London, UK, 31 December 2016. The new years honours lists always have their pros and cons, not to mention the archaic link to the word ‘Empire’. However, sometimes you read a name on the list and cannot help but feel ecstatic.
Three generations of Sikhs, perhaps thousands of UK Sikhs, over a span of 50 years have learnt Kirtan from Giani Sital Singh Sitara. The kirtan influence in my family comes from my father in law, mother in law and wife who started learning kirtan from Giani Sital Singh Sitara over 30 years ago.
This lead to our children being brought up with a harmonium and tabla as a permanent fixture in our living room.
Today, as third generation British Sikhs, my children sit in our living room and sing Asa Di Vaar because of the huge contribution of GurSikhs like Giani Sital Singh Sitara who made Kirtan accessible to the Sangat.
Blind at birth, Ustad Sital Singh never let that hinder his independence and his tenacity to travel on public transport with his harmonium and tabla.
He travelled the length and breadth of the UK, from one Gurdwara to another, ensuring that he never let his students down. I met him a few times at Euston or St Pancreas stations whilst he would be rushing past commuters to catch his train to the Midlands.
He always made sure his students received prominent stage time at Gurdwaras to perform. When the Gurdwara stage secretary would only permit 5 minutes to the children, Ustad ji made sure it became 15 minutes and all his students experienced singing kirtan in Sangat roop.
He made learning Kirtan accessible during a time we risked losing our identity. He may not have received the Panthik recognition he deserves but he will always be special in the hearts of thousands.
Regardless of whether he receives a Queens award, the UK Sikhs are indebted to his lifetime of contribution. Thank you Ustad ji.