On being a Sardarji

Fortunately, it was the other way round: my turban and beard made me appear a genuine Indian, while my clean-shaven colleagues were dismissed as brown versions of English boys.

There were three of us in London University, Tarlok Singh was a scholarly Sardar who later made to the ICS and became the head of the Planning Commission. At that time he had only half a moustache. Then there was Basant Singh from Kenya who was a keen cricketer.

There was nothing to my credit except being the son of a generous father. There was not the least resemblance between the three of us, yet the English were always mixing us up. Tarlok was the favourite student of Professor Harald Laski who often gave me books meant for him.


A more amusing incident was when Amarjit Singh, who was in Selwyn college, Cambridge, came to spend a week-end in Welwyn Garden city. I was living in a cottage close to the woods which were full of Rhododendron bushes then in full bloom.

Amarjit Singh decided to take a walk in the woods before returning to Cambridge. He met an elderly lady who greeted him as she had known him for some time. After a little chit-chat, Amarjit told her he was not the Singh she knew but a friend of his. The lady apologised and said: “I did realise you looked a little different but was not sure.” A couple of hours later they ran into each other at the railway station. The lady greeted him and said, “You know Mr Singh I mistook you for a friend staying with you.”

A memorable dialogue over Sardarji’s identity took place in Jerusalem. I was staying in King David hotel. One evening as I went to the dining room, I found only one unoccupied table and made for it. The next table was occupied by a middle-aged American couple. They gaped at me for a while before getting into huddle, whispering into each others ears. Then the man turned to me and asked, “Excuse me sir, do you speak English?”


“Yes, I do,” I replied
“My wife and I were wondering where are you from?”
I decided to have some fun and replied: “I give you three guesses. If you get it right, I’ll buy you a drink.”
The man paused before asking, “You would not be Jewish.”
“No, I am not Jewish.”
“Would you be a Mussalman?”
“No, I am not Muslim.”
“Buddhist?”
“No, I am not Buddhist.”
“I give up, what are you?”
“I am a Sikh.”
“Then you must be from Sikkim,” he pronounced.

At a Writers Conference in Glassgow I found myself in the same lodging house with a few writers including the Bangladesh poet Jasimuddin. After making sure that I was not a hot-headed Sardarji, he would great me every morning: Shordarji, aap ko boro buj gaya?”

What Am I

I was going over Coleman Barks translation of Rumi for the enth time reading only those passages that I had underlined. I came across one which had impressed me as a summary of my beliefs. I am not sure if I have quoted those lines earlier but even if I have, they deserve being repeated. They run as follows:

Not Christian, or Jew or Muslim, nor Hindu
Buddhist, Sufi or Zen. Not any religion
Or cultural system. I am not from the east
Or the west, not out of the ocean or up
From the ground, not natural or etheriel, not
Composed of elements at all. I do not exist.
Am not an entity in this world or the next,
Did not descend from Adam and Eve or any
Origin story, My place is placeless, a trace
Of the traceless neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
Worlds as one and that one call to and know
First, last outer, inner, only that
Breath, breathing human being.

Dinner cake

Santa had come back to his native village after staying in England for five years on a work visa. He was very pompous and showing his power to speak English to villagers. He and his friend Banta went for a walk in the morning towards their fields. Excreta of a buffalo were lying in the way. Santa remarked “Oh, this is a cake.” Pat came the reply from Banta, “Iss noo chakh ke vekh”. Santa was silenced and never tried to speak in English again during his remaining stay in the village.

(Contributed by Ram Niwas Malik, Gurgaon)

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