A shrine of hope for aspiring migrants
This Sikh shrine doesn’t have enough space to store several hundreds of miniature aircraft that have been offered.
Between butter chicken and dollar dreams, a Punjabi youth would perhaps prefer the latter. Not that his love for the butter chicken is any less, but dollar dreams win hands down in Punjab.
It is well-known that every family in Punjab’s Doaba region has at least one member living abroad. Almost every youth nurtures the dream to settle somewhere abroad, be it Southall or Toronto. The obsession with offshore dreams just got bigger and even holier, so to say.
Travel to Punjab’s Jalandhar district and it’s not hard to understand why. The dusty lanes of village Talhan on national highway-1 meander through a mix of plenty of “home-cum-shops” on way to an endearing Sikh shrine in close vicinity. It’s hard to
ignore a common feature in the village market.
That’s because all these aircraft models are offered at the village Sikh shrine while paying
obeisance. It is widely believed that offering an aircraft model grants one his wish of settling abroad or at least gets him a US visa! This offering comes in lieu of the “prasad” that other devotees offer at the shrine complex. Like all Gurdwaras, regular prayers and recitation of “shabads” are an everyday feature, just that the prayers and “prasad” by many devotees has a “videsi” connection.
But this faith-driven practice is battling a problem. The Sikh shrine, popularly know as the “Hawai Jahaz Gurdwara,” doesn’t have enough space to store several hundreds of miniature aircraft that have been offered by dollar-obsessed youth. When it all started, the shrine management saw it more as a practice that would be limited to a few lucky ones. But that wasn’t the case. The word of mouth spread like wildfire. The practice has since been very popular and a familiar feature at this shrine.
And so the shrine priests are now distributing these abundant toy aircraft to children. “At least children can play with these toys. We cannot stop people from offering them. In the end what matters is the faith with which you pray,” Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara head priest Bhai Manjit Singh said. Manjit Singh said they do not encourage offering aircraft at the shrine, but matters of faith are best left to one’s own self to decide. Before the aircraft offerings reach the store and then to children, they are finely placed on a glossy sheet in the complex for prayers.
Advertisement for airlinesAlbeit by default, the village turns out to be probably the best advertisement for almost all international carriers, and that too at no cost. The shops selling toy aircraft models have replicas of carriers like British Airways, Lufthansa and Air Canada that are sold for up to Rs 600. Of course, one can bargain on the price.
The shrine is a ticket to a foreign destination, believers feel. Ask local villager Narinder Kaur, and she confirms this belief as she offered a Qantas Airways model at the shrine. She claims her son’s Australian visa could not have been possible without the blessing of the shrine, and of course, her miniature aircraft offering. So she’s back once again at the shrine with an Australian airliner to offer to the Lord.
In fact, what now epitomises hope and a prosperous haven abroad for many was once a mark of unsavoury dispute. The Gurdwara has seen a bitter animosity between Jats and Dalits about a decade ago when these two communities fought for control of the shrine management. At one point the fight took a violent turn leading to clashes followed by the
imposition of curfew. That’s now a thing of the past. The shrine today witnesses scores of passionate youth from all over the state paying obeisance for that one dream to accomplish.
Denials apart, the bone of contention then was the huge money that this cash-rich shrine generated from donations. Today, the donation goes into development work in the village. The shrine runs a school and a small hospital in the village besides other
charitable work. Since the shrine is close to the heart of all those nurturing dollar dreams, including many who have already made it to their dream destinations, the support of NRIs comes as a welcome add-on.
The Doaba region has an estimated six million of its people settled abroad! The region flaunts palatial houses and farmhouses. Fancy gigantic water tanks on roofs of houses, many of them in the shape of a huge aeroplane, are like an NRI address.
A local shopkeeper said he cannot recollect how and when the trend started. “Surely must have been someone’s wish to go abroad coming true that must have started it all. It’s now became a tradition. For us it’s business,” he said.
For someone who is willing to spend several lakhs of rupees, even by selling off his land, to realise his dream to settle abroad, this little gesture in good faith is the last thing he would want to miss out on.
There’s more. Atop the gate to the village has a concrete model of a British Airways aircraft that welcomes all. Now that’s something that keeps alive, perhaps rekindles, their desire to a faraway life, away from motherland, better or worse notwithstanding. The butter chicken can wait.