Meeting with a Christian Missionary

(An interesting account taken from Jail Chittyan – Autobiography of Bhai Randhir Singh)

Now leave aside the story of my life in Nagpur Jail. If I remember any incident later on, it can be included in the second edition. But there is one incident worth mentioning before I close.

It was a completely dark cell in which I had to spend day and night in ajapa jap (sempiternal contemplation of the divine Name), in the wonderful celestial music of which I remained absorbed most of the time. I could feel and see with my inner eyes the close presence of my Guru and God. The ever refreshing bliss of His presence and revelations, spread from the fragrant naval-seat of inner consciousness, to the lotus of the heart and higher still to the super-conscious states where the music of his divine Name became a light and vision of an eternal splendour. The whole of my inner being was ablaze with His Light and that Light spread and lighted the whole space of my inner and outer being. “just as the rays of the sun pervade all, so the Light of God can be seen blended with everything.” This is how I felt and experienced. The Light of God that can be visibly seen is in essence really spread like the light of the sun. My inner vision felt blessed and exalted by the bliss of the vision in which I saw the Beloved so near and in a form so clear.

One day I was standing close to the bars of my cell, when my mind soared and fell into a state of samadhi of a blissful state. I do not know how long I stood there, but I kept standing even when the hot sun blazed and its burning light fell on my body from the courtyard. Even then I stood there unconscious of the heat. I stood in this condition till some one shook by my shoulder and my eyes that were closed in deep concentration of nectar-laved vision suddenly opened. I opened my eyes and for a moment saw nothing around me. Then from outside the bars I heard a voice saying: “Excuse me, I had to disturb you. For over fifteen minutes we have been standing here in the cell yard. A Christian Missionary who has just come from England has been waiting here for some time along with the prison officials. The Padre Sahib has specially come to meet you”.

I saw the Christian missionary standing in the outer corridor under the shade of the wall, and addressing him said “Come inside, why do you keep standing at such a distance?” “Are you All right?” questioned the Christian missionary. “Why not come closer and ask me how I am? Why keep standing at such a distance?” said I.
Actually the inner corridor was blazing under the hot sun, while he was standing in the shade of the walls, in the outer corridor. He did not find courage to come and stand in the burning sun. The superintendent realised his difficulty. He opened the lock of my cell and took me out close to him in the shade. I laughed heartily and said to the missionary: “How is that you could not endure the heat of the sun which we have been enduring for eight years. He looked at my face and then addressing the officials and other visitors he said: “His face is fragrant and flourishing. I have seen innumerable political prisoners, but his face is unique.” Then addressing me he asked. “Are you happy? Are you well?” “The Lord is gracious,” I said. The superintendent told him that I understood English quite well, but I said I preferred to speak in my mother tongue, Punjabi. He sometimes spoke in English and sometimes in Hindustani, but I gave replies in Punjabi, which he understood.

Christian Missionary: For how long have you been kept in this dark cell?

I: Ever since I was brought to Nagpur Jail I have been kept mostly in this cell. I might have spent about five or six months in solitary confinement in other cells.

Christian Missionary: How many years of imprisonment have you spent in this Jail?

I: My history ticket will tell you that.

Christian Missionary: (after examining the history ticket, which the Superintendent gave him). So you came here towards the end of the year 1922. You have been kept here for nearly eight years. For how many hours in the daytime are you kept in this dark cell?

I: I am made to spend the whole day and night in this cell.

Christian Missionary: For how many hours long are you taken for a walk? For how long are you allowed to take exercise?

I: Not for a single hour? All that I can do is to come out of the cell to the courtyard attached to it where I can cook and eat my food, or take bath or ease nature. Immediately after that I am again locked in the cell.
Christian Missionary: (Looking angrily at prison officials) Why is he treated like that?

Jailer: The Punjab Government has given us strict orders not to allow him to meet his comrades or any other prisoner. We have orders to keep him apart from everyone. Even prison officials dare not meet him alone. We have no objection to taking him outside, but we have strict orders from above not to do so.

Christian Missionary: (addressing me) Do you get any newspaper for reading?

I: Never, although the Inspector General of prisons has permitted it.

Christian Missionary: (addressing the prison officials) When the Inspector General has given permission why do they not get the newspaper?

Superintendent: There is some confidential reason for it.

Christian Missionary: (addressing me) Do they give you some books to read?

I: No, never; they have even confiscated our prayer books which belonged to us. My history ticket will show that.
Christian Missionary: Do you sleep in the corridor or in the cell at night?

I: (laughing) please ask them.

Superintendent and others: (with one voice) No political or other prisoner is allowed to sleep in the corridor.

Christian Missionary: Do you stay alone in this cell?

I: No, never. I am never alone even for a single minute.

Superintendent and Jailer: (excited) What he has stated is a lie. He is alone in the cell. There is no one else.

I: Both of them are telling a lie. I am never alone in the cell, nor have I ever been alone in the cell for a single day.
Christian Missionary: (addressing them.) Well Sirs, what is the meaning of this. Why do you insist on saying thathe stays alone when he says he is never alone.

Superintendent: Sir, according to prison rules we cannot keep more than one prisoner in one cell. We have strict orders never to lodge two prisoners in one cell. We can show you the Jail regulations. We are telling the truth and he is making a false statement.

I: (seriously) I am telling the truth. They are wrong. We, Sikhs of the Guru, never tell a lie.

Christian Missionary: How can this enigma be solved? Responsible prison officers are making a statement which cannot be called false, but my conscience tells me that this Sikh is also telling the truth. A prisoner in his position who is not given any books, nor given any newspapers, nor is allowed to talk to anyone, and is lodged in this dark cell day and night, cannot survive and live with such a beaming face as his. Look at his face. How glowing and refreshing it is. There is not a trace of gloom on his face, but it is red with glowing radiance. After being locked up day and night for so many years, I cannot imagine such beaming radiance and fragrance on any human face. So I cannot believe that he is making a false statement. After all how can we solve this enigma. (After a silence of a few minutes, addressing me) I cannot dub the statement of the responsible prison officials to be false. I also cannot believe that you are making a wrong statement. Please solve this mystery. If you are not staying alone then who lives with you all the time.

On hearing this my mind soared high and in a voice filled with deep mystic fervour, and under a musical inspiration suddenly leaping from the unknown, I sang the following divine song in answer to the question:

“The Guru is with me ever and ever; Contemplating Him I live in His presence:
I contemplate ever, the Name of God within my heart,
All comrades and companions are thereby saved;
The Lord (the Guru) is with me ever and ever;
Contemplating Him I live in His presence. (refrain)
Their Will is ever sweet to me, Lord,
Nanak seeks only the Word of God,
Guru Arjan: Rag Asa.

Everyone was thrilled by the Song. Like statues all stood motionless and felt the magnetic influence of the divine song. The refrain became the burthen of the song. For many minutes the whole atmosphere was charged with the spiritual influence of the song. Everyone stood silently with fixed attention. No one spoke, no one moved. Every one felt the bliss of the song. The Christian Missionary who understood every word of it was the first to speak and break silence.

Christian Missionary: The mystery has been well solved indeed. So your Guru is ever with you. So you were indeed telling the truth, and in a way, the prison official were also telling the truth. But I wish to test your statement a little more. (addressing the prison officials) Who stays in the adjoining cells? Please call them.

Jailer: Well Sir, in the day time they remain empty. At night different prisoners are lodged in these cells.

Christian Missionary: Why do you lock them up at night? Who are locked up here? Some special prisoners or you pick them at random and lock them up here.

Jailer: No Sir, those prisoners who have been ordered by the Magistrate to be kept in solitary confinement alone are kept locked up day and night in these cells.

Christian Missionary: What is the maximum period for which the prisoner can be kept in solitary confinement? Could you quote the regulation?

Jailer: For a month at the most.

Christian Missionary: Is there any prisoner who is kept in this cell only at night but is allowed to move about outside in the daytime?

Jailer: No there is no such prisoner, Sir.

Christian Missionary: But you say two prisoners are always kept locked up at night in the adjoining cells. Why is that punishment given to them?

Jailer: Well Sir, they are not kept here because they are punished for something but according to prison rules we cannot keep these cells vacant; so we ask other prisoners to spend one night in them by turn. So one prisoner is kept by turn in each of these two cells.

Christian Missionary: Why do you change the prisoner every night? Why can you not keep the same prisoner for some nights in the cell?

Jailer: We cannot compel any prisoner to be locked up in this cell every night. For one night or so they gladly come and volunteer to be locked up ‘in them.

I: No one is gladly willing to spend a night in these dark cells. Would it not be better to ask those who have already spent a night here, whether they would be willing to spend a night in these cells again.
The Christian Missionary then examined the logbook and found that no prisoner had stayed in those cells more than one night. He then ordered five or six of those prisoners to be brought who had brought who had spent the night in the cells during the preceding week. He asked everyone of those prisoners how they feel during the night in that dark cell and why do they not volunteer to stay again for another night in it?

Everyone with one voice said: “Sir, God save us from this dungeon. Even to pass one night has been a great torture. The terrible loneliness and gloom is unbearable.”

After inquiring everything about their experience in those dark cells from the prisoners, the Christian missionary made up his mind to spend one night in one of those cells as a matter of experiment. So he expressed his strong wish to spend one night in the cell.
Superintendent and others: Sir, how can we do that without the orders of the government?
Christian Missionary: I would be getting locked up in one of these cells for a night voluntarily and gladly for the sake of experiencing how a man feels.

When the prison officials found him adamant in his determination to carry out the experiment they agreed to lock him up in the daytime but not in the night, and that for a few hours only. The Christian missionary agreed to be locked up for at least three hours. The prison officials were, however, seriously upset. “Why do you worry?” I said to them, “the Padre Sahib will not be able to stay in the cell for more than one hour. Let him experiment. What do you lose by it.” “Of course, Of course,” said the Christian Missionary, “I just want to experience it myself, how one feels.”

So the Christian Missionary was ready to be locked in the dark cell. I humorously said to him, “How fine it would have been if you put on the dress of the prisoners and then got into it. But the prison officials will not permit you to do so.” So it was soon decided that the Padre Sahib would be locked in the third cell, adjoining mine, and he would be kept in at least for three hours. Just as he was about to enter the cell, I whispered into his ear: Well Sir, there is a chain dangling in the cell. It is connected with a bell outside. If you find any difficulty in staying long, please pull that chain. The Warder Incharge would at once open the door.” He thanked me for this information and entered the cell where he was locked up. I was also locked up in my cell. All the prison officials, the warders and the sentries went away. The Warder Incharge of the Octagen went to his office.
Within an hour the bell of the Padre Sahib’s cell began to ring as loudly as a fire alarm. The Octagen-Incharge warder came running. The Christian Missionary was shouting from inside: “Open the door quickly, take me out quickly, I am dying.” The door was opened. The Christian Missionary came out and after breathing open air for some time he said: “Take that Sikh of Guru Nanak out of the cell and bring him here.”

I was taken out and brought before the Christian Missionary, who placed his hands on my shoulders and said repeatedly: “Well, noble Sikh, your Master, Guru Nanak is indeed ever with you, but my Master Lord Jesus does not abide with me as your Guru Nanak does. I am now convinced that your Lord, Guru Nanak must be visibly living with you. Please repeat that song you sang.” I sang that song under renewed inspiration, and while I sang my face flushed with the rapturous joy of its inner experience. After hearing it the Christian Missionary said: “I now realise the true significance of the words of this song. It is quite true that your Guru resides in your heart and soul, nay in your whole inner being, and you never feel lonely. I have seen it from experience that apart from other difficulties, the gloomy torture of loneliness is the greatest difficulty to be encountered. Oppressing loneliness was the only difficulty I encountered. Every moment I felt the desolateness and dreariness gnawing at my heart. Blessed art thou O noble Sikh of the Guru, who spent years in this dungeon all alone. Nay, I make a mistake again, not alone but with the unusual spiritual powers you have acquired from your Guru, you appear to see the blazing Light of the Guru ever burning in your heart. You must be in constant communion with your great Guru, and you must be experiencing His nearness and discoursing with him every moment. That is why you neither feel loneliness, nor are you ever upset, nor is there any evil effect on your body. I was almost dying from dreary and dark loneliness. Great and glorious are you O noble Sikh and great and glorious is your Guru”. After saying this he went away along with his party.
When he reached the prison gate he asked for the prison log book and wrote three pages of his impressions of the prison. The sympathetic officers who read it reported to us that he gave a vivid portrayal of what was happening in the prison. He particularly mentioned that the cruelty perpetuated and the tortures inflicted on me were unprecedented. He wrote many things in my favour. A few sympathisers even promised to procure. a copy of his report, but they did not get an opportunity to do so.

After recording his complaint in the log book, he went straight to the Governor of Central Province and met him about this matter. I do not know what he said to the Governor but after three days I was suddenly taken to an open barrack where there was a hand-pump close by and a large open-air courtyard. There was sufficient ground to take a walk and a mosquito net was also given to me. The whole barrack was at my disposal. I was also informed that my friend Bhai Kartar Singh would be allowed to stay near me soon enough. But even before this happened the Punjab Government sent a telegram to send me to Punjab immediately. As soon as the telegram reached the office I began to receive congratulations and the date for my departure was fixed. The Superintendent and the Jailer informed me that it was not mere transfer order but a step to release me soon. I was assured that I would be released as soon as I reached Punjab. They also informed me that they would be sending one or two sepoys with me and I would travel without being handcuffed. I requested them to send Bhai Kartar Singh to me so that before I left we could stay together. The Superintendent promised but the Jailer did not agree. However said, “If you were not to leave we would have certainly brought you together”. The Jailer feared that Bhai Kartar Singh might inform me of the tortures inflicted on him secretly, and the matter may go out to the public when I was released. But the Superintendent took courage to permit us to be together at least for a day or two. So we were allowed to meet for a day. Living in the same prison we met there for the first time after three years or so. We embraced each other, told each other what we had experienced and how we had suffered. Many secret feelings and thoughts were exchanged. After meeting for the whole day we were again separated at night.

All the books that were confiscated were returned. All the things that were taken from my personal possession on the day I was arrested were returned. These things included my clothes, a rosary, a kirpan, a chakar, and iron bangles. A very precious Kirpan which I generally wore with strap was not returned. God alone knows where it was lost. They searched for it but could not get it. They were however prepared to pay for it, when they lost all hope of finding it. “I told them that the kirpan was, priceless. It was not possible for them to pay the price. If I had demanded any amount they would have paid it, but I did not feel like taking any money for the kirpan, which for me was a religious symbol. What could I get from some money?

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