Stand By Me
Oh Lord, stand by me
Right on cue!
By Monday (June 4, 2012), the world was awash with the story of a blue turban on the Queen’s Boat during her Jubilee celebrations and the flotilla sailing along the Thames.
By Tuesday, e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e was talking about it.
Sikhs everywhere felt good about it. Non-Sikhs everywhere were curious … and impressed.
Our detractors - and we have more than our fair share - as always in these situations, suffered miserably.
Then, right on cue, members of the media received anonymous e-mails telling them that the man in the blue turban - Harbinder Singh Rana - has a past: three decades ago he was accused and convicted of a number of charges, including for sexual assault, and served a sentence for it.
Right on cue!
People around the world are waking up this morning to this “revelation”.
The details about Harbinder’s record are true.
I have known about the facts from 30 years ago for years and years, almost as long as I have known him - which is well over a decade.
Our community has known of all the details for years.
The media and all who ever work with Harbinder have known about it for years.
Because, predictably, right on cue, every time he is in the news - and he is often in the news, because of the extraordinary community work he has been doing during the course of the last two decades - these e-mails arrive on my desk, as they do at various media outlets, and as they do, I’m sure, on the desks of all those who work with Harbinder on his projects … including those at St. James Palace in London.
Which is every couple of years, when, each time, his magnificent work in the community attracts worldwide attention. For instance - to cite but a few examples:
When he had Prince Charles unveil the memorial to Maharaja Duleep Singh in Thetford. I recall I received the e-mails then.
When he spear-headed the celebration of the Duleep Singh centennial. I recall I received the e-mails then.
When he launched the bicentennial celebrations of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh 'coronation'. I recall I received the e-mails then.
When he did the inaugural Anglo-Sikh Heritage Tour across England. I recall I received the e-mails then.
When he began his biggest project yet - the marking of the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. I recall I received the e-mails then.
When he helped establish the annual Saragarhi Memorial Cup to honour the heroes of the great battle. I recall I received the very same e-mails then!
Years ago, I spoke to Harbinder directly, openly and honestly about it all … and he was forthright.
I was not surprised when I was first informed that he had a past, that he had a flawed history.
In my various arenas of activity, I have come into close contact with every ilk of man - heads of state, heads of religions, heads of corporations, heads of media empires, etc. etc.
I have yet to meet one … even ONE person amongst the whole lot! - who, upon close scrutiny, hasn’t revealed a serious flaw. [I should know … I am one with stains galore!]
My only criteria in judging the person has been: how he (or she) has handled himself from that point on.
As a result, for example, I have known closely a man who spent a complete life sentence in prison for a set of hideous murders. He changed his life around, and I know him now as one of the most spiritual and learned people I’ve ever known.
I have also known, for example, those who the world thinks are saints and God’s gifts to mankind, and I know that they are anything but.
Those in the first category, I gravitate to and work with them with my heart and soul. Those in the second, I avoid like the plague. [That is why I stayed away from the world of politics, I guess.]
Harbinder falls smack in the middle of the first category.
He is a wonderfully decent man, humble and wise.
Much of what I have done in recent years has been inspired by him and his work.
I have seen him from up close doing incredibly selfless things for the sake of the Sikh community, the British nation and for “sarbat da bhalla”.
Again, honestly - those who know me well know me as one who is, to a fault, never prone to either exercising flattery or doling out baseless compliments - I couldn’t think of another Sikh alive anywhere who I could cite for doing better, selfless seva than Harbinder Singh.
Now that I think of it, I would extend that observation for anyone I know within any community, including the world at large.
So, please, please, do not rush to judgement, and particularly not allow those who have vested interests to push our buttons in mischief and get us to react in a knee-jerk fashion.
Let's be wary of the human propensity to see ourselves mirrored in those who do great things, and then suddenly, when confronted with their failings and failures, we flee, disclaiming all affliation and decrying the 'fallen hero' at the drop of a hat.
As a species, we humans are quick to elevate, and quick to destroy our very own.
As Sikhs, we owe ourselves much more. We need to show the same alacrity we showed two days ago in seeing ourselves in him when he was riding high, now, two days later, by still recognizing ourselves in the same man who now has the sheen disappear from his shine. Tearing him down is not the Sikh thing to do.
Are we mere good-weather friends?
[And ... "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone ..."]
This is time for us to stand back, to look at the overall picture, and to stand by this man.
Some disclosure from me is necessary here.
Yes, I’ve known Harbinder for years, and I list him as a good and dear friend.
However, for a variety of reasons, we’ve been out of touch for several years. I’ve had minimal contact with him for a long, long time, mostly because of my immersion in the secluded lifestyle of a writer.
He hasn’t asked me to write this piece.
He doesn’t know I’m writing it.
But let one thing be loud and clear … I stand with him by his side today, and am proud to be his friend.