Remembering my grandfather on his 119th birthday today

Tejinder Singh Bedi

Coinciding with his 119th birth anniversary on the ensuing 9th July, this is a humble tribute to the scared remembrance of my grandfather, Bawa Shiv Singh Bedi, (1899–1997) who devoted his entire life to education and reforms in the pre-partition era of India in preference to multiple offers to serve the British Imperial Army(Land Force) as well as its Police cadres besides avenues to go for Bar at Law abroad after having topped in his BA(Hons) in English and Sanskrit from the Prince of Wales College, Jammu in the year 1919 as also for his BT from the Central Training College, Lahore in 1922.

Bawaji opted for this far lesser glamorous career as he was truly distressed at the extremely poor levels of literacy of the majority population of the country then. Besides being a scholar of English and Sanskrit, he was equally at ease with Gurmukhi, Urdu and Persian too — being the commonest vehicles of mass communication of the pre-partitioned India. Hailing from a family of Jagirdars of Noorowali and other villages (Sarangwal and Bhat), Bawa ji was born in Village Noorowali of District Gurdaspur in 1899.

14th in the lineage of Sat Guru Nanak Dev ji, Bawa ji lived the life of a saint discharging his worldly obligations in the truest spirit of the teachings of Sat Guru Nanak and Through the pursuit of his lifelong devotion to education and social service, he rendered a yeoman’s service for the upliftment of our society. The city of Hoshiarpur, where he settled post his retirement from active service career, unanimously named its Model Town Chawk after him after he passed away.

Under his leadership, the Kalra High school in district Jullundur registered remarkable growth in success rate during the twenties and thirties where he introduced a number of innovations like adding dispensaries under the charge of qualified medical officers, cooperative and thrift societies for the welfare of staff and children. Later, he received several commendations from the East Punjab Government for many of his innovations over the Moga method of teaching introduced by him and for his zeal to open a very large number of primary, middle and high schools in East Punjab. All his life, he kept his thrust for eliminating illiteracy through his specially devised adult literacy programs for citizens in the age group of 19 to 50, special vernacular teachers’ courses to strengthen the adult literacy movement, for educating prisoners in jails, for motivating enrollment of increasing number of female children, stepping up the drive for co-education with proportionate increase in induction of female teachers in such institutes.

Some of the books written by him in English and Urdu were approved for the syllabus in Old Punjab schools in the forties @ 12.5 percent royalty on MRP (then referred to as advertised price for sale) on all copies as a realization to him, that he never took until even being uprooted after partition. His oratory and speeches often stirred many a minds and hearts and he was often quoted for these most acknowledged gifts of his gab. He also did active translation work for promoting the messages of the war propaganda committee from English to Urdu and vice versa to spread the messages of the government.

During his stay in the Gujranwala district from 1936 to 1938, he laid special emphasis on education of both the girl and the male children, where the district schools then enrolled 838 girls (a record of that time), towards promoting co-educational institutes with the induction of more female teachers in Uppal Sansi, Nokhar, and Khokharke. All his career, he laid special emphasis for addition of English classes in all middle schools, preparing panels of private teachers, higher thrust for education for dehat sudhar (particularly through recitation of poetry and songs), spreading awareness, checking spread of epidemics, steps for early detection and prevention, for the cooperative movement, preparations for Olympic sports, flower shows, scouting, red cross activities, participating in All India exhibitions on Art and Industry, all directed towards rural reconstruction and later for implementing a scheme of systematization and rationalization of Urdu scripts in Inter colleges too.

Concurrent to education, he pioneered implementation of concepts like debates, sanitation through self-initiative, essay competitions to inculcate a spirit of patriotism while training students in traits like bookbinding, painting of blackboards and school furniture, agricultural development, weaving durries, charpoys, nawaars, and even making soap. His lectures on sanitation, epidemics, agriculture, educational and recreative subjects, cooperation were often referred to as Magic Lantern lectures then!

His overall extraordinary dedication and untiring spirit that saw a host of activities in the old joint Punjab of Pre Partition days saw him being hand-picked as a member of the delegation selected by the Government for studying the education system in Japan from India in 1939, for which total travel (then Rs 700 towards the steamship fare besides all board and lodge on actuals) were borne by the railway tourist agency of Japan.

As an assistant district adviser for the National war front, he played a leading role in its national jalsa (congegation) held in Kasur in Oct 1942. He was also a member secretary of the Sugar Committee in 1942. After partition, he was appointed as a Camp Commandant for overseeing the quick rehabilitation work of refugees which was highly appreciated by Her Excellency, Lady Mountbatten complimenting him for his untiring contributions through a special citation dated 7.7 48 sent to him through the then Financial Commissioner (Relief and Rehabilitation) East Punjab, Simla before her departure to London. He remained the district education head at Gurgaon and Ludhiana before taking over the same responsibility at Hoshiarpur from 1948 till 1954. During this period, he got 194 new primary and 20 new high schools opened in Hoshiarpur district alone, a record for the promotion of education facilities in the State till then. It was through his efforts that the school children’s league of health was also established in the district. He also set up dozens of new middle and high schools in Kangra and Gurgaon, like elsewhere. He was an active member of the Sanatan Dharam Pratinidhi Sabha dedicated to spreading education in West Punjab, along with Goswami Ganesh Dutt.

Post-retirement, Bawa ji served a number of social organizations besides being the district secretary of the Red Cross Society of India for eight years, enjoying two terms as president of the city Congress and being an extremely popular municipal commissioner at Hoshiarpur. He also remained a gazetted visitor to the district jails, a member of the District Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen’s Board. For his outstanding overall social services, he also won the Governor’s medal and a commendation from the first President of India. Yet, all in all despite some spectacular achievements, Bawaji lead a very modest and a low key life full of personal action and improvisation, never aiming his self projection though he could easily influence any political leader to his advantages and recognition being held in great esteem both by Smt Indira Gandhi and Giani Zail Singh till their prime careers besides the earlier premiers of the nation. All these years, he has been a source of guiding light like a torch not only to his children but a large number of people who came in his close contact. Will it be too much to expect even a posthumous national award like the Padma Bhushan for his illustrious contributions to the Indian society, when it needed them the most?

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(*Author Tejinder Singh Bedi is a former technocrat, a people management, CSR Adviser, free-lance writer and a passionate singer)

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Tejinder Singh Bedi

Tejinder Singh Bedi

(*Author Tejinder Singh Bedi is a former technocrat, a people management, CSR Adviser, free-lance writer and a passionate singer)

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