Truth is his name

Who is to say who is right or wrong when only god is perfect?

If there is one thing that I hate doing, it is admitting when I am wrong. I am comfortable compiling my finances; I can visit the dentist without fear; doing the household laundry and other domestic chores can even be positively euphoric; but, admitting when I am wrong is something that I deplore and what is more, I just can’t seem to do it as often as I should.

As a teenager, I gained something of a reputation for endlessly questioning my friends, family and peers. I just couldn’t let go of a topic that I felt inclined to know about (which happened to be just about everything!) Relentlessly, I would hound somebody as to their opinion or experience.

This in itself was fairly harmless as I had always been taught that an inquisitive nature was the very essence of learning. However, it was the manner in which I would counteract during a conversation that led to my notoriety. To share your own opinions is tolerable, but I tended to declare my own thoughts as absolute fact.

I would take a stand on a point in question and unequivocally deride others (whom I now viewed as opponents) pressing them into submission. As if that wasn’t ghastly enough, I often found myself in a position where I needed to expand my argument further, but could not as I had already limited myself when making earlier assertions!

Admitting that perhaps I had gone too far or that I had hastily made statements was tantamount to admitting defeat and I just couldn’t admit that I was wrong. With age comes wisdom and over the years I have become a better conversationalist, but the agony in admitting I may have erred remains. I often wonder why this is. Is it as simple as the stubbornness of male-pride? Or is there some part of my personality that craves confrontation? I continue to ask these questions of myself, but have already found satisfaction from the philosophy of the Sikh way of life.

Guru Nanak espoused that there is only One absolute: God. Sikhs do not think of God as a being or deity, rather we believe that God is the very fabric of all existence: The Guru said Truth is His Name. It follows that beyond this absolute, unique perfect Divinity, everything else is not without flaw. It is comforting to know that we are not perfect.

To truly believe and practice the principle that only God is perfect is humbling. It helps us to refrain from the idea that we cannot be wrong. And yet we find ourselves in that position every day because we spend our time looking at the rest of the world who like us are imperfect. If they are imperfect too, who is to say that I am wrong and they are right? Perhaps I am right and they are wrong! It is this type of thinking that I believe has led me to hate admitting when I am wrong, a belief that perhaps I could be right!

This is why the Sikh way of life emphasises the greater importance of practising an ideal. Guru Nanak declared that “Truth is the highest virtue, but higher still is Truthful living.” We recognise that we are imperfect, but when we are put to the test and should accept that we could or have been wrong we fail to follow through. Sikhs believe that everything exists at the whim of the single Creator & Destroyer. That entity alone is responsible for life and death, for war and peace. Sikh philosophy dictates that our energy is better focused on that entity and to not get caught up in the petty squabbles of the World. Guru Nanak said that in life we should be like the lotus flower, floating within the water but not becoming sullied by the murky depths: to live within the World and embrace it whole, to attempt to resolve society’s problems and enhance the spirit of its people. But we should not allow ourselves to become embroiled or overcome by the differences that exist. Truly, it is human to err, but I would like to take licence with the idiom and add that to admit when one is wrong is also divine.

Harwinder Singh is a 26-year-old Law graduate turned film and TV producer. He is also a record label boss. Born in the UK to Punjabi parents, he been practising and studying the Sikh Way of Life for about 20 years.
ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Show Hide image

Letter from Donetsk: ice cream, bustling bars and missiles in eastern Ukraine

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it.

Eighty-eight year-old Nadya Moroz stares through the taped-up window of her flat in Donetsk, blown in by persistent bombing. She wonders why she abandoned her peaceful village for a “better life” in Donetsk with her daughter, just months before war erupted in spring 2014.

Nadya is no stranger to upheaval. She was captured by the Nazis when she was 15 and sent to shovel coal in a mine in Alsace, in eastern France. When the region was liberated by the Americans, she narrowly missed a plane taking refugees to the US, and so returned empty-handed to Ukraine. She never thought that she would see fighting again.

Now she and her daughter Irina shuffle around their dilapidated flat in the front-line district of Tekstilshchik. Both physically impaired, they seldom venture out.

The highlight of the women’s day is the television series Posledniy Yanychar (“The Last Janissary”), about an Ottoman slave soldier and his dangerous love for a free Cossack girl.

They leave the dog-walking to Irina’s daughter, Galya, who comes back just in time. We turn on the TV a few minutes before two o’clock to watch a news report on Channel One, the Russian state broadcaster. It shows a montage of unnerving images: Nato tanks racing in formation across a plain, goose-stepping troops of Pravy Sektor (a right-wing Ukrainian militia) and several implicit warnings that a Western invasion is nigh. I wonder how my hosts can remain so impassive in the face of such blatant propaganda.

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian-backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it. If the TV doesn’t get you, the print media, radio and street hoardings will. Take a walk in the empty central district of the city and you have the creeping sense of being transported back to what it must have been like in the 1940s. Posters of Stalin, with his martial gaze and pomaded moustache, were taboo for decades even under the Soviets but now they grace the near-empty boulevards. Images of veterans of the 1941-45 war are ubiquitous, breast pockets ablaze with medals. Even the checkpoints bear the graffiti: “To Berlin!” It’s all inching closer to a theme-park re-enactment of the Soviet glory years, a weird meeting of propaganda and nostalgia.

So completely is the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in thrall to Russia that even its parliament has passed over its new flag for the tricolour of the Russian Federation, which flutters atop the building. “At least now that the municipal departments have become ministries, everyone has been promoted,” says Galya, wryly. “We’ve got to have something to be pleased about.”

The war in the Donbas – the eastern region of Ukraine that includes Donetsk and Luhansk – can be traced to the street demonstrations of 2013-14. The former president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, had refused to sign an agreement that would have heralded closer integration with the EU. In late 2013, protests against his corrupt rule began in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kyiv, as well as other cities. In early 2014 Yanukovych’s security forces fired on the crowds in the capital, causing dozens of fatalities, before he fled.

Putin acted swiftly, annexing Crimea and engineering a series of “anti-Maidans” across the east and south of Ukraine, bussing in “volunteers” and thugs to help shore up resistance to the new authority in Kyiv. The Russian-backed rebels consolidated their power base in Donetsk and Luhansk, where they established two “independent” republics, the DPR and its co-statelet, the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Kyiv moved to recover the lost territories, sparking a full-scale war that raged in late 2014 and early 2015.

Despite the so-called “peace” that arrived in autumn 2015 and the beguiling feeling that a certain normality has returned – the prams, the ice creams in the park, the bustling bars – missiles still fly and small-arms fire frequently breaks out. You can’t forget the conflict for long.

One reminder is the large number of dogs roaming the streets, set free when their owners left. Even those with homes have suffered. A Yorkshire terrier in the flat next door to mine started collecting food from its bowl when the war began and storing it in hiding places around the flat. Now, whenever the shelling starts, he goes to his caches and binge-eats in a sort of atavistic canine survival ritual.

Pet shops are another indicator of the state of a society. Master Zoo in the city centre has an overabundance of tropical fish tanks (too clunky to evacuate) and no dogs. In their absence, the kennels have been filled with life-size plastic hounds under a sign strictly forbidding photography, for reasons unknown. I had to share my rented room with a pet chinchilla called Shunya. These furry Andean rodents, fragile to transport but conveniently low-maintenance, had become increasingly fashionable before the war. The city must still be full of them.

The bombing generally began “after the weekends, before holidays, Ukraine’s national days and before major agreements”, Galya had said. A new round of peace talks was about to start, and I should have my emergency bag at the ready. I shuddered back up to the ninth floor of my pitch-dark Tekstilshchik tower block. Shunya was sitting quiet and unruffled in his cage, never betraying any signs of stress. Free from Russian television, we girded ourselves for the night ahead.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war