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February 23, 2018

Talk on Sikh heritage in Pakistan


February 23, 2018

Islamabad: For its special programme on Comparative Cultures, the Asian Study Group (ASG) organised a multi-media presentation on the Sikh legacy in Pakistan titled, ‘The quest continues: Lost Heritage,’ a book by Amardeep Singh. The book documents his travels in early 2017 to 90 cities and villages across Sindh, Baluchistan, AJK, KP and the Punjab. His quest was to chronicle the nearly abandoned legacy of the Sikh civilization in Pakistan.

The event was held at the Media Center, Lok Virsa and attended by members and their guests who were intrigued by the introduction to the programme in the ASG newsletter - “Visually intensive, using spectacular photographs to weave a storyline that takes the audience on a thoughtful, yet entertaining, virtual journey, the presentation will motivate all communities to become aware of the past and through it, live in harmony for mutual progress.”

They were not disappointed and listened with interest as the story of Amardeep’s travels unfolded. Explaining that he had felt an urge to do more with his life after working for so many years - and since his father's memories of ‘home’ affected him to the extent that by the time he was eighteen, he was keenly reading everything about the history of Kashmir, Punjab, Afghanistan and of course, the Sikhs. He eventually decided to learn more about the Sikh legacy and record it for future generations. “Maybe God wanted me to do this. I don’t know,” he said.

Talking about the mighty empire of Ranjit Singh, the last empire that the British claimed in India, he said it spread from the borders of Afghanistan right up to Punjab in India. “And 80 per cent of that mighty empire is in present-day Pakistan – a rich legacy and heritage that is fading away and to which a majority of the Sikhs have no connection.” Emphasising that legacy had nothing to do with religion and regretting the days when people of all faiths lived together in peace and harmony, he went on to speak with emotion about his discovery of Sikh ‘gurdwaras’ (places of worship) in remote parts of the country and his conversations with people who were friendly and hospitable, with a sense of a shared past when Sikhs were part of the community. From his tone it was easy to feel that some of the discoveries were painful, some sad but all of them were useful in revealing a comprehensive picture of the Sikh legacy.

We who were listening, also learned a lot and one fact that I think many of us were unaware of was that the KPK has the largest population of Sikhs, though they mostly speak Pashto and not Punjabi or Gurmukhi, a script which is associated with the Sikh religion, as the words guru-mukhî literally mean ‘from the mouth of the guru.’

In conclusion the author thanked those people in Pakistan who helped him make the journey; the government for trying to restore and retain some of the Sikh heritage sites (though he did regret that originality was missing) and the ASG for giving him an opportunity to speak. There was a Q&A session; a signing of books and interaction between the author and attendees before this engrossing evening came to an end.

Amardeep Singh is an engineer and an MBA who worked as Asia Pacific Regional Head for Pricing and Revenue Management for twenty five years at American Express in Singapore. He is passionate about history, musicology, spirituality and photography. His first book: ‘Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan,’ published in Jan 2016, documented his explorations across 36 cities and villages in Pakistan.

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