Sunday, 16 March 2014

Sikhism - An Oecumenical Religion (Preface)


          In one of his letters to me, Sirdar Kapur Singh had written: “Of late I have been seriously preparing my mind for my last exit, and there are things I want to talk to you about — intimate and domestic — and I want to bequeath my papers, notes and books to you, such as they are .... A little immovable, property that I have, I wish it to go to my only son...”

          Unfortunately I could not meet him during his last days. So his papers reached me a long time after his death. These include original manuscripts of several of his books. Eversince it has been the keen desire of those connected with the Sirdar to see them in a printed form. Interested public has every right to have access to this material. I am painfully aware that a delay of sorts has occurred for which I am also partly responsible. But it was not of negligence. I wanted them to be published by an institution matching the Sirdar’s status.
          The publication of Parasaraprasna by the Guru Nanak Dev University was somewhat disappointing. The Sirdar was quite dissatisfied with the delay caused and with the quality of the work turned out in the initial attempt. The decision to reprint the first seventy or so pages was long delayed. The University wanted him to authorize someone else to give the print orders. I was finally asked to do that on behalf of the author. That did not happen. The book which was already in the press, ended up acquiring a set of ‘editors’. Consequently alterations, sometimes touching on distortion, were introduced in the work. Howsoever beneficial the exercise might have been for the academic careers of the ‘editors’, it introduced errors which are not there in the original, author’s style stood dwarfed and the general quality of the work was impaired. Nobody was disturbed that it amounted to exploiting the author’s untimely death.
          My experience with an attempt to get the Me Judice published by one of our prestigious Universities was not different. It is primarily a collection of independent articles and was prepared initially for The Sikh Review by me after a hard work of two years. When it was realized that they would not be publishing it, a common friend persuaded me to entrust a copy of the manuscript to a professor. It was handed over in a ready to print form. Then things began to happen. Two professors collaborated to edit it further. They converted it into stuff required to justify the existence of incapable people. Had they only lent their names to it, the damage would not have been considerable, but they chose to mutilate the original and to also add some misleading footnotes. What was prepared as a single work with the author’s consent, was split up into several books. It was presumably done to swell the number of books edited by professors who find this kind of academic pursuit intellectually satisfying. One of the ‘editors’ later ridiculed me for not entering into a “legal agreement” — meaning thereby that there are no rules of ethics which bind our learned people who are attempting to shape the character of our young men and women. They have to be pinned down to documents typed neatly in triplicate.
          Thereafter I felt duty bound to seek preservation of the original character of the work even if it meant delaying the publication a bit.
          Sikhism : An Oecumenical Religion was prepared by the Sirdar himself for publication. The manuscript was prepared under his supervision. It required no editing and none has been done. Meticulous care has been taken to publish it in the exact form the author had intended it to be published.
          The last time I was asked by him to write a foreword to one of his books was when I was a student. I wrote exactly as I felt and it turned out to be in glowing terms. My friend and teacher mildly chided me for being too lavish in my praise of the Sirdar. Today I do not intend to eulogize him. I need not even be enthusiastic about the present work, because I know that the reader’s evaluation of it is bound to border on the ecstatic. A few paragraphs by way of making the reader familiar with his personality will, however, be in order.
          I had known Sirdar Kapur Singh since my student days. He was a complex multifaceted personality. He was a political rebel, a parliamentarian, a bureaucrat, a scholar, a mystic, and a poet rolled into one. During his lifetime he adorned many chairs of authority; he did justice and brought credit to them all. He was an ideal teacher, a peer of the most scholarly, a powerful writer and an effective speaker who held his audience spell-bound both inside as well as outside the legislature. He wrote equally effectively both in Punjabi and English; was equally expressive both in poetry as well as prose. On history, philosophy or the interpretation of scriptures, he always had something profound and worth saying. Originality characterized his speeches and writings. Everything he laid his hands on became an inspiration for all those around him. He was equally at home in several languages and was familiar with all the intricacies of Sanskrit, Pali, Persian and Arabic.
Everyone who came in contact with the author, knows that he was an extraordinary man in every way. His absolute commitment to Sikhism, which for him was Truth, is well known; so also is his passion for objectively interpreting it. How does one adequately describe a carefully penned work by such an author? It is a profound work by a fair man of high moral commitments, of unusually sharp sensitivities, of precise understanding and exact expression. If “learned” suffices, it is quite in order to tall it a learned thesis. To avoid being lavish in praise of the author and the book, I should write no more about one or the other. A reader who is interested in a work of this nature, is bound to be fascinated by it. On that confidence it may be launched.        
I thank all the learned members of The Institute of Sikh Studies who took pains to see this book through the press. They have spared themselves no effort and have been generous with their time. I thank the Institute for publishing it.
Above all I am thankful to the Guru who has provided me the opportunity of discharging my debt to the late Sirdar Kapur Singh. I am happy that thousands of his admirers will discover yet another reason to cherish his memory. With their good wishes, it may be possible to provide them with few other such reasons in the near future. Until that can be done, I crave their indulgence.

                                                                                                                          Gurtej Singh                                                                                                                          Professor of Sikhism 

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