The Man With the Black Umbrella – His Legacy Lives On
Published on May 23, 2017 | by asiasamachar.com
By Sarjit Kaur | Malacca
Tears stung our eyes as we walked down the langar hall. This was even before we got down to work. My sister and I scanned the area for a seat and joined a group of men. Our enemy in disguise was a sea of Bombay onions.
As I peeled the onion, I reflected on what it signifies. Our life is like an onion. Layer by layer we go through different chapters and journeys. One onion I picked was stained on the outside, but as I peeled, a beautiful skin surfaced. Another onion had a vibrant purplish skin, but as I cut them into pieces, certain inner parts were rotten. What matters is what lies within, I monologued.
The Man with the Black Umbrella
We were in Gurdwara Sahib Malacca for the Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji’s 45th Salana Yaadgiri prayers from 19 to 21 May 2017. My childhood friend, Darshen Kaur related the poster that her husband had crafted. It was a half-faced sketch of Sant Baba. His portrait stood regal against an ochre-gold background. If you zoom in, at the bottom of the poster you will see a silhouette of a man with a black umbrella – which is Sant Baba’s signature.
The story has it that once, Sant Baba was walking with certain members of the Sangat and it started pouring. It came to the attention of the Sangat that he was spared from the rain. Not wanting undue attention, Babaji immediately hugged one sewadar member and got his clothes wet as well. From then onwards, he started using the black umbrella.
That picture was symbolic in describing the humility and simplicity of this golden man, who touched thousands of hearts with his wisdom and grace. The man who laid a strong foundation and played a monumental part in the spirit of Sikhi in Malaya from the 1940s to 1970s. I commended this artist for his new age and uplifting work.
Sant Baba would come to our house in a rickshaw, with his faithful black umbrella. Mum would prepare his favourite kereleh (stuffed bitter gourd), saag with roti. My sister, Harcharan Kaur has this priceless 50 year old picture of him, in her wedding album. It was taken in front of our home in Ayer Leleh in 1967 when she got married. The little girl with the duphata on the right of Sant Baba, is my sister, Iswander Kaur, who continues to hold a Malacca basecamp for our family.
Our Global Sikh Village
Darshen makes it a point to return from Hong Kong yearly to pay tribute to this amazing man. Her FB posting while checking in at the Hong Kong international airport alerted me to pack my bags for this trip. My incredible nephew, Dillon took leave from his work in Melbourne to be with us. The family of our partner firm’s CEO from Singapore was here since Thursday. For our family, it has been a yearly affair and the second and third generations have begun to walk in our shoes. My eldest sister, Ajaib Kaur who is the most senior and veteran sewadar has been coming for Sant Baba’s prayers for the last 38 years since she moved to Tampin in 1979.
People are lured back. Thousands would throng to historical Malacca to pay tribute to the man who had touched the lives of their parents and grandparents. Seasoned visitors from outstation and abroad, would hedge and pay rental one year in advance to avoid disappointment in securing a place to stay. Each with a fixed commitment in their diary and hearts. The food stall and restaurant operators around the vicinity of the gurdwara get their well-deserved break, this time of the year.
We had the privilege of savouring Indonesian food on our local soil. Pretty ladies in a row from Medan served mee hoon soto on Friday. The dish comprised a combo of mee hoon, potatoes, beans sprout, green cili padi paste which is soaked in yellow coconut gravy. Hu la la! It was delicious, refreshing and had the diverse flavours of life – sweet, sour, savourish, spicy and pungent.
We also had guests coming all the way from Australia and UK. How small our world has become with our Sangat connecting globally. We saw the inclusiveness in our Sangat, that every community aspires. That weekend, we became a global Sikh village. These platforms are important, for they bring us together. We were grateful to the strong leadership and Sangat of Malacca for hosting us, through their months of meticulous planning and execution. It is one mammoth event in our annual Malaysian Sikh calendar. (Third photo on the left in collage: Ladies in a row / Mee Hoon Soto Medan)
Connecting to the Young and Future Leaders
Nirvair Khalsa Jatha from the UK, had an unprecedented crowd waiting for him at the Darbar Sahib upstairs. At 9 pm, the hall was already packed with the Sangat waiting in anticipation, while other jathas performed. My friend, Charanjit Kaur wanted to watch him perform live, as compared to seeing him on the big LED screen downstairs. Inspired by her determination, I followed suit. Lo and behold, I found my space as one Sardarji got up to leave. The universe will always conspire with our good intentions. Nirvair’s Jatha made their appearance at 10.40 pm. Young and old were there, in full force. I was keen to find out his magic.
This Jatha is made up of young, new generation Sikhs born and bred in the United Kingdom. Their objective is to motivate the modern Sikh community by way of Gurmat Parchaar to follow the Khalsa lifestyle as commanded by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji. They engage youths through their fluent spoken English and Punjabi.
Nirvair came on stage. A young chap at only 27; he had the wisdom twice his age. He projected a charismatic and powerful voice which connects. His organ and flute accompaniment set the musical stage. You can’t help fall in love with his haunting and poignant music. He spoke fluently in Punjabi and English with a strong British accent and conveyed his message respectfully. He had a great sense of humour and mimicked typical dialogues and conversations that generally takes place in our everyday life.
When he sang, his voice vibrated. He had all the ingredients the younger generation looked for. Meanwhile, people were still scouting for tiny spots to fit in. The youths resonated with their equivalent young icon. He put forth valid questions like “Why are we playing hide and seek with God” and “Why are we concerned about the form and not substance in our Sikh practice”. (Top right in collage: The packed Darbar Sahib during Nirvair’s session)
As I pen my thoughts, Nirvair’s tune keeps playing in my ears :
Gur Purey Meri Rakh Leyee
Gur Purey Meri Rakh Leyee
The meaningful message flashed on the screen on the light and dark side of life:
The Perfect Guru has saved me
He has enshrined the Ambrosial name of the Lord within my heart
And the filth of countless incarnations have been washed way.
The demons and wicked enemies are driven out, by meditating and chanting the Chant of the Perfect Guru.
Despite our diverse background and understanding, that night as a Sangat, we sang together in One voice. It was a beautiful repertoire of our existence, where we were united as One, just as our Creator had intended.
Our Journey Together is so Short
I watched the three golden ladies of Tampin sitting on chairs, outside the Darbar Sahib. Year in and year out, they are here diligently paying homage to Sant Baba. One day, these familiar faces will leave us, one by one. As I held the hands of Maherwan’s mum, who is well into her late 70s, her Filipino assistant smiled and conveyed that she doesn’t mind working and taking care of me when I am older. Her words jolted me. Our time will come, our time will come too, it dawned on me.
Our remaining journey together is so short. No one knows the duration of this journey, nor when their stop will come. My wise friend tells me his bags are ready and he would just pick them up, when his Messenger arrives. I realised I hadn’t packed my divine bags and still have too many unfinished business. Though I know, it is not my call.
For many, we have less time than the journey we have travelled. But then again, it’s not the number of breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away. So while the remaining journey is short measurably, it can be sweeter and meaningful compared to the many years put together. The choice is ours. Let us cherish our friends and family. Let us be respectful, kind and forgiving to each other. Let us be filled with gratitude. Let us seek forgiveness. And if others have hurt us, let them already have our forgiveness. After all, our journey together is so short!
Sewa Culture in Gurdwara
The weather was scorching hot. I took a break and grabbed a cup of plain water organised in rows at the water counter. Oh … water never tasted so delightful and thirst-quenching. We sometimes forget the necessities that served us so well. If only we take the trouble to be more aware and conscious of our surrounding.
If I had a wish list, I hoped that we would do away with mineral water in plastic bottles for they caused a mess within and outside gurdwara compounds. A large container of water with paper cups would be more eco-friendly. Sponsors must think of biodegradable items. In the langar hall, I wish that we would inculcate a culture of taking only food that we could consume fully, so there is no wastage. Putting our eating tray outright to the tune of every dish that each sewadar happily scoops, should no longer be the norm. Less is more. Let us make that change.
I loved the young and smiling sewadars organising our shoes by alphabetical cum numerical sequence, at the shoes counter. Because of the orderly process, they could locate and present to you in a jiffy. Young kids were standing up on trolleys and holding the handle, so happy for a joy ride before basins of used cutleries were picked up by the adults. This stage is a fun place for early sewa conditioning for children. They act, play and internalise, what service to mankind truly means.
Silent Visitors to the Gurdwara
“I dreamt that our Dads were on the menja (punjabi woven bed) at my home. Both of them were chatting and laughing away like school boys”, said Darshen. “What blessings”, I responded. It was so assuring to hear that our late Dads were happy up there with their loved ones and friends. We realised that they were also part of this Semagam prayers – paying their visit. After all, they were good friends of Babaji.
As I was going to the back of the gurdwara, I noticed this special child lying flat on his back, with his mum, grandmum and two active brothers running around. He had a challenge with his back bone that wasn’t able to hold him upright since birth. He is 9 now. My heart just went out to him. They came from Bidor with the chartered bus from Ipoh and sought the grace of Guruji for his healing. I sought permission to do a simran. As I caressed his forehead and hands, Amrit Singh moved his hands and legs and attempted to vocalise, as if responding. Meditation has been a practice for the family as a whole, said his grandmum. I sensed strength and perseverance in their hopeful and faith-filled eyes. We prayed for his healing. They say – wishes do come true here.
Memories to Treasure
It was Sunday morning. We packed our bags. My eldest sister started feeling the sadness on Saturday itself. I took one final drive along Jalan Bunga Raya – a walk down memory lane before hitting the road home. What beautiful memories were made. The magic of our various connections still lingers on. Till we meet again next year.
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries]