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Nihang and the ticket collector


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Nihang and the ticket collector

by Darshan Singh Maini

THE Nihangs are not often seen in cities, and we know, they are a very special tribe, with a hoary history in Sikh chronicles. It’s on some special occasions — festivals, village sports, gurpurb celebrations — that we watch them in action, attired in their full regalia. Their very clothes proclaim them, for they wear heavy blues and saffrons and always carry their weapons, particularly a long and sharp spear. Their turbans are worn like a pagoda adorned with Khanda, small steel swords etc. Now, one thing that’s not generally known to the people is their own home-grown rhetoric or idiom, and that language is often is amusing as it is confusing.

They generally live in their own deras, away from towns, and are known to have their own diet and drinks. Bhang, for instance, is their speciality, and after their repast, they practise gatka, a kind of martial game — sword-display, horse-riding etc.

But the encounter between a Nihang Singh a ticket-collector in a running train really forms the heart of our little story. This incident I’m going to recall here took place some 50 years ago. Accompanied by some members of our family, we boarded a train from

Delhi to Jabalpur to attend the marriage. ceremonies of a dear cousin.

And then, when we had been in a special compartment with reserved seats for sitting for six or seven hours, a Nihang Singh boarded our compartment, carrying his usual weapons and fully dressed in their tribe’s prescribed robes. His entry was so dramatic that most of the passengers looked awe-struck, and the children retreated into the laps of their mothers. His loud greetings, “Boley so Nihal” woke up all those dozing or dreaming, He cast a roving eye around, but finding no empty seat, stood like a sentinal right in the middle of the train. He kept reciting sotto-voce some hymns or Nihang mantras, but, otherwise he remained calm, cool and collected. This produced a salutary effect, and the passengers began to feel somewhat at ease.

And then came that memorable encounter, the Nihang’s brush with a ticket collector in uniform and a punching machine in hand. He went on checking all the seated passengers, one by one, leaving Nihang Singh in peace. And, finally, before he was going to leave the compartment he suddenly turned round on his heels to confront the Nihang Singh. The conversation that followed is put down here somewhat in the manner in which it took place, “May I see your ticket, Nihang Singh Ji,” he said with due respect and salutation.

The Singh Ji stood gazing at his face, registering no emotion, a statue rooted in the middle of the floor. The ticket collector repeated his request. But he drew a blank again, Non-plussed, the ticket-collector bawled out: “Singh Ji, have you a ticket with you?” “Ticket, eh, what ticket?” he responded in a mocking tone. But the ticket collector was not to be intimated that way. He again repeated his demand, a little more stringently. And the Nihang Singh uttered those memorable words which sent the whole compartment into peels and peels of laughter. “No, I carry no ticket. But who are you to demand one?” “That’s my duty”, the ticket collector added. “Why, is this your train?” “No Nihang ji, it belongs to the Government”. “And the Government belongs to the people”, retorted Nihang Singh. “The people, the earth on which the train is running belongs to God. who’re you to claim it? Take you train off the lines, of the earth”, he quipped with an amused eye. The poor ticket-collector beat a hasty retreat, leaving the passengers laughing and laughing and laughing, the Nihang Singh’s circular, loony logic having done the trick.

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