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Dr. Kapany aimed to conserve shrines, the objects left by Sikhs in Pakistan

If an average Pakistani was asked what was his perception of Sikhs, he would reply: turbans swathed around unshorn hair, legendary prowess as soldiers, and green-fingered success as farmers. And beneath, sub-surface, a yearning for the Punjabi homeland from which they were evicted in 1947.
The Sikhs left their major shrines behind in Pakistan — Nankana sahib, Panja sahib, Kartarpur, the memorial to Guru Arjan Dev, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s samadhi. They felt as Roman Catholics would if expelled from their Vatican.
Few Pakistanis associate the Sikhs with fibre optics, yet it was a Sikh engineer — Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany — who discovered that, despite the insistence otherwise of his Physics professors, light rays could be bent. He patented his discovery and then benefited from the Big Bang of Information Technology. With an inordinate sum of money now at his disposal, Dr. Kapany embarked upon a personal mission to preserve Sikh art-heritage and to disseminate the tenets of his faith through lectures, publication and exhibitions.
In 1999, he sponsored a spectacular exhibition titled The Art of the Sikh Kingdoms, at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. We discovered that he and I owned portraits of the formidable Sikh Maharani Jindan (the last wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh), done by the British painter George Richmond in the 1860s. I had Richmond’s preparatory pencil sketch, Dr. Kapany the finished work in oils.
At the V&AM seminar, Dr. Kapany, as the show’s sponsor, had the first slot as the keynote speaker. No sooner had he begun his slide presentation though than disaster struck. The inept museum projectionist had neglected to secure the carousel on the Kodak projector. Suddenly, the carousel jumped out of its mooring and spun in the air, scattering Dr. Kapany’s carefully ordered slides. Gamely, Dr. Kapany continued with his talk, ignoring the mismatch between his words and the images on the screen behind him.
Shaukat Aziz. Dr. Kapany presented his proposals to build a luxury hotel for Sikh yatrees at Nankana sahib and offered to renovate the Sikh gallery at the Lahore Fort, where the paintings of the Sikh darbar done in the 1840s by the Hungarian painter August Schoefft were on dismal display. The powers-that-be couldn’t raise themselves to match the lofty conviction that had driven Dr. Kapany to make his pilgrimage to Pakistan.
Dr. Kapany died recently on 3 December, aged 94, heavy with honours, laden with wealth, an icon in his community. Throughout his long life he had been too positive ever to admit regret, but if he did have one, it was the wish – still unassuaged – to preserve, protect, and propagate his Sikh heritage at risk in Pakistan.
(Inputs from Fakir Syed Dawn, Karachi)

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