It is common for people to read obituaries in newspapers. For me, it is a compulsive behaviour. I read the full text, and also the names of relatives, etc. When you stay at a place for more than two years and stick to the same newspaper, you can recollect the obituary of the person read last year.
After moving across India for over 30 years, I finally settled down on the periphery of Chandigarh, the city where I started my career in the 1980s, the city which has transformed like anything, the city that has its own panache.
After teething troubles of settling down, the routine started, including reading newspapers and obituaries. Recently, I read one of respected Gurbax Singh Shergill, Principal of Khalsa College, Amritsar. He also headed other colleges and was a former chairman of the Punjab School Education Board.
Reminded of an era gone by, I felt sad and prayed for the departed soul. I did my graduation from a college in Amritsar and was planning to go for PG in English literature, but my father, who did his PG in economics was keen that I should follow him — perhaps at the back of his mind was one of his class fellows who did PG in economics and turned out to be an eminent economist, heading the RBI. And later, went on to become the PM — Dr Manmohan Singh.
So, following the diktat, I applied for admission to the college, where I completed graduation, but somehow the head of the economics department, who used to teach us, had some ‘vague’ views about me. I did not get admission.
My father then suggested his alma mater — Khalsa College, Amritsar. I decided to take the plunge. The college was far away from our house. When I went inside the chamber of the college principal, Gurbax Singh Shergill, for obtaining signatures on the admission form, he looked at me, signed it, and recited an Urdu couplet: ‘En kund hawaon se na ghabra aey ukab, yeh toh chalti hain uncha udane ke liye’. He explained the meaning as I jotted down the lines. (‘Ukab’ is a bird from the eagle family. You should not be scared of the fast wind, it enables one to fly high.)
I could not understand why he had recited this couplet. Later, when I discussed this with Sardul Singh Gill, then vice principal and head, economics department, and my father’s former teacher, he explained that perhaps I was being counselled to not get distracted by student politics, etc., and concentrate on studies.
Principal Shergill was an able administrator, educationist, disciplinarian and a great human being, always polite, open to suggestions and improvement in the education system. My two years in the college were the best part of my life.
RIP, principal Shergill.
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