LIFE AND WORK OF PROF. PRITAM SINGH
'Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our life sublime.'
Prof. Pritam Singh, one of the earliest Bahá'ís of Punjab, not only played an important role in the spread of the Cause in Northern India by his untiring efforts, but contributed in a major way to the development of the Faith in the whole continent. So wonderful were the services that he rendered to the Cause of God that the beloved Guardian wrote several personal letters to him from time to time guiding and directing him to achieve still greater victories for the nascent Cause. In one of his letters, written to Prof. Pritam Singh on February 11, 1952, Shoghi Effendi had added in his own handwriting "May the Beloved reward you for your meritorious services, guide every step you take, bless every effort you exert, and fulfill every desire you cherish, for the promotion of our beloved Faith". It will be only befitting to know the life story of such a great personage who, in all humility, spent his life in serving the Cause of God.
Birth and Early life
An illustrious son of Punjab, Prof. Singh was born On November 16, 1881 of noble parents in Sialkot City. His father, Sardar Charat Singh, was a Sessions Judge and his younger brother, Sh. Gian Singh, had The unique privilege of being the first Indian Financial Commissioner of Punjab.
Prof. Pritam Singh passed his matriculation examination in 1899 and joined Khalsa College, Amritsar, from where he passed the intermediate examination in 1901. he studied for the B.A. degree at the Lahore Government College and graduated in 1904. Thereafter he joined the Staff of the Atchison college at Lahore and worked there for 3 years. Letter on he studied for another two years at Lahore and Calcutta and obtained two M.A. degrees, one in History and another in Economics. For several years, he taught in many colleges and universities and retired voluntarily from professorship in 1927. Rich tributes were paid to him by his colleagues wherever he worked. Edmund Candler, the late Principal of Mohindra College, Patiala, wrote of him, "I have great pleasure in placing on record my appreciation of his sterling qualities as a man, a student and a teacher. Not only did Prof. Pritam Singh prove himself loyal and prompt on the staff work, he was also full of initiative and suggestions for the improvement of the college administration and his activities outside the lecture room were numerous. He edited the College Magazine, conducted the 'Literary Association', inaugurated the Political Economy Association, etc His examination results were consistently excellent. He is well read, a scholar in the most genuine sense of the word, and he is always widening the bounds of his knowledge. His academic qualifications speak for themselves." Prof. H sternly Gevons, M.A.,F.S., Late University Professor of Economics at the Economic Department of the University of Allahabad, besides being full of praise for his work as Reader, found him "a gentleman of most agreeable manner, and unfailing courtesy'. He had great pleasure in having Prof. Singh work for him.
Early Association With The Bahá'í Faith
A Sikh by birth, Prof. Pritam Singh came in contact with the Bahá'í Faith quite early in life. In 1905, at the age of 25, when he was a student of the Atchison College at Lahore, he met Mr. M. Zarghani, a distinguished Bahá'í teacher, who introduced the Faith to him. Infect the story of his accepting the Faith is quite dramatic as well as amusing. It is reported that one day while visiting the Antalkali Commercial Center in Lahore, he came across the board of a Hakims . since Prof. Singh was at the tame suffering from a minor physical ailment, he went upstairs to get the treatment. However, the gentleman across the table (Mr. M. Zarghani) informed him that he was not only a physician but also a spiritual doctor. There- after he introduced the Faith to him. Being temperamentally a spiritual person, he was deeply attracted by the spirit of the Faith and became a Bahá'í. Later on, in 1908, he paid a visit to Bombay and came in touch with another distinguished Bahá'í, Mr. M. Mehram, who completely won him over to the Bahá'í Faith. In an unpublished autobiographical sketch, Prof. Singh has written, "I must write here that after becoming a Bahá'í I understood the oneness of all religions and made an intensive study of world Faiths and came to the conclusion that Religious Idealism was progressive and humanity could only be united under the banner of one Universal Faith founded by Bahà'u'llàh about a century ago".
Outstanding Bahá'í Activities
Prof. Pritam Singh, the 'Lion of the Beloved', served on various Bahá'í Committees and Assemblies before he was finally elected as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of India, Burma and Ceylon. He traveled almost all over India, in the company of such distinguished Bahá'í teachers as Mrs. Keith Ransom Kehler, Miss Martha Root and Mrs. F. Schopflocker. Mrs. Keith Ransom Kehler was given the title of the 'first American Martyr on the Persian soil' by Shoghi Effendi and he wrote that "guided and helped by Prof Pritam Singh she should be able to awaken many souls to the spirit and teach- ings of Bahà'u'llàh". Martha Root, who went around the world four times to teach the Faith, visited India twice, first time in 1931 and second time in 1938. Prof. Singh accompanied her on most teaching trips and introduced her to Dr. radha Krishnan, then the VC of the Bananas Hindu University, later Ambassador to Russia and then President of India. Further, while in Calcutta, he introduced her to Sarojini Naidu, the famous poetess popularly known as the Nightingale of India. He also took her to Shanti Niketan where they met Rabindra Nath Tagore who agreed to set up a Bahá'í Chair at the Vishwa Bharati University.
Even when he was alone, Prof. Singh frequently taught the Cause in universities, colleges and in religious Organizations such as Theosophical Society, Brahma Samaj, Arya Samaj and Christian Study Circles. His efforts were soon to be recognized and he was elected as a member of the National Assembly in which capacity he served the Cause for 10 years. He was instrumental in establishing the first Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Lahore and served as its secretary for 3 years. He edited the first Bahá'í newspaper of the sub-continent 'Bahá'í Weekly' for 3 years (1931-33). He extensively toured India before settling as a pioneer in Amritsar in 1948.
Prof. Pritam Singh published a few Bahá'í books and pamphlets in Urdu and English and translated into Punjabi (Urdu script) Dr. Esslemont's well-known book 'Bahà'u'llàh and the New Era'. His English book 'Saints and Sages of India' was very well received. He also made a free translation from Persian into English of Mr. M. Zarghani's two volumes of Travels of 'Abdu'l-Bahà in Egypt, Europe and America. One of the tiny but comprehensive booklets written by Prof. Pritam Singh in Punjabi 'Navan Din Ki Sewer' is extensively used to teach the Faith in Punjab even today and the State Bahá'í Council of Punjab has already exhausted more than two editions of the book.
Habits and Character
Prof. Pritam Singh is reported to have been a straightforward and child- like individual by all those who knew him. Him was at ease in the company of the poorest of the poor as well as the most learned of the learned like judges of the High Court and ICS officers, etc. In his time and even today one finds very few people of his character. He was dressed generally in Kameez, payjama and a long coat. He had simple regulated food habits and was very disciplined in all his daily chores. He spent most of his time in reading, writing, traveling and teaching. He was always thinking of the Faith. At times, he would get up in the middle of the night and start talking about the problems which needed to be solved. Prof. Singh led a blemish less life. Recently, at a meeting held at the Bahá'í House in Chandigarh, remembering her foster father, Mrs. Raikhy, a well known social worker from Punjab, said, "It is a great privilege to be able to talk about my foster father Prof. Pritam Singh. Usually, when we are very close to someone, we tend to skip the strong points and notice only weaknesses. Deepak tale an era. I was very close to father yet could not trace any spot of darkness".
Tests and Trials
Impressed by his dedicated services to the Cause and knowing that Prof. Singh did not have any children of his own, though married for a long enough time, Mr. Samandari, the only Hand of the Cause of God who had the unique privilege of attaining to the presence of the Blessed Beauty Bahà'u'llàh, the beloved Master 'Abdu'l-Bahà, the Guardian Shoghi Effendi and later the Universal House of Justice, decided to gift his 6 years old grand-daughter, Victoria Zarangeez Samandari, (then also known as Vikki, now Mrs Raikhy) to him. This girl's adoption, how- ever, caused a great upheaval in his family because his father was against it Further, his younger brother persuaded his father to disinherit him from his ancestral property because he had adopted a new religion. Prof. Singh was deeply attached to his daughter right from the first day. He left his job in Cawnpur and came to Lahore for her education. He decided my father could give to his daughter and utmost love. But when I saw so much of misery and oppression all wrong and the attitude of the teachers in the school, it hurt me deeply. I was accustomed to speak the truth which brought on me the wrath of some British teachers. I read a great deal of Gandhi ji's 'Experiments in Truth' and Nehru's Discovery of India, which were my first introduction to the world of politics. It's just that I was deeply attached to my own ideals. So I chose Communism". Besides, she was not greatly impressed by the lives of some new Bahá'ís whom she knew. Says she, 'Signing a card does not make you a good Bahá'í". And so till the very last both the father and the daughter remained deeply attached to their ideals though there was no love lost between them, nay rather they truly admired each other and saw the fulfillment of their ideals in each others life styles.
The Last Days
The last days of Prof. Pritam Singh's life were not very happy. He remained steadfast like a rock till the end of his life even though faced with innumerable difficulties. He had stayed back in Lahore (Pakistan) even after the partition of India in 1947. His daughter and her husband had already shifted to Punjab (India). He was residing alone (as his wife was living in Amritsar wither cousins) in an area where Muslim community was in large majority. Then being the times of great violence and terror, when each community was thirsty for the blood of the other, his decision to stay back in Lahore was full of dangers. After the great holocaust passed away, Mrs. Raikhy along with her husband went to meet him in Lahore and found that conditions were so bad that he could not even come and stand in the balcony of his house. They and the neighbors persuaded him to come to India. After much deliberation he finally decided to come out of Pakistan and pioneers to Amritsar. Though he was old and weak, and financially deprived, his love for the Faith remained at its peak. He continued to teach the Faith till the very end. Bahá'í friend who was sent by the National Assembly to visit him in Amritsar and who met him just a for night before his death, later has recorded their conversation and his impressions in these words, "he was wearing a white turban, a white shirt, white pajamas and white canvas shoes, his cheeks were worn out and his eyes had sunk in. he smile embraced me and expressed gratitude and joy. He said, 'The call may come any moment. I am eager to reach Bahà'u'llàh and submit my account to Him God alone knows how I served His Glorious Faith I beg the mercy of the Manifestation of God.' Prof Singh passed away in Amritsar on August 25, 1959. When the news was conveyed to the Hands of the Faith in the Holy Land, they sent the following cable expressing their deep sorrow :
"Grieve loss outstanding Indian believer Pritam Singh, distinguished teacher administrator Fait much loved praised by beloved Guardian. His devoted untiring services so long period so many fields unforgettable. Praying shrines rich reward Kingdom."
The dead body of Prof. Pritam Singh was buried according to the Bahá'í rites near the Christian Burial Ground in Amritsar where it rests even today. Is he not reminding us, the Bahá'ís, particularly those residing in northern India', even in his death, to fulfill our responsibilities as followers of the Blessed Beauty especially in the strained circumstances that Punjab finds itself in ? What else could be said of such an ardent worker for the truth except that he lived a life fully in accordance with the Bahá'í teachings and undoubtedly understood the meaning of these words of 'Abdu'l-Bahà, "Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by Divine Mercy for our own perfecting. While a man is happy, he may forget his Lord; but when grief comes and sorrows overwhelm him, then will he remember his Father who is in Heaven, and who is able to deliver him from humiliations." And he adopted these to such an extent that his own life became a shining example.
By : Prof. Anil Sarwal
**To be able to reconstruct the life story of a person of the stature of Prof. Pritam Singh is a privilege. He was one of the most eminent early Bahá'ís of India from Punjab. And perhaps the first Bahá'í form Sikh background. His life was his massage.
He is fondly remembered by all those who know him, came in contact with him or heard him even once. His student, most of whom are well placed today, still refer to him with great reverence and respect.
This tribute is being paid to him at a time when the state of India to which he belonged is in great turmoil and where certain unfortunate events are taking place which are in direct contra- diction with the ideals that he cherished and lived for. Indeed his soul must be in anguish to witness the sordid happenings in our beloved land Punjab-the granary of the world. How rich indeed will be the fruits of our endeavors if only we arise t serve with full determination, knowing well that sanctified souls like that of Prof. Singh are waiting in Abha Kingdom to assist us.
It is therefore hoped that the present account of Prof. Singh's life, though very brief, would inspire the believers to attain new heights in the service of this beloved Cause.**