483.The Man in Blue – Verona, San Giovanni Lupatoto, San Bonifacio, San Giovanni Ilarione, Montecchia di Crosare

To go back to the two San Giovannis discussed in the previous article, I went first to San Giovanni Lupatoto, which is just outside Verona and to the east. After discovering that this was not where Manjit Singh lived I returned to Verona and took a train to San Bonifacio station, which is walking distance from the local Gurdwara. Going by the google map the Gurdwara is on the Localitá Ritonda 81b.

North of San Bonifacio are the two other villages mentioned in the title of this article : San Giovanni Ilarione and Montecchia di Crosare. I spent one night at San Giovanni Ilarione and moved the next day to the house of Manjit Singh’s ‘sister’ (not his real sister) Gurminder Kaur and husband Harpal Singh in Montecchia. These are both villages but Montecchia looks a bit more like a small town.

We are here north of the area along the river Po, which is as flat as Panjab or the Netherlands. North of San Bonifacio are the foothills of the Alps. The San Bonifacio gurdwara is called the Associazone Guru Nanak, Mission Seva Society.

The story about the two pardhan I misunderstood. Only one of the two gentlemen is the pardhan, the other for some reason is (jokingly) called the new pardhan.

I have gone everyday at about 2 pm to the Gurdwara with the ‘new pardhan’ and stayed at least until after Rahras, when Gurminder Kaur came to pick me up.

There was a good attendance to the Sikhí camp, which was mainly devoted to learning Panjabi and learning how to play waja (harmonium) and tabla, a set of Indian type drums. Many of the youngsters had a good understanding of the Sikh way of life, and were more open-minded then UK and the Belgian Sikhs.

I also discovered that many of the older members of the sangat were quite well educated. They had learned English in Panjab, and although they could not practise their English in Italy, it was easy to communicate with them.

On Sunday I spoke for about 20 minutes in the divan. I was talking about simple things like simran and seva, ‘one God, one humanity’ and that all human beings, regardless of caste, faith, nationality, skin colour or gender are the children of God. When I said that the Guru Granth Sahib was my Malik, my Teacher and my Baba, and that I did not follow any Jathedars or Sant Baba’s I ‘earned’ a jaikara.

I have spoken to two young men from Novellara in Reggio Emilia who wanted me to come to their Gurdwara. I discussed this with Manjit Singh, making sure he had not made any other arrangements for me, and then phoned Gursharan Singh, one of the two young men, and arranged for me to go to Novellara on Wednesday and come back to San Bonifacio on Sunday after the divan. When I come back I hope to stay in the San Bonifacio Gurdwara for a couple of days and make excursions to Venice and Brescia from there.

482.The Man in Blue – Sint-Truiden – Brussel – Paris – Verona

Manjit Singh, who lives in San Giovanni near Verona, twice came to the Sangat Sahib Gurdwara in Sint-Truiden to do katha, and we became friends. He is in his thirties and speaks Panjabi and English.

He invited me to come and visit him in Italy, and meet with the Sikh communities there. As I did not fancy the Ryan Air flight from Charleroi to Verona I decided to go by train, which is at least twice as expensive. For 250 Euro I bought a ticket to Verona Puerta Nova, valid from any Belgian station, via Brussel and Paris.

From Sint-Truiden I took the ordinary IC train to Brussel Midi, changed there for the Thalys (high speed train) to Paris Nord, then by metro from Paris Nord to Bercy (change at Chatelet) and from Bercy by ‘train à couchettes’ to Verona.

In a train ‘train à couchettes’ you travel in a compartment that seats six people, which at night is converted into a compartment with six beds. I am not a good sleeper, not even in my own bed, but at least you do not have to sit up all night. My fellow passengers were a French couple, a young Italian lady and two even younger ladies who were Chinese, Korean or Japanese. As is mostly the case on these trips at the end of the night you are a bit like a little family.

This train was non-stop between Paris and Milano. All went well as far as Milano Centrale, reasonably well between Milano and Brescia and became real Italian between Brescia and Verona, where we arrived at about 10.00 am instead of 7.25. This was mainly due to a long and unexplained period of non-movement between Brescia and Verona.

From Verona I took a bus to the wrong San Giovanni, and had to return to Verona from where I went by local train to San Bonifacio. Two Singhs met me there and walked me to the local Gurdwara, the Associazone Guru Nanak, Mission Seva Society.

I met with a Granthi and a Pardhan who both spoke English. They recently had a change of committee, and the old Pardhan and the new one were peacefully sitting in the same room. These are un-Sikh practices, I must bring it to the notice of the Akál Takhat Jathedar and request him to issue a hukamnama against it.

My best encounter of the afternoon was with four girls who were in the higher classes of the secondary school. They spoke sufficient English to have a good conversation with. The main subject was : I study economics, how can I be a good economist from guru’s point of view. I worked very simple with the principles of simran, honest work and sharing.

After rahiras I was given a lift to the right San Giovanni by Manjit Singh’s sister (who also speaks good English) where I was delighted to meet Manjit Singh.

480.The Man in Blue – God is All – All is God

The essential teaching of the Guru Granth Sahib is about being a good human being who keeps God in mind at all times, makes an honest living and shares with others. Without this start on the spiritual path one will not get anywhere.

But the concept of the Oneness of God and Creation that I found in the Guru Granth does appeal to me. God is One, Sikhs, Jews, Christians and even many Hindus agree on this. The idea that humanity is one, that we are all the children of the One is also not unique to Sikhs, although it is one of those wonderful ideas that people of all religions find difficult to practice.

But ‘God is All – All is God’ is, as far I know, an idea that is only found in the Dharmic traditions. God is not just present in all and everything, God is all and everything, and all and everything is God.

We know that in spite of what some agnostics say we are more than the physical elements we are made off. Without mind and spirit we would not be ‘Homo Sapiens’, the thinking man. Mankind cannot create but can creatively work with the elements that God provides and make wonderful and terrible things.

Equally the earth, the universe is more than the physical aspects of it. The combined minds and spirits of the living creatures are part of the universe. Both the physical and the minds and spirits are God.

If you want to see combined minds and spirits at work for good and for evil you just have to look at crowds, human crowds but also ‘crowds’ of animals. In the sangat you can feel part of the One and of All. A crowd at a football match or at demonstrations is bigger than the sum of the individuals.

The group or herd can rise to do wonderful things, but is equally capable of being negative and destructive. European pogroms against Jews, the 1947 massacres in Panjab after partition or the 1984 Delhi pogroms are good examples of the collective at its worst.

We do not believe in a devil who seduces us to do evil. We have been given our minds and spirits, we have been given our talents. We have been given the human life to get near to God, but it is equally possible to waste this chance.

We can use our God given talents as manmukhs, as self-centred beings or as gurmukhs, or God-centred beings. All this is part of God’s hukam.

The spiritual teachers tell us that the true profit is in having good thoughts and doing good deeds. But many look only for the short-term profit of serving the self and of looking down on others. When we realise that God is All and All is God, that God is part of all and everything, we are on the way to make the real profit, to gain inner peace and to be really happy.

479.The Man in Blue – Southall, Middlesex, UK

In Southall are nine Gurdwaras. In Ealing, east of Southall, is another Gurdwara, Hayes, west of Southall also has a Gurdwara and south of Southall is Hounslow with two Gurdwaras. For me all in walking distance, but I walk a lot and far. But all these Gurdwaras are within easy cycle, bus or train distance from each other.

I used to live in Portland Road, off Osterley Park Road in old Southall, within ten minutes of the Park Avenue and Havelock Southall Singh Sabha Gurdwaras. Park Avenue must be one of the most popular Gurdwaras in the UK, maybe even in Europe. Havelock Road has one of the most impressive and expensive buildings. The two Gurdwaras and the Southall Sikh school are part of one organisation.

In both Singh Sabhas the end of the afternoon early evening programme is roughly as follows : 16.15 till 17.00 kirtan ending with the So Dar of the Rahras; 17.00 till 17.30 Rahras, Ardas, Vák; 17.30 till 18.30 kirtan; 18.30 till 19.30 katha, which sometimes followed by even more kirtan.

From about 17.00 till 18.30 the texts of the shabads and the vák are almost always projected on a screen in the Park Avenue Gurdwara. This makes a big difference, and not just for people like me. Even if you are a fluent Panjabi speaker projection of the text in Gurmukhí and the English translation is helpful.

Since I moved to Southall in 2008 I almost daily attended at least part of this programme and my ability to read and understand the shabads improved greatly.

We visit the Gurdwara to be in sádh sangat and together enjoy the word of God which comes to us via Gurbaní, the shabads from the Guru Granth Sahib and from other sources that are recognised by the Sikh panth.

By listening to and signing along with the shabads we are the Sikhs, the learners that Guru wants us to be. Drinking in the shabads you will get ‘high’ on God, you will feel real joy, without any hangover the next day.

For those in charge of a Gurdwara, whether it is a democratically elected group that makes collective decision and regularly reports to the sangat, or a patriarchal or dictatorial pardhán or sant-baba, this is the most important job : present the Guru’s message to the sangat in a way that it can be digested.

Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana sat under the village tree and sang the shabads that contained the light of God. In the UK in 2011 it rains too often and it gets too cold for open air kirtan. The size of the sangat makes microphones and speaker-boxes necessary and language drift and non-Panjabi audiences necessitate translations.

But the basic idea remains the same, the love of God, the emotion of God enters us most effectively by doing with Gurbaní what it was written for : sing, sing, sing ! Sing with conviction and emotion and share God’s light with the sádh sangat.