As masters of our own destiny, does hard work, luck, and timing determine our fate or is our fate pre-written and pre-destined? Or does a pre-written destiny guide us towards the hard work and good deeds that will allow us to fulfill our purpose? The Guru Granth Sahib has several references to a pre-written destiny that we can fulfill through good deeds and actions; it is a destiny that is granted to us through Guru’s grace. Is our destiny wrapped up in our spiritual journey as Sikhs? Is our journey towards becoming a true Sikh the pre-written destiny that dictates everything else that takes place in our lives? I will reference my role as a mother and my function in my children’s lives to prepare them as Sikhs in the world, to pray they receive Naam, Sangat, and Guru’s grace, so they use their cultivated character, talents, and compassion towards making the world a better place.
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In 1940, in the village of Kotli in Gurdaspur India, Balwant Kaur and Tara Singh gave birth to a baby boy, the youngest of four children in their family. They named him Dhanna Singh, and had great hopes for their baby boy as they did for the rest of their children. Tara Singh and Balwant Kaur were simple people with a modest education and land to farm. Dhanna Singh enjoyed the farm and wondered around playing with chickens and chasing birds as a toddler. His parents could not ask for more.
As Dhanna Singh turned 2, Balwant Kaur started to have daily headaches and did not think much of it until one day she fell gravely ill and was bed-ridden. She had pounding headaches pulling her over thresholds of pain she had never experienced. She had contracted meningitis, a fatal bacterial infection. At the age of 3, Dhanna Singh remembers everyone gathering around his mother’s body on her manjee, but he could not understand in that moment that she was no longer with him. His mother’s death would change the course of his life, but at the time all he wanted to do was break his way through the crowd to see his mother lying down. The family accepted her death as Wahe Guru’s hukam, but that acceptance came with shattering minds and hearts.
The family assigned Balbir Kaur, Dhanna Singh’s 7 year old sister, to take care of him. She bathed him, and made sure he had roti and dhal to eat, but both children were off center, aimless even in their playful pursuits.
Dhanna Singh remembers sleeping on stacks of wheat at night piled up in their court yard to protect the harvest from thieves. He remembers the stars in the Kotli sky and how close they felt. He imagined standing on his tip-toes to reach out and touch them on top of those heaps of wheat. He also remembers his older brother carrying him on his shoulders across the irrigated fields, so his feet did not touch the mud.
The harvests past and Dhanna Singh turned 8. Tara Singh received word that his brother-in-law, Dhanna Singh’s Mama Ji was ready to take young boy into his home to educate him, ensure he had the best opportunities for advancement. Dhanna Singh was about to be thrust into the world on his own, without mother and father, an orphan. One can only speculate that Tara Singh, an illiterate farmer from Kotli, had the foresight and intelligence to let his youngest Singh go to pursue a life beyond their farm, beyond what he himself could offer his youngest son, not knowing that all he really needed was him as his father. Tara Singh released his youngest son to his brother-in-law and never looked back.
Dhanna Singh understood what it was to alone at the age of 10. His Mama Ji enforced that his efforts and his actions would determine his fate, so he was groomed like a racehorse to study and absorb as much knowledge as possible. When he entered college, his Mama Ji switched his track from engineering to medicine, and Dhanna Singh accepted this change without question. He was already 3 months behind all of his classmates, but he applied himself 16-18 hours a day and moved up the ranks from the 200th student, to the 130th , to the 75th, to 23rd, to number 3, and eventually he graduated the first in his medical school class.
At his residency training, he met the love of his life and then both of them migrated to America. Life was good, Dhanna Singh’s work paid off.
When they first landed in the United States, the U.S. government asked Dhanna Singh to be a medic in the Vietnam War, he asked the government to reconsider since his wife was pregnant with a baby girl and was due to go into labor. The government re-directed him to Lake Preston, South Dakota, a small German American town that welcomed their new doctors with open arms. The townspeople of Lake Preston asked Dhanna Singh to send his belongings ahead of time. He had never met them, or even knew what they were about, but Dhanna Singh agreed without question and decided to trust what was in front of him. The townspeople received their furniture, their dishes, their clothes, and linens from the moving company. When Dhanna Singh and Harsha Kaur arrived, they were stunned to see a house that was fully furnished, organized, and waiting for their owners to take possession and make it a home. They were blessed with yet another gift, and gave birth to a baby boy.
Dhanna Singh had fond memories of teaching his daughter how to ride a bike, having picnics in the backyard with his wife and the kids, and enjoying the town’s functions as a special guest wherever he went.
As time passed, the couple grew weary of being the only Sikh family in the town, and craved the company of family and sangat.
They set their sights on CA where Harsha’s brother lived. Dhanna Singh lept towards it as part of his journey.
The move to Yuba City CA was in sharp contrast to Lake Preston and Dhanna Singh’s family did not adjust easily. There was something thick in the air that could not be described or articulated and while they were surrounded by more Sikhs than one could count, somehow the family was a fish out of water. Yet, Dhanna Singh saw the potential to help a city full of Punjabi Sikhs as their doctor.
Dhanna Singh buried himself in work and his daughter started to miss her father, the checker games, the bike rides, and simply getting to know who he was.
Time passed and Dhanna Singh’s children saw him less and less. He committed himself to working day and night without stop to fulfill what he thought was his primary role as a father, to provide financial resources for his children. As the children saw Dhanna Singh less and less, his children, like their father, witnessed a death, a passing of their own father, he no longer existed for them even though they would pass him in the hallway on the way to their bedrooms.
When his daughter turned 18, Dhanna Singh had his first heart attack. They met at the hospital and his daughter stayed there for a week hoping this man who she did not know anymore would live because he technically was her father. Dhanna Singh chalked up his hospitalization as needing more time to rest in between work shifts, so as soon as he recovered, he went back to work at full speed
Time passed and then again when his daughter turned 27, he had his second heart attack. This time the cardiologist recommended a quintuple bypass and stopping all work commitments. Dhanna Singh took pause. He now understood that his heart clamoring for him to slow down almost cost him his life. The people in the waiting room, his wife, daughter, and son were essentially strangers to him. He paused and paused some more. Three months had passed since his second heat attack and he determined that in order to survive, he had to change how he was fundamentally living.
Dhanna Singh started the journey of re-connecting to his wife and children, but that was no easy task. They resisted, rejected, and did not trust his attempts. They were relentless about announcing his crimes against a family through his absence. He wasn’t around for 15 years, so what could he expect.
He developed the patience, the tolerance, the empathy, and the humility to listen to all of their grievances, their problems, their struggles in his emotional absence from the family. He listened to all of it and then listened some more. He kept calling, and kept visiting his children and stayed in touch no matter what. It didn’t matter how angry they were, it didn’t matter they did not understand him, he understood that like everything else, if he kept trying, kept pruning the tree, it would bear fruit. For 5 years, he did his best to repair his relationships and then his health caught up with him again.
6 years had passed and Dhanna Singh found himself experiencing chest pains again and landed back in the hospital when his daughter was 33 now along with his son-in-law, son, and wife. This time the doctor recommended a double bypass and Dhanna Singh understood he had to make even more adjustment. He very much wanted to live.
Then one day, his wife stated, “How could you know? You did not have a mother to show you how you love a child.” And with that, his family members started to finally understand him. As his children learned more and more about his history, who he was, they understood. Afterall, he was a horse breeded to win, to be successful, to perform no matter what. He was also a horse with no mother or father to speak of when he skinned his knee, was bullied by a classmate, or in need of money. How he lived is what he knew.
He persevered without a roadmap or even a landmark through an emotional terrain he never experienced. It was long, difficult and ardous, but Dhanna Singh paid back his karmic debt to his family through learning how to love and establish an unconditional bond with each of them. The seeds were there in that he never doubted that he couldn’t and when things were tough, he used each moment as a teacher.
He determined he had to stick it out with each and every one of them for the next 15 years to re-pay his debt. Today, he enjoys a balanced and centered life with his family and grandchildren, and thanks to Wahe Guru everyday for giving him the opportunity to learn how to love.
Because Dhanna Singh had the capacity and the courage to grab destiny’s hand each time it was offered to him, his grandchildren demand that their Nana be present as much as possible. Benanti and Sidak are the recipients of all the riches he has accumulated in his heart.
Meeta Kaur is the Managing Editor of the Sikh Love Stories Project, a story-telling project that reveals the inner lives of Sikh American women and men exploring love in revolutionary ways. She is a creative writer who is committed to the literary arts and the power of stories. Kaur has written for NPR, Hyphen Magazine, Sikh Chic and Asian Week. Kaur was also awarded the Hedgebrook Residency for fiction and The Elizabeth George grant for fiction. Kaur loves spending time with her family, cooking, swimming, traveling, and exploring her spirituality. She is currently exploring a fantasy novel that draws upon characters with Sikh roots, the global world, and our diseased food supply.