Sarah Lloyd has affirmed the Old adage: “Dil laga gadhi se to part Ki aisi taisi” — love is blind. Sarah when travelling in India avails of free boarding, lodging and safety of Gurdwaras, In Calcutta, she meets Harcharan Singh — an avoed Nihang Singh, and is fascinated by his dreamy eyes, Sometime later she tracks him down to his home — Rajkot in Amritsar District. Sarah starts living with Harcharan — she calls him Jungle after his mother’s pet name for him. Later she follows him to a Sant’s Dera in UP. Where Harcharan is now employed as a Granthi. They set up a household in an 8 ft by 7 ft shanty which is windowless, without plumbing and proper door.

Sarah is a consummate writer and keen observer of social life, and flora and fauna of rural Punjab. Where a Punjabi would find only white and colored Chiri, a Rukh or Phul Boote, she finds a wealth of birds, varied trees, and flowers even in a stark landscape. She self teaches herself Punjabi language — to communicate with Jungle and his parents who don’t know English language. Sarah captures a segment of a Sikh household and their way of life without ever casting an aspersion on the Sikhs. Nothing escapes her: Their dwellings, furniture, food, kitchenware, clothing, daily chores, family hierarchies, family feuds, religious practices, village class structure, ever present flies, and Punjabi idiosyncrasies, etc.

After Prakash Tandon’s Punjabi Century — 1961, Sarah’s autobiography is a superb addition to the literature on Punjabi culture. Her observations are candid and frightening: India is a vast open air latrine; Punjabi youth is preoccupied with opium and sex; crime is common place; and Sikhs continue to flock to phony “saints” to “sacrifice their freedom”. She describes the appalling living conditions in a shanty town which is part of the Sant’s Dera — Sant’s camp followers include smugglers, prostitutes and other felons, her account of going son in the Dera is quite entertaining. Sarah exposes Santji— a runaway Punjabi Brahmin masquerading as a Keshdhari Sikh, who routinely prescribes as many as 17 or sometimes even more Akhand Paths, to “cure” sundry ailments of his devotees. (This Sant seems to have gathered quite a following in the USA as well).

This book is a must for any student of Sikh rural life. Watch out for a typo on page 165 1970 should be read as 1979! I wonder why no one has made a movie out of Sarah’s experience.

Article extracted from this publication >> July 1, 1988