This eye-opening experience happened a couple of weeks ago.
A team of 4 volunteers were attending a fundraising meeting with a Gurdwara committee in Mumbai. We arrived early in the area. As we had not taken any breaks to eat all day (because of the huge workload at the animation studio) – we stopped at a cafe to have snacks.
Outside the cafe, there was not much space (congested Mumbai roads!). So we parked the car in a driveway, to make space for Dr Baba Ji’s wheelchair. As we were taking the wheelchair out of the boot, a car came and beeped its horn, waiting to come out of the driveway. The watchman came and started shouting and swearing at us.
We explained that we would only take one moment, then we would move the car. He didn’t stop shouting and threatening us. A crowd gathered around us and people started getting involved to defend us.
Dr Baba Ji kept asking the watchman, “Where’s your humanity? You’ve got two legs and I’ve only got one. Give me a minute!”
The watchman kept shouting, “Move your car right now!”
A Punjabi man came through the crowd and calmed down the watchman. Eventually, the watchman came over and apologised to us. Dr Baba Ji sat on the wheelchair and we went into the cafe.
Inside, we ordered coffee and snacks. Alongside that, we started working on our laptops. We were discussing revisions to the animation file, which is currently in the editing stage.
The door opened and who walked in? The Punjabi man who had defended us outside. He was in his fifties, had a short trimmed beard and was wearing informal t-shirt, jeans and a patka on his head.
He came over to our table, greeting us all with Fateh. We invited him to sit down and offered him the snacks which we’d ordered. Politely refusing, he invited us to order more food for ourselves.
He explained that he was working across the road.
“I work in the mithiyai shop just opposite. When I looked out of the window and saw a crowd gathered around Apne Singhs, I knew I had to come out and intervene.”
We asked him about himself. It turned out that he was an events manager. Alongside this, we were surprised to hear, he was making a movie!
“I used to organise a lot of fashion events. One of the models I worked with was deaf and dumb. I didn’t know, until one of her colleagues told me. I wanted to know more about her, as I felt that she was a very unique individual. The story of her childhood and upbringing, it turns out, was very horrifying and heartbreaking. She had been through a lot of isolation, bullying and abuse… Even from her own family. I cried so much when I heard her story.”
And so, he had decided to make a movie about her, because he wanted the world to know about her struggle and success in life.
He asked us about ourselves. We told him that we were also making a movie, about Mata Sahib Kaur Ji. He said it was a great initiative, agreeing that we really need animated movies for the future generations. We discussed the movie and the other social welfare projects which are ongoing in Punjab.
He was very supportive. In between, he attended phone calls, and we discussed our work. It was very relaxed, like meeting an old friend. After some time, as it was nearly time for the meeting at the Gurdwara, we got ready to leave.
We asked for the bill.
The waiter told us, “No need. Sir has already paid.”
He was referring to the Punjabi man who we had just met! We tried to repay him, but he refused.
“It’s the least I can do,” he said. “You guys are doing such great work. May you be blessed in all your efforts.”
He left the cafe, after swapping numbers with us. We were all so surprised and humbled by this man… A total stranger met by chance… Or by fate… With such a big heart! Such an honest and simple human being. With soaring spirits and high hopes, we went to the Gurdwara Sahib.
It was two streets away from the cafe, so we decided to walk. Dr Baba Ji finds it difficult and painful to keep getting in and out of the car. They drove their wheelchair along the roadside.
We reached the Gurdwara Sahib. Darbar Sahib was upstairs, so Dr Baba Ji did matha tek from far away. The rest of us went upstairs. I did Ardas to Maharaj to make the meeting successful.
Downstairs, we got taken into an office. The office had 3 steps leading into it. All the committee members (10 Singhs) were sitting at their desks. They watched through the open door as we struggled to lift the wheelchair and carry it up the stairs. None of them came to help.
Inside the room, we sat down. They watched us and waited. We started speaking into the vast silence.
Introducing the movie, we showed them the first and second teasers. Then we showed them the raw file of the third teaser, which is releasing soon. No one had seen this file except for the production team. We explained that this movie is a Sangat project, and therefore we need the Sangat’s support.
They were all Amritdhari Singhs with untrimmed beards, turbans and smart shirts.
We said, “The Panj Pyare told you at your Amrit Sanchaar, Mata Sahib Kaur Ji is your mother. But forgive us, do we really know who she is? That’s why we need to make this movie, so that children will have this knowledge.”
None even smiled at us.
Eventually, one asked, “So what exactly do you want from us?”
We told them, “There are two options. Firstly, do you think the Sangat of this Gurdwara will help us by donating?”
They shook their heads.
“Nope, it’s very difficult. Nobody is willing to donate anything, these days.”
We soldiered on.
“The second option is that you yourselves come forward as a Gurdwara and support the movie. You could be the first Gurdwara Sahib in Mumbai which connects itself to the movie, and will get named in the credits. In the same way, Gurdwaras in the UK have supported and are continuing to support.”
There was more silence and empty faces. It felt so cold and corporate in there, I wanted to get out. Couldn’t stand it. So much contrast to the warm-hearted, clean-shaven Singh whom we had met earlier!
In that endless silence, we made our final request to the committee.
“Well, have a think and let us know how you can help.”
They nodded, “We will do. Challo… Theek ya?”
That was the sign that our meeting was over. We said Fateh and again picked up the wheelchair, carried it down the steps and left.
Usually, when someone comes to a new Gurdwara for the first time, the Sangat is very welcoming and asks, “Would you like tea? Will you have Langar?”
But we were not offered anything, and instead the Gurdwara gates were locked behind us. It was closing time. All the committee members got on their scooters and went home.
It was very hurtful… but not surprising. We’ve attended so many meetings where the Sangat is not willing to accept its Panthic duty to support such initiatives.
Someone asked me once, “Don’t yet get disheartened when people say no?”
I told him, “Only for a little while. Then we pick ourselves up and try again.”
Because we know why we’re doing this. We know which Sewa has been given to us by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. We know how much the world needs Mata Sahib Kaur Ji right now. And we’re the lucky ones who get to do this Sewa. It’s not our job to get discouraged. The Guru Himself is completing this project. Not a human being.
I wish this story could have ended positively. But maybe it will happen in the next meeting. Will keep you all updated.