Wednesday, June 18, 2014

This is our father, Shri Shanti Sarup Puri, and grandfather and great-grandfather to our children and their children. He was a forester and retired as Divisional Forest Officer, a high post responsible for the growth and conservation of forests in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. His reasonable salary was what he earned and spent, but he enriched his life with dedicated service, sincerity, honesty and being kindhearted. A story about him goes like this: during the 1947 communal riots a mob of rage-packed fanatic Hindu youth armed with swords came to his residence and demanded that he immediately handover all the Muslim women and children, whom he was protecting by giving them safe shelter. My father came out with a loaded rifle and with courage he shouted that if any one in that angry mob would move forward and tried to enter the house he would shoot and kill each one of them. Nobody dared, and all the women and their kids were saved. Besides being a daring person our father was a religious man starting his day by reading Gita, Japji-sahib, and after morning walk and bath he would go thru Guru Granth Sahib which was diligently underlined with red-blue pencil. This picture was taken in front of the bungalow in Dehra Doon's Forest Research Institution where he worked for few years after his retirement in late '50s. The place was on a sloping street where as a 10-year-old kid I used to bicycle, occasionally taking my hands and feet off from the handle and the paddle and that acrobat move once resulted in breaking my right arm. These are nostalgic memories of my childhood and my father. Happy Fathers' Day.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Book Review: G.S.Bhatia

Book Review By Promod Puri

Truth, Love, Non-violence, The Story Of Gurcharan Singh Bhatia

The fascinating story of Gurcharan Singh Bhatia, a man of conviction and compassion with multiple virtues, began when as a teenager he courageously saved the life of a Muslim toddler girl picked up from a heap of corpses dumped on a street as a result of ferocious and indiscriminate bloody communal riots during the India- Pakistan partition in 1947.

In a recently released book, titled Truth, Love, Non-violence, The  Story Of Gurcharan Singh Bhatia, author Alexis Kienlen has compiled an interesting biography of this 'Complex personality with many facets', who migrated to Canada in early '60s and now retired in Edmonton, Alberta, after having a long, exciting and eventful life as a political and social activist, businessman and human rights advocate. The book is available on

Powered by extensive research the author, providing a brief introduction to Sikhism and its teachings of equality of all human beings, service, charity and sharing, has entrenched the connect between these tenets of the Sikh religion and Bhatia's life. Moreover, Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent protest against British rule, respect and tolerance of fellow human beings and moral courage has quite an impact on Bhatia's own thinking and attitude toward fellow human beings.

So influenced by the doctrine of non-violent actions, principles of truth, justice and equality, that these have remained lifelong guiding ethics in Bhatia's life. And perhaps for that reason the author has devoted a full chapter highlighting Gandhi's messages and struggles toward India's freedom and the emancipation of its people from social evils of racial and religious prejudices.

His devout religious mother, who also apprehended Gandhi's message of non-violence that "made sense and he was the voice of the reason", and his father's utmost belief in "truth is God and God is truth", that Bhatia adhered to these moral values throughout his life.

Following the Gandhi's leadership Bhatia being a fearless fighter, actively involved himself quite early in life with the freedom movement both for India and his own state of Jammu and Kashmir from the autocratic maharajah rule.

The Independence, which partitioned the subcontinent into two separate nations of India and Pakistan, was defaced by 'massacres, bloodshed and extreme acts of violence' between Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other. The sovereignty 'resulted in millions of refugees, economic disruption and social unrest'.

It is in this troubled and distressed backdrop in which his own family also suffered immensely in the loss of many family members and their properties, that the author has elaborately woven a captivating episode of Bhatia when he was merely 16-year-old.

His political activism in Kashmir affairs makes an interesting chapter of the book which  revealed how he along with his lifelong friend Balraj Puri were able to convince Prime Minister Nehru to help bring a democratic governing system in Kashmir.

After the death of his father during the partition riots, the young Bhatia, being eldest of the siblings, took on himself the responsibility of being the breadwinner of the family. Beside political activism he felt "life is question of survival" too.

Gurcharan Singh Bhatia is the story of a hardworking and goal seeking man who with determination, self confidence and discipline studied diligently to become a chartered accountant. And in pursuits of 'adventure and knowledge' he went to Glasgow, England, to study business management and administration.

With his academic background and professional credentials Bhatia returned to India to join his uncle's travel business.

And while he was settling down in his job, he met 'the love of his life and his soul mate' Jagjit Puri, popularly known as Jiti, whom he married in 1962. And ever since it has been the most dedicated relationship between the two. However, as they say behind every successful man there stands a woman, he acknowledges "her patience, attitude and capacity to handle the problems in the family that helped us".

As destiny had its own plans that after their marriage the family moved to Canada along their daughter. Initially, they settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which was a tough choice back in early '60s, and that too in a place known for severe winter weather of sub-zero temperatures.

But in Winnipeg Bhatia soon became an accomplished businessman as a senior partner in a real estate developing company which thru its various projects literally changed the city's downtown landscape. Later in early '80s he moved to Edmonton where beside being a developer he involved himself more actively in community and social activities with particular interest in human rights.

The author's extensive narration of Bhatia's life in Canada gives a very vivid description as how this family man faced initial hardships of settling down while sticking to his ethics and principles based on his Sikh religious teachings. "Accepting challenges and never "give up our efforts......this is an attitude that has helped me to grow, think and survive", was his mantra of success and becoming part of the Canadian mosaic while retaining his Sikh and ethnic identity.

A recipient of the Order of Canada, the highest honor for a civilian Canadian, Bhatia submits "I knew I had entered business for a living, but at the same time, I thought I could play a better role - one that could be satisfying for me and my family, the community and the future, promoting multiculturalism, Canadian citizenship and human rights"

His life's diverse profile includes being accountant, real estate owner and developer, entrepreneur, newspaper publisher and journalist, community activist, member of the Canadian human rights commission, persuasive involvement in Canada's political, social and human rights affairs, and Citizenship Judge.

He helped in redefining the phrase "Canadian values", to include "tolerance of ethnic and religious diversity, acceptance of new immigrants".

And lately even in his senior years Bhatia is fervently involved in the Edmonton-based International Association for Citizens for a Civil Society, which was created to promote better understanding and peace among peoples with different religious backgrounds. The association's civil society theme is based on "five pillars", which are: right and respect for the life of every born and living human being; the promotion of the rule of law; justice and non-violence; advancement of literacy and education; and promotion of human rights and Canadian values.

A key project of the Civil Society is to hold an annual Daughters Day to recognize the achievements and contributions of women, and bring awareness of gender equality. "Daughters Day is another creation that is part of the man's legacy", writes the author about Bhatia.

A distinguishing aspect of Bhatia's personality the book brings out is that of his humorous nature. " I take everything seriously, but I know there is humor in everything, too", Bhatia asserts.

Brilliantly written, reading the book is like hopping on to a sailing boat and cruising in often rough and challenging waters where the cool and confident captain knows how to ride the waves, and thus making the voyage an engrossing experience of adventures and inspirations.