Kartar Singh

Gursharn Singh Randhawa

      I receive a letter from the Director of an institute in Lucknow to attend an official meeting. I become emotional on receiving this letter. I do not know this Director and the official meeting to which I am invited is also of a routine nature. Then why have I become emotional? The reason is that the name of the Director is Kartar Singh. Kartar Singh was the name of my maternal grandfather.

      My maternal grandfather Kartar Singh was one of those farmers who, in 1960's, played a leading role in making green revolution possible in our country. He resigned his government job as a Naib-Tehsildar to become a full-time farmer. Farming became his profession, hobby and religion. Whenever a new crop variety was released, he would reach the agricultural university to get its seed. He would read the latest literature on agriculture and never miss a radio programme on farming. In the work related to agriculture, he would treat sons and son-in-laws, and daughters and daughter-in-laws equally. He would start his work at 3.00 a.m. and go to sleep around 10.00 p.m. His brief sleep was also not sound as he maintained alertness for robbers and thieves on the prowl. He rarely went out of village so that he could devote more and more time to his agricultural work. Throughout life, right to the age of 85, he worked very hard. He was always working. I do not recall any moment when I saw him gossiping. He ate ordinary food and wore simple clothes. I wished on many occasions that he should be honoured by the government and the people of the country. He indeed came into news after his death - unfortunately in a different context.

      When his daughters were married and his sons migrated to a foreign soil, and later, his wife died after a prolonged battle with cancer, he insisted to continue farming alone. He did so for about a decade. Then during the dark days of Punjab, one night, some petty thieves killed him by strangulating. Next day, the neighbours found his dead body. Thinking it to be a militancy related incident, they reported it to the police. And from the police the national newspapers picked up the story and published the news of his death on their front pages.

      On the day of the meeting, when I met the Director, I found no physical resemblance to my grandfather - no turban, no beard. On seeing this clean-shaven Hindu person, all my emotions evaporated.

      The meeting was over and we went for the official lunch. During the lunch period, I went near the Director for a little formal talk. I could not stop myself from mentioning that Kartar Singh was the name of my maternal grandfather. This sentence had a miraculous effect on him. He asked me to come to one side and said "I will tell you something very special. In 1947 my parents came from Pakistan as refugees. They were given a piece of land near Bhiwani to resettle. One day my father met an old Sardarji on the road. He also came as a refugee. All his family members were murdered in Pakistan. He was all alone and had no place. My father asked him if he would come and live with us as our family member. That old man agreed and started living in our house. Next year I was born. That old man took care of me when I was very young. Most of the time of my initial life was spent with this old Sardarji and he even gave me my name Kartar Singh. He died when I was about 7 years old. Now whenever I see a Sardarji with a long beard, I remember that old Sardarji. So today when I saw you, I was remembering that old man.

      In those moments the second Kartar Singh also became important for me. I started thinking that the world needs more such Kartar Singhs, those of the first kind for feeding the hungry people and those of the second kind for maintaining communal harmony.

      (The author is a Professor in the Department of Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, Uttarakhand, India; E.mail : SHARNFBS@IITR.ERNET.IN)