The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 29, 2001

Sheru’s humour
M.S. Aulakh

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.


On one of the annual Shivratri fairs, on the bank of Gogera Branch Canal near our village, a child fell into canal water. There was a lot of hue and cry and pleas for rescuing him. After a while, Sheru came out of the canal along with the child on his shoulders. Those present started showering praise on him for this daring act. The parents of the child thanked him profusely. Sheru in his usual, witty tone asked the crowd, in a loud voice, "Who pushed me into the canal?"

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.)