Achievers all
Roopinder Singh

Sikhs Unlimited
by Khushwant Singh. Rupa. Pages 211. Rs 495.

Sikhs UnlimitedTHE Sikh diaspora has spawned thousands of success stories. The high achievers are too well known, but what is often forgotten is that there are many other tales to be told, to be celebrated.

The book is written by a first-time author, who went on a trans-continental journey and met 14 achievers who have been featured. Each chapter is a different story—diverse people are represented on these pages—Fauja Singh, Gurinder Chadha, Ranbir Kaur, Chiranjeev Singh Kathuria, Gurutej Singh Khalsa, Tony Singh Hargo (Hargobind Hari Singh), Sody Singh Kahlon, Harbhajan Singh Samra, Dr. Harvinder Singh Sahota, and Ratanjit Singh Sondhe.

Some have achieved a high degree of fame, like the 96-year-old Fauja Singh who lives near London. He manifested the adage, "Nothing is Impossible", by becoming one of the oldest marathon runners in the world and was subsequently featured globally by Adidas on their posters.

Gurinder Chadha has many films to her credit, notably Bend it Like Bekham and Pride and Prejudice. She is candid in sharing the details of her life. Chiranjeev Singh Kathuria’s, political ambitions soared as high as the space flights on which he plans to take passengers. As yet, both have not quite taken off.

The twin sisters, Amrita and Rabindra are a rage in the West because of their contemporary interpretation of the art of miniature painting. Harbhajan Singh Samra has made his name as the Okra King of California, USA. Scotland-based Tony Singh would surely know how best to cook the vegetable—the former Head Chef of the Royal yacht Britannia, now runs his own restaurant there.

Bikaner-born Ratanjit Singh Sondhe builds bridges in the USA, and he earns millions doing so. However, what really matters is the bridge he has built by talking and writing about "applied spirituality" which has drawn many followers. He runs a live chat show on the radio and on television.

The author is a journalist who has written for various newspapers, where his byline reads Khushwant Ahluwalia. The style of the book remains journalistic and each chapter reads like a feature story on the person he is meeting. The introduction calls the book as a travelogue, but it is not quite that, it is more in the nature of a diary of diasporaic encounters. The chapters stand well enough alone, but are not cohesive.

While the stories of these achievers are interesting enough, the author should have taken care to ensure that he remained in the backdrop, recounting of the greetings at various airports, for example, or passing somewhat intemperate comments about the host simply because things did not work out properly, or his observations about the fairer sex cannot really be qualified as completely entertaining.

The author must, however, be commended on finding many first-generation American and British-born Sikhs, like Ranbir Kaur, an unlikely army recruit of the US Army, and Tony Singh, "Hargo", the musician. Incidentally, the book comes with a CD of Hargo’s album "In Your Eyes". Another musician who features in the book is Harcharanjit ("Channi"), who immigrated from near Malerkotla to the UK in 1976 and is called "the Godfather of Pop Bhangra Music". How does one classify Sody Singh Kahlon, the British-born comedian who founded "The Funjabis"?

Stories of the journeys of Punjabis leaving their homeland and making it good in the world beyond are the stuff legends in Punjab are made of. Here we find a readable account of those who, given the opportunity, rose up to the challenges that came their way and did well. These vignettes whet your appetite about the chosen 14, and they leave you wanting for a bit more.