Sikhism Sikhs Unlimited


1947-2014 (Archived)
Sikhs Unlimited: A Book Review by MANJYOT KAUR

SIKHS UNLIMITED, by Khushwant Singh. Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2007. ISBN-13: 978-81-291-1207-1. ix+211 pages. Price: Rs. 495.

Since the very beginning of the twentieth century, Sikhs have been successfully carving out their own exclusive niches in the West, excelling in many spheres of endeavor. This book, subtitled "A travelogue from Delhi to Los Angeles via London", gives fourteen such stories of notable achievement, showcasing Sikhs in Britain and the United States.

Its author, Chandigarh-based journalist Khushwant Singh, was a freelancer for the Tribune before joining the Times of India in 2002. He is also a regular columnist for . Besides his career as a writer, he manages his ancestral farm in Hoshiarpur, Punjab.

Speaking of - which previously published an article ("On the Global Sikh Trail") heralding the imminent arrival of this work - fully half of the chapters of Sikhs Unlimited highlight people who have already been featured on this website's "pages", some in excerpts taken from the book itself. These are: the artists known as "The Singh Twins"; the chef, Tony Singh; Fauja Singh, the nonagenarian marathoner; Ranbir Kaur, the young soldier; the guitarist "Hargo" (Hargobind Hari Singh); Gurinder Kaur Chadha, the filmmaker; and the businessman, Gurujot Singh Khalsa.

Of course, the successes enjoyed by the remaining seven individuals are no less noteworthy.

One of these is the British-born comedian, Sody Singh Kahlon, founder of "The Funjabis", who is not only "an icon of the British Sikh comedy industry", but of mainstream comedy in the U.K., as well. His adroit use of humor to teach serious messages about Sikhi and Sikh heritage to young people in the Diaspora is nowhere as evident as in his present act, "Soul Sikher", which revolves around "Paul, a.k.a. (Asianly Known As) Palwinder", a young Sikh totally immersed in British city life, until he gets a "reluctant re-acquaintance with his roots", via a one-way ticket to Punjab.

Next comes "the Godfather of Pop Bhangra Music", the fifty-something singer Harcharanjit ("Channi") Singh. Born near Malerkotla, he immigrated to England in 1976. Boosted by his leadership of the live band, "Alaap", his blockbuster career forever changed the face of Punjabi music in the British Diaspora. Not only is his own music-making far from over, his daughter is now following in his footsteps as a successful musician, as well.

"If there was no Harbhajan Singh Samra", this book's author confidently claims, "America would never have tasted bhindi". So are we introduced to the "Okra King", a savvy agricultural marketer who has created a unique niche as the largest seller of traditional Indian fruits and vegetables in the U.S. Jalandhar-born, he arrived in California in 1985, after a career as a practicing agronomist in India. Specializing in chilies, mangoes, and gourds such as the karela and tinda, his company's turnover has been estimated by The New York Times at over $10 million.

The first Indian cardiologist in America to hold a U.S. patent (he now owns twenty-four of them), Dr. Harvinder Singh Sahota is the inventor of the "Perfusion Balloon", an innovative device used in angioplasty surgeries worldwide. A sickly, fragile child who more than amply fulfilled his father's gratitude-fueled wish that he become a life-saving doctor, he migrated to England in 1965, and has enjoyed a highly lucrative practice in the U.S. since 1974.

As founder of a multi-million dollar polymer firm, Bikaner-born Ratanjit Singh Sondhe, in the U.S. since 1968, is a consummate master in successfully fusing Sikh tenets with modern corporate thinking. With his trademark humility and devotion to quality, he sees himself as "a manager of the resources of the divine", adding, "Excellence is the mission at POLY-CARB, because when you are serving the divine, how can you be mediocre?"

Chirinjeev Singh Kathuria, chairman of PlanetSpace, came to the U.S. as an infant in 1967. As leader of a company worth more than $340 million, his ambitious goal is nothing less than "space tourism" - fifteen-minute sub-orbital space flights, available to the "general public" (for a cool half-million dollar fee!) by 2009. His secret of success comes from Alexander the Great: "He conquered the world by not delaying".

Last, but by no means least, is Gurutej Singh Khalsa, who converted to Sikhism after entering the fold of Harbhajan Singh Yogi in 1969. As a law-enforcement agent with the New Mexico State Police, he was kicked off the force in 1979 because of his refusal to shave his beard and remove his turban. Crediting "Yogi Bhajan" for his support and inspiration, Gurutej responded by founding Akal Security, now one of America's largest private security providers. Headquartered in the Espanola, N.M.-based Sikh Dharma complex, his firm is contracted to protect a number of critical national defense and intelligence facilities, as well as a major U.S. airport.
In addition to an Introduction and an attractive central section of color photographs, this work contains a helpful Glossary, as well as an Index. It is interesting to note that a CD album by "Hargo", In Your Eyes , is also enclosed (in a plastic sleeve attached to the book's inside back cover).

It would surely be well-nigh impossible to disagree with Khushwant Singh's assessment of the fifteen Sikh men and women he has chosen to grace the pages of this book. They are indeed highly successful and inspiring individuals. Moreover, as the author says in his Introduction, there are many other luminaries living in the Diaspora; some of the major ones were deliberately left out of this work, in order to highlight the achievements of those who may be lesser known.

Given what he has done here with those in the American and British Sikh communities, it may be an opportune time for him to write a similar work on Sikh-Canadians. And why stop there? Further books on "leading lights" of Southeast Asia, East Africa and Oceania would also be welcome additions.

The author's informal writing style is well-suited to the anecdotal nature of this book's subject matter. Many readers, especially the young audience specifically targeted in the Introduction, will find it quite appealing.

(Nevertheless, more accurate proofreading and closer editorial attention to grammar and syntax would have been of great benefit.) However, it does, in my view, "cross the line" at times, either taking its typically hard-edged irony to the brink of offensiveness, or indulging in what might be considered excessive hyperbole.

For instance, a happily-married man (in this case, chef Tony Singh) hardly deserves to be qualified, even if only in jest, as a "damn hen-pecked joru ka ghulam (slave to his wife)", just because he wants to skip a day of interviewing to privately celebrate his wedding anniversary. And, while "Hargo", a twenty-year-old rock guitarist, is undoubtedly a talented young musician of enormous promise, a comparison to Mardana, Guru Nanak's minstrel companion, would perhaps be an overstatement.

These caveats aside, if you are looking for a "feel-good" book that is full of chatty enthusiasm and chardi kalaa, you will find Sikhs Unlimited to be a very enjoyable and satisfying read.

[This book can be obtained at: Sikh Merchandise Store - Sikhs Unlimited: A Travelogue from Delhi to Los Angeles Via London]



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