Yesterday I watched the inspiring movie “Eh Janam Tumhare Lekhe” (I dedicate this life to You) on Netflix based on the life of Bhagat Puran Singh, who founded Pingalwara meaning “home of the crippled” in Amritsar. Pingalwara is a home to individuals with physical ailments, mental health disorders, and disabilities, as well as orphans, individuals who were abandoned, impoverished, or abused.
Puran Singh was born into a Hindu family in 1904, originally with the name “Ramji Das”. His mother was poor but worked hard cleaning dishes to be able to send him to school at a hostel. After failing his grade 10 exams, he started doing sewa at Gurdwara Dehra Sahib. After his mother died, he continued to do sewa by cleaning the floor, managing cattle, making parshade, and serving langar. He washed the clothes of the homeless and took sick individuals to the hospital. He describes that he became a Sikh because when he stayed at a Mandar, he was told to do all the cleaning, and afterwards instead of offering him food, the Brahmins ate their food in front of him. In contrast, when he went to the Gurdwara, he was given warm langar without any expectation of sewa. He took Amrit in 1923.
In 1934, someone left a four-year-old boy with leprosy outside the Gurdwara. The Head Granthi appointed Puran Singh his parent. Puran Singh named the boy Pyara and cared for him his whole life. At the age of 19 (in 1924), he started Pingalwara. He subsequently went on to found the “All India Pingalwara Charitable Society.” He wanted to offer care for those abandoned by society. He understood that hospitals were full, and many could not afford treatment. Those with chronic or incurable diseases were not admitted and were left to die on the streets. In 1947, during the partition, he reached a refugee camp and started treating the wounded. He got an idea to start an institution to care for patients and Pingalwara became what it is today. V.N. Narayan writes, “He did not work miracles. But he did reveal, in word and deed, the power to transform lives, alleviate pain and lift up such hearts as are hurt, depressed and disconsolate.”
On top of his other work, Bhagat Puran Singh was passionate about the environment. He printed educational articles on reused paper, and handed them out for free. He planted saplings and traveled by foot or bicycle whenever he could. He writes, "From my childhood, my mother had asked me to do personal service to all the creations of God. This tender and distinct feelings of virtuous tasks was ingrained in my mind. My mother had taught me to provide water to the animals, plant trees and water newly planted saplings, offer feed to the Sparrows, Crows and Mynahs, pick up thorns from the paths, and remove the stones from cart tracks. This had embedded the Name of the Almighty in my heart. She had entrusted me to the custody of Gurdwara Dera Sahib and started me on a path of virtuous living. By following this path your mind can never waver." That work continues and Pingalwara has its own orchard and nursery with 60,000 saplings distributed yearly.
Today Pingalwara serves 1700 patients with 7-9 patients being admitted monthly. They run schools, prosthetic center, Physio/ENT/Ultrasound/Dental centers, and OR, and pharmacy. They have a training center to teach skills like weaving, sewing, etc. Medications and care are free, thanks to the generous donors who support Pingalwara. Many patients are able to recover and be reunited with their families. The education is helping to uplift individuals out of poverty. Pingalwara is currently run by Dr. Inderjit Kaur after the passing of Bhagat Ji in 1992.
I am very inspired by Bhagat Puran Singh’s life of sewa and compassion for humanity. His story should be added to those that we tell children so they have role models to look up to. May we all live by his example. We all have the power to touch lives and transform them each day. We cannot underestimate the power of looking someone in the eyes. We cannot underestimate the power of listening, the power of empathy, and the power of our individual sewa. Sometimes we tend to think about service to people, but it's also important to serve all of God's creation including plants and animals.
"Dignity in death is a birthright of each living thing." (Bhagat Puran Singh)
“Eh Janam Tumhare Lekhe” (2015)