By Dr. Harbans Lal
This is a true story of a young Sikh shopkeeper who lived by the Sikhi values of honesty in trade in spite of opportunities to be otherwise. I may not remember his exact name, but I think he was known as Mohr Singh. I knew him before the partition of India in 1947.
Mohr ran his father’s grocery store in the main bazar of Haripur Hazara.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh had wished to honor his prized General and Commander-in-Chief, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa for his accomplishments. He searched for a town to be named after Hari Singh. As a result, he designated an area around the Fort of Hari Singh and gave it the name of ‘Haripur’ in 1822.
Since then, Haripur has developed into a bustling town that also played a unique role in Sikh, Punjab and the sub-continent’s history in many ways. The town is located in the North West region of Pakistan only a few miles from the famous Gurduara Sri Panja Sahib. I was born there and finished my high school there. This story is from my high school days before Indian sub-continent was partitioned. It is a story of a grocery store.
In the local lingo the grocery store was known as Mohr-di-Hati or sometime it was known as ‘pansaari di dukaan‘.
Mohr was a humble and lovable person who wore a maroon turban and was always found softly murmuring something that was not intelligible to others. He was actually reciting gurbani, hymns from the Guru Granth.
He belonged to one of those Potohari Sehajdhari Sikh families whose first-born son invariably became khande-di-pahul-dhari Sikh. Mohr was the eldest son in his family.
He was an interesting fellow and I often visited his shop to engage in conversation with him. One of those discussions, I recall, was about the stones or rocks he used as weights for the store’s scales.
Let me explain.
In the days of my childhood, it was customary in our town for a shop keeper to sell grains, pulses, fruits, flour, etc. by weight. The goods were sold for ‘x’ annas (currency coins) per ‘ser‘ (a weight measure, close to a kg) … just as we buy things in the States at so many dollars for pound, for example. A crude, rusty set of scales – known as a ‘tarakarhi or tarazu‘ – consisting of two pans suspended by strings, each from an opposing end of a wooden crossbar, served as a weighing appliance.
Mohr, like all who were in similar trade, plied the scales by holding it with one hand from a grip suspending the bar from its mid-point. The goods being weighed would be placed in one pan; the opposing pan would be loaded with rocks of appropriate sizes. When the bar achieved a horizontal position, it indicated desired quantity of the goods being sold.
It may be of interest to the readers that Guru Nanak also used similar weighing scale and stone weights while employed in a local store. The weighing stones Guru Nanak used are preserved and presently exhibited behind a glass with reverence at the main entrance of Gurdwara Hatt (‘Shop’) Sahib located in Sultanpur Lodhi in India.
The metal weights with printed digits and letters to indicate their correct measure were available for purchase, but Mohr did not earn enough to spare money to buy such necessities. So he managed with stone weights of unverified values as getting the weights verified would also cost a fee of the evaluating agency. And all the while, he would continue the muted murmuring that emanated from his lips.
To any bystander today, Mohr’s weights would automatically appear as tools for easy cheating; the contrived ‘weights’ could not be verified for accuracy. All of us know stories of such cheating.
Mohr was far from having any plans for his weights checked by any worldly authority or apply any other measure of demonstrable honesty.
But his integrity was never in question as it was guaranteed by his Sikhi values. When asked about it, he would exhibit great confidence and consider the situation not at all unusual or alarming. He had implicit and explicit faith that his Guru would never let the cheating happen.
A verse from the hymns of Guru Nanak that he murmured while weighing the goods was his certification of honesty.
ਹਕੁ ਪਰਾਇਆ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਉਸੁ ਸੂਅਰ ਉਸੁ ਗਾਇ ॥ ਗੁਰੁ ਪੀਰੁ ਹਾਮਾ ਤਾ ਭਰੇ ਜਾ ਮੁਰਦਾਰੁ ਨ ਖਾਇ ॥
ਗਲੀ ਭਿਸਤਿ ਨ ਜਾਈਐ ਛੁਟੈ ਸਚੁ ਕਮਾਇ ॥ਮਾਰਣ ਪਾਹਿ ਹਰਾਮ ਮਹਿ ਹੋਇ ਹਲਾਲੁ ਨ ਜਾਇ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਗਲੀ ਕੂੜੀਈ ਕੂੜੋ ਪਲੈ ਪਾਇ ॥੨॥
“To take what rightfully belongs to another, is like a Muslim or a Jew eating pork, or a Hindu eating beef, both of them forbidden in their respective religions. The Guru stands by only those
who eat not the carcass of deceit. By mere talk, no one earns passage to Heaven.
Salvation comes only from the practice of Truth. By mere adding spices to forbidden foods,
they cannot be made acceptable. Says Nanak: from deceitful ways only falsehood is gained.”
[Guru Nanak, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 141]
Whenever I recall talking to Mohr about it, it became increasingly clear to me: when Mohr used the weighing rocks and continued to murmur Gurbani silently, it provided him with an opportunity to examine and exercise what Guru Nanak had taught him. His value system would never permit him to be deceitful. Further, his honesty earned him the confidence of his neighbors and thus increased his customer base. At the same time, he added to his neighbors’ faith in his religion or the teachings of Guru Nanak.
What a value to live by and what a winning Sikh enterprise. For Mohr, the rocks had become the means by which the Guru talked to him as a Sikh. The same rocks were also means of disseminating Guru Nanak’s message among his customers.
Mohr practiced Sikhi while living the life of an average store keeper, and used every opportunity to connect with the Creator. This was his form of Nam-Simran or Sikh meditation, and he was a true practitioner of Sikhi values.
ਪਹਿਲਾ ਸਚੁ ਹਲਾਲ ਦੁਇ ਤੀਜਾ ਖੈਰ ਖੁਦਾਇ ॥
Let the first be Truthfulness, the second Honest Living, and the third Pursuits of Wellness for God’s Creations.[Guru Nanak, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 141]
Update originally published as:
The True Measure of Mohar Singh. SikhChic.com. http://sikhchic.com/people/mohar_singhs_true_measure
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Harbans Lal, PhD; D.Litt (hons)
Emeritus Professor and Chairman, Dept of Pharmacology & Neuroscience, University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Emeritus, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India.
President, Academy of Guru Granth Studies.
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