The Sikh SIRDAR
Interview with world renowned photo-journalist and author Jaiteg Singh Anant, who has chronicled the life and times of Kapur Singh.
Interesting things invariably happen from unexpected quarters. Writers, former civil servants and political leaders had nearly forgotten about the birth anniversary of late Bhai Sahib Sirdar Kapur, but for the timely intervention of his long-time compatriot and supporter, Jaiteg Singh Anant. To commemorate the centennial birth anniversary of the great soul of Sikhism, resident of Chandigarh and Vancouver, ace photographer, Jaiteg Singh has put together a compilation of essays about Kapur Singh by a variety of authors –virtually a who’s who of the Sikh world.
World Sikh News met the portly middle-aged chronicler, who shared his pain, anguish and joy at the accomplishment of the book which is to be released in Chandigarh on 7 March 2009.
Appropriately entitled, Sirdar, the book according to Dr. Darshan Singh Asht of Punjabi University, Patiala, is “the work of a man who is known for his hard work and dedication in whatever he does.”
Jaiteg Singh proudly claims, “I am a doer, not a talker” and he is right. “When the birthday celebrations are held in Chandigarh, the Sikh world and beyond will sit-up to take notice. We will commemorate his memory in a most befitting manner” said the author.
JS: How do you know Kapur Singh?
Jaiteg Singh: I know Kapur Singh as a thinker, philosopher and parliamentarian. The Sikh nation has not produced anyone of his kind and there is yet to be someone who can debate like him. He always had the Sikh interest at heart. Though he was denied political office by the Akalis, his speeches in parliament have no parallel.
JS: What brought you in touch with him?
Jaiteg Singh: His speech in parliament, Betrayal of Sikhs, was instrumental in influencing me and I met him for the first time in 1966.
JS: Did you maintain continuous relationship with him?
Jaiteg Singh: Yes, I was in continuous contact. I used to visit him regularly and spend hours listening to him. Listening to him was like listening to a sermon. It gave me and others like me a lot of peace and inner satisfaction. The man with a vision, that he was, he always spoke straight from the heart.
JS: How would you describe him?
Jaiteg Singh: Sirdar Kapur Singh was the pride of the Sikh nation. His breath contained the strains of Sikhi. His voice, style and mannerism were unparalleled. Just as the residents of Khyber Pass were struck with the fear of Hari Singh Nalwa, so was the fear of this man felt by the diminutive and self-centred Akalis in Punjab. This was so for he was a truthful man. He never allowed tyranny, corruption, social evils, inhuman behaviour or haste to dominate the voice of welfare of the Khalsa Panth.
JS: As a young man, what steps did you take to popularise his thinking and analsyis of contemporary Sikh politics?
Jaiteg Singh: Before I took up government service as a photographer in the Department of Culture and Photography, along with others like Bhagat Singh Sahni and Swaranjit Singh Sahni, I set up the Sikh National Guards, which forum upheld the quest for “Sikh bol bala” for five years.
JS: What was your profession?
Jaiteg Singh: After obtaining my credentials from the College of Applied Arts at Chandigarh, I became a photographer and my work has been displayed in many countries. My personal acclaim is as a photo-journalist and I have had the privilege or organizing the first photo salon in Chandigarh more than a decade and half ago, in which representatives and jury from some thirty countries participated. I do some photography now as well but my health is not too good.
JS: Your book contains some photographs of Kapur Singh and his times?
Jaiteg Singh: Yes, most, not all the photographs are mine. In some photographs, I am also present, particularly of those functions which I had arranged. But for these photos, the book would have been incomplete as I was unable to get more from people who do have more than what I could gather.
JS: So, you were the Panthic photographer of those times?
Jaiteg Singh: Not exactly in those words. They were leaders in thought and action. I wrote in Punjabi and was ready with my camera. Whether it was the cremation of Master Tara Singh, the consigning of the remains of Darshan Singh Pheruman, the march of Kapur Singh carrying the remains of Darshan Singh Pheruman, the speech of Bhai Sahib at Amritsar after the 1978 massacre –I shot all the pictures and they are my most prized memories, which I am now sharing with the world through the new book.
JS: Tell me more about the book, Sirdar.
Jaiteg Singh: My father and grandfather were associated with Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh. Through the trust that we have set u in Canada, called the Hardarshan International Memorial Trust, we observe the commemoration of leading Sikh celebrities gone by. Last year we observed the day of Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh. Since the last one year, I have been working on this book and have sought the writings of all those who were near and dear to Kapur Singh and all those who had the glorious opportunity of interacting with him. This book is my tribute to the Hero of the Sikh nation.
JS: What efforts did you make to compile the book?
Jaiteg Singh: Despite my failing health, I traveled on a wheel chair to cross the Wagah border to Lahore and went to his ancestral house in village 530 Gaff Be, Tehsil Samundri, District Lyallpur, presently known as Faislabad,in Pakistan. The house is still known as Chubara wala Ghar, Dipty da Ghar, Kapur Singh da Ghar and Zaildar da ghar. Prior to me only Kapur Singh’s elder brother had gone there to seek some property papers. I am the first Sikh outside the family to have visited his house and spoken to his contemporaries from both the Punjabs. I wrote and spoke to all those whom I thought had some affiliation with Kapur Singh.
JS: How did the villagers receive you?
Jaiteg Singh: The feeling oozing out of the people’s warmth was that with the coming of Sikhs again to the village, this village would again be buzzing with activity and maybe its destiny too would change. The Adabi Sangat of Lahore held a public reception in my honour as they were enamoured with the love and affection I had for Kapur Singh and vowed to hold celebrations of in Lahore as well.
JS: What drove you to take all these pains?
Jaiteg Singh: The passion to popularise Kapur Singh, the love and respect for Kapur Singh, who was a victim of negligence and utter ignorance of the established Sikh leadership.
JS: Where else did you go in Pakistan?
Jaiteg Singh: I went to the Lyallpur Khalsa High School where Master Tara Singh was the teacher and Kapur Singh was the student. The school was 40 miles away from Kapur Singh’s house and he used to travel daily.
JS: How did Kapur Singh ji manage his higher education?
Jaiteg Singh: Kapur Singh convinced his father Ganga Singh to pay for his initial fees and then managed fees by giving tuitions to other college students at theGovernment College in Lahore, which is considered to be the nursery of ICS and whose principal too was an ICS officer. Bhai Randhir Singh ji too graduated from here.
JS: Tell me something more about his contemporaries you met inPakistan?
Jaiteg Singh: The most interesting person I met in Pakistan was Janab Sibtal Hassan Jaigam, who was known to Kapur Singh, who has read about Kapur Singh, read his works and has promised me to work on the Shahmukhi transliteration of Kapur Singh’s autobiography, Sachi Sakhi. He is one of the oldest columnists and writes for Daily Jang and Nawai Waqt. He knows Gurmukhi as well. His contribution for proliferation of Punjabi in West Punjab is exemplary.
JS: What activities are you planning for the birth centenary of Bhai Sahib?
Jaiteg Singh: Waheguru willing, the whole year will be dedicated to his memory. Starting from Chandigarh, we will hold functions in his ancestral village, at Lahore and two functions in Canada, one in Toronto in July and one in Ottawa in September. The main memorial function will be held in Lahore in October this year. All of these would be organized by the Haridarshan International Memorial Trust. The Trust would also be establishing a befitting memorial in the honour of Bhai Sahib and institute awards to those who excel in various fields. This year, in Chandigarh on 7 March, we will honour ten people including an artist who has done a painting of the Sikh stalwart.
JS: Who will organize the function in Lahore?
Jaiteg Singh: For the last 45 years, Maheenewar Leharan -a Punjabi monthly in Shahmukhi is holding aloft the love for the Punjabi language and Dr. Syed Akhtar Hussain Akhtar, the editor of the journal would be the coordinator of the commemorative function in Lahore. Leading personalities, including members of the Nankana Sahib Committee would also attend the meet.
JS: What is the most interesting discovery of the trip to Lahore?
Jaiteg Singh: Many interesting and significant new facts were discovered, which the Sikh scholars and historians have not ventured to find out. One of them which I discovered during my trip was that Sir Mohammed Iqbal was the Ustad of Kapur Singh at Government College, Lahore.
JS: What do you want the next generation to know about Kapur Singh?
Jaiteg Singh: The younger generation of Sikhs needs to understand Kapur Singh’s works and learn from his vast contribution. Creating awareness about the personality of Kapur Singh and incorporating his work in the religio-political parlance of the Sikhs is the most befitting tribute to the great man.
Jagmohan Singh is a columnist based in Ludhiana. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
4 March 2009