirku again." The date they guess was somewhere between late 1917 and early 1918.

13: N. Singh (Canada), September 07, 2011, 10:20 PM.

Inni ji: Many thanks for this article! I am truly impressed and wish I had had the opportunity to meet your grandfather. What a great man! However I am of the opinion that greatness is "earned", not "inherited". That is not a slight on your person because in all honesty I don't know you. However, it often intrigues me as to how many believe otherwise. I too am perplexed by your advocacy of Khushwant Singh although I understand that you have every right to associate with whoever you wish but really: "I found him to be a very spiritual man?" Didn't he go riding around with K.P.S. Gill, urging him to "Kill the Bastards" (i.e., those Sikhs who indulged in so-called militancy). I suppose everyone has a personal interpretation of 'spiritual' and in his eyes these Sikhs were less than human.

14: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, CT, U.S.A.), September 08, 2011, 7:45 AM.

The eyes see what they want to see ... The heart feels what it wants to feel ... The ears hear the whispers between words ... For the Divine lives in all.

15: Devinder Singh (India), September 09, 2011, 11:29 PM.

Khushwant Singh is certainly a more spiritual man, in my view, than most commentators here who live very superficial lives, who live life on the surface, that is.

16: Charanjit Kaur (Indore, MP, India), January 23, 2013, 6:36 AM.

Dear Inni ji: The article is very good. You enjoyed the special love of your father and grandfather. The incident you have mentioned of the respect of Guru Granth Sahib is really heart touching. Even the British rulers of yore had great respect for the Guru Granth. I have heard of a similar incident in Bangalore also. Anyway I have come across a few names of persons and places in the article and would like to know something more about them. I would like to know more about them.

17: Ganesh (Pune, India), February 25, 2013, 2:35 AM.

You have a remarkable gift in story telling. My belief is that every human being comes and plays a willing part whether it is as a thief or a saint. The only difference is the thief is ignorant about his/her potential. So I wouldn't condemn any man but only the intentions/actions.

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