Giani Gurmukh Sing “Musafir” as I knew him – K.S. Duggal
Tall, fair, and handsome, with a long flowing saintly beard, a youthful heart exuding sincerity and love, sparking eyes, an ever-smiling face, tastefully clad in spotless Khadi – this is the image that comes before my eyes when I think of Giani Gurmukh Sinigh “Musafir”.
Born in a tiny village on the fringe of Pothohar, his house in New Delhi was the Mecca of freedom fighters of Punjab for thirty long years. Starting his career as an ordinary school teacher, he rose to become the Chief of Akal Takht, the highest position in the Sikh religious hierarchy, the Chief of the State Congress, and the Chief Minister of Punjab in due course of time. With very little formal education, he became a front-rank short story writer and a poet of no mean report with several publications to his credit.
A devotee of Gandhi and a comrade of Jawahar Lal Nehru – he was a member of the working committee of the All India Congress Committee for several years. Barring the period he took over as Chief Minister, Punjab, he was a Member of Parliament all his life in Independent India.
A Congressite to the core of his heart, he fraternized with the progressive writers, participated in Peace Council meetings, and led delegations to Afro-Asian Solidarity Conferences more than once.
Not long after partition, the then Union Rehabilitation minister offered Giani Ji one of the houses being allotted to the refugees. “It is the only house left and knowing that you keep on recommending others but you have not asked one for yourself I have earmarked it for you,” said the minister, urging Giani Ji to send him a formal application, so that he could do the needful. Gianiji came home and told his wife about it. It so happened that when he was mentioning this, a refugee friend was also listening. The next morning he brought a typed letter addressed to the minister, saying that the house left with him might be allotted to so and so who was in dire need of it. The minister was astonished on receiving this letter duly signed by Giani Ji.
There was a vacancy in an office and it so happened that Giani ji recommended as many as ten candidates who had approached him. The appointing authority was at its wits’ end. “Giani jees there is only one vacancy and you have recommended ten candidates,” he rang up to say. “I have done my job,” said Giani ji, “you should do yours, and select the best out of the lot”.
On his seventy-seventh birthday, which was barely three days before his death on 18th January 1976. Giani ji was taking coffee with Sardar Swarn Singh, Inder Kumar Gujral and others in the Central Hall of Parliament. “For your years, you look absolutely fit,” remarked a friend. “I do, I do,” quipped Giani ji, “excepting that of late a pretty visitor picks up my telephone and she makes appointments with others.”
Giani Gurmukh Singh ‘Musafir’s” was a many-faceted personality. Not many in Punjab can boast of the glory in their political career that came his way. And yet he found time to go to the club regularly in the evenings to play cards (maybe to shake off the dirt of politics). And also he found time to write regularly and offer his writings to journals and his publishers.
I remember once I was staying, with him at his Ferozshah Road residence. Our bedrooms were adjacent. I am a rather early riser. One day, when I was going to the bathroom immediately after I woke up, I found Gianiji unlacing his shoes. I thought he had already returned after his morning walk. I happened to mention it at the breakfast table. Gianiji smiled and said, “I had, then, returned from the club after our card sitting.” Everybody at the table started laughing. Evidently, it was not an unusual occurrence.
Gianiji considered himself a creative writer first and everything else afterward. He had an always-soft corner for writers and artists. He was Chairman of the Kendri Punjabi Sabha for several years. Any writer could go to him any time for anything and he would spare no pains for help. I remember, once on a posting to Delhi my wife asked Giani ji to use his good offices to have government accommodation allotted on a priority basis. Rather than taking me to the minister, Giani ji invited the minister to his house in the evening, so that I could explain to him my need. And he never told me about it. As it happened the minister was held up in the Parliament House. He rang up to apologize. I was embarrassed. It was just not done. I needed a favor and it was only proper that I went to the minister. But the creative writer in Giani ji would not have a fellow writer “go to a mere minister for a small favor” as he put it.
After his death, while sorting out his papers, I came across a complete set of my books, which I had been presenting to him from time to time; he carefully preserved them in his personal cupboard. It contained some of the publications long gone out of print, of which I myself didn’t have copies left with me.
Such was Giani Gurmukh Singh “Musafir”, the like of whom it will not be easy to find.