Every Sikh anywhere in the world recites the same prayer, the same litany, seeking the blessing that he may have a darshan of Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Guru Nanak. And here was this Sikh, the old frail man nearing a century, at the Nankana Sahib. Isher Singh’s prayer is a bit different. Will someone hurry up? He is 99. In 1972, a 65-year-old Isher Singh of Peshawar came to Nankana Sahib – the only place he had heard of where he could hope for some protection after suffering daily humiliation following the Indo-Pak war. Since then, he and his family have been doing sewa at the Sikhism’s premier shrine, the birthplace of its founder Guru Nanak some 60 km southwest of Sheikhupura. Isher Singh is 97 now. He’s frail, his eyesight is failing him by the day, but he’s hanging on to a hope, hope that he would get to see Harmandir Sahib at Amritsar, a Vatican to the Sikhs, before he dies. He has knocked at many doors, beseeched visiting SGPC and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) leaders, and fired many a missive to the Indian High Commission. But a visa for visiting East Punjab has remained elusive. Isher Singh hasn’t given up; in fact, there’s a new gleam in his sunken eyes these days. “I had approached your Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh when he came here. He has promised he will take up the matter with the Indian High Commission and with Indian Foreign Ministry,” Isher Singh sounds hopeful. Amarinder’s political secretary Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi confirmed that the CM is seized of the matter and will be taking it up with the External Affairs Ministry. Isher’s son Daya Singh is a granthi here, but is doing far more outside his evangelical domain. He helps run the government-registered Guru Nanak Public Model High School where, of the 600 students, 126 are Sikhs. If Isher is at times jealous of his son, it’s because Daya Singh has been to Punjab on the other side of the Radcliffe-scrawled line. “For decades, my father has served at Guru Nanak’s birthplace. But while I have had darshan of Golden Temple at Khalsa tercentenary, he has never been there in his life. Every Sikh prays every day for a darshan of Nankana Sahib, but my father prays for visiting Amritsar,” Daya Singh told this correspondent. It was difficult to walk the few yards on marble floor. The first week of February is very cold around here. But Isher Singh has not skipped a day in years to get up before the crack of dawn to sweep the parikarma barefoot. If the two school kids performing kirtan were totally out of tune with the music, that was understandable. Harbhajan Singh who doubles up as their Punjabi and music teacher, is not even a matriculate, and has not learnt music from anyone. “He could just read the gurmukhi script and play a few notes. Now he’s helping preserve the culture as best as he can,” Daya Singh said. For many years after Partition, the Nankana Sahib shrine remained neglected. But as Sikhs trickled in from Peshawar after the 1971 war, daily service started in earnest. Now, Nankana Sahib town ship had 46 families, every single one from Peshawar. Sikhs here have a strong grouse against the SGPC, and are happy that they now have control over offerings received at the shrine. Villages around the shrine present a picture of poverty – mud-houses dot the bumpy roads leading to the shrine. Not even 100 yards pass before a gaping pothole threatens to swallow the car. Fortunately, poverty ensures that the locals do not own many cars. “If the cash-rich SGPC, instead of hankering after shrine offerings, had opened a hospital or a school or pumped in some money to improve the lot of locals here, Muslims would have had more respect for Sikhs. What’s the point of saying that we want Sarbat da Bhala if we don’t set an example? Was it not the duty of the so-called leadership of Sikhs to ensure better upkeep of even the 100 yards of road leading to the gurdwara’s main gate?” asked an angry Peshawari Sikh. He said well-known litterateur Dr Tahir Mehmood travelled 100 km everyday for three months to learn gurmukhi script from the gurdwara granthi. “Now he is fit to be called a devotee of Guru Nanak,” he said. At the Master’s birth place, they understand his teachings better.