We celebrated the last St Valentineís Day (Sunday, February 14) by welcoming the fifth Muslim girl in our extended family. The first was an Indian, the second an Egyptian, the next two Pakistanis and the fifth an Iranian. As if this was not enough to boast about, the more significant aspect of these unions was that besides initial reservations the parents of the parties might have had, once accomplished, they accepted the couples with complete affection.
There were no conversions from one faith to the other as all of us agreed that conversions meant demeaning anotherís beliefs. St Valentineís Day celebrations were ample proof that inter-religious marriages are a healthy departure from rigid matrimonial rules of bygone years. As I said, the most recent addition to the family is an Iranian. She is a lady doctor, practising in the US. She arrived with her parents, members of her family and close friends a week before her nuptials.
The six days of receptions hosted by the bridegroomís grandmother, parents and cousins were meant to get them to know their new Sikh relations. There was feasting, drinking and dancing and singing of Iranian and Punjabi wedding songs. There was a mehndi ceremony when all the girls had patterns of henna drawn on their palms. The next morning there was Anand Karaj according to Sikh rites. The couple had to be put through a few rehearsals of how to conduct itself as neither of them is a Sikh.
The bridegroom is my brotherís grandson, whose father is a Bengali Hindu married to my niece. The bride is a Shia Muslim. They will have to go through Hindu rituals when they visit the fatherís family in Kolkata. A Muslim marriage ceremony will probably follow, or a civil marriage in the US, where they intend to live.
All this may sound unrealistic to most of my readers who had arranged marriages and plan doing the same for their progeny. They are in for many surprises to come. The world is shrinking fast and people of different races, religions and languages are learning to live as one community.
We have to shed the khap panchayat mentality riddled with gotras, castes and religious differences, and face realities of life. When young people fall in love, they donít give a damn for what other people may have to say. They simply get closer to each other, and if possible, get married. Love crosses all barriers and always wins. St Valentineís Day is an annual reminder of loveís supremacy.
Hardit Singh Malik
Not many of the present generation would know very much about Hardit Singh Malik. He was the most distinguished Sikh of his time, and had a remarkable career as a sportsman, civil servant and diplomat. He was born into a well-to-do Sikh family of Rawalpindi in 1894. After schooling in Pindi for a few years, he proceeded to England for further studies.
He was then only 14. When World War I broke out in 1919, he volunteered for service in the French Red Cross, and ran an ambulance from the war front to different hospitals in France. After two years he returned to England and joined the Royal Air Force, the first non-Brit with a turban and beard to become a fighter pilot. He took part in dogfights with German war planes over Germany and France.
His plane was riddled with hundreds of bullets, of which two pierced his legs. He crashlanded in France, and while doing so, broke his nose. After convalescing for many months in England hospitals, he was back in the battlefield. When the war ended, he joined Balliol College, Oxford. He played cricket and golf for the university.
As soon as he finished college, he was selected for the Indian Civil Service and posted to his home state. He returned home to India after 11 years abroad. He married the younger sister of his elder brotherís wife. Both girls came from a Hindu Arya Samaj family. Both turned devout Sikhs. In their homes, the days began and ended with recitations from Granth Sahib.
Malik served in many districts of Punjab before he was appointed Prime Minister of Patiala. He stayed in the post for three years till it was merged in Punjab in 1947. Pandit Nehru appointed him Indiaís first High Commissioner to Canada.
He stayed in Ottawa for three years before taking over as Ambassador of India to France. After a lifetime in service in India and abroad, he retired to his newly built home in New Delhi .
Malik had a passion for golf. He was seen at Delhi Golf Club every afternoon till almost the end of his life. He once expressed the wish to die on the golf course. That was not to be. He had a massive heart attack in 1984. A second attack in October, 1985, proved fatal.
Malik had no intention of writing his autobiography. He was persuaded by his wife and children to do so. It lay untouched for many years till his daughter Harji Malik took it upon herself to edit it and have it published. A Little Work, A Little Play: The autobiography of HS Malik (Book Wise) is now available in the market. It has an introduction by Pearson, who he befriended in Oxford, and who later became Prime Minister of Canada. It will be a source of inspiration to the present generation, specially to young sardars, who will learn how a person can be both devoutly religious and yet gain worldly success.
Customer to a bookseller at Lahore (Pakistan ): "Have you got a book on general knowledge?"
Bookseller: "No Sir, but we shall be getting one on General Musharraf."
(Contributed by Gauravjit Singh, New Delhi)