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.

367.The Man in Blue – Apart from You

thujh bin kavan hamárá ||
Apart from You, who is mine ?
méré prí
tam prán adhárá ||1|| raháo ||
My Beloved supports my life’s breath. ||1||Pause||

This is the raháo line of Guru Arjan’s Sabad in Rág Gaurí on page 206 of the Guru Granth Sahib. I attended the 17.30 till 18.30 kirtan slot with rágí Niranjan Singh on Monday 6 and Friday 10 April. Niranjan Singh is an inspirational singer, who actively encourages the sangat to join in.

It is not all good news, as he practises ‘pick & mix’. The quotes from other sabads that he inserts are relevant, but it stops the flow of the sabad and uses quotes out of context. Those that attended Bhai Gursharan Singh’s kirtan will agree with me that he showed a better way. In each session all the sabads were on a particular theme, which was both more effective than ‘pick and mix’ and taught Gurmat better than many a katha session.

In favour of Bhai Niranjan Singh is that he got me ‘high’ on the Sabad, the Word, both on Monday and on Friday. A skilled and inspired rágí can bring the sabad to life, where the páth of the speed readers and the flat kirtan of the ‘commercial travellers’ does the opposite.             

Apart from You, who is mine ? So simple, so direct, so True. Who can we rely on in moments of distress ? I have some real friends, and they are important to me, but God is always with me, wherever and whenever.

Your friends, family members all are human beings with their own worries, their own prejudices. Even my best friend, my dearest brother will pass away one day. God has no beginning and no end.

My British/Panjabi friends do not fully understand my Dutch cultural background; my ‘western’ friends do not fully understand the Sikh/Panjabi life that I have lived for the last 13 years. God does not belong to any culture, God understands all cultures.

My Beloved supports my life’s breath. I have followed the example of other translators and translated ‘prán’ not just as ‘breath’, but as ‘life’s breath’. Without breath there is no life, and I think Guru tells us that My Beloved, My God, supports my life. Without God, the source of all life, I would not be. Without God the Nourisher, the Sustainer, my life would not be worth living, without God I would be dead, even if my body were to live.

Bhai Niranjan Singh kept repeating the raháo line, asked the sangat to sing this line together with him, asked the Singhanís and the Singhs sing it separately. For me it worked, I got the message and I got high on the Word.