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Price & Value: A Tale Of Two Cities


Sep 24, 2004
PRICE & VALUE: A Tale of Two Cities
by I.J. Singh

Let me borrow the subtitle from Charles Dickens. But mine is a tale of two very different cities, worlds apart in miles and meaning.

I offer you two factoids and then we’ll dissect them.

What we now celebrate as New York City - The Big Apple (this playful name was coined by Jazz musicians) was once known as the New Netherlands, and the Director-General of this colony, administered by the Dutch, was a Walloon, Peter Minuit.

On May 24, 1626, Peter Minuit bought Manhattan Island from the locals (Native Americans) for some cloth, beads, hatchets, and other odds and ends then worth about 60 Dutch guilders. According to the best estimates, 60 guilders would buy about a pound and a half of silver in 1626. The market price of silver then was about $4 per troy ounce, and 12 troy ounces made a pound. Hence the popular and well worn idea that the early settlers, in what is now New York City, bought the island of Manhattan from Native Americans for $24 and some trinkets.

What a bargain! Now, almost 400 years later, one couldn’t rent a square foot in Manhattan; much less buy it, for that sum. No wonder Dutch traders have such a well deserved and justified reputation as canny businessmen and bargainers.

For many of us who live or work in it, there is no life outside of New York City and Manhattan; all else is mere existence -- often in the boondocks. Nothing ever captured that idea better than the March 29, 1976 cover of The New Yorker that highlighted a cartoon by Saul Steinberg; over half of his sketch focused on the majestic avenues of Manhattan, with progressively lesser space, as one moved further west from the Hudson river, with the rest of the country beyond New Jersey disappearing into the sunset of almost nothingness.

Surely, I am not the first to think so, but I have often felt that if this world were to ever truly evolve into a single united entity, it could have no other capital than Manhattan. In fact, that’s how it is already even though we enjoy a fragmented existence. Manhattan is the epicenter of the world, its focal point, and there can be no other.

That’s exactly why the attackers on 9/11 zoomed in on Manhattan and its most visible marker, the World Trade Center, even though Chicago and Boston, too, have many tall buildings. Life often speaks through symbols. And nothing is more symbolic of American might and its preeminence in the world than Manhattan.

The attack brought home to us Manhattan’s price and its value. The price was roughly $24.00 at one time, it is now surely in billions or trillions; it can be paid and has been paid many times over. Its symbolic value measured in history and in the thousands of people killed in the attack on 9/11 continues to haunt us.

This brings me to another town, the second factoid – its price tag and its value then and now.

Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru of the Sikhs, like many earlier Gurus, particularly the founder of the faith, Guru Nanak, was an inveterate traveler. The purpose always was to spread the message of Guru Nanak across the land and knit the many small and scattered Sikh communities into a whole that was greater than the sum of the parts -- sort of a nation without borders.

On one of his travels, the Dowager Rani Champa of Bilaspur wanted to give Guru Tegh Bahadur a tract of land. He didn’t want it as a gift so he opted to buy it for, what was in those days, the princely sum of 500 Rupees. This happened sometime in Mid-May of 1665, only about 40 years after Peter Minuit bought Manhattan for 24 dollars and change. What was a Rupee worth in the 17th century I don’t know. Today, Rupees 500 would translate to the round figure of 10 or 12 American dollars.

The Guru created a township that he dubbed Chukk Nanki, after his mother. In the time of his son, Guru Gobind Singh, it became Anandpur, and that’s how we know it now.

The name tells us something. A literal rendering would point to anand meaning bliss and pur standing for town; Anandpur then is the town or city of bliss. Much Sikh history is centered there, a lot of it hair-raising and blood curdling.

Chukk Nanki was where the Brahmins from Kashmir came to seek the Guru’s intercession because they would be sentenced to death if they did not convert to Islam. Guru Tegh Bahadur took on the challenge and a martyr’s death rather than accept Islam. His was the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of human rights, for freedom of religion for the Hindus, even though the Guru was certainly not one himself.

This is where Guru Gobind Singh received his father’s severed head and cremated it. It was after a battle in which Guru Gobind Singh routed the Hindu Hill Rajas that he renamed the city “Anandpur” and built a ring of forts around it.

It was at Anandpur that Guru Gobind Singh staged the Vaisakhi of 1699. This is where the institution of the Punj Piyaray started, where the last vestiges of the caste system were destroyed, and where he created the institution of the Khalsa. It was from this beginning that a new nation was built with institutions that promised participatory self-governance, accountability and transparency. (One could argue that in practical terms these ideals lie in tatters today.)

Becoming increasingly suspicious of the growing might and independence of Sikhs, the Hindu Hill Rajas along with the Mughal Islamic government laid a prolonged siege of Anandpur in May 1705. Guru Gobind Singh and his family with a few followers abandoned the fort on the night of December 5, 1705.

Even today, over 300 years after the Vaisakhi of 1699 that created the Khalsa, when Sikhs become amritdhari by initiation into this discipline, they intone a simple formula to discard the baggage of caste, family, lineage and connections as well as riches and material success, thus forging a unified and unique identity. Each amritdhari avows Mata Sahib Devan as the mother, Guru Gobind Singh as the father and Anandpur as the novitiate’s place of birth. Thus for a people is a new identity forged not from common blood lines but from common purpose.

Kesgarh, a fort of the Anandpur complex, stands today as one of the five takhts or seats of authority for Sikhs worldwide.

Obviously these are not matters for literal translation; that would make no sense. Keep in mind that the heaviest, most significant truths are often symbolically addressed. As examples, I offer you the flag of a nation, the wedding ring for most people, and the articles of faith that define a Sikh. Similar examples abound in all cultures and nations throughout human history. Only symbolic reality you might counter but good people will live and die for them.

It might take a talented economist to figure out if the prices paid for Manhattan and Anandpur were fair or comparable; the values are surely mind-blowing, and as different as apples and oranges.

Manhattan is and would likely remain the capital of the world.

Would you say that Anandpur speaks to a revolution of the mind in a people, the transformation of a society, the building of a community and a nation, indeed of a message that is unique, timeless and universal – one that resonates with millions today as it did to the countless who dared to walk the path of Sikhi over 300 years ago.

In fact, the town’s name has taken on a respectful honorific added to its name by the people; everyone now calls it Anandpur Sahib. The Big Apple of Sikh reality, is it?

Many readers would look askance at my exploring parallels between the mega-polis that is Manhattan and the sleepy village of Anandpur; they might prefer the history, gold and glitter of Amritsar that has seized our imagination to fill that spot. But I am really caught up in the disparity between price and value.

So, I leave you one related issue to explore that I have barely skirted around. For most of us, the story of Manhattan starts with Peter Minuit and the Dutch and continues unabated to today and into the foreseeable future. The glory of Anandpur speaks to us from a distant, hoary past and the time of Guru Gobind Singh, and now the saga has become a faint echo of what it once was. What would or could its future be?

If New York is the center of world trade today, is Anandpur at the center of a Sikh’s sense of self and not just a minor stopping place on the way to somewhere? Has it dwindled to merely a place of pilgrimage when such an idea runs counter to Sikh teaching?

In taking the measure of a life net worth and self worth are two very different ideas and not at all interchangeable. Value and price, too, are not the same. Everything in life has a price and, if we are lucky, even some value.

As a wag noted, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Yet, there are some people who, as Oscar Wilde reputedly said, know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

But what makes a good bargain, good value for the price and how do you find the good trade? Guru Granth offers some counsel:

“Pahilā vasaṯ siñāṇ kai ṯāʼn kīcẖai vāpār” asks us to first examine the merchandise and only then make the deal (Guru Granth, Page 1410). And then it speaks of such traders as those that trade in Truth, gather in Truth, and deal only in Truth (Guru Granth, Page 115) -- “Sacẖ vaṇaʼnjahi sacẖ sangẖrahi sacẖ vāpār karāvaṇi▫ā.”

To a Sikh this remains the legacy of Anandpur Sahib.

I.J. Singh

December 20, 2011


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Tejwant Singh

Jun 30, 2004
Henderson, NV.
Inder Ji,

Guru Fateh.

Thank you for painting the skyline of Anandpur with the easel of Sikhi which is covered with the globs of all imaginable colours that turn it into an eternal rainbow, not in some distant horizons but in each and every heart of a Sikh.

Thank you for reminding us the importance of this beautiful City bought for 500.00 rupees by Guru Teg Bahadur who gave his life for the sake of freedom and liberty for all.

In fact by doing this he wrote the blue print to the Bill of Rights more than a century before it was written, not far from Manhattan in 1789, in Philadelphia.

The value paid for Anandpur is priceless for every Sikh, rather it is much more than all the currencies put together along with the guilders spent on buying Manhattan by Peter Minuit to put the final price on it today. It will never be as dearer.

Thank you for showing us the significance of the Nishaan Sahib stirring the clouds of this wonderful City in the foothills where Guru Gobind Singh invited people from all hues, creeds and faiths and encouraged them to shed off their caste, class, heritage and become Khalsa- the pure hearted, hence, he put the final stamp on the real Bill of Rights on the day of Vaisakhi in 1699.

Thomas Jefferson was right when he said on December 20, 1787, "[A] bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse."

Thomas Jefferson just said it but Guru Gobind Singh ji shaped it and engraved it in the psyche of every Sikh.

Thanks once again for this great reminder which is often lost in the mechanical rituals of the pilgrimages, just the thing Guru Nanak founded Sikhi for us to get rid of.


Tejwant Singh



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