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Glimpses of Greatness

"Sarmukh Singh Murdabad","Hamari Mangain Puri Karo"

Some where on the border of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, a Canal Headwork was being built. As is usual, quite a small town had sprung up around it. The population of such a town, as is usual, is mixed and varied. There were people from as far as Kerala and Tamil Nadu, there were people from Bihar, U.P., and of course, from Haryana and Punjab. But the bulk of the labour force was from Himachal. Profession-wise there were engineers of varied ranks, masons, carpenters, machinists etc. There was also a small hospital having a few doctors, dispensers and two nurses. As is usual in such towns the population was predominantly male. Some women of easy virtue had also come, to profit by the loneliness of men who had surplus money.

The township was under the charge of S. Sarmukh Singh, Superintending Engineers, Irrigation, belonging to the Punjab Cadre. He had under him officials on deputation from Haryana and Himachal, supplemented by adhoc staff.

Sarmukh Singh was a rare bird among the Public Works personnel. He was honest to the core. He, himself, worked hard from morning till night and expected his staff to follow suit. He would not wink over dishonesty and inefficiency in work. The tribe of Engineers - SDOs, Overseers and underlings and Contractors was most unhappy. Being bound by discipline, they could not show open hostility, themselves. While outwardly eulogising the virtues of the Sardar, behind his back they blamed him for all the shortcomings and discomforts that are bound to be in such construction towns. Gradually, the labour force was provoked, their wrath fanned and their malice turned towards S. Sarmukh Singh.

One fine morning, as was usual with him, Sarmukh Singh, had his breakfast and was preparing to leave for the construction site, when he heard slogans coming from afar. He came out into the verandah and saw crowds of workers coming towards him. As soon as the crowd apprehended him, it raised still louder slogans mixed with personal abuses.

The S.E. kept standing. When the crowd reached the house, they strangely felt quite silent. There was not even a whisper, such was the reputation of the redoubtable Sardar, and in such high personal esteem was he held. After a few minutes, Sarmukh Singh asked the men in front, obviously the leaders of the crowd, what the matter was. One amongst them detailed, their woes - like lack of entertainment facilities, shortage and inadequacy of housing, inclement weather, hardship of work, long hours of work, hazardous nature of work and low wages.

The Sardar told them that some of the things, like inclement weather, hazardous nature of work etc., could not be helped, though everything possible was being done to give them comfort and all possible measures for their safety were being taken. As regards lack of entertainment, low wages etc., he was constantly urging the authorities to ameliorate their conditions. It seemed, as happened before, the people were falling prey to the charisma of the Sardar, and were preparing to leave for work. But then, some one in the back, shouted the much heard slogan in such cases all over India - "Sarmukh Singh Murdabad", (Sarmukh Singh be dead); "Hamari Mangain Puri Karo", (fulfil our demands).

Sarmukh Singh raised his hands and said that whatever was possible, he would do, but he could not fulfil the demands, which were not in his power to fulfil. But the miscreants raised louder and still louder slogans. Sarmukh's words were drowned in the raising ocean of fury of the mob.

Seeing this, he calmly descended the few steps of the verandah and began to walk in the direction of the river. The crowed opened up and made way for him, but kept going along with him. Murmuring something under his lips, perhaps the Morning Sikh prayers, Sarmukh kept on walking steadily. All the leaders tried to talk to Sarmukh Singh and to their followers, but the mischief-bent agents kept on shouting "Sarmukh Singh Murdabad, Hamari Mangain Puri Karo" .... Sarmukh kept on walking, and no one stopped him, such was his personality. But slogans became even louder and sometimes mixed with filthy words.

After about 3/4 of a mile, Sarmukh Singh along with the shouting crowd at his heels reached the bank of the river, and stopped there. A pyre was burning there, because it was the cremation ground of the surrounding villages. When the crowd realised as to where they had been led to, they fell silent.

Sarmukh Singh took off his shoes, folded his hands, bowed his head and said with all humility - "my dear brothers, I have explained the position to you earlier. As I cannot fulfil your other demands, I can atleast comply with your wishes regarding my death. Here I am in the crematorium, I have come here of my own accord, so that you will not have to bring my dead body here. you can kill me here or prepare a pyre and  I will climb it and fulfil your desire of "Sarmukh Singh Murdabad". I will give it in writing that I am doing it out of my own free will and you will not be held responsible.

The people wept and the crowd melted away.

(Gratefully reproduced from "Glimpses of Greatness" by Dr. Gajindar Singh)


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