As a Sikh starting University… my story
By Manvir Singh Khalsa

By Manvir Singh Khalsa

During the summer holidays before I started university, I was looking forward to starting university. I had been brought up and lived in an English area and not been exposed to a large Sikh community or presence. Therefore I was excited to go to King’s College London because it was known for having a large number of Sikh students and it had the largest Sikh Society in England. I heard people call it ‘Singh’s College’.

The days get closer and closer and soon I was to move to Halls and start university. The day which I had to move into Halls or residence, my family had a wedding to attend to. So we decided to drop my stuff at Halls on Saturday and move in properly on Sunday after the wedding. My brother was going to drop me off in London.

On the Sunday going back to Halls I didn’t know what to accept. The day before, I didn’t see many people or really get a feel of what it would be like. So I wondered how many Singhs I be living with at Halls or how many Sikhs I would get to know on the first day.

My brother and I arrived in London in the evening. He dropped me off and came inside with me. No-one was around and I wondered where everyone had gone. The place looked dead. My brother suggested that we should go to the student union bar or something similar to get to know people. I felt nervous, as I was not used to going to bars, clubs or pubs.

Across the road from the Halls of Residence was the King’s Waterloo Campus. We decided to see what was happening there. At the Student Union Bar everyone from the Halls of Residence had got together as an opportunity to socialise. I felt out of place and struggling not to breathe in cigarette smoke from some people standing around.

I could see no Sikh, no person wearing a pagh and no person, which looked Panjabi. I thought ‘Waheguru, where am I?’ This wasn’t what I was expecting. Trying to mingle people and introducing myself, I felt out of place and not comfortable in the smoking and drinking environment. My brother left a little while after. I was thankful for him that he at least helped me by coming with me to the Student Union, by myself I don’t know how I would have coped.

I got to know some people. But I didn’t get to meet any Panjabis. The next day I got to know all my flatmates. All of them were nice and easy to talk to. During the week I felt bit let down and shocked that I didn’t see any Panjabi or Sikh. Was this ‘Singh’s College’? I was the only visible Sikh in the whole Halls of Residence.

One of the people who I was sharing a flat with asked me to go to a student club night. She said that all of the people from our flat were going and perhaps it would be a nice place to meet people. ‘You don’t have to drink and perhaps you might see some Sikhs there’, she said. Feeling bit low and lonely, I thought might as well go clubbing, despite not feeling comfortable with the idea considering I have never been before and that I don’t like a smokey environment.

I bought a ticket for the student club night from a boy selling tickets at the Hall’s reception area. Getting the ticket I walked back to my room, I opened my door and I looked straight at Shaheed Baba Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwale’s photo, which I had in my windowsill. It dawned to me, why am I doing this? Why am I doing something, which I am not comfortable with? Why don’t I have faith in Waheguru? Waheguru will make me meet up with Gurmukhs and Sikhs when He wishes to do so. I felt guilty for buying a ticket.

I walked back to the reception and asked the boy whether I could get a refund. He said he usually doesn’t do refunds but because he said he would make an exception for me. I thanked him.

That night, it felt as if everyone had gone either clubbing or down the Student Union bar. The Halls or Residence looked dead silent. I didn’t know where to go or who to meet up with, without having to go to place where there is alcohol or people smoking. I got out my vaaja and did simran that night.

I thought and meditated on Guru Gobind Singh Jee’s shabad, ‘Mitar Pyaare Noo, Haal Mareedaa Da Kehnaa. Tudh Bin Rog Rajaayeeaa Da Ohdann, Naag Nivaasaaa Da Rehnaa. Sool Saraahee, Kanjar Pyaala, Bing Kasayeeaa Da Sehnaa. Yaarre Da Saanu Sathar Changa, Bhat Kherriyaa Da Rehnaa…Please tell the dear friend - the Lord - the plight of his disciples. Without you the use of rich blankets is like a disease for us and the comfort of the house is like living with snakes. Our water pitchers are like stakes of torture and our cups have edges like daggers. Your neglect is like the suffering of animals at the hands of butchers. Our Beloved Lord's straw bed is more pleasing to us than living in costly furnace-like mansions.’

This beautiful shabad was written by our Father, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. He composed this divine shabad, at a time when he had lost his wife, children, family, home, wealth and disciples. Walking barefooted in the jungle of Maacheewala, with thorns pricking Guru Jee’s feet, no pillow to rest on, and no four walls to give him shelter, Guru Jee composed this uplifting hymn.

Thinking about Guru Gobind Singh Ji and this shabad, something dawned upon me. Looking around I realised that I was blessed with four walls and a roof around me to give me shelter. I was blessed with a bed, pillow and a nice place to live. I was blessed with an opportunity to go to university. The realisation was that I was blessed and that I should be grateful about all I had and not feeling sad or disappointed.

With the grace of Waheguru, I met with Sikhs through Sikh Society. It was great. The people I met at Sikh Society were like a family to me. I met so many people. I then became familiar where Shepard’s Bush Gurdwara was and found out the way to get to Southall Gurdwara. Once or twice a week I would go to the Gurdwara. I felt so happy. I had made Sikh friends, I had made friends with people who I could share Sikhi with and I could relate to. This is not to say that I wasn’t friends with the people who I lived with or the people who were on my course. However, I had never had Panjabi or Sikh friends at school or Sixth Form, it was great to be able to socialise and do things with friends who could appreciate Sikhi and do Sangat with them.

Sometimes people I would see around at university or Halls would say, ‘come out tonight with us’. However I would kindly say no thanks and that I had other plans. I had to make sure that no-one thought I was being judgemental about people going clubbing or looking down upon them. Because I wasn’t. However, I didn’t personally feel comfortable being a Sikh of the Guru and going clubbing or sitting at the bar.

Some people would ask me, ‘do you think going out clubbing is wrong?’ I would answer them, ‘Whatever you do in life, imagine Guru Gobind Singh Ji watching you and with you. If the Panj Pyaare who gave you Khande-Pahul Da Amrit saw a CCTV video of you being somewhere, and the same video was shown to the Sadh Sangat in the presence of Guru Sahib, you must ask yourself, would you feel embarrassed, or comfortable with that idea? If you would feel comfortable with Guru Jee, the Panj Pyaare and the Guru Pyaaree Sadh Sangat knowing where you have been socialising and hanging out then all the best to you and may Waheguru bless you. However, if you would feel embarrassed, even a little bit, then you must ask yourself, why are you at that place and is it worth being there?’ Who I am to tell someone not to clubbing or to clubbing?

I enjoyed university so much. The Sangat, going to the Gurdwara, meeting knew people, making friends, the Sikhi events across London and the various universities and the pyaar which people have one another as Sikh brothers and sisters.

This year I am living at Halls again. I had to move earlier than everyone else because I a Senior Student. All that means is that I help out with the Residence Office to help and support the students at Halls. The first day back at Halls this year, I felt a little bit low because I missed my family. That night the Residence Office had organised an evening out for Senior Students and Staff to socialise and to get to know one another. On the form it said that we were going Super Bowl. So I thought I would go along and socialise as well.

Arriving at reception I met up with all the Senior Students and introduce myself. They all seemed nice and we chatted. Everyone was ready to go out now. The person who had organised the evening said, “right we are going to the pub for a couple of pints and then we’ll head down to the restaurant”. I thought, ‘Hey Waheguru Ji, Eh Ta Pub Nu Jaan Lage… O Waheguru, they’re going to the pub!’

I thought to myself how could I say to them that I don’t want to go the pub without sounding odd or unsociable. Everyone was about to walk outside and then said, ‘sorry, I won’t be able to go to the pub. It’s because of religious reasons. Sorry, hope you don’t mind, but I don’t mind meeting you up at the restaurant.’ They smiled back and said that’s fine and that they’ll meet up at the restaurant in about an hour or so.

Going back to my room I felt a bit isolated and awkward. My friends hadn’t gone back to university yet and no-one had moved into Halls of Residence yet apart from about ten people, including me, who were working with the Halls of Residence. I recited my evening Rehraas Sahib. Then I did Ardaas. The Ardaas has power. I am not talking in terms of Waheguru answering your prayer but just by looking deep into the meaning of the Ardaas which we read.

The Ardaas starts (using English translation to explain), ‘There is one God. All Victory belongs to God. May the dynamic power of God help us. The Vaar (poetic verse) of Sri Bhagauti, composed by the tenth king. Having first involved the dynamic power of God, call on Guru Nanak.Then on Angad Guru, Amar Das and Ram Das, may they ever protect us. Then call on Arjan, and Har Gobind, holy Har Rai and on Har Krishan, whose sight dispels all sorrows. Then remember Teg Bahadur by whose remembrance the nine treasures come hurrying to ones home. Be ever with us O Masters. May the tenth king, Guru Gobind Singh be ever on our side. Let us now turn our thoughts to the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, the visible embodiment of the ten Gurus and utter, O Khalsa Ji, Vaheguru (glory be to God).’
In the Ardaas first we invoke the power and blessing of Waheguru, then the Ten Gurus, and the Living Spirit of the Ten Gurus enshrined in the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

‘The Panj Pyaare (Five Beloved Ones), the four Sahibzaade (sons of the tenth Master), the forty emancipated ones, the martyrs, the true disciples, the contemplators of God, and those who remained steadfast on the path of Dharma, remember their glorious deeds and utter O Khalsa Ji, Vaheguru.’
We then seek power and strength in remembering the glorious deeds of the Panj Pyaare – who surrendered their heads for Guru Ji, the four Sahibzaade – the eldest two sons of Guru Ji valiantly fought and died in battle defending righteousness. The youngest two sons were bricked alive for refusing to give up their Sikhi at the age of 5 and 7yrs old, and till their last breath they kept in high spirits and cried the slogans of ‘Bole So Nihaal, Sat Sri Akaal’. We remember the Chaalee Mukte, the forty Singhs who deserted Guru Gobind Singh Ji but then returned to die fighting for him. Remembering all glorious actions and deeds of such pure devotees we get strength. We get a feeling of ‘wow’ – these people are great, they are inspiration and source of strength for us; hence we say, ‘Vaheguru’ (Wonderful Lord).

The Ardaas continues with, ‘Those Singhs and Singhnian who offered their heads at the altar of Dharma (justice and righteousness), were cut up limb by limb, skinned alive, boiled or sawn alive, but did not utter a sigh nor faltered in their faith, kept the sanctity of their hair until their last breath, sacrificed their lives for the sanctity of Gurdwaras; who did not give up their faith and kept their long unshorn hair til their last breath, remember their glorious deeds and utter O Khalsa Ji, Vaheguru.’
If we think we have problems or that we face suffering, then we should think again. Reciting this verse of the Ardaas we are reminded of the courage, determination and supreme faith of the Sikhs such as Bhai Mani Singh Ji who was cut limb by limb yet he never gave up his faith, Bhai Taru Singh Ji had so much faith and a spirit of courage that he refused to have his hair forcibly cut and instead had his scalp removed. Bhai Mati Daas Ji who was sawn alive on refusing to comply to the demands of the Mughal rulers to convert and to abandon the Sikhi of Guru Tegh Bahadar Ji. We share the strength of these brave Singhs and Singhnian we remember them and we realise that we are blessed, we are lucky and that we are here because of them and that we should always be in a state of mind of victory.

Reciting the Ardaas and contemplating on it, I realised that I was worrying about trivial matters. Finishing the paat, I went to the restaurant we had a meal. Half of the people afterwards went back to the pub and half of them went back to Halls. I went back to Halls and rested for the night, knowing that Waheguru and my Guru were always with me.

By realising the big picture, we realise how the issues in our lives can be so trivial and small. From my experiences I have learnt to always have 100% faith in Waheguru and always take the support of the Shabad Guru. Gurbani has all the answers and can answer all our problems.

During the summer, Sikh Student Camp took place. At the camp students had an opportunity to take a personal hukamnama (taking an order or instruction for guidance from Guru Ji) with the help of a sewadaar. You wouldn’t believe it but the people who took part in taking a personal Hukamnama realised that Guru Granth Sahib Ji is not ink and paper. But that Nanak Guru Gobind Singh Ji had spoken to them. Their heart and soul was touched by the personal message from Guru Ji to them. This is the power of Gurbani.

Realising that Waheguru is always with us, we have nothing to fear.
Realising that Waheguru does everything for the good of us, we realise that our stumbling blocks become our building blocks of life.
Realising that Waheguru is everything and that I am nothing, we become everything, we realise everything is Waheguru and we enjoy the power and glory of the Supreme Being.

Be inspired and inspire others.
May Waheguru bless you.

Manvir Singh Khalsa