Memories And Beginnings:
Tales of Growing up in Haripur before the Partician
by Dr. Bhai HARBANS LAL
I am writing a book about my life in India before the Partician in 1947. I will post chapters and materials as they are written.
Below is the introduction. More will come soon.
I’m sad to say that I over my long life, I have seen many friends and colleagues pass away and continue the timeless journey of their souls, as we Sikhs term death.
Often, the same question haunts the survivors: why didn’t the departed write down their story’s and the events that they witnessed and participated in?
Those events inevitably shaped us into what we are today. Our history molds who we are, and what our future will be. It is this to our collective benefit to know the events from the past, for they significantly define our actions today.
My community has not cultivated the habit of creating annals of history, preserving archives or establishing other depositories. The lessons of the past several decades are not available for transmission to succeeding generations, making us vulnerable to repeat mistakes, as well as open to manipulation from outsiders.
Presently, heresy and false stories are determining our national behavior, and sometimes our belief systems. This behaviour is often a reaction to the deliberate and massive mayhem created by politicians and clergy, both our own and others. They may be aided by ignorant, shortsighted or misguided zealots, or more recently by extremists or terrorists with vested interests controlled by our detractors.
Many of these parties can get away with murder just by maintaining a facade of piety; with their messages assaulting tradition and wisdom.
Sikh history has been a turbulent one since its beginning, and the last decades have been no exception. We have experienced many distortions through British colonialism, the Partition of Sikh homelands along arbitrary borders, loss of sacred shrines and properties, and the “onslaught of boa constrictors” as the historian and statesman Max Arthur Macauliffe labelled movements such as the Arya Smajists or other neo-Pan-Hinduism frolics.
Newer episodes like the exodus from Pakistan and the pogroms of 1984, have challenged us to grapple with new realities and to adapt to the secularization of our political representation.
The rise of the Singh Sabha movement, management of Sikh resources and religious doctrine by institutions built upon an ever-shifting adult franchise, the rise and fall of movements such as the All India Sikh Students’ Federation, and the ever-growing Sikh diaspora – all of these and other similar developments were accompanied by stress and growing pains that are irreversibly changing the face of our nation.
Much of the history I have highlighted forms a wealth of learning that is imperative for future evolution. However, there is a real possibility that the stresses of time might succeed in stealing our heritage, and that national memory will only reflect the more recent decades.
It is for these reasons that I urge my former and present colleagues to write down their rich memories and the stories of their times. They in turn ask me to do the same. It is my promise to them that I would do so before it is too late.
In this way, we will preserve Sikh history as we witnessed it.
My contemporaries in their younger years experienced the spirit that all Sikhs – sehajdhari, khande-de-pahul-dhari, and even those at the fringes of Sikh society, were on the same team and shared similar values inherited from their ancestors. It was the period when discussions and desires to do something for the future of the Sikh Panth, and the mission of our Gurus, guided our perceptions and commitments.
When recorded collectively, it forms the tale of Sikh activities that shaped Sikh history. Many have observed important happenings as they were taking place.
I humbly suggest we tell our tales as we remember the events … without discriminating between what we think is important or earth-shaking, or not …. “Frequently Asked Questions” too could form the chapters of our memoirs.
I also suggest that my colleagues and I take nostalgic walks down memory lane, starting with bed-time stories we heard from our elders, followed by our life in school, through weddings and all the usual comings and goings of life, to the political upheavals that dot the landscape around us, and continuing into the recent past, ending with the periods of our senility that many of us are rapidly slipping into.
As we record our memories, the landscape will offer varying views: the ups and downs of the community; or the bold and bright leader-actors that have dazzled the scene. Our memories may describe triumphs and achievements, tinged with moments of failures and disappointments.
This is a humble appeal that our past and present activists must heed.
Let me now start from my childhood as I remember it. The following chapters are my attempt towards this direction. They are snapshots from my childhood through to High School Graduation. Hopefully I will write another volume on my days in post-partition India. My time in USA (which began in 1956) constitutes a major part of my life and has been described and written about already by many others.
I hope the reader will take this book in this light. It is specifically not my biography. It is a humble collection of stories and recollections from the time when I was young.
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Please send all communications to
Harbans Lal, PhD; D.Litt (hons)
Emeritus Professor and Chairman, Dept of Pharmacology & Neuroscience, University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Emeritus Professor, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India.
President, Academy of Guru Granth Studies.