amritsar

Deaf & Beyond - Pingalwara

Ask any taxi driver in Amritsar where you can do seva/charity work and they'll either point you to Harimandir Sahib or Pingalwara. So with a group of friends I visited the Bhagat Puran Singh School for The Deaf where we were shown around by RP Singh, a retired Air Force officer who has been with the organisation for over 15 years.

It was an insightful experience and I was able to put together the following short documentary.

Over the years various organisations and people have stepped up and supported the school, from building work, clothes, food to equipment. If you'd like to support the school by volunteering or donating please do get in touch with them directly. I understand that they are always looking for books for their library, as well as shoes for the kids. 

Below is a write up of a longer interview with RP Singh. 


"In Punjab there are 15/16 schools for deaf children but their way of teaching is for the hearing children – not for the deaf. That is the oral method. All over the world they know sign language is the first language for deaf children. Where as in all the schools, there is hardly any communication between the teachers and the students because the teachers don't know sign language. The teacher will come, write on the board. The students will copy that. They will memorise it.  They've got brilliant minds, they've got very good brains. We had a student here, she cleared ten standard and she could write beautiful essays, a full page essays in Punjabi, but when you ask them “what's the meaning of this” they don't know. They can memorise and that is astonishing. To memorise the whole page and reproduce beautifully without many mistakes, but the only things is the way of teaching is so wrong. After they clear the tenth exams, they cant read a newspaper – so how do they connect with their environment? 

All around you - you can connect. When I'm talking to you, you are looking at me and I know I am getting you, so that is positive feedback for me. But these children, when they try to communicate the other chaps says “what are you doing, I don't understand – go away”. So that feedback they don't get. So a lot of children have behavioural problems. Behavioural problems means frustration, a lot of children who come to us lets say six or seven years of age they are in depression because again at home there is hardly any communication between the parents and the children. So naturally the child is depressed. They find that after a couple of days (at the school), they open up, they start communicating. 

We have started a system which is slightly different from everybody else. Our aim is not to get them a certificate that they've cleared the tenth exams. We tell the parents very, very clearly that if you want a tenth standard certificate this is not the place for you. We are going to ensure that the child can communicate, he can convey his feelings, his requirements and he can connect with the environment. He understands may be not everything but most of the things going on around him, he can understand. So that is our aim. So our curriculum also is different, we are concentrated on the child. 

We get children from as far away as 350km/400km, because first of all there is no school which gives good education, except one or two; second is the hostel; third is fees because everything is free. So a lot of people want to put their children here, there is a limit on the number of children we can put in the hostel. Hundred children are there now, we give preference to children from very poor families and live far away. 

people have started realising that the deaf
can also learn and do what the hearing people do”

Only now the people have started realising that the deaf can also learn and do what the hearing people do. That's why parents are coming. Three years back parents would say “my child with deaf needs cannot learn anything”, but fortunately the last three have changed. Now the same parent will ring up twice a month and ask how is my child doing. So this is a very positive sign. 

We get children 17, 18 years old, they want to put them in the school, its not possible, we start them from pre nursrey - but ok we can start a vocation for them. Vocation, we have got carpentry for the boys and tailoring for the girls. We are thinking of starting one or two fields more for vocations, like mushroom farming, this can be done sitting at home and earn some money so they can stand on their own feet. So the main emphasis is that the children are not going for a job because the maximum job they'll get is a cleaners job. 

 

In computers we started three things one is the data entry, second thing is the illustrations, so we've got a graphics tablet now, animation we can start.

So these are three fields we aim to progress these children. 

 

Animations taken off in a big way in India, so there is a lot of scope there. Of course here in Punjab its very limited but in Delhi or Bombay there's tremendous amount of scope there and then from Delhi deaf children have gone into animation."


The Bhagat Puran Singh School for the Deaf caters for children with special needs and continues the great work of Bhagat Puran Singh, the founder of Pingalwara. His life was recently turned into the film 'Eh Janam Tumhare Lekhe' starring Pavan Raj Malhotra and featured music from Diljit Dosanj

To read more about Bhagat Puran Singh and his selfless work click here.

Meditation

A few years back while filming the Hola Mahalla documentary, I had the pleasure of meeting a group of Sikhs at Harimandir Sahib from a variety of backgrounds. A couple of American Sikhs who were of a Punjabi descent, nothing new there, Mexican Sikhs that looked like Punjabans, an American Sikh of Iranian descent and a very striking German Sikh called Angad Singh Khalsa.

I found Angad to be a man of few words, very humble and just a great source of inspiration. When we were out in Amritsar, Angad would often be of interest to fellow tourists and Punjabis visiting Harimandir Sahib. His sense of self assurance and belonging at Darbar made it easy for me convince locals that Angad was in fact a fellow Punjabi too and that he was in fact from Phagwara. People just accepted this partly because I can hold a straight face when I'm in the process of telling these tall tales, but also because Angad just seemed to be part of Darbar. 

The Golden Temple, Harimandhir Sahib is one of the most important places for Sikhs. It's seen by many as the unofficial 8th wonder of the world. Many regard it as a Sikhs birth right and absolute duty to visit Harimandhir Sahib. For many it's just referred to as Darbar. 

For those of us lucky enough to go, we get this unique opportunity to visit Darbar, listen to the Parth, Kirtan, do seva and join our guru. How many of us really recognise this unique opportunity and take it? Angad had with both hands. People had seen him doing seva, washing the marble floors, washing the dishes, staying in the Pakarma often on his own doing his own Parth and Simran. 

This interview is part of an ongoing series of documentary shorts that explore the Sikh diaspora and Hola Mahalla. This one touches on some of the concepts surrounding meditation, others in this series include Sacred Sounds depicting the role of Sikhs during WWI. 

Here's a short documentary with Angad.

Below is a longer interview with Angad. 


"My first experience was like in the Kundalini Yoga class and they were singing these mantras. I didnt like it at all, but it had an affect certainly and I got caught in it. So I liked practising Kundalini Yoga first and when I first like did my 40 day Kundalini Yoga I ended up at the Kundalini Yoga Festival. And there I met my teacher Professor Sunder Singh and I was sitting in the workshop.

 

I had nothing to do with Sikhi. I didnt know what is turban. I saw the first woman in baana and I was like “oh my gosh, what is that?”. I was just like normal guy you know, travelling around, living day by day and stuff. So I was sitting in this workshop and they were like aliens to me actually. Everybody was beautifully dressed and they had these strange instruments, and then they started to play and I was sitting there closing my eyes; and it was like something in me stopped moving. And I was just sitting there seeing like an old guy and he told me “Angad” my name wasnt Angad at this time. “Angad, you don't need to worry anymore”. So I was really touched by this music. This was not the moment I became a Sikh, this was like a process that took months, but my soul in this time directly knew I have to learn this science of Gurmat Sangeet. This was the moment that I was sitting in the workshop, the first time I listened to the Gurus kirtan, the Gurus way, using the Gurus instruments. My soul was touched and it reminded me of something which I always knew but in this life still had not realised. 

Am I a Sikh?”

Then after some time, you have to ask yourself a question “am I a Sikh? Do I follow a religion? What is the religion?” I'm not following any religion, Im just following my Guru. But I was asking myself am I a Sikh? I mean I wake up in the morning, I do my sadana, I was telling myself, I study the holly scriptures of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, this is what Im doing but I have nothing to do with Sikhi and Gurus, but I was realising what I was doing and yeah Sikh just means student, so I was studying really hard. It was not a choice to become what I am. I feel like something was pulling me. Something chooseme to do what I have to do in my life. To meet my destiny somehow. 


So then there was a point where I was like “Okay, yes I'm a Sikh”. Just I never decided “Oh I'll become a Sikh” it just happened. I guess I met my destiny. It was like this. Then when I realised that, then I had to decide by myself “do I want this life, this commitment” and my soul was like “yes this is what you have to do”. Since then if somebody asks me, I say “yes I am Sikh”.

Being at the Golden Temple its like a really special blessing because for me its like the heart of everything. Just being here its a blessing. Just touching the soul the heart. 

I love to be here because there are so many things to do so you're never unemployed actually. You can do seva actually everywhere and help the whole thing going on. And for me this place is like a pure healing place. 

Yeah washing dishes, I mean I really don't like it, so I choose the dishes as a seva actually because I hate it, I do it as a seva to drop my ego a little. That's the reason I do this. Cleaning the marble, it just feels like so natural to do for me to do it for whatever reason. Afterwards it feels so good I dont know whether its even seva what Im doing because it has such a positive effect so like its very difficult to do it completely not with the ego you know. Because we do it and we feel so good afterwards, I get more than I give so for me its a seva/its not a seva".

To buy the documentary on DVD click here or to watch it online via On-Demand click here.

Hola Mahalla is a little known Sikh festival that takes place annually in Anandpur, India. Dubbed the Sikh Olympics, it involves sword fights, daring horse stunts and a dab of spiritualism.

This documentary focuses on the festival Hola Mahalla that has been running since the 17th century, showcasing skills such as swordsmanship and daring horse stunts that are with an ever decreasing number of nomadic Sikhs.

Featuring key interviews with Nihang Jatherdar (High Priest) Baba Nihal Singh and Kesgarh Sahib Jathedar, Late Giani Tirlochan Singh. This beautifully shot film takes the viewer on a journey through the festival and Anandpur Sahib, the "City of Bliss", providing a snapshot into a world rarely experienced outside of India and exploring this Forgotten Festival.