In 1920 the United States granted women the right to vote. In 1921, Bhai Vir Singh published a book titled, The Redemption of Subhagji through the grace of Baba Naudh Singh. With great sensitivity, he wrote about the plight of women through the voice of a young Jain widow – Jamuna. Men dressed in pious garbs prey upon her. Each new experience shows their immorality which pushes her to seek refuge in death. However, her plunge into the raging waters paves the way for her rescue and redemption. She is carried out of the waters, by a young Sikh saint who gives her hope and then disappears as suddenly and mysteriously as he appeared. The deftness of Bhai Vir Singh’s writing reveals his deep understanding of the social conditions, human relationships, and divinity. The saint is a transparent symbology, an emblem of divinity in human form. This free-style translation is the first chapter of his above-mentioned book. The book is a study of idealism that represents a moment in Sikh consciousness around the turn of the century.
Dawn is just breaking.
On the banks of the River Ravi, sits a young pious-looking Sikh wrapped in a shawl. From time to time, tears roll down his handsome face as he recites the Sukhmani Sahib (Sikh prayer). His eyes at times close in ecstasy and then re-open. His recitation creates an atmosphere of serenity and sweetness.
The breeze is gentle as he watches the rising sun. A floating body in the river stirs him from his concentration.
Immediately, he throws off his shawl, jumps into the water and drags the body ashore. The lifeless body of a young woman now rests on the banks of the river.
He quickly turns her around and pumps water out of her unconscious body. Closing his eyes, he gently removes her wet clothes and wraps her frame with his shawl. With skill, he shakes her arms, rubs the soles of her feet, and her body soon begins to breathe.
The sun warms her frail frame. She opens her eyes and whispers, “Am I in the world of the living or the dead?”
“You are alive,” replies the man gently.
“I wanted to die. Why have you saved me?” she wails.
The man realizes that the woman he has saved tried to commit suicide. Lovingly, he explains to her that life is a precious gift and to take one’s own life is a grievous sin.
His words have no effect.
The woman weeps, but the man does not give up. His consoling words continue.
At last, she relents and reveals everything. The woman he has saved is none other than, Jamuna/Miss Dumeli/Ghulam Fatima.
“The best thing would have been to have committed sati (self-immolation) on my husband’s pyre. Drowning in the waterfall would have been better than to have gone through the hell that I have been. Death is my only option.”
“Bhain (sister), the world is cloaked in the darkness of evil. Man’s mind has become beastly. It is wrong to blame any particular faith. The five evils have gripped the senses of the followers of all creeds. The thirst of desire has gripped man’s mind like a fever and it is driving him mad,” says the man ever so gently.
“You appear to be a noble soul. But I have been caught in this error time and time again. I am now disgusted with life. The entire world is full of greed. Some seek wealth. Others, bodily pleasures. No one has real sympathy for anyone, no one wants to truly help. Please, please let me die and go where my husband is.”
“Yes! You are right, men have lost their dignity. Swayed by greed, they have turned into beasts. Evil prevails under the false guise of religion. Everything that you have said is true. But even in the dark night, the moon and the stars shine. Even in this world of bestial urges, there are some men who are like the rare green shoots amongst parched plants. Even though you have not come across anyone who has curbed his mind of evil tendencies, do not give up hope.
“Remember, diamonds are not scattered like stones. Though the world is burning in the fire of evil, there is also the Himalayan snow of good to quench it. Your own quest is weak. Seek and you shall find. Seek not death; for such a death is evil.”
“Good Sir! Who will support me? I cannot return to my parents’ home. My property, I have lost. I am destitute. Everyone I meet is like a bird of prey after my flesh. What should I live for? I am an unfortunate creature. But I have been faithful to my husband’s memory. My chastity, I have protected at all costs and to save it, I am determined to die.”
“My daughter, your conduct is noble and pure. Your resolve to preserve your chastity is honorable, but I’m afraid you have not found an anchor in Truth and Purity. You have gone through so much to protect your chastity, why then are you seeking support and worldly wealth? Your chastity and truth should be support enough for you.
“With Truth on your side, how can you be alone? Your actions are pure. Why do you consider yourself helpless? Waver not in your resolve to live truthfully. Seek not the crutch of sinful people. Truth and righteousness are embedded in you; that is your anchor. Why are you seeking the support of those who are stimulated by desire, who despite their human birth, live like animals? Get rid of this wrong notion and live fearlessly.”
“Holy Sir! Your words are soothing and give me hope. But I remember a couplet of Kabir’s:
“The burnt wood in the forest cries out to the Creator:
Deliver me not to the blacksmith
Lest he burns it again as charcoal.”
“Listen, chaste lady, I am neither a saint nor a blacksmith. I am only sharing what I know. Animal nature, no doubt is prevalent in the world. If man looks closely at his deeds, he will see that his urges and actions are lower than even those of the animals. The animal stops after it is satisfied, but man stops nowhere. The world is under the pall of a dark night. Reformers, educators, and preachers are crying themselves hoarse. Appeals are being made in the name of love.
“Despite all this, man’s nature remains like that of an animal. Yet, things are changing slowly. There are still a few rare souls who are devoted to the truth. Once you get out of your pessimistic thinking, you will be filled with hope. The optimist never attempts to destroy life. So, hate not mankind. Be not alienated from the whole world. Fleeing the world and living in forests will only bring in desperation and anger. Renunciation of the world will also mean renunciation of the good. Keep the company of good people.”
“I have not even met one good person.”
“Your search has not been adequate. In despair, you have been seeking to destroy your body. Raise your consciousness and realize that the world is created by IkOankar and some good people live in it. You will find someone who has mastered the five evils and loves Truth.”
“I left home in search of good people, and look what happened. A woman is like grain, subject to rats in a storehouse, and pecked by crows when thrown out. How should I even search for good people? I see greedy eyes everywhere.”
“The One has blessed you with fidelity to your marriage, yet you lack faith. True faith is higher than Truth itself. Truth you have, but it has not inspired you. This is why men seek you in lewd ways. No one would dare cast an evil glance on a pure woman. Your doubt is wrecking you and tearing you apart. Where faith is weak; their doubt exists. You have preserved your chastity in the midst of all this suffering. Now, throw away your fear and give yourself the strength that chastity brings.”
“Holy Sir, can I, a weak woman, live in this world alone?”
“The one, who has faith and purity within, is not alone. The One is always by their side.”
“I understand what you are saying, but I am not totally convinced. Maybe my faith is not that strong. I do not feel the protection of the Creator.”
“How have you kept faith in your departed husband?”
“My faith in my husband is there, though I cannot explain it. Your words have brought joy to my heart and have encouraged me, but I am still shaky.”
“As you have faith in your husband, similarly, put your faith in the Creator. Faith is within you, but it lacks firmness. Truth too is within you, but the source of the Truth is not yet lodged within you. I pray that the Divine comes to abide within you, for only then will you find true life.”
“What can I do for that to happen?”
“Know that the Divine is within. As you have cherished the memory of your departed husband and your faith in him has stood unshaken, similarly cherish, and contemplate the Divine within. As your contemplation gets deeper, you will become fearless. Then you will neither stand under anyone’s fear nor impart fear in another. When your mind becomes fearless, your outlook will change. This world will no longer appear poisonous, but will emerge as the image of the Divine. You will see Divine Light permeating universally. Rise and discard your doubts and illusions, and the darkness of ignorance in which your mind now abides. Forget the pain inflicted on you by others or else its memory will make your own mind impure with the spirit of revenge. Joy and bliss are experienced when the mind is in poise. Joy lies within, look not for it outside.”
“I am blessed to have met you. Tell me are you a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or an Arya Samaj?”
“I am not fit to be called a performer of good deeds. I am a mere seeker of the true-life from that teacher Guru Nanak and am known as a Sikh. I am struggling to follow the teachings of my Guru. Remember, true religion leads to union with the Divine. The rest is a mere illusion. When Truth illumines the mind, one radiates with the Light of Truth.”
“Your discourse has brought peace to my mind. But please tell me, whose support should I seek to pass the rest of my days?”
With eyes full of compassion, the man replies, “I do not have an ashram, nor am I a householder living among relatives. I cannot offer you anything. I move from place to place; I consider all places as mine. The earth is my bed. All food and drink on earth is mine, for I belong to the Divine and the entire world belongs to the Divine. Divine Love is my only support and I’m never alone. I urge you to put yourself under the Divine’s protection.
“With each breath of yours, keep the Divine in your mind. Do not feel discouraged. The fruit of this devotion will appear gradually. As your contemplation gets deeper, your actions will emit love, and you will radiate Divine Love. Have faith, my child, have faith. What is your name, dear child?”
“The unfortunate Jamuna.”
“That phase is now over. You are now Subhagji (fortunate one).”
“Where am I now? Where should I go? I need not ask you what I should do, for your words have penetrated my consciousness. A new life has come to me. I shall do as you have said, for your Guru, Guru Nanak will guide me. Of that I am sure of; but please tell me, where am I now? Where is my abode?”
“You are a Divine being. You have found life in the purity of the Divine; you are in the Divine; be absorbed in this Divine Presence and abide in it,” replies the man tenderly.
His words saturate the air.
Subhag’s eyes close.
Waves ebb and flow.
Her awareness remains.
She opens her eyes only to see that the man has disappeared.
Time seems to have come to a standstill.
Her eyes close once again.
The echo of Vahiguru (Awesome-Wisdom) begins to resound within.
Divine intoxication floods her every pore and she is totally immersed.
The afternoon sun is beginning to set.
A tall peasant woman stands in front of Subhag with a bowl of milk. “Good lady, in the name of the Divine on whom you are meditating, please drink this and grace our simple home. Your presence will purify it.”
“The abode of the Divine is all-pervading. I abide in the Divine,” utters Subhag with love.
“Daughter, you radiate divine presence. Trust me and please come to bless my home.”
“Mother, I will come with you,” replies Subhag.