Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Calendar Controversy...

When you thought it was only Sikhs having issues with calendars and dates, but then get this stamped on your passport and realise others have bigger issues - dealing with dates that don’t even exist!!! #humour #india #visa #date #nanakshahi #bikrami #gregorian #calendar

When you thought it was only Sikhs having issues with calendars and dates, but then get this stamped on your passport and realise others have bigger issues - dealing with dates that don’t even exist!!!

#humour #india #visa #date #nanakshahi #bikrami #gregorian #calendar

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Episode 5 of Punjab Travels: Visiting the Ramgarhia Bunga...

The Ramgharia Bunga is Sri Harmandir Sahib complex on the side of the Langar Hall building. Many times I have visited Sri Harmandir Sahib, but I have never thought to go and see what these two towers are that stand tall in the complex. This time I was lucky enough to visit the Ramgarhia Bunga.

Bunga means living quarters. After the the last attack on Sri Darbar Sahib by the Mughals in which they blew up Sri Harmandir Sahib with gunpowder, the Sikh Misls (federations) built special quarters nearby in order to protect it from any future attacks. The Ramgarhia Bunga was built by Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia in 1755. In the period following its construction it served a dual purpose of housing pilgrims visiting Sri Darbar Sahib and fortifying the area to protect the holy complex from outside invasion. 

When the Khalsa conquered Delhi, Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia brought a piece of stone, known as Sill, (length 6ft. 3 inches, breadth 4ft. 6 inches, thickness 9 inches) from Delhi. The Sill was the base on which the Mughul throne was placed on, and Mughal rulers would sit to hold their court. It is believed that the Sill itself contains some rare stones. Sardar Jassa Singh collected many historical material from the Red Fort, with which the Red Fort was built, and brought to Amritsar for the construction of the Ramgharia Bunga. The historic stone was later placed in front part of the Ramgarhia Bunga, facing Sri Darbar Sahib, where it still exists. Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia’s vow was fulfilled, when for many years it was used as throne for Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. However, this practice was discontinued. 

Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia had a throne for him made that was made underground so that he lower than the throne of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. This exists in the lower basement of the Bunga.
During the Sikh Empire, several Sikh Generals and Royal Families got constructed nearly 99 Bungas in the walled city of Amritsar out of which the one constructed by Ramgarhia Missal provided accommodation to visiting pilgrims. Out of the 22 watch towers constructed around Sri Harmandir Sahib in order to keep a watch on the enemy invaders, only the 2 towers adjoining Ramgarhia Bunga have survived.

During the army invasion on Sri Harmandir Sahib in 1984, these two towers were also badly damaged by canon fires. They were later restored to the original design.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Episode 4 of Punjab Travels: Meeting Mata Gurjeet Kaur Ji

I first met Mata Gurjeet Kaur Ji in 2012 (read here). Mata Ji's last words to me were, "Whenever you come to Amritsar, please come and meet your mother and say Fateh. I don't need anything else." Remembering this, I wanted to meet Mata Ji.

For those who don't know, Mata Gurjit Kaur Ji lost everything she had at the hands of the brutal Panjab Police. She is a living testimony of the fake encounters carried out by policemen, who remain in positions of power, even today.

During June 1984, Mata Ji's husband, Bhai Gurmej Singh Ji, and youngest daughter, Bibi Jasvinder Kaur Ji, were amongst the thousands of pilgrims visiting Sri Harmandir Sahib to pay respects on the Shaheedi Gurpurb of Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji. Her husband and daughter never returned home that day, and were killed by the Indian army along with the countless other pilgrims. Unable to have access to their bodies, she could not even perform their last rites.

The Punjab Police began harassing Mata Ji because they recovered some pictures of Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwale which her late husband had bought. Her eldest son, Bhai Kashmir Singh Ji, worked as a mechanic at a nearby shop. He was only 22 years old at the time, when the Panjab Police picked him up and killed him. They threw his body in a drain outside the village. Angry over the injustices being committed on them by the State and Police, two of her younger sons left home to join the Sikh freedom fighting movement. She never stopped them, knowing they wanted to get justice and stop tyranny. Some years later,  around 1991, both her sons were shot dead in encounters with the Police. Mata Ji said, "I did not grieve – they had given their lives while serving the cause of the Panth and the Guru’s."

But the Police did not stop at this. One day in 1991, a group of policemen came to her house and picked up her younger daughter, youngest son and her. To this day, she still doesn't know what happened to her youngest son, Bhai Daljinder Singh Ji, who was only 14. The only explanation given by the Police was that he simply ‘disappeared’ from their custody.

She has one surviving child who lives with her husband outside of Punjab. She cannot visit her because the Police used to harass her each time she came to visit her in the past. Her house was demolished by the Punjab Police led by Sumedh Saini and her possessions and memories wiped away. She was forced to sleep and live in Parkarma of Sri Harmandir Sahib for some time, until she was provided a room a nearby Gurdwara Sahib. Despite all of this, she has faith in Vahiguru and reminds me of the 18th century Sikh women of Mir Mannu's jail who never gave up their Sikhi spirit.

Bhenji from Malaysia, luckily knew where Mata Gurjeet Kaur Ji was. Mata Ji does the cleaning and washing Seva of the Parkarma (area surrounding the Sarovar - holy lake) every morning and afternoon. When meeting Mata Ji she was really pleased and gave me a hug. She gave me a broom and asked me to join her with seva. It was an amazing spirit. Such an elderly lady, but so much energy to do Seva.

Coming towards the end of Seva my parents met Mata Ji. My mum became emotional seeing Mata Ji as she knew her life story. Mata Ji gave her a big hug and said, "O my daughter! Why is your heart sinking? Why are crying?... I not lost anything. I have everything. I have the Guru and I have you." It was just amazing. I could feel the Sikhi spirit of Mata Gujjar Kaur Ji in Mata Ji and reminded me that the Panth still has many jewels!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Episode 3 of Punjab Travels: Meeting Mata Amarjit Kaur Ji...

During our stay at Sri Amritsar, we stayed at the Nishkam NRI Niwas. The accommodation is well maintained and provides a comfortable stay. The following afternoon, we visited Mata Amarjit Kaur Ji. On the way to visiting Mata Ji, we met a Singh from France and Bhenji from Malaysia who both joined us.

Mata Amarjit Kaur Ji is the wife of Shaheed Bhai Fauja Singh Ji. This April marks the 40th Shaheedi (martyrdom) anniversary of Bhai Fauja Singh Ji and the 12 other Gursikhs who spilt their blood defending the honour of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Bhai Fauja Singh Ji received the gift of Amrit in 1964 at a Smaagam organised by the Akhand Kirtani Jatha. On Vaisakhi 1965 he got married to Mata Amarjit Kaur Ji. By profession, Bhai Sahib was an agriculture inspector. He dedicated his life to the service of the Panth and would go from village to village spreading the message of Sikhi through Kirtan, Katha and Gatka. Not only a saint, he displayed qualities of a blessed warrior. Bhai Sahib stood up for Sikhi at various places and challenged tyranny and oppression.

On 13th April 1978, a large group of Sikhs were led by Bhai Fauja Singh Ji to protest against a procession led by the "Sant Nirankari" cult (known as "Nakli Nirankari") and their leader Gurbachan Singh's insults against the Sikh Gurus. The Sikhs were attacked with acid bottles and bullets, resulting in the Shaheedi of 13 Gursikhs and just under 100 injured. On 15th April 1978 the 13 Gursikhs were cremated outside Gurdwara Sri Ramsar Sahib in Amritsar. Approximately 25-30,000 people attended. This event led to a new lease of life in the Sikhs in searching for religious and political freedom.

Below is a poem written by Bhai Fauja Singh Ji whilst serving time in jail:
ਤੇਰੀ ਅਮਰ ਸਿੱਖੀ ਨੂੰ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੂ, ਮਨ ਬਚ ਕ੍ਰਮ ਦੇ ਨਾਲ ਨਿਭਾ ਦਿਆਂਗੇ।
O True Guru we will serve your everlasting Sikhi with our every word, thought and deed.

ਧਨ, ਧਾਮ, ਜਵਾਨੀ, ਜਾਇਦਾਦ ਸਭ ਕੁਝ, ਲੇਖੇ ਪੰਥ ਦੇ ਅਸੀਂ ਲਗਾ ਦਿਆਂਗੇ।
We will devote our youth, wealth and all worldly possessions to the cause of the Panth.

ਭਾਲ-ਬਿਵਸਥਾ ਤੋਂ ਦੇਹ ਸੰਭਾਲ ਰਖੀ, ਹੁਣ ਤਾਂ ਲੋੜ ਹੈ ਘੋਲ ਘੁਮਾ ਦਿਆਂਗੇ।
My body, preserved since childhood, will be sacrificed now the need has arisen.

ਤੇਰੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਨੂੰ ਰਿਦੇ ਨਿਵਾਸ ਦੇ ਕੇ, ਅਵਗਣ ਆਪਣੇ ਸਾਰੇ ਗਵਾ ਦਿਆਂਗੇ।
By continuously repeating and sincerely following Gurbani we will get rid of all our evil-mindedness.

ਜੇ ਤੂੰ ਮੇਹਰ ਰਖੀ, ਮਿਹਰਬਾਨ ਮੇਰੇ, ਬੰਦੋ ਬੰਦ ਭੀ ਅਸੀਂ ਕਟਾ ਦਿਆਂਗੇ।
If you keep your Grace my Graceful Lord, we will sacrifice ourselves limb by limb.

ਤੇਰਾ ਨਾਮ ਨਿਧਾਨੀ, ਸੋਹਣਾ ਨਿਸ਼ਾਨ ਸਾਹਿਬ, ਦਸੇ ਦਿਸ਼ਾ ਵਿੱਚ ਅਸੀਂ ਝੁਲਾ ਦਿਆਂਗੇ।
We will endeavour to fly the wonderful flag, which marks the treasure of your Naam, all over the world.

ਬੁਝ ਰਹੀ ਜੋਤਿ ਜੋ ਅਸਾਂ ਨੂੰ ਜਾਪਦੀ ਹੈ, ਖੁਨ ਆਪਣੇ ਨਾਲ ਜਗਾ ਦਿਆਂਗੇ।
The light of faith that seems to be dwindling will be rekindled with our blood.

ਮਨ ਕੀ ਮਤਿ ਨੂੰ ਮੇਟ ਕੇ ਮੇਰੇ ਦਾਤੇ, ਤੇਰੀ ਜੋਤਿ ਵਿੱਚ ਜੋਤਿ ਮਿਲਾ ਦਿਆਂਗੇ।
By forsaking our mind's wisdom O Lord, we will blend our soul with yours.

ਧੁਰੋਂ ਧੋਰੰਦਰੀ ਅਵਤਰੀ ਰੀਤ ਸੁੰਦਰ, ਰਾਹੂ ਕੇਤੂ ਨੂੰ ਰੋਕ ਚਮਕਾ ਦਿਆਂਗੇ।
With your divinely ordained faith we will overcome all evil.

ਮਿੱਟ ਰਹੇ ਨਿਸ਼ਾਨ ਜੋ ਧਰਮ ਵਾਲੇ, ਲੁਕ ਛੁਪ ਕੇ ਅਸੀ ਪ੍ਰਗਟਾ ਦਿਆਂਗੇ।
By sacrificing ourselves we will revive and renovate the fading symbol of our faith.

ਮਿਹਰ ਤੇਰੀ ਨਾਲ ਖਾਲਸਾ ਬੋਲਦਾ ਏ, ਆਵਾਜ਼ ਅੰਦਰਲੀ ਬਾਹਰ ਸੁਣਾ ਦਿਆਂਗੇ।
The Khalsa speaks with your Grace; our inner-voice will be heard by all.

ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ-ਰੂਪ ਸਿੱਖੀ ਹੈ ਅਮਰ ਕਰਦੀ, ਕੇਸਾਂ ਸੁਆਸਾਂ ਦੇ ਨਾਲ ਨਿਭਾ ਦਿਆਂਗੇ।
Sikhi is immortalising nectar and we will serve it with Rahit and our last breath.

ਜਬ ਆਵ ਜੀ ਅਉਧ ਨਿਧਾਨ ਬਣਸੀ, ਸੀਸ ਤੇਰਾ ਹੈ, ਤੈਨੂੰ ਚੜ੍ਹਾ ਦਿਆਂਗੇ।
When all else fails, in the hour of need, we will sacrifice our heads at your altar.
Mata Ji's health is not too good. She struggles to walk after a nurse injected her with something harmful. She said that the nurse was sent by the RSS, a Hindu nationalist terrorist group, to disable her. Despite her ailments, she remains in high spirits and very positive. Mata Ji lives in a small room near Sri Akal Takhat Sahib. Her window faces Sri Darbar Sahib. Mata Ji said that she lives in heaven and could not ask for any more nor less. She lives in the lap of Sri Guru Ram Das Ji. She can listen to the Kirtan from her room and see the Sangat and Guru Ji's court from her window.

I asked Mata Ji about the changes to the building complex of Sri Harmandir Sahib. She said before 1984, there was no proper memorial for Shaheed Baba Gurbaksh Singh Ji. There were houses surrounding Sri Harmandir Sahib and it was very congested and unsightly. She said, Bhai Fauja Singh once said, "I wish I could take down all these houses and make it a beautiful area." Mata Ji smiled and said, "Today Bhai Fauja Singh Ji would be glad to see that the congestion and unsightly houses have been cleared and we have nice gardens and a nice memorial for Baba Gurbaksh Singh Ji Shaheed." 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Episode 2 of Punjab Travels: Amritsar Airport Taxi Driver...

Arriving in the holy city of Sri Guru Ram Das Ji, we booked at a taxi at the airport. We were told to go outside and wave the receipt slip that they had given us and the driver will find us. As we went out, we were greeted by a Gursikh. He said he was our taxi driver. The Gursikh looked really happy, and we were happy to have a Gursikh taxi driver.

Sitting in the taxi we began speaking about Sikhi with the driver. He shared that he was a Mona (cut-haired) a year ago, and today he is an Amritdhari Singh. He showed us a photo of what he looked like before on his phone (shame I didn't take any photos at the time!). So I asked, how he changed. 

Veer Ji explained that he was educated but like many youth in Punjab, he couldn't get a job to match his education. One day he was visiting a Gurdwara Sahib and met Baba Narinder Singh Kaar Sewa Wale. They got him involved in seva. Baba Ji said, "I am not going to tell you to do anything difficult... If you want Guru Ji to help you, then for 40 days go to Sri Akal Takhat Sahib at Amrit-Vela. Read one Japji Sahib and clean shoes of the Sangat." He said, "I didn't think that was too hard. Baba Ji never told me to keep Kesh or take Amrit. However, by waking up Amrit-Vela, reading Gurbani and doing Seva, I began to change from within." Since then he never cut his Kesh, began wearing a Dastaar and with Guru Ji's Kirpaa took Amrit. Now, he drives a taxi and says he makes enough money to get by.

Similarly, his friend was also with cut-hair. One day Baba Jagtar Singh Kaar Sewa Wale had come to someone's house and both of them attended. They were giving out Langar. Although Veer Ji was Amritdhari, his friend was not. When Baba Jagtar Singh looked up and saw the person who was offering water, he replied: "How can I take water from you? Have you seen how you look? You have disrespected the Guru-given appearance and hurt the Guru, and expect me to take water from your hands? Do you want me to break my faith in the Guru?" Hearing this words from an elder Gursikh, the young man realised his errors and how he couldn't serve Gursikhs water if he has turned his back from the Guru, and in order to have the privilege to serve Langar to Gursikhs he must become a Gursikh. His friend kept his Kesh and now is Amritdhari. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Episode 1 of Punjab Travels: Flight from London to Amritsar... (Part 2)


We continued to the customer service desk at the end of the airport after walking around like headless chickens. There were approximately 8 people talking among themselves, whilst there were 2 customers, and later more, waiting to get some help. Nothing to get surprised by in India, but the 8 people were happily chatting away and having a laugh and had no concern that customers were waiting. My dad had to shout out for help and only got their attention when he asked to immediately speak to a manager.

When the manager arrived, my dad explained that our flight has been delayed, the wait is too long, and the service is unacceptable. The manager said that he will see what he can do and try to book us in an earlier flight. My dad quickly got out his phone and took his photo to his surprise. He said, "Why have you taken my photo? You are not allowed to do that. It is against the law." My dad replied, "Well, I need proof of who I spoke to. If you do the job, nothing to worry about. If not, I will be complaining to Air India and sending names and photographs of staff." I explained, "I think it is within the law to have some proof of who you are dealing with. You seem a nice guy and I am sure you will resolve the issue quickly." The guy seemed rattled, but the photo trick worked! We were booked into the next earliest flight (which still meant 3 and half ours more wait that originally planned).  Drama over?  Obviously not- it's India!

We were told to collect our new tickets at the desk that we had previously gone to and where they were extremely friendly and helpful (note: that's sarcasm!). We went to the desk with a print out and with a service "without" a smile the Air India staff told us to go to the check-in desk instead. When we got the check-in desk, there was one man doing the running around and helping to address issues of angry and frustrated customers, whilst other workers were talking among themselves and lazing around. It turned out the man who was doing the running around was the supervisor at the Air India checkout and the people lazing around were his workers, who clearly didn't respect him or follow his instructions. It got to the point that my dad shouted at some workers saying that they are lazy workers and how rude they behaved towards their supervisor who was running around whilst they were just standing there.

This supervisor's name was Abishek Bana.  A really nice guy, stuck among fellow work staff that clearly had little or no work ethic. The poor guy was getting customers left and right shouting at him, but in all fairness people were being sent to him to get things done because the other Air India staff were too lazy to solve their issue. Everyone afterwards felt sorry for the guy.

Anyway, he got our new tickets. But the problem was that he had to retrieve our luggage from the flight that we had previously checked in to (on the say so of Air India clueless staff). The drama continues. Will anyone in Air India baggage pick up the phone? ...No! Will they respond to their radio? ....No! Will any worker asked to go to retrieve the luggage, come back having the job done? ...No. Abishek Ji, had to physically leave his desk and go downstairs and retrieve the bags and re-tag because no one else was competent or responsive to do the simple task. However, it took a while. All the angry customers, gradually became calm when they saw how much running around Abishek was doing and how he was trying his best he could.

Everyone was getting tired of standing up for such a long time. With no seating available (welcome to Delhi airport), I thought getting a wheel chair was the next best option (not for myself!). So I went to get a wheel chair from the counter 2 meters away. I pointed at my dad and Bhua Ji and said, "These elderly people cannot stand, can you please provide two wheel chairs." There were about 10 guys standing there doing nothing (-seems like a reoccurring theme)!  They said, "Okay". A minute later, they are still standing there doing nothing. So I just got a wheelchair and said, "I am taking it." The came back and said, "We need to swap the wheelchair." They kept starring. I realized that they wanted a tip. But I think they had the wrong guy to ask for a tip- as they weren't getting one!

Whilst all the upset passangers from our flight got together, it felt like we had formed a small support-group. 8 hours just flew by in the airport by talking to one another. Abishek came back and had re-checked in everyone and re-tagged everyone's luggage. We felt so sorry for this guy who was the only one seemed sincere about his job that we got him to join us for a group photo. Everyone appreciated Abishek's efforts.

Abishek gave all the passengers a free meal pass considering everyone was hungry. The place where they could eat was through security in the waiting area of the airport. After going through security, we went to the waiting area. Whilst waiting we found out it was one passenger's birthday. Everyone sung happy birthday. She said, "This is the most memorable birthday she has ever had." (I wouldn't recommend celebrating your birthday at Delhi Airport or an Air India check-in desk!). After doing morning Nitnem, those who wanted to eat went upstairs to this vegetarian restaurant and showed them the meal passes that Abishek had given. Guess what... The restaurant worker got upset and didn't accept them. After arguing with the restaurant worker, the manager eventually came and reluctantly allowed the passengers to have a free hot drink and meal (after seeing the group photo with Abishek!). The size of the coffee cup was so funny. It was the smallest cup I have seen!

Anyway, we eventually arrived at Sri Amritsar.

To be continued...