SHER SINGH (commonly known as Sheru) belonged to the Scheduled Caste community. He lived in our village in Lyallpur district, now in Pakistan. Tall, with a muscular body and an ever-smiling face, he had three sons and two daughters. His wife, a simple lady, did the sweeping work of a few farming families,while Sheru worked as a permanent farmhand on our farm. He was paid wages in kind. Since he was hardworking, honest and obedient, his wages were much higher than others. His only demand was good food in terms of quality and quantity. My mother ensured that he had no cause to complain on this score. Other farmers tried to wean him away by offering higher wages, but he invariably declined such offers humourously by saying: "Changing one’s master is like a woman changing her husband.
Baisakhi Day (13th
April) was an annual event in our village. A competition was organised
for harvesting of the wheat. Whosoever harvested the maximum area
during a fixed time, without any damage to the crop, was given the
first prize. Sheru had the distinction of winning this prize each
year. Whenever other villagers asked him the reason for his success,
he replied with a wink, saying that this was due to his strong
physique, which was a result of his being breast- fed by his mother
for five years.
Sheru had a limp in his left leg. As a child, I innocently asked him once the reason for this defect, he had narrated the story thus: "About ten years back, I became unconscious with very high fever. My family members took me as dead. The yamdoots lifted me and took me to Dharam Raj Ji, who was sitting on a beautiful throne. On seeing me, he thundered that it was a case of mistaken identity and they had brought Sher Singh, instead of Sher Deen. Immediately, the Yamdoots, in a fit of rage, threw me on the ground. When I regained my senses after recovery, I found that I had become slightly lame due to that fall and Sher Deen had really died."
After Partition in 1947, Sheru’s family also shifted alongwith us to a village in Amritsar district, His sons, after completing their education, were employed in government jobs. The eldest son, Bhajan Singh, who was elder to me by six years had an impressive personality. After completing his degree in civil engineering, he got the job of a subdivisional officer in the Public Works Department. Proposals for his marriage started pouring in. During those days around 1952, match-making was mostly done through mediators. A proposal from a well off family promised decent marriage and valuable gifts, including a beautiful mare. According to the mediator, the girl was a graduate and homely but her complexion was dark. Sheru declined the offer, saying that a beautiful mare carrying a charcoal bag would not be acceptable.
Bhajan Singh was ultimately married to
an educated girl with a fair complexion. During the due course of time,
Bhajan Singh got promoted as an executive engineer and was posted at
Jalandhar. He was blessed with a son. On hearing this good news, Sheru
wore a neat kurta pyajama and with a cloth bag in his hand rushed
to Jalandhar to share his happiness with the young couple. He went
directly to the office of Bhajan Singh and told the peon his name. The
peon went inside the cabin and informed Bhajan Singh about Sheru ‘s
arrival and gave his description. Without calling his father inside,
Bhajan Singh directed the peon to take him to his residence. Sheru was
very upset that his son, whom he had brought to the present position by
his sweat and blood, had chosen not to identify him before his
colleagues probably due to his dress. His thoughts were broken by sudden
voice of the peon. When the peon said: Baba Ji: Sahib told me
that you are from his village. What is your exact relationship with our Sahib?
Sheru replied in chaste Punjabi Main tere Sahib di maan da asli
pati haan. ( I am the real husband of your sahib’s mother.)