Saturday, September 7, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

No one will go hungry
Khushwant Singh

Sant Tarlochan Singh on his mission to feed the hungry
Sant Tarlochan Singh on his mission to feed the hungry

SOME months ago Parveen Talha, the senior-most Muslim woman in the IAS and the big boss of Customs and Excise posted in Aurangabad, told me of a strange experience. She said, "You know for some months every train at every stop on the way to Nanded (Maharashtra) has young sardars entering all compartments to serve daal and roti to passengers free of charge. The daal is delicious. Who are these people?" I did not know but I told her that Nanded was one of the five takhts (thrones) of the Khalsa Panth; it has a huge gurdwara commemorating the assassination of their last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, in 1708. I was intrigued and also happy that I belonged to the community of daal-roti servers.

A couple of weeks ago, Mrs Charanjit Singh, who lives in New Friends Colony, told me: "Every morning I go to my office in Le Meridien (she is chairman of the hotel), my car is held up near the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya because of a mob of hungry beggars milling round trucks loaded with daal-roti and rice which is distributed to them by a few young sardars. I donít know who they are but I know most of the crowd consists of local Muslims or Bangladeshis." I was more intrigued and asked her to find out who was organising this free guru-ka-langar by the roadside. The next day, she rang me up and told me "it is someone known as Sant Tarlochan Singh." She gave me his telephone number.

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I got Sant Tarlochan Singh on the phone. "I donít want any publicity," he told me bluntly, "It takes away any merit you may gain through sewa (service)." I persisted. "You did not ring me up. I rang you. I want to know more about you and what you do." He relented but put off the meeting because he had fractured his leg while starting a seminar langar-cum-clinic at Bareilly for bonded labourers working in brick kilns. A week later, he was able to move with the use of a walker and came to see me with his son Kamaljeet Singh, a strapping young man in his mid-thirties.

Tarlochan Singh is 67, a tall man dressed in white from his turban, kurta down to the pajamas. He has a silken white beard flowing to his navel. He looks every inch a sant. "I donít like to be called a sant, I prefer to be known as veerjee (elder brother)," he said with a broad smile. His residence is known as Veerjee Da Dera but his ashram is known as Santgarh (Santís fortress). It is here that cooking of large quantities of rice, daal and chapattis starts every evening and rounds off by the early hours of next morning. It is then transported by trucks to different parts of the city and Delhi railway station. The queue outside Sis Ganj extends half a mile in either side. Veerjee himself sets out, broom in hand, on a round of the cityís gurdwaras to sweep floors and say his prayers. I asked what had inspired him to undertake his mission to feed the hungry. Without hesitation he replied, "Mother Teresa. I came to look upon her as my own mother and wanted to follow her example."

Tarlochan Singh had many turns and twists in his life. He was born in Maudalay (Burma) in 1935, the son of a prosperous timber contractor. Maudalay was bombed by the Japanese in 1942. He saw his own sister killed by a shrapnel. The family migrated back to their ancestral village in Ludhiana district. Tarlochan did his matriculation from his village school, went on to Government College, Ludhiana, for a degree in engineering and joined the Punjab Works Department. In 1962, he was posted as an overseer in Delhi and was at the Pusa Agricultural Institute. He retired in 1998. Eight years before his retirement, he started on his mission to feed the poor. Now it has become a full-time occupation. "Where the poor are taken care of, there is Thy grace seen," he says quoting Guru Nanak on the existence of God. "He fills pitchers that are empty and empties pitchers that are full."

"Where does the money for this massive operation come from?" I asked. He raised both his hands and replied, "God gives all I ask for." This is exactly how Mother Teresa had answered the same question when I put it to her. Mother Teresa had the Missionaries of Charity to which anyone could make his or her donation. Tarlochan Singh has no such organisation and bluntly refuses to take money from anyone. "If you want to give anything, give me atta (flour), rice, daal or medicines," he replied. His son Kamaljeet Singh who is a jewellery designer by profession promised to give me a list of medicines they needed. When will I have the time to go and buy medicines in bulk and deliver them at Santgarh or Veerjee Da Dera, God alone knows.

In any event no list was sent to me. God, who provided Tarlochan Singh with rations for the poor, now also provides medicines for the sick. He tends to them himself; his clinic is the pavement beside the Chandani Chowk entrance of Gurdwara Sis Ganj.


Nirad Chaudhuri who was for some time Private Secretary to Netajiís brother, Sarat Chandra Bose, told me of his bossís reaction to a man who had been saying nasty things about him. "I did not do him any favours, why should he run me down?" When put the other way, it means that if you do some good to anyone he is bound to hold it against you for ever. To start with he may thank you and say he will remain beholden to you for ever, but that does not last for too long. Kindness received is very hard to digest. It is not gratitude but ingratitude that is ingrained in human nature. Such perversity is not found among other living creatures.

I was never in positions from where I could extend patronage and do favours to people. So I do not have many people gunning for me behind my back. But from the little I learnt from life, I would say that not all people you do good to are ungrateful. Most remain beholden to you as I remain beholden to people who were good to me. There were only a few, very few, who betrayed my trust and stabbed me in the back to gain their own ends or maligned me whenever they could. Such acts of betrayal baffled me because I felt I had not done anything to deserve them. The most persistent of my denigrators is a fellow who was arrested a few months before the Emergency was lifted. Although I supported the Emergency when it was first imposed, I felt his arrest and detention were unwarranted. With a few friends I raised money to help his wife run her home while he was in prison. When he was let out and was without a job, I invited him to write for The Illustrated Weekly of India so that he could get some income. I was in for a nasty surprise. Both the man and his wife denounced me. "I never wanted his filthy money," his wife spat out in an interview to the Press. However, neither the man nor his wife thought of returning it to me. And he lets go at me in the most vituperative language he can. It saddens me. I recall Mark Twainís observation: "If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man."

In defence of a ruling party

Ours is a party with a difference

Our motto is "Transparency, no manipulation",

This is why our president Laxman

Accepted wads of notes without hesitation;

Why blame us for petrol pump allotments?

Why should you single us out in the game?

Everybody favours his own men

Didnít Satish Sharma do the same?

You say "We gave away valuable land

"For a pittance or for a song."

This is all rubbish for every Minister.

Is like Caesar does no wrong;

(Courtesy: G.C. Bhandari, Meerut.)