Later, as I got to know him more, I became so amazed and impressed by his humility. His down to earth nature not only made me one of his admirers, but he became a hero for me whose footsteps I wanted to follow.
I particularly remember one incident that has remained with me after all these years, which I will never forget.
I was preparing for my master’s degree when he was posted as a colonel at Firozepur, Punjab. Though he was not able to come to Sangat regularly because of his work responsibilities, his wife, Krishna Behan ji was always there. She always treated me with love as a younger brother. Soon, I had built a close family relationship with the entire family, and we visited each other quite often. ‘Rubi’ (Ravinder ji) and Bindu (Virender ji) were quite young at that time. We always had a great time talking about philosophy, shayari and playing music. Since I was living alone, they invited me over to their place quite often for food or tea etc.
One very hot, summer afternoon, when I was just about to leave for their residence on my bike, Mr. Thana Singh, a great devotee and a regular member of Firozepur Sangat, suddenly came to visit me. He was a rickshaw driver. When I told him that I was about to leave, he insisted that he would drop me to colonel Sahib’s place on his rickshaw. Even though I was reluctant, I had to give in.
Upon our arrival, ‘Colonel Sahib’ (Brigadier Shamsher Singh ji) saw us through the open door. When he noticed that Mr. Thana Singh was about to leave after dropping me at their house, he came almost running out the door and invited him in for a cup of tea also. Thana Singh ji did not want to come in the house, so he made some excuses. When he was told that he cannot leave without having some snacks and tea, he requested that it should be given to him outside, that he would drink it while sitting in his rickshaw.
‘Colonel Sahib’ knew why he was hesitant to come in. So he grabbed his hand and brought him inside the house, in the dining room where the table was already set for tea and snacks. Thana Singh tried to sit on the floor in a corner.
Realizing that Thana Singh was concerned and kind of ashamed of his clothes and stature, Shamsher Singh ji put his arm around him and said “Thana Singh ji! Right now, I am not in my office or on duty as a colonel. You are in my house, you are my guest. So you are sitting with us on the dining table as my brother."
The orderly, the peons, who were dressed in fine tip-top traditional army uniforms, were staring at his torn shirt and pants with holes, and wondering why they had to serve this 'poor man' along with their 'boss' and the ‘Maim Sahib’ at the same table?
I noticed that Thana Singh ji was also feeling very uncomfortable seeing the well-dressed peons serving him with such orderly manners and respect. He was leaning forward with humility, his head and shoulders were shrinking towards his feet. He was almost slipping under the table, when I heard a gentle voice trying to make him feel comfortable. I looked up and saw a wonderful man with a kind gesture and a gentle smile on his face. Rev. Shamsher Singh ji, a tall man, had suddenly grown much taller in front of my eyes.
I was wondering, how this celebrated army officer, recipient of ‘Veer Chakra’, a great soldier who bravely fought several wars to defend his country, could be so soft and gentle at his heart?
Just like anyone else, he could have said “Thana Singh. Do not go yet. I will send you some tea and snacks out here. Please accept it before you go”
But he did not. He did not look at his clothes or status. He treated him not like a poor rickshaw driver, but like a fellow human being, who at that moment was his guest. I remembered a verse from the scriptures:
“Atithi Devo Bhavah” (The guest should be treated like God)
And this is exactly what he did.
How many of us can do that?
My salutations to this great saintly officer; a true ‘Sant Sipaahi’ who showed us that a person can be strong and brave to fulfill his responsibilities truthfully and yet be soft, kind and very gentle at heart.