by Shashwati Talukdar

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Jass at his Kathi Roll stand in the Hualien night market

We heard a miraculous story in Ludhiana. And this is how it came about that we heard it.

I met Jass in the night market in Hualien, a small town on the east coast of Taiwan. In a country where there are very few Indians, and most of them seem to be post docs in Chemistry from Hyderabad, Jass stood out. He ran a kathi roll stand in the night market and also taught English, his wife is Taiwanese Canadian. They met while she was traveling through India, and Jass is an avid traveler, makes friends easily and is truly cosmopolitan. So much so, he taught himself English so that he could communicate with more people from all over the country and the world.

Jass is from Ludhiana, and since we were going there, we wanted to say hello to the family, which consists of his parents, grandfather, brother and a large extended family.

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Jass’s father, Balbir Singh ji

Meeting Jass’s father, Balbir Singh-ji, it becomes clear why Jass is such a path breaker himself.

Balbir Singh-ji’s family was one of the dispossessed millions from West Punjab. When he was a child, he was sick very often. His mother took him to the Rara Sahib Gurdwara to be blessed. The Granthis at the Gurdwara told her that she should leave him there. With the Guru’s blessings, he would get better. She left him there after making them promise that they would not stop him from leading a householder’s life outside the Gurdwara, if that’s what he wanted. And miraculously the child became well and flourished.  I suppose as a child of partition, it was indeed a miracle that he had survived. But what was striking was the story that was chosen to relate the experience of that survival. A story of a miracle and a divine gift.

Balbir Singh-ji grew up in the Rara Sahib Gurdwara. He was educated there as well. Working for a pharmacist was his first occupation as a ‘grown up.’ Later, he opened a pharmacy of his own. Greatly respected for his knowledge of medicines and his kind manner, he was called Doctor Sahib by the villagers. Eventually, he retired from the pharmacy and moved to Ludhiana.

A soft spoken and devout man, he spends his time studying the scriptures. Being so highly literate, his speech is some of the most beautiful spoken Punjabi I have ever heard. It suddenly started to make sense that his son Jass would have the gift of teaching himself English, and have a yearning to connect with the world, the world beyond the town in which he grew up.

Next week, our visit to the Rara Sahib Gurdwara with Jass’s father.

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(Go here for the first post in the series)