486.The Man in Blue – San Bonifacio (Verona) – Montecchia di Crosara (Verona) – Sint-Truiden (Limburg)

I came back to San Bonifacio from Pegognaga on Sunday evening 31 July and was booked to leave by train from Verona to Sint-Truiden on the evening of 5 August.

I stayed three nights in the Gurdwara, the second night disturbed by the heat, the mosquitoes and the 3 am arrival of the 10 young men strong Jatha of Duisburg (Germany) based Bhai Ranjit Singh. The third night I slept even less as there was a short-circuit in the system and the fuses kept tripping : no electricity, no fan !

The rooms in the front part of the Gurdwara are underneath a flat roof on which the hot summer sun shines all day, so you can imagine that nights without the cooling effect of a fan are tough. Opening the windows more mosquitoes enter, and these got to my feet and arms even when the fan was on.

So on Wednesday I made an emergency phone call to Montecchia and asked Harpal Singh and Gurminder Kaur if I could come back to their apartment for the last two nights. Gurminder Kaur told me that their house was my house.

On Thursday I went to the Gurdwara from early afternoon to early evening and on Friday I stayed in Montecchia till 4 pm. Bhai Manjit Singh came to visit us and we returned him home before I went for my last visit to the San Bonifacio Gurdwara.

It was good to see Bhai Manjit Singh before going back to Belgium, as it was on his invitation that I came to Italy in the first place. It was also good to say goodbye to many of the friends I made in the gurdwara since arriving on the 18th of July.

Another resident of the Piazza Umberto in Montecchia together with my tabla playing friend brought me to the station.

The train from Venezia to Paris Bercy arrived 25 minutes late in Verona and 2 hours late in Paris. I missed my connection but the Thalys staff at the Gare du Nord booked me on a train to Brussel that had spare seats. I arrived in Sint-Truiden at 15.43, three hour later than expected.

On the way out I shared the Paris – Verona ‘train-a-couchettes’ with a French couple, two Korean girls (or Japanese or Chinese ?) and an Italian girl.

On the return the ‘crew’ was made up of a young Italian woman who was going to walk from the French side of the Roncesvalles pass to Santiago de Compostella, one older Italian woman who was going to cycle in Bretagne (Brittany), one French men of African descent who also spoke Italian and an Italian father and son from Alto Adige/Südtirol. Südtirol is an autonomous German speaking part of Italy between Bolzano (Bozen) and the Brenner Pass.

This just goes to show how interesting it is to travel slowly, in spite of the minor delays ! In my next column, which will be less of a travel log, I will look back on my Italian experiences from the Sikh point of view.

483.The Man in Blue – San Bonifacio (Verona), Pegognaga (Mantova), Novellara (Reggio Emilia)

On Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 July I stayed in Montecchia till about 2 pm, then went to the Gurdwara and mixed with the ‘campers’ till after Rahiras. Monday evening after coming back from Gurdwara Sahib I went out into the square in front of the apartment where Harpal Singh was sitting with some friends.

I met a relative of his wife, who also lives local and who took me for a drive in the hills around Montecchia. We came to a village, turned into a yard and saw about 7 or 8 Panjabi men talking to each other, just as if we were in some village ‘back-home’. It was not only the rural setting, but also the fact that everybody seemed to be related to the family I stayed with that gave me that real Panjabi feeling.

On Wednesday I packed my bags and left at the usual time for the San Bonifacio Gurdwara. In the evening at about 8 pm Gursharan Singh from Pegognaga and his friend Daljit Singh arrived. We had langar and left in their car, first taking the east–west autostrada to Verona and then the north-south one. We arrived at Gursharan Singh’s house at about 10 pm, met with his family, including a cousin who lives in Germany and went to sleep at 11 pm.

This time there was no big bedroom just for me, but a smaller room for three of us. The climate is also different; I am further south and in the fertile flatlands where on Thursday the temperature goes up to 40 Celsius. In that temperature I only went for a local walk, but I did take some pictures. In the late afternoon Gursharan Singh’s father, the cousin and I went to Novellara to visit the oldest Gurdwara of Italy, an impressive affair, where we were welcomed nicely.

When we came back home some visitors came with whom I had a good conversation. I do not think that the Gurdwaras here offer any pastoral care, and therefore people are keen to share their concerns with a visiting ‘gianni’ like me. I do have some insights to share, and I do not just talk, I can also listen.

Especially here where most people speak good Italian and of course Panjabi but less English, it is important to notice ‘body language’. The Sikhs live in a foreign land, and they are supposed to be a success, but one of the men I met works very hard but had not received any pay for the last four months. I cannot change his situation, but at least I can listen and point to the source of strength.

In San Bonifacio I also had ‘pastoral’ conversations, but there most people I listened and talked to had better English. What I enjoyed most there was seeing girls and women trying to find a Sikh path in the surrounding patriarchal Panjabi culture. This also seemed to be supported by those in charge of the Gurdwara.

Gursharan Singh is on a job related visit to Switzerland for two days and will come back tonight. Tomorrow we are due to go to the north east and on Sunday we will again visit the ‘local’ Novellara Gurdwara, which is about 25 km away from here. The family I am staying with treat me nicely, in a way that I am comfortable with.

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.