By Judith van Berkom –
How do we measure a person’s life? In the number of years they have lived or do we measure it by how much they have achieved in their lifetime, how many awards they’ve received, or how much money they’ve earned? Or do we measure a person by their quality of character? Are they generous, loving, and honest? Do we look at their children and assume the goodness of the parents by how much the children have achieved in their lives and how well adjusted they are?
Occasionally, we meet a person who has led a full life, who has accomplished a lot, who is generous, caring, and compassionate, has a good sense of humour and continues to be physically and mentally active.
Gurbachan Singh Bedi will turn 100 at the end of September of this year. His parents died in their fifties, so his age is not a result of good genes. “It’s God’s grace,” he says.
His wife, Mohindar, is 99-years-of-age. They met, married and lived in Delhi, India until his 70th year. Both their daughters are physicians – one in Ottawa and the other in the US. Their son is a retired colonel in India.
Gurbachan is a WWII veteran who was awarded four medals; a poet, translator and photographer; a strong believer in Gandhi who advised people not to speak, see or hear any evil; not to criticize others but instead work to improve yourself.
Gurbachan and Mohindar still live independently in their apartment of 30 years and celebrated 79 years of marriage this year. Their daughter sponsored them to come to Ottawa when Gurbachan turned 70, with the idea that her parents would come and live with her.
“We were never consulted,” says Gurbachan.“I was well established in India. I had my own business. I can’t be idle.” He agreed to stay only if he had a job. Five days later, at age 70, he went to work full time as a staff sergeant with the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires and worked in various places in Ottawa until he reached 90.
For the last 10 years, he has looked after his wife at home. Mohindar’s memory is failing and she has had several falls. She walks with a cane in the apartment and has a walker when they go out. Gurbachan cooks her meals and looks after her.
Gurbachan’s life is much more than his work. When he was 14 he picked up photography. He starting with black and white photographs, developing and enlarging the photos himself and colouring them afterwards.
Volunteerism makes up a large part of his life. He has taken part in many activities – the World Alliance of Peace Summit is a yearly gathering of people from around the world for the cause of peace. The group works to influence policy issues. Locally, he initiated interaction with the Ottawa Community Immigration and the Jewish Family Services and played a role in facilitating communications among various faith groups, promoting understanding between Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and other faiths.
The Punjabi Heritage Foundation presented him with an award for his literary contributions in four languages – Punjabi, Urdu, English and Hindu. In a project that took a year to complete, Gurbachan transliterated a text from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib – Sikhism’s most sacred text – into Urdu. It is now available to Sikhs all over the world on the Internet.
Gurbachan takes part in the annual SEVA walk to raise money for the Queensway Carleton Hospital Foundation. His daughter donated a room in the hospital in her parents’ name.
When the earthquake hit Haiti several years ago, Gurbachan donated his pension cheque; two weeks later he donated his next pension cheque to the relief efforts.
Among his accolades is a letter thanking him for returning a wallet found on the floor of the Rideau Centre with several hundred dollars, credit cards and other valuables. He refused any compensation for returning the wallet and the letter of gratitude he received describes his many qualities of character –trustworthiness, honesty and high moral standards.
Recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2002, it would require a good deal of space to list all of the organizations that Gurbachan was involved in and the awards given to him for all the volunteer service he provided over the years. To name a few: President of the Punjabi Seniors Association for two consecutive terms and now its Patron; volunteer with the Kanata Senior Centre; certificates of appreciation from the Jewish Family Services, Sikh Community Services Ottawa, Red Cross; and Award of Honour from the Punjabi Heritage Foundation of Canada.
In June, Gurbachan received the Paul Harris Fellow Award from the Rotary Club of West Ottawa. The introduction read at the awards ceremony on June 27 referred to his work as a devoted volunteer and also his philosophy – “working to advance mutual respect between people of different races, cultures and beliefs. In particular, he helps seniors and underprivileged people.”