Memsahib and the Nihang

It has been a sensational wedding so far. Probably the only one conducted in the Golden Temple that has received wide coverage in both Hello! magazine as well the tabloids. When Britain’s former “It girl” Alexandra Aitken decided to marry a Nihang, Inderjot Singh, it was presented as a leap of faith over a vast cultural chasm. The reportage was accompanied by the startling information that over 150 holy men had abandoned their meditation in “caves” and hotfooted to Amritsar to attend the unique union. Wow!

The Daily Mail informed us breathlessly last week that Ms Aitken, politely described as a reformed “hell raising nightclub regular” (and daughter of a former member of UK Parliament and minister, Jonathan Aitken, who had once been jailed) had married the “handsome Sikh of noble blood” in Amritsar. Her twin sister Victoria gushed that Ms Aitken had met the “noble” Mr Singh while she was practising yoga “on a retreat at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, near the foothills of the Himalayas”. Ms Victoria delightedly discovered that “he is a Nihang warrior… a military Sikh order formed 300 years ago in which men and women are trained in horsemanship and swordmanship”. She then flew to Amritsar to attend the wedding and found that this “devout Sikh” was every bit as handsome, calm and thoughtful as she had been told. She commented very perceptively, “Even though he was educated in Australia, his English was perfect”.
Ms Victoria had thoughtfully packed an off-the-shoulder little black dress to wear for the wedding at the Golden Temple but was crushed when her sister told her “that’s far too sexy to wear in front of holy Sikhs”. However, suitably attired in a salwar-kameez she was taken around the Golden Temple where Mr Singh is apparently a “giani”. She also visited the “soup kitchens” (langar!) where she thought the food was being cooked to give to the poor.
The wedding itself was attended by over 300 guests, with prayers recited by 150 Nihangs (saints from caves) as the couple walked around four pillars (someone obviously forgot to tell Victoria that they were not walking around the pillars, but the Guru Granth Sahib). This was followed by a mesmerising performance by brave Nihang warriors comprising “tribal dances”, cartwheels, sword fights and dagger throwing. All fairly normal stuff in Sikh weddings. Amritsar is one of the richest cities in India with a sophisticated population that has probably seen much more pomp and splendour than poor Ms Aitken and Ms Victoria ever have (regardless of the fact that their great grandfather Baron Rugby was the “acting governor” of Punjab during the Raj). But if I hadn’t been a regular visitor to Amritsar I would have thought the wedding had taken place in some wild and weird part of the world just discovered by two intrepid young British explorers.
Nonetheless, life for the newly-married and named “Harvinder Kaur Khalsa” with her husband Mr Singh apparently is beset with all kinds of responsibilities and onerous duties. Some of this exhausting activity includes arriving at the Golden Temple everyday at 7 am to pray till the noon, going home (for some much-needed siesta, perhaps) and returning once more to watch the sunset. What a stressful existence! Mr Singh, on his part, has admitted that he had always wanted to marry a foreigner as “local women weren’t good enough for him and their families would have interfered too much”. He had also confided to Harprakat Singh, a “holy man” who had introduced them, that he wanted a wife who would spend all her time in the temple with him. According to the holy man this deep spirituality is the reason why the four-month-old marriage is yet to be consummated. Ms Aitken aka Harvinder has also agreed to remain chaste as she wanted to show devotion to her new faith. How long this dedication of a former “It girl” will last is anyone’s guess as she has also confessed that she wants her children to be “running around the Himalayas” quite soon. I don’t know the running distance between Amritsar and the Himalayas but it is a charming thought.
British women were, no doubt, impressed with the lengths she is willing to go for her stringent new faith as it is reported that she has refused to cut her hair or even wax her eyebrows. A few days later, however, a rather more callous article appeared in the Telegraph as some intrigued reporters had actually decided to track down the happily-married couple. It now turns out that the freshly converted, turban-clad Mrs Khalsa has been enthusiastic about religion for a long time. So much so that she has already tried most, including Buddhism, Kabbalah, Judaism and Islam. Perhaps, Sikhism will ease the pain of her searching soul. Meanwhile, she is still quite keen on carrying on with her yoga, which includes the sale of yoga merchandise, using her current base.
Mr Singh, it is now learnt, has not always been the devout Sikh he has been presented as. There are those who are (just jealous, perhaps) questioning the fact whether he is a Nihang at all, implying that he has just acquired the costume and not much else. This bunch of rude friends have said that he used to party, drink, even chase girls and smoke, but apparently, upon his return from Australia he became spiritual. One friend said it would be “fascinating” to know what changed him.
Meanwhile, the number of cynics seem to be growing and Mr Singh’s uncle has pointed out that his nephew has no source of income and lives on handouts from his mother. Once she refuses to support him, life will become tough for him. He is also concerned about whether the mem will stay if life becomes uncomfortable. But perhaps his real anxiety is that the “pure” bloodline of Mr Singh’s family will now be polluted by British blood. He has said quite firmly: “It is the mixing of races and races should not be mixed”. Meanwhile, people are wondering if the whole thing is a publicity stunt? They say the memsahib and the Nihang may not be telling us the whole story but they have already made a few thousand pounds selling it to the media… how mean is that.

The writer can be contacted at


Singh is king, hope the Mem

Singh is king, hope the Mem does not take wings.

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