Kids Corner


Postcards From The Road:
Mid-North Queensland, Australia





Waheguru has granted me the gift of being able to perform gurbani kirtan, especially to non-Sikhs. The joy and fulfilment is unbridled.

Under the auspices of the Government of Queensland here Down Under, managed and run by BEMAC (Brisbane Ethnic and Multicultural Corporation), I am part of a team of musicians from diverse backgrounds. I do have my long term 'saathi', tabla maestro Dheeraj from Nepal - the one musician who has been instrumental in my 25 years of kirtan 'hazri' globally.

The others are a pan-flautist who plies an array of other wind instruments - Mario from Bolivia; a Sudanese folk singer, Ajak; a Flamenco folk singer Clara and a very young, upcoming guitarist from Brisbane, Liam - an Australian of Irish ancestry.

The project is called Culture Train - part of the multicultural push that is currently prevalent throughout Australia. Our tour manager is a lovely Aboriginal lady, Suzzane Thompson, who invites local aboriginal folks to bless the project and formally welcome us to their country.

We have just performed in Stradbroke Island to the mainly Aboriginal community there; in Brisbane in a showpiece concert mainly for the sponsors and the government; in Toowoomba at a multicultural festival; Murgon at an Old Folks home and a secondary school; in sugar-cane growing Bundeburg also famous for Australian rum manufacture and ginger ale, at a Community Centre; in Gladstone, also at a Community Centre ...

And we have two more weeks to go, covering war veteran settlements, aboriginal communities, church groups, and art festivals.

In all of these travels, I met only two Sikhs!

Generally, each musician presents the music from his (or her) background with the added fusion from the rest.

As an elder in the group, I do get a fair portion of the presentations and I am honoured that I am respected as such, not only for the music but also as a chaperon and mentor. In a long tour, nerves and egos are tested and I hold impromptu simran and meditational vocal training classes as taught to me by my venerable father, so many years ago. So I play my part in holding the group together and keeping them all in positive spirits - in chardi kalaa.

Back to the kirtan. I do a fair amount of kirtan firstly because it provides the others a rest from fronting the group and also there is a genuine feeling amongst them that they are learning from me about spirituality through singing. And as for me, I have a ready made 'jathaa' with some amazing and diverse musicians to accompany me.

Imagine shabads accompanied by pan flute, other flutes, saxaphone, Hawaiian guitar, and backed by vocals from two female singers - one from Spain and the other from Sudan!

Waheguru is truly kind. I create. I experiment and I get to sing gurbani. No one to criticize me for mispronunciation. No one to rebuke me for singing from the Dasam Granth or from Bhai Gurdas. No one to complain that I am singing in the wrong raag. No one to complain that the audience is sitting on chairs with heads uncovered and footwear on, or high on some drug or intoxicant. No one to criticize me for using a melody from an old movie or a Punjabi folk song or qawali. In short, no criticism but audiences listening and only appreciating gurbani kirtan and the occasional explanations, and enthusiastically joining in with naam simran.

I always remember my venerable father telling me - Gurbani di be-adbi nahin haundhi. Jithay te jadon jee karay, gaao. Duur duur jaakay bani lokaan de kannaa vich paao. (Gurbani can never be disrespected. Sing it at every opportunity. Sing it far and wide. Let more and more people listen to it.)

*   *   *   *   *

There are only occasional dispatches from the outside Sikh world, as Internet and phone coverage is sparse. I heard of a push from certain quarters to exhume the grave of Maharajah Duleep Singh and transfer his remains to Punjab. Personally, I am horrified that anyone would even consider this.

For example, I know of up to twenty-six Sikh graves in South Australia alone. They are reminders of the resilience and pioneering spirit of our forefathers in these remote parts. These graves are evidence of our history here. If I had the means, I would identify them all and place proper headstones for posterity!

Trying to dig up the Maharajah to do a supposedly 'proper saskaar' -  in today’s India, God forbid! - is getting rid of a poignant reminder of him and the sad history behind this grave.

Please leave it alone, my brothers and sisters, so that my grandchildren could take their children and remind them of our history. I took my grandchildren there (Elveden, England) a few years ago and told them of its history. No statue of a good looking Sardar on a white charger can do that. I have seen the statue of Maharajah Duleep Singh in the village of Thetford in UK. It is nowhere near a correct replica of that portly country squire in a three piece suit who shot clay pigeons. The grave is the true stark reminder of the truth.

Digging up his grave to put up a resplendent monument is as ugly a deed as the destruction of old buildings and cutting down ancient trees of significance in Punjab from the times of our Gurus, even if by well meaning but short sighted babas who then put up mundane marble gurdwaras mainly to collect funds.

Guru Sahib has been kind. Mercifully, I am far from the infighting and politics.

Just pure kirtan … to thirsty listeners.

September 6, 2017


Conversation about this article

1: G J Singh (Arizona.USA), September 08, 2017, 11:39 AM.

Well said!

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Mid-North Queensland, Australia "

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