A Gift

Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004

T Sher Singh ji says what i meant to say but couldnt !!

Jarnail Singh. Read ON.....

The Gift


The best gifts come unexpected and unasked. More often than not, they are also undeserved. Which makes them all the sweeter.
I've had more than my fair share of them.

They come in all shapes and guises. And, like the latest one, from completely unforeseen quarters.

I live far from the madding crowd, in a small university town in Canada, about an hour from the metropolis of downtown Toronto.

I heard the other day that, out of the blue, a man I have long admired for his spirituality and intellectual discourse has moved from Punjab, crossed the proverbial Seven Seas, and plunked himself down in a quiet rural community, barely thirty minutes' drive from where I am. It is now his home!

The people we meet over the course of a lifetime who we really admire, and learn from, and try to emulate, are never more than a handful. I can count on my fingers, those who are living and still uppermost in my consciousness, and I find I have a few digits yet to spare.

Such individuals serve as milestones in our lives: they help give us our bearings, whenever we need them. And, at any moment in time, they help us figure out where we are, and how far it is to where we are heading.

The personage I write about today, popularly known as Professor Darshan Singh, is one of them. He is a raagi. And he is the former Jathedar of the Akal Takht.

Now, I want to make something perfectly clear: I don't get enamoured by raagis easily. I have my favourites whose work I gravitate to when the spirit moves me : Bhai Surjan Singh, Bhai Mohan Singh (of Bombay), Bhai Gopal Singh, Bhai Avtar Singh ... all, alas, have moved on. But, though I enjoy their kirtan immensely, I still do not put any of them in the same category as this wonderful man.

And, I am not a big fan of the jathedar types either. Though their position deserves much respect, not many who fill the shoes today, however, have done much to earn it.

"Professor"? I don't know why a raagi would call himself "Prof." Maybe he taught music at one point. But I've never felt it important enough to seek an answer. And I like it. It automatically obviates any room to allow anyone to append a pretentious Sant or Baba to the name. Or the fatuous stutter of a "Sri Sri Sri ..."

I learnt a long time ago that anyone who introduces himself as "I am Mr. ..." is a bit of an idiot. The same principle applies to those who add pious titles to themselves - or allow others to use them - though I try not to be as harsh with ostentations in the realm of piety. I merely don't take them seriously.

But Prof. Darshan Singh is different.

Those of us who have heard him doing kirtan and katha, either in the local gurdwara, or on a CD or DVD, know how addictive his discourse is.

However, when I found out that he now does it live every Friday and Saturday, what choice did I have?

Last weekend, I made a beeline eastbound on the 401. Before I hit Toronto's western suburb of Mississauga, I veer north on Winston Churchill Boulevard. Before it takes me deep through the dale and vale of Halton Hills, I jog right and then left, and I find myself on the picturesque Mississauga Road.

Signs of man-made busy-ness begin to appear, as do silhouettes of high-rise apartment buildings and industrial complexes in the distance. Mercifully, before I hit Brampton, I arrive at my destination: 10185 Mississauga Road.

It's a huge house, much of it still under construction. A residence upstairs, it appears. And a small hall downstairs.
This is the home of Prof. Darshan Singh.

But while others at his time of life retire, he has started a new career: the Guru Granth Sahib Academy. This is where he holds classes on the interpretation of the bani, through live sessions and via the internet.

The institution he has founded is a peaceful extension of the countryside I've just left behind.

It's Saturday. So, as promised, sharp at noon, the raagis, led by Prof. Darshan Singh, take their seats on the podium.

The musical instruments are basic and utilitarian: an electronic keyboard, a harmonium and a pair of tablas. From the moment we hear Prof. Darshan Singh's voice, the beat and the melody become one with it and recede into our subconsciousness.

Those of us who have heard him before know the routine: he begins with a shabad from Gurbani. He sings the verse, one syllable at a time, line by line, beginning to end. But, slowly, gentle as a brook...

He goes back and forth, syllable by syllable, phrase by phrase, rocking us soothingly with the sheer musicality of the composition.

And then, the repeated enunciations of the words suddenly begin to unfold the petals of the mind, and meaning starts to surface.

It surprises me totally. All at once, I notice that the word and phrase I've been enjoying in song has begun to reveal a core. It's the pleasure of discovering that a thing of beauty is also delicious ... and has aroma ... It's a word I recognize, I say to myself. Didn't know it was the same word. Or a derivation of a word I already knew.

The singer knows he has connected with each one of us, because he lingers on the phrase, and flits back and forth to it, until he is satisfied, it seems, that we've got it.

Several dozen of us are in the large hall, but each is engrossed in this very personal dialogue.

Once he is convinced that we understand, he moves on to the next, and then the next ...

New words and phrases appear in the vocabulary. And then, permutations and combinations of the same. He dips into other parts of the bani to bring fresh perspectives. It's like circling a sculpture, and discovering a different piece at every step.

Having played with the words until the entire verse has been opened up thus, then the voice turns to interpreting it.

I won't waste your time in trying to capture the moments that follow. Like all good things in life, they cannot be conveyed ... they need to be experienced personally.

But, I can say unabashedly that it is life-transforming. I am a wordsmith by profession, and I don't use this term lightly.

He bares Sikhi before my very eyes, in its starkest simplicity. All difficult questions sitting on my mind slowly turn into easy ones, then simply dissolve into gossamer. I gradually become aware that I've known the answer all along: all I needed to do was to open my heart to it.

He re-introduces me to the source of Sikhi - the total joy and fun of being alive. He takes away all the seriousness that burdens religion - all religion - and leaves me with the quintessence. Really, who needs more?

Sitting there, my thoughts turn to the early 4.00 a.m. walks I sometimes take in my own neighbourhood, when I've been writing through the night and need some fresh air and a coffee. Every time I do it, the experience consumes me so totally, and I wonder why on earth I don't do it every day. And I promise myself that I will ...

I've done this drive to Mississauga Road a few times now. Like the pre-dawn stroll at home, the discourse, too, lasts an hour. Each time, I emerge renewed, effused with clarity. Young. Proud. Humble. Ready ...

What a gift. :ice::ice:

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