Thursday, 30 December 2010

Patwant Singh

Patwant Singh was a famous Sikh writer, commentator, journalist, editer and publisher, as well as a frequent TV presenter. He was born in New Delhi on March 28, 1925. He grew up and carried out his school and University education in Delhi. He began his career in the family business of building and engineering but soon merged these interests with his love for writing. He started up his first periodical, The Indian Builder, in 1953 as publisher. In 1957, he unveiled his most influential journal, Design, the only magazine of its kind in the world at that time.

Design was a revolutionary magazine which brought together the latest thinking in the fields of architecture, urban planning, visual arts, graphics, and industrial design. Subject areas that, up to that point, had tended to have isolated audiences that rarely looked at or understood each other’s fields. The journal’s strongly interdisciplinary approach led Singh to begin pondering questions about why Bombay, Delhi and other urban areas in India were being developed in ways that ran counter to his aesthetic and humanitarian sensibilities. When he realized that the answers had less to do with architecture and more to do with politicians, government policies and corruption, he began publishing newspaper articles in the 1960s with the aim of affecting public opinion and official policies.

After 1984, Patwant Singh began to delve into Sikh issues, editing and contributing the opening essay of Punjab: The Fatal Miscalculation, which was published in 1985. The Golden Temple, published in 1989, aimed to be the definitive volume on the Harimandir Sahib and show how central this “fountainhead of inspiration” has been to Sikhs since its construction.

Of Dreams and Demons is Patwant Singh’s 1994 memoir, which highlights the intersections that connect his personal history to India’s history in the 1930s to the 1990s. He returned to the topics of religion and history with his 1999 publication, The Sikhs, a survey of Sikh history beginning with the historical context of South Asia before the time of the Gurus and stretching to the present day.

Garland Around My Neck was published at the beginning of March, 2001. It the remarkable Story of Puran Singh of Pingalwara. The book was co-written with Harinder Kaur Sekhon as a tribute to the remarkable humanitarian, Puran Singh who dedicated his life to sewa in order to bring a more healthy and humane world into existence. It is the real life story of Puran Singh (1904-92), a barefoot colossus who cared for the despairing, disabled and destitute with his own hands restoring to them the dignity of human existence that an uncaring society had denied them. After 23 years of personally caring for ever-increasing numbers of people who were unable to take care of themselves, in 1957, Puran Singh expanded his service to society by establishing Pingalwara, which now serves over 1,000 residents. Unlike a hospital, which has the aim of treating the sick, Pingalwara was built for people–disabled, poor, mentally ill, with terminal diseases–who needed hope and a home. Patwant Singh and Harinder Kaur Sekhon relied on Punjab’s rich tradition of oral history in researching this book.

Patwant Singh’s latest book is The World According to Washington: An Asian View, published in 2005. In this work, the author examines the often violent history of relations between western imperial powers and Asia, including East Asia, South Asia, and West Asia. His perspective is passionately critical of the destruction western interventionists have wrought in Asia, largely through valuing their own political and economic interests over the interests of Asians themselves–and by backing up these interests with firepower. First, Singh writes, there was a time when “Europeans considered the domination of Asia their birthright.”

Now, incursions of US troops, US-made arms, and coercive development plans are the strategies of the world’s only remaining superpower. When Washington, DC and those in its pocket write history and cover current events, their perspective is so imbalanced that the general public in the western world is now ignorant of even the most basic facts about Asia. The World According to Washington was conceived as a corrective and fills in the missing histories of US involvement and interests in hotspots such as—Iran, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, India and Pakistan.

Patwant Singh has also written extensively for newspapers and magazines and has appeared on both radio and television. His articles have appeared in many publications including the New York Times, Canada’s Globe and Mail, the UK’s Independent. Patwant Singh gave a lecture on July 22, 2006 at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York in conjunction with, I See No Stranger: Early Sikh Art and Devotion, an exhibition jointly sponsored by the Sikh Foundation and the Sikh Art and Film Foundation.

As Chairman of a family Trust, Patwant Singh established a unique rural medical facility in the state of Haryana in 1977. The Kabliji Hospital and Rural Health Centre is today acknowledged as a one-of-a-kind initiative in providing medical coverage and promoting preventive health in rural India. It was born out of Patwant Singh’s conviction that very little was being done for the medical and educational needs of the rural population in India, and that private initiative must play a role in providing these. A school was also founded next to the hospital a few years later. Both continue to flourish.

Patwant Singh will be remembered through his literary works and his charity.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Dr Anarkali Kaur

Dr Anarkali Kaur Honaryar is a leading campaigner for the rights of women in Afghanistan. She was chosen in 2009 by Radio Free Europe's Afghan chapter as their "Person of the Year" for her work at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. The award has gone onto make Kaur a household name in Kabul. Dr Honaryar is a trained dentist and is one of about 3,000 Sikhs who remain in Afghanistan. As a child she had dreamed of being a pilot, but soon she recognised that this was going to be impossible in the country in which she lived. Today she presents a radio show and is on the official Constitution Committee. She has been a part of the council that selected the interim government that replaced the Taliban. Dr Honaryar has been on the human rights commission in Afghanistan since 2006 and fights for the rights of women whose culture can go against them. Currently the female literacy rate in Afghanistan is less than 20%, which is something Dr Honaryar wants to change.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Surjan Singh Duhra

Councillor Surjan Singh Dohra was the Mayor of Wolverhampton, UK for the year 2009-10. The city of Wolverhampton is a city of over 250,000 people in the West Midlands area of England. Councillor Surjan Singh was born and educated in India, where he trained to be a teacher and taught in secondary schools. He immigrated to England in 1964. He lived and worked in Leicester before moving to Wolverhampton in 1965 where he worked for British Leyland until it closed in 1982. He then started his own business until his retirement in 1996. Surjan first became a councillor for the St. Peters ward of the city in 1978. Since then he has served on commitees and was first elected mayor in 1991/1992.