509.The Man in Blue – Big decisions !

Life ain’t easy ! Those that know me and those of you who read column 503 and 504, know that I want to go back to Southall.

Although Belgian Limburg is not a bad part of the world, and although I love the walking and cycling, I do miss the big sangat and the many Gurdwaré of London. I miss the big city atmosphere and all the buses, trams, undergrounds and trains. I miss meeting with people of many cultures and religions, I miss working together with people of all different backgrounds.

And in this first generation community you do not have the diversity of sangat that you have amongst the well-established Sikhs in the UK.

Two weeks ago in the Gurdwara, after the Sunday divan, I was called into the room where committee members and some others active in the community sat together. They promised me to support me financially if that was needed to keep me one more year in Sint-Truiden. This came not just from committee members but also from ordinary members of the sangat.

I am in a difficult position. I badly want to go back to the UK (see above), but here I helped start various projects in education that are not easy to leave.

I recently discovered that the two UK organisations that have been my main sources of income over the ten years that I lived in West London do have work for me, but no money to pay me. Although I think that in the UK I will be able to earn some money to top up my pension (I’ll be 65 on the 6th of May), there is the added problem of currency conversion.

I will receive three bits of pension, and two of these are in Euros. With Spain causing new unrest and the conversion rate between sterling and the Euro already down to about 80 pence this will add to the uncertainty.

Sorry to bore you with my personal financial affairs, but these are important issues. I am sure that there are many people who have lived both in the UK and in the Euro-zone and who face similar problems.

And trusting in God does not mean that one should not look at all sides of a question like the above. To cut a long story short, I have decided to stay here one more year till June 2013.

My Dutch pension will just about cover my expenses here, and if I can earn some more money doing tuition and by charging for some of the things that I have done  for free so far, I might be able to recoup part of the 8000 Euros that I spent here the last two year.

Please UK friends and relatives come and visit us here in Belgian Limburg. Eurostar still offers tickets to any Belgian station, and although the Brussels area is famous for its overcrowded motorways, driving from Calais to Sint-Truiden is not too bad.

And next year is going to be exiting as we might be able to lift the ban on the wearing of patka, turban and híjáb in secondary schools this country !

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.

417.The Man in Blue – Moving to St Truiden

Since February I have been living in West London for ten years, on the 6th of May I will be 63 and on 14 July I will be a 14 year old Amritdhari Sikh.

Somewhere around June 15 I plan to move from Southall to St Truiden in the Belgian province of Limburg.

I will miss wonderful Southall, I will miss the choice of ten Gurdwaré to visit, I will miss the many people in the UK Sikh community who have become my friends and I will miss my many friends of different faiths and beliefs who I met in the course of my interfaith/multi faith work.

In Belgium and the Netherlands together there are about ten Gurdwaré. In those Gurdwaré you rarely hear the sort of kirtan that takes you to a spiritual high, the sort of kirtan that you often hear in the Southall Singh Sabha Gurdwaré.

I was born in and lived my first seventeen years in Roermond, in the Dutch province of Limburg, which is to the east of Belgian Limburg. The culture of St Truiden is similar to the culture I grew up with. St Truiden is nearer to French speaking territory and further from German speaking territory than Roermond, and that does make a difference.

I look forward to represent the Sikh community in St Truiden, in Limburg and in Belgium. I hope to be able to contribute to improving the already good relations with local government.

Hopefully the Sikhs in Belgium will be able to improve their profile in the country and to get more recognition from the Flemish regional and the Brussel based national government.

I also want very much to be part of the Sikh community in and around St Truiden and play a part in the life of the Gurdwara. But I might not stay in St Truiden for the rest of my life as I have always been a bit of a gipsy. Belgium will be my fifth country. I do not think I will match the time I spent in Amsterdam, about 25 years with an interruption of three years in Dublin.

I have thought beyond being in Belgium, but as we all know my speculations are all in vain, as I have no idea what God has in store for me. I like the idea of going to Barcelona or Valencia, an area of the world that I know quite well and feel at home in. These cities now have small Sikh communities.

Another obvious option would be to come back to the UK, with its vibrant Sikh community and its rotten climate. Financially things should be easier after I reach the magic 65 and will get small state and private pensions. But you never know what will happen, God will steer me, I will follow.

Appeal to stop the use of violence

All Sikhs, Sikh organisations and Gurdwaré should undertake never again to use violence as a means to settle differences of opinion. There is no precedent from Guru’s days for this bad practice, the Guru taught us to stand up against injustice, not against opinions that we do not agree with.

416.The Man in Blue – Elections in Southall

In case you did not know, I am a member of the Liberal Democrats. I have been actively campaigning since the beginning of this month and if you live in the Norwood Green ward of Southall you can actually vote for me for Ealing Council. But this is not what this article is about.

What I want to discuss with you is the quality of the councillors and the MPs that we have been voting for here in Southall. For years Southall has been represented by Piara Singh Khabra. We should not be nasty about those who have passed away, but even Labour supporters must admit that Piara Singh did not work very hard for Southall.

Now we have Virendra Sharma as an MP, and he follows the example of Piara Singh. Virendra Sharma wants to be re-elected and Gurcharan Singh, ex-Labour and now Conservative, is his main opponent. I know, we all know that there are much better people in the South Asian community in West London. Why are we stuck with these two poor choices ?

Regardless of party, why is there not a South Asian equivalent of for instance John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, who works hard for all communities in his constituency. Why is it that we have throughout West London so many mediocre South Asian councillors ?

It is not because there is a lack of talent. I know plenty of South Asian people in all generations who are intelligent, well educated, hard working and successful in their line of business or in a professional career.

Is politics not attractive to the doers, is it because it does not bring in the big bucks ? Why do we mostly get the people who are happy to take the seat and the respect of the community, but who do not want to work hard at representing the voters of their ward or constituency ?

To a degree the same is true for our Gurdwaré. How many inspirational and hard working Sikhs are there on prabandhak committees ?

If you are more or less a floating voter in West London you have no problem, you just vote for the most capable candidate regardless of party. But if you are a committed Conservative or Labour supporter it must be frustrating. All you can do is choose between TweedledumandTweedledee.

It is a little late now, but I very much hope that enthusiastic and honest members of Southall’s diverse communities will come forward the next time round to genuinely represent the people of our wonderful Southall. (Southall is wonderful ! I lived in Roermond, Amsterdam, Dublin, Amritsar, Chandigarh, Heston and Southall, and Southall easily is one of the best places to live in.)

Appeal to stop the use of violence

All Sikhs, Sikh organisations and Gurdwaré should undertake never again to use violence as a means to settle differences of opinion. There is no precedent from Guru’s days for this bad practice, the Guru taught us to stand up against injustice, not against opinions that we do not agree with.

368.The Man in Blue – The Hounslow & Southall Nagar Kirtan

The Nagar Kirtan season is upon us. I was involved as a marshal in both the Hounslow (April 5) and Southall (April 12) Nagar Kirtan, and am booked to take part in the Bristol Nagar Kirtan on the 26th of April.

My best memory of a Nagar Kirtan was when I was honoured by the sangat in Den Haag (Netherlands) to be part of the Panj Piaré. Although it was cold and windy (Den Haag is near the North Sea coast) and we walked barefooted dressed in a short and flimsy chola, it was a magic experience.


We kept doing simran all the way through, and some members of our UK Jatha who were part of the procession got the sangat doing simran too. We stopped at a square near a big masjid for a short demonstration of gatka, and the mainly Moroccan Muslims were very interested.


The Hounslow Nagar Kirtan was well attended, but is never as massive as the Southall one. For most of the route we have to stick to the left side of the road, and for this we use a modern version of the Indian Rope trick : a rope is attached to the right hand side of the back of the palki, and held on a spindle at the end of the procession.


The marshals walk along the rope, trying to keep the sangat inside it, or if they insist on crossing the road to first make sure that it is safe. The main worry are people, including ladies pushing prams, diving under the rope and crossing the road without looking in any direction. Luckily both marshals and police were vigilant and through Vahiguru’s kirpa no accidents happened.


For the Southall Nagar Kirtan I volunteered for a position right behind the palki, trying to keep some distance between it and the sangat. This turned out to be very challenging, especially in Havelock Road and King Street, where the road is narrow and the sangat eager.


Their enthusiasm to be near the palki, near the Guru Granth Sahib, made even fragile old ladies and mother’s with small children take part in the big push, which reminded me of the free for all in Amritsar, when the Guru Granth Sahib is taken from Akal Takhat to Harmandr Sahib.


I appreciate the enthusiasm of the sangat, and I too took part in the pushing and shoving to get my shoulder underneath one of the massive copper bars of the palki in Harmandr Sahib. In Southall sangat should know that the Nagar Kirtan takes hours to get from Havelock Road to Park Avenue via Southall Park, and that everybody has plenty of opportunity to pay their respect to the Guru Granth Sahib.


Are Nagar Kirtans useful ? I have my doubts, but I do enjoy them. I think that sangat should be offered more drinks and less food. Parkore, somose and fruit are fine, but leave serving langar to the Gurdware.     

325.The Man in Blue – Chaur Seva & Var Asa

Since the 13th of June I am back in Southall, where I started when I came to the UK in February 2000. But this time I am not lodging in the Park Avenue Gurdwara. I have a ‘humble abode’ positioned strategically halfway between the Park Avenue and the Havelock Road Singh Sabha Gurdwaré, and within walking distance of the Oswald Road (Ramgharia), the Guru Granth, the Nanak Darbar and the Guru Amar Das Gurdwaré. 


Southall is no paradise, but I can live here almost like the life I lived in Amritsar. I do not have to plan Gurdwara visits, I can just get up and go, and as the Park Avenue Gurdwara is next to the railway station it is easy to visit the Gurdwara on the way out or on my return.


In Amritsar I could see Harmandr Sahib from the roof of the house I lived in, here I can see the ‘golden dome’ of the Havelock Road Gurdwara from my window. Like in Amritsar there is a lot of human noise, but not much traffic or airplane noise (until the 3rd runway comes on stream).


Last Sunday I walked to Havelock Road Gurdwara and arrived in time for the start of the Ásá dí Vár. One of the sevadars asked me to do chaur seva, and I sat with the Guru Granth Sahib, listening to and partly singing along with the Vár in Rág Ása.


There was not a lot of sangat in the diván, but a steady trickle of people came in to pay their respect to our Eternal Teacher. The Rágí Singhs (where are the Rágí Kaurs ?) were doing a good job, not just singing nicely, they gave the impression that they believed in what they were doing.


And I was filled with feelings of love and peace, love for all and at peace with all. That is no mean achievement, as my life is in some turmoil at the moment. It was not through my efforts that I felt love and peace, it was the Gurbání and the Sangat that brought this about.   


What I am trying to tell you is that I thoroughly enjoyed myself, leaving Havelock Road after having too much breakfast, and ready to tackle whatever life throws at me.     


If you know what Gurdwáré are about, if you are familiar with Gurbání and its teachings, Gurdwáré can be great places to be in. It helps if you are an elderly male (greybeard) wearing a traditional outfit.


Those that know me are aware of the fact that I am often critical of the management of the Hounslow Singh Sabha Ltd. But I do acknowledge that Mr Sohi and friends do run their enterprise in a professional manner. Of course not much is done to help youngster who are on the path, nothing is done to teach One God, One Granth, One Panth and One Rehat Maryada.

Published in: on June 21, 2008 at 3:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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