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The American who lived with Bhindranwale

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Friday, January 17, 2014 | 08:14 pm

Norman Kreisman, of California, was known as Baba Nam Singh Khalsa when he was living at the Guru Nanak Niwas with Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, from 1982 to 1984.

Photo Source: Norman Kreisman

Baba Nam Singh Khalsa was living on the top floor of Guru Nanak Niwas at the Darbar Sahib complex when Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale moved in with nearly 30 of his men.

It was July 1982, in Amritsar.

For security reasons, Jarnail Singh did not want anyone else on the same floor. He asked Baba Nam Singh to move out. But by speaking in Punjabi, which he studied during the 18 months he had already spent in Punjab, Baba Nam Singh somehow convinced the Sikh dissident to let him stay.

“We spoke,” he said. “He knew who I was. He told me to go ahead and stay there.”

It wasn’t long before he and Jarnail Singh’s men began to bond. They spent a lot of time together on the roof of the niwas, a lodging facility for pilgrims. They also ate langar together.

“I was always invited,” he said. “I usually ate up on the roof with those guys.”

Beginning at 2 a.m., every morning, they would go to the Darbar Sahib and clean the floors, then go to the Akal Takhat and do more seva. Their routine finished at 5 a.m.

“We would do Baanees together and we would make a drink, like lemonade,” he said. “Then I would go back to the Darbar Sahib for Aasaa Dee Vaar.

“I found them to be very friendly, very dedicated.”

Baba Nam Singh Khalsa was the name Yogi Harbhajan Singh (Puri) Khalsa, also known as Yogi Bhajan, gave Norman Kreisman when he became his devotee. ‘Baba’ was part of his name, not the honorific typically given to show respect.

“I wanted to study Sikhism,” Kreisman told SikhNN, more than 30 years later. So, Yogi Bhajan sent him to India.

He was 32, in 1980, when Yogi Bhajan sent him to live in Punjab with Baba Nihal Singh, a nihung of the Tarna Dal. Although the dal was centered in the Harianvela village of the Hoshiarpur district, Baba Nam Singh lived with the nihungs in a small gurdwara in the Hakimpur village of the Jalandhar district. His room was on the roof.

“(Nihal Singh) was well known, he had a following, but I never really connected for one reason or another,” Kreisman said. “I stayed there for about six months but not much was happening. Then I moved to Amritsar.

“I had a much closer connection with Sant Jarnail Singh’s men than I did with Baba Nihal Singh’s men.”

Baba Nam Singh Khalsa (left) and Baba Nihal Singh (right), sitting in front of Baba Nam Singh

Left: Norman Kreisman was known as Baba Nam Singh Khalsa when he went to Punjab in 1980 to study Sikhi. Right: Baba Nam Singh Khalsa sitting on a munjee behind Baba Nihal Singh, a nihung of the Tarna Dal.
Source: Norman Kreisman

At Guru Nanak Niwas

Baba Nam Singh picked up Punjabi while he was with Nihal Singh. But, at the niwas, he studied the language and was able to hold a conversation with the locals. He also taught an upper-secondary English class at the Shri Guru Ram Das Senior Secondary School. And he enrolled in a gyaanee correspondence course from Punjabi University, Patiala.

“Sant Jarnail Singh’s men, some of them would help me with my homework,” he said, with a chuckle.

Baba Nam Singh had been on his own in Punjab for a couple of years. Yogi Bhajan would come to visit him once a year. But that was it. He had no contact with his life back in the United States, other than care packages from his now ex-wife that were ransacked by Indian customs officials before he received them.

Then, in October 1982, a few of Yogi Bhajan’s disciples came from the U.S. on a month-long yatra. Among them was Guru Sant Singh Khalsa. That’s the name Yogi Bhajan gave him when he became his disciple, about five years earlier. He eventually left the yogi’s dharma, in 2009, and changed his name to Gursant Singh.

“I was inspired by the history of the Sikh religion,” Gursant Singh told SikhNN. He was 25 when he went to India.

“It turned out only three of us were on the yatra, the smallest ever to go to India,” he said.

There were so many problems in Punjab at that time. Sikhs were protesting every day. People were getting killed. There was so much violence, Yogi Bhajan didn’t even make his annual trip, he said.

The three visitors went to Baba Nam Singh, their fellow American, at the niwas.

“He was very Punjabi-ized!” Gursant Singh said, with a laugh. “He looked like a Punjabi, with darkened skinned. And he spoke Punjabi, fluently.”

While the two women on the yatra shared a separate room at the niwas, Guru Sant Singh stayed with Baba Nam Singh in his room.

“He was pretty American!” Kreisman said, with a chuckle. “He definitely stood out, wearing all white.” White was Yogi Bhajan’s dress code.

“I took him around and introduced him to people,” he said. “We went to Hemkund Sahib, Anandpur Sahib, and maybe to Hakimpur to meet Baba Nihal Singh.”

The American guests stayed at the niwas for about two weeks, and saw the volatile situation for themselves.

“We saw these Sikhs gathering every day in the area in front of the niwas with orange dastaars,” Gursant Singh said. “They would then walk out of the gate near the langar hall, and out onto the street and get arrested by the police. There were a lot of protests going on there because the government had not fulfilled promises about giving rights to Sikhs. There also were protests against water rights. My understanding was that they were protesting every day.

“There would be these big tent-prisons in the Punjab countryside where they would put these prisoners. It was becoming a big problem.

“We could hear bullets on the streets of Amritsar at night," Gursant Singh said. "It was pretty frightening.”

Baba Nam Singh asked if they had heard of a Sikh leader named Jarnail Singh, and asked if they wanted to meet him. The two women were not interested but Guru Sant Singh went up to the roof of the niwas.



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