Happy 90th birthday Big daddy!
10 days, 8 flights and cake!
Harcharan Singh Ahluwalia is Jas’s amazing grandfather who turned 90 years old this year. His is a deeply spiritual man, wise and fun loving with stories to tell about his eventful life full of great highs, great lows and his many travels.
His family decided the best way to celebrate this wonderful moment in his life was to take a trip to his place of birth – Makindu, Kenya, and take part in a 3 day Sikh prayer called an Akhand Path to pray for his good health and thank God Almighty for such blessings. Family and friends from all over the world (USA, UK, Australia, Pakistan and South Africa) joined us, with a surprise from Ustad Tari Khan, as well as a guest of Honor, our Spiritual guide Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singhji. This small but beautifully simple Gurudwara was the scene for many evenings of heartfelt Kirtan which we all took part in, including Big Daddy himself and Ustad Tari Khan who is a decedent of Bhai Mardanaji, Companion of Guru Nanak Devji. Ustad ji has a great understanding of finer points of Sikhism. The days were full of good conversation, jokes sessions and delicious langar made by the local sevadars, oh and one longest afternoon in history was taken up with getting a local SIM for an IPhone! The family also enjoyed showing us their a few of their favorite foods from their childhood including Maru Bhajiya– a deep fried potato fritter coated in a spicy chickpea (gabanzo bean) batter with a special flavorful chutney made from a blend of tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, tamarind and spices, freshly made passion fruit juice, and spicy pizza!
We were also taken to Big Daddy’s father’s place of work – Makindu Train Station where he was the Station Master. The station is still in operation and looked liked nothing had changed since the last time Big Daddy came here! Including a few ancient communication devices! We were told stories of all the mischief that his sons would get up to, one of which ending up with a few hours locked up in the onsite police station!
The last day of the Akhand Path was a blessed day with Bhai Sahibji finishing the proceedings and also joining with the singing of a hymn in the Kirtan (singing of religious hymns) and brought to a close a wonderful 3 days of celebrations. After lunch and cake (Bhai Sahibji led a recitation of Chaupai Sahib instead of the usually ‘Happy Birthday’ song to go along with the cake), a quick dash to the airport and nearly missing our flight to our next destination, we and our travelling companions from the UK arrived as the sun was setting to Kisumu, a town near the one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world – Lake Victoria. We were here to join more celebrations, this time with Kisumu Gurdwara who also had a Path (Prayer) commemorating 100 years of Sikhs in Africa.
Bhai Sahibji led these celebrations in collaboration with the local people of Kisumu. As well as 3 days of 24 hour prayers in the Gurudawara Darbar, there was also another hall set up for daily prayers and evening Kirtans with a rotation of Ragi’s (religious singers). Our little LA Jatha (team – Jas, myself and Anantvir Singh) were also given opportunities to take part in the morning and evening Kirtans. Ustad Tari Khan was also requested to take part, to which he graciously accepted by singing a beautiful hymn and also doing a tabla solo to which I was appointed lehra player!! (time keeper – an awesome but difficult task indeed!!!) Never in a million years did I think I would ever get the chance to do this especially with Ustadji – layakari master! ☺
We also went to visit another Gurudawara in a town called Kericho, which is surrounded by tea fields. This took us 1-2 hours to drive to on bumpy dirt roads that were in the process of being made in to solid tarmac/ concrete surface. We were all happy to finally get off that bus and walk on smooth surfaces that didn’t run the risk of you jumping out of your seat and just missing hitting your head on the luggage rack above the window side passenger’s head!
This was a significant place to visit as is where the Ahluwalia family first started following the ethos and beliefs of Sant Baba Puran Singhji, of whom Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singhji continues to spread across the globe. After a quick late lunch, walk around the town and tour of the Gurudwara, everyone was invited to a take part in a short unexpected Kirtan with Bhai Sahibji in his quarters. There was some magic in the air and we felt something quite special was taking place as Bhai Sahibji requested a short and specific hymn be sung to an obliging Anantvir Singh and Ustadji. As soon as they started it was an emotional experience, spiritually charged with everyone joining in, the 15 minute Shabad felt much longer than it actually was. As we all got up and silently collected our Prasad from Bhai Sahibji, it was time to get back to reality, board our bus and drive back down the bumpy road to Kisumu before they shut the road for the night.
The next day was our last day in Kisumu and started early at 4am to bring to a close the 3 day celebration prayer and ended with a community procession around the town. Our massive journey home started that evening flying from Kisumu to Nairobi, then to Brussels on to Washington and finally LA!!! That’s over 24 hours of flying! As we drive home, we reflect on the precious time that Jas’s grandfather was able to spend with Bhai Sahibji, his many far a field friends and family and the positivity that was shared and know it was totally worth it.