Baba Naudh Singh
BABA NAUDH SINGH, whose full title. "The Redemption of Subhagji through the Grace of Baba Naudh Singh," pronounces the homiletic character of the book at the start, was first published in 1921. Comprising a wide variety of elements ranging from romance to polemics, sermon and theology, it seeks to present the Sikh way and vision of life through incident, example and argument. In a manner, the author, Bhai Vir Singh, has only extended the form effected by him in his earlier romances, Sundan, Bijay Singh and Satvant Kaur. The aim here is to create memorable portraits of the ideal Sikh homo whose spirit never falters or wilts in the midst of life's miseries, confusions and terrors.
The story principally involves the strange and troubled experiences of Jamuna, a young Jain widow, who is decoyed into false positions, appellations and conversions in rapid succession before she is ushered into the Sikh faith. Enroute, she encounters avarice, lust and sin in pious garbs. Each new experience brings home to her men's depravity. Utterly appalled, she seeks refuge in death to avoid harrowing humiliations. But the providential plunge into a nearby stream becomes the very means other rescue and redemption. A young Sikh saint meditating there saves her and, initiating her into the ordained faith, disappears as suddenly and mysteriously as he had materialized. Quite clearly, he is, in Bhai Vir Singh's transparent symbology, an emblem of divinity in human form. Jamuna turned Dumeli turned Ghulam Fatima is now rechristened Subhagji or "the Fortunate one." The wheel other trials and tribulations having come full circle, she is forever liberated from the aches and illusions of life. She has entered a commonwealth of shared views and visions. Her advent into Baba Naudh Singh's household reveals another set purpose. A simple life of prayer and piety, of service and sacrifice, we learn, is the beau ideal of Sikh ethics. And a rural homestead vibrating to the music of daily life is the happiest habitat for a psyche in quest. Even dissenters, scoffers and tempters of varying persuasions who happen to come to this village are soon won over by the homespun logic of Baba Naudh Singh, who is held up as a shining example of virtue in repose and confidence. Under the benign shadow of Baba Naudh Singh, Subhagji learns to live in an atmosphere of peace and bliss, unmindful of worldly temptations and distractions. Nightly, she recites tales of Sikh piety and glory to eager audiences. Baba Naudh Singh delivers long talks on all manner of vices and practices such as dirt and drunkenness, untouchability and idolworship. A barrister and his wife, a doctor, a Brahmo Samaj preacher, turning up in the village, provide him opportunities for instruction in Sikh religion and morals. The daily katha or scriptural commentary and historical narration serve to authenticate the Sikh tradition embodied in the lives of the Gurus and of their disciples. To the extent Bhai Vir Singh succeeds in creating symbolic archetypes of Sikh virtue and in painting a picture of pastoral country life, he managed to rouse the interest of his contemporaries. Viewed from today's perspective, we find Baba Naudh Singh a horizontal study in idealism. It represents a moment in Sikh consciousness around the turn of the present century.
1. Harbans Singh, Bhai Vir Singh. Delhi, 1972
2. Talib, Gurbachan Singh, and Attar Singh, eds., Bhai Vir Singh: Life, Time and Works. Chandigarh, 1973
3. Guleria, J.S., Bhai Vir Singh: A Literary Portrait. Delhi, 1985
4. Kohli, Surindar Singh, and Harnam Singh Shan, eds., Bhai Vir Singh: Jivan, Saman te Rachna. Chandigarh, 1973