My name is Jasveer Singh and I work for a Sikh community organisation.
The job is a lot less heroic than it may sound. It isn’t bringing aid to crisis zones across the world like a Ravi Singh. It isn’t supporting the less abled like Manpreet Kaur. Nor is it running educational programmes like Harwinder Singh.
I work for the Sikh Press Association. This largely involves sitting in front of a laptop or being on my phone. Nevertheless, it is something I often find myself commended for doing. Recently, after one particular night which saw a lot of praise showered upon the work of Sikh PA, I found myself feeling rather empty about it, and it wasn’t just the awkwardness of having to accept a compliment either.
I told my fiancé. I told my closest circle of friends. I told them I felt differently from how I often felt after Sikh community events, where you see sangat (Sikh congregation) get together, and you’re surrounded by Khalsa (initiated Sikhs), discussing work to further progress of the panth (Sikh path). Usually after such events, I am buzzing, I feel invigorated and inspired. This time, I felt differently.
The feeling came to me once I was alone, and away from everyone else. At first, I couldn’t really put my finger on it. I didn’t feel any different about the work that I did. I still felt it was worthwhile and supportive of the Sikh community. I didn’t feel apathetic to the praise. I felt that was all sincere. And my feeling wasn’t as simple as feeling unworthy either, a common feeling when trying to align with the greatness of the Guru, which was discussed at length at the Basics of Sikhi camp last December. Working within sangat is an ultimate blessing, one which I hope I will never take for granted.
My empty feeling that night came from something more complex. As I sat on my couch in my suit-and-tie, half-reading and not replying to dozens of post-event messages, I contemplated that feeling. Luckily, the importance of contemplation was always emphasised to me simply by seeing the word in Havelock and Park Avenue Gurdwara hukumnana (commands taken from Sikh scripture) translations since I was a child. So I have always tried to contemplate upon my feelings and actions, because from what I gathered, this was part of Sikhi.
So I thought about what was making me feel empty about what was such a positive evening, and I realised something was missing. That something, was the man who had started (co-founded) the organisation I worked for, and was being praised for working for. What I missed was Jagraj Singh.
When I realised it, I was hit with an instant wave of sadness. Jagraj Singh passed away from cancer aged just 38 years old last year in July. He passed away having begun a process of changing the world as we know it through the charity he founded, Everythings 13.
Around the middle of 2014 he began setting up the Sikh Press Association with Rupinder Kaur. She was someone I already knew, respected and trusted through our work together in the media industry. As such, when she invited me to join this project, I jumped at the chance. Not to mention, as an avid Basics of Sikhi viewer at the time, I felt blessed to have a chance to be involved.
Nearly four years later, I am still involved (Sikh PA officially launched in February 2015 and I became an employee in April 2015 for anyone wondering about our historic timeline). However, four years later, one of the main reasons I got involved – Jagraj Singh – was no longer there.
All I have ever done with my work for Sikh PA, is try to stick with the vision Jagraj Singh had for it. I have tried to do this in the same manner Rupinder Kaur, a world class PR executive, taught me when she first kicked things off with the organisation. Yet, for the first time, due to Jagraj Singh’s passing, this year it was me as the senior voice at Sikh PA, and by default the focal point of all the praise.
How do you take credit for something that isn’t yours? What do you say to getting recognition for another person’s creation?
In trying to answer those questions, I realised I was still coming to terms with losing Jagraj Singh as a mentor, as a friend, as a leader, as a brother and as everything in between.
We probably weren’t as close as some people may think, having worked closely together for three years. I was too intimidated by him. Too in awe of him. He was too smart, too knowledgeable, too driven, too proactive. Being around him was often like, ‘Oh no, what’s he going to get me doing now? Sit-ups? Santhiya (Sikh scripture pronunciation)? Video editing?’.
I regret feeling like that. I wish I would have tried to spent more time with him, learnt more directly from him. Even after he was diagnosed, I wish I would have visited him more.
Khalsa being Khalsa, he was in chardi-kala (ever rising spirits) whenever I saw him after his diagnosis. That probably made it harder for someone like me to take in his loss when it actually came. I didn’t feel any real sadness until the day of his funeral. Then, I found it hard not to cry for near two days straight.
Yet, with the nature of panthic work, Everythings 13 were straight back in action just days after the funeral of our CEO. Me, back to working for the project he created, making decisions without him, moving forward with his vision.
So to then, stand before so many people and talk about his work, and then have people congratulate me for it…it felt empty.
Sure, we mention him in relation to our work, but he isn’t there to hear about how it is impacting people now. He isn’t there to see its impact now. And that made me feel a certain way about presenting our successes.
Again, just to reaffirm, to me, this isn’t about feeling unworthy. To me, this is about knowing your role and knowing how it fits into a team. I am an obsessive and passionate sports fan. Sport teaches one the importance of teamwork and structure.
The more you learn about it, the more you realise Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s revolution is too important a mission for it to be misrepresented. As such, Sikh community domains can be unforgiving places. Criticism can be curt, attitudes can be abrasive, etiquette can be non-existent.
To step forward and attempt to lead something from within this is one of the bravest things a person can do. By its nature, this demands immense seva and intimate connection with sangat. There are too many people attempting to push themselves into Sikh leadership roles without any of the above for me to take what Jagraj Singh did lightly, by placing himself in the gauntlet of Sikh leadership and building a team to do panthic work.
In my opinion, I personally feel involvement in panthic work is overwhelmingly beneficial for one’s mental health. There is a genuine family love that can be built within sangat from being around those who want nothing more than sarbat da bhala. Not to mention the hugs. The hugs! People within sangat will hug you like you’re their long-lost best friend.
Nevertheless, I recognise the feeling of responsibility of representing a panthic org is by no means easy to handle. It is a daunting prospect to be in any position of being questioned by sangat. Yet, it is a fair and needed position to be in when working both with and for the Panth. It’s democratic beyond the version of democracy currently sold to us.
Still, that pressure can crush some, while others are forced to create their own protective pseudo-sangat circles. Then there are the beautiful GurSikhs who just lead revolution quietly, in their own under-the-radar manner, only dealing with who they have to.
However, not all panthic work can be done under-the-radar. Trying to relay a message of GurMat (Guru’s way of thinking) to those who know nothing of Sikhi is a tricky business. This is what Everythings 13 does as an organisation.
Leading such an org means dealing with everyone; from those just out for an argument to those who don’t think you’re a match for their intellectual ability. As the hundreds of thousands who’ve seen Jagraj Singh deal with even the most rigid of perspectives will know, he did this with Khalsa nobility.
Jagraj Singh went through a lot – physically, mentally and spiritually – to create panthic institutions through Everythings 13, one of which I am lucky to be involved with and has me in a blessed position of working with sangat and mixing with GurSikhs on a daily basis. This is something I am eternally grateful for.
That’s why I was left with that empty feeling after the recent event; because when I see the success of what Jagraj Singh’s started with Everythings 13, when I feel the benefit of it, when I see its progress, I am still feeling the grief of him not being here to see it too.