My popping eyes had chased every ball and I had relished every stroke. It was the Wankhede Stadium of Mumbai. Cricket then was still a popular test match format. I was in my teens and a confirmed cricket lunatic. Dressed in white, I felt like a cricketer. The day had ended on a high note and the spectators had begun to disperse from the stadium.
The Indian players were now also boarding their bus. This was my only chance to confront the cricket messiahs. With haste and excitement I too boarded the bus. It was the moment of my life, shaking hands with the greats. Thousands of fans had surrounded the bus and the crowd was now swelling up. The security guards had also taken their position. I was trapped like a white pigeon, in a cage. Left with no choice, I jumped the bus and the crowd roared – “Maninder Singh”.
Hundreds of cricket fans and the security were running after me. I was running away from them. The bruised and tattered mistaken Maninder came home with a missing shoe. I guess there is always a price to stardom. The real left-arm orthodox spinner like most protégés failed to epitomize many unfilled promises. I too got busy with my engineering studies. I had now moved to my twenties and so had the Indian 20-20 cricket. With mustache, beard and a turban I reveled as a Sardar – a Sikh.
Cricket for me was now passé; I had just alighted from the train at the Lausanne station in Switzerland. A young girl in her teens notoriously followed me. I was pleasantly surprised. This was my first trip to Europe, I was naive. She said, “Are you Mr. Guru, a Sikh? I am reading Indian Sikh history”. The next 30 minutes, I was the best professor in town, not that I was a historian. I wonder how she felt walking the Sikh history. Over the years we exchanged a few letters. She must have done well in her subject.
History repeats and this Sikh was now in Paris. My wife was insisting on a walking tour. We needed direction. Most men replied in French, while we enquired in English. French to us was Greek and Latin. In frustration I blabbered in chaste Punjabi and proclaimed loud, I am a Sikh. The French thought I was sick, they panicked and quickly replied in English. You bet the French didn’t know an iota of Punjabi. It is just the art of being different and the Sikh gets noticed. We could now find our way to Champs Elysees, with much ease.
The French connection though did not work at the crowded Dubai airport. Alex and Mini were to join the Kenya Airlines safari tour. I was to escort them to our group. Alex I understand was to be a thin short man with a lovely wife and daughter. I was waiving at every possible couple that matched the description. Soon I had half the Dubai airport waving at me. I presume they all had a lovely wife and a daughter. Wisdom prevailed and finally I was able to trace Alex and Mini. We hugged each other and exchanged pleasantries. This was to be their first safari, and like me they looked excited and determined to den the lion. I was now promptly handling their vouchers and passports. The passports belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Kutty.
The real Alex and Mini arrived much later, so did my other known friends. The Kutty’s were touched by the Singh hospitality and choose to continue the trip with us. Their little daughter exclaimed, “Singh is King”. Now what’s in a name, more the merrier? The Kenya trip is now two year old, so is our friendship with the real and the not so real Alex and Mini.
Sikhs have been known for their jovial, “ulta – pulta” (topsy-turvy) approach to life. They joke and can be joked. You can trust a Sikh behind a wheel. For good food, what better than a “Sardar Dhaba”. On a serious note, most medals of bravery in India are pinned to the Sikh. They are making their mark in literature, sports, politics, science, finance and most other walks of life. The Sikh begs to be different and gets noticed.
The prime minister of a billion plus is giving a new dimension to the Sikh identity. I now get noticed, when I am flying the globe. The world’s largest democracy hinges on the commands of a Sikh. The turbaned Sikhs are a distinguished face in the crowd. Those Sikh friends, who chose to chop their hair in 1984, are now raising their hands to get counted. I am afraid; they have lost their perks, long ago.