A memorial meeting to celebrate the life and work of Gursharan Singh, the legendary Punjabi dramatist, director, and political activist popularly known as “Gursharan Bhaji,” was held in Surrey, BC, on October 10, 2011 at the Bombay Banquet Hall.


The meeting, chaired by Raj Chouhan, MLA for Burnaby-Edmonds and Chinmoy Banerjee,  President of South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD), was attended by abut 250 people, who came to pay their homage to a person they had greatly loved and admired. Bruce Ralston and Harry Bains, both MLA’s from Surrey, were also present.


Sadhu Binning, well-known Pumjabi poet and teacher of Punjabi, spoke of the inspiration that Gursharan Singh had given him and other young Punjabi writers to write socially engaged drama dealing with issues of importance to the diasporic community, focusing on the here and now. He also mentioned Gursharan Singh’s great contribution to Punjabi language and writing not only through his theatre, which he took to the villages of Punjab, but through the setting up of the Balraj Sahani Publishing House, whose books were carried in the bags of the Amritsar Natak Kala Kendra as they went from village to village with their plays. He remembered Bhaji’s enormous energy and dedication as a director through an anecdote: he, Raj Harinder and their families were traveling with Bhaji from Vancouver to San Francisco, a 15-hour drive, for a performance, on one of Bhaji’s solo visits, when Bhaji rehearsed his raw actors for the performance during the journey.


Harinder Mahil, former Chair of the BC Human Rights Commission remembered the excitement in the South-Asian community in the Vancouver area and in other cities in Canada and the US where Gursharan Singh and the Amritsar Natak Kala Kendra first visited at the invitation of Indian People’s Association in North America. He mentioned that while the history of theatre in Punjab stretched a hundred years, Gursharan Singh had been a major part of this for the last fifty. Harinder mentioned Bhaji’s unshakeable courage in championing the cause of the oppressed and his indomitable spirit: in one of his last interviews he had been asked about his political convictions and he had raised his fist to say, “I declare that I am a Naxalite.” Even on Harinder’s last visit earlier this year, though barely able to lift himself from his bed, Bhaji had expressed a wish to organize a meeting.


Professor Gurvinder Dhaliwal, host of Sher-e-Punjab Radio, said that there was much questioning in the community whether Gursharan Singh was a “Nastik” (unbeliever) or “Astik” (believer), but the question was irrelevant. Gursharan Singh was a believer in humanity, a humanist, whose faith in the basic sanctity of human being was the same as that of Guru Nanak.


Noted Punjabi writer, Ajmer Rode, thanked the late Hari Sharma and Indian People’s Association in North America (IPANA) for having brought Gursharan Singh and Amritsar Natak Kala Kendra to North America and giving so many people the privilege of knowing this great human being. He expressed his admiration for Gursharan Singh as a dramatist but found his moral greatness as a person even more important.


Many others, including Charan Gill, CEO of Progressive Intercultural Services Society (PICS) spoke of various ways in which Gursharan Singh had impacted their lives, some remembering their first contact through witnessing a performance in their village or coming across a book in their school.


The meeting opened with a song by Raminder Bhullar on Bhaji that Raminder had composed following Bhaji’s death on Sept 27. Binder Rode also sang a song from the record, “Chhatta Chandna Da,” by Amritsar Natak Kala Kendra that had been produced by IPANA on the troupe’s first visit to North America.


A portrait of Gursharan Singh that had been painted by the Surrey painter, Sheetal Anmol, also following Gursharan Singh’s death, was unveiled at the meeting, with Sheetal Anmol giving a history of his life-long admiration for Bhaji from the first contact as a school-child in a Punjab village. Sheetal also explained the symbolism of the colours he had used to represent the revolutionary sprit and energy of his subject.


The meeting also screened a 22-minute version of a documentary on Gursharan Singh that gave a history of his coming to theatre and activism from the experience, as an engineer, of having to change the course of a river in the process of constructing the Bhakra Dam. The film also touched on the founding of the Balraj Sahani Publishing House and Tarksheel Society, and addressed the issue of the critical value of Gursharan Singh’s theatre. The screening version for the meeting was edited by Makhan Tut..


A portrait of GS painted very recently by Sheetal Anmol was unveiled to  great appreciation and Sheetal spoke about his history of contact with GS from his school days and his admiration of the man. He will keep the

painting–it still needs some finishing–and make it available whenever we

need it.


The meeting ended with the passing of a resolution of condolences to be sent to Bhaji’s family. It was  decided to do an annual cultural festival in memory of GS.

Top - Home