The story of a hardworking Indian immigrant who is serving his community in California.
Satnam Singh Chahal is an Indian Immigrant and currently living in California as a USA Citizen. He is an Executive Director of the Advisory for Indian American Community-North American Punjabi Association (NAPA) and the editor of punjaboutlook.com, and punjabnewsusa.com. While his life has been filled with ups and downs, he never gave up nor removed his faith in God. In his belief, divine help can be automatically received if you keep your heart open for others’ benefit. The simplicity of his personality contrasts with the complexities of life. Here, he is sharing his life summary with us. So, let’s read about his life in his own words.
I was born and raised in a small family in Village Jallowal, District Kapurthala of Punjab (North India), situated close to the India-Pakistan border. My father, S. Surjan Singh, was an officer in North Eastern Railways Samastipur (Bihar), and my mother was a housewife. From a financial point of view, we were a middle-class family, yet we were a respectable family.
From the beginning of my middle-class education, I started taking a keen interest in politics. During college, on every Sunday and holiday, I started going from village to village on my bicycle, listening to the issues and concerns of the villagers. Further, I began writing letters to the concerned government officials to solve people’s problems. Over time, I started organizing free medical camps, providing free health checkups and medicine to needy patients. My parents were not happy with me, as they wished for me to become a source of bread and butter for the family. But, unfortunately, I could not beat the expectations of my parents. After completing college, I joined the Delhi Gurdwara Dharam Yudh Morcha, wherein I was politically sentenced for three months and detained in Tihar Jail, New Delhi. However, due to the Indo-Pak war, all prisoners were released, leaving the Morcha in the middle, without any aid from the Government. After being released from Tihar Jail, I was nominated as General Secretary for the Akali Dal’s District Kapurthala unit. I was the youngest worker at the party at that time. However, due to the ego of senior leaders in the party’s district unit, it was complicated to work for long.
Next, I started publishing a monthly Punjabi magazine, “Sach-Da-Paigam,” from Jalandhar to raise the voice of the common man. I was very successful in my mission; however, the biggest pity was that otherwise wealthy people were not willing to pay money for their advertisements. Here, I learned the lesson that all that glitters is not gold. I also learned not to judge any person by their clothes or face.
There was this one incident in my life that I regret until now. I attended the barsi (annual death anniversary) of the well-known Dhadi S. Amar Singh Shaunkee of Bhajlan village in Hoshiarpur. At the same time, then Parliament Member from Sangrur, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, and the then Punjab Agriculture Minister, Balwinder Singh Bhunder, also came to attend the barsi. After completing the program, the organizers arranged a separate room for us to get together and discuss some issues. Mr. Ramoowalia said to me, “Chahal Sahib, why don’t you invite us to your village.” So, I invited them to attend the annual Dharmic Samagam (religious function) in our village. During that time, the status of a Minister and M.P. was very different compared to now. The entire bureaucracy was running here and there to make their bosses happy. After a couple of days, the Punjab Government sanctioned the visiting program of the Minister and M.P. It was then that the Deputy Commissioner of Kapurthala, Police Chief, and Agriculture Department staff came to visit me. I was feeling really proud as several dignitaries came to see me.
In 1978, I moved to Jalandhar city, and one of my friends recommended a girl for marriage. With the consent of my parents, I agreed to proceed. My friend, who was the middle man, told me to go see the proposed girl. I asked my mother for permission and requested that she see the girl with me. She was mad at me and refused to accept my request. Shortly after, I wrote a letter to my father asking for his permission and informed him how my mother would not allow me to see my would-be wife. Later, my mother agreed, but with only one condition, I would have to keep my head down all the while I was there. I asked my mother, “then what is the fun to see the girl if I have to keep my head down.” Honestly speaking, I had to keep my head down, but I did see my would-be wife with a bit of a trick. My mother asked me, “how is the girl?” But I asked for her opinion. She said she was ready to accept the girl as her daughter-in-law; however, I told her I did not like the girl. She got mad at me, told me, who cares what you think, and said to them that the girl was good enough for our family. After all, was said and done, we got married on April 30, 1978, and we carried only six members in the Baraat, excluding me. Today, we have one daughter and one son.
On the day of the event, there was a big storm and heavy rain. Still, the D.C. of Kapurthala, Mr. Vashist, stood waiting on the road for the visiting Minister and M.P. Since there was heavy rain and storm, it was challenging to stand on the road. That is when I told the Minister and M.P. to postpone their program because very few people gathered in the Gurdwara Sahib. So they agreed and left my house. After this episode, I understood that only ਲਖ ਖੁਸੀਆ ਪਾਤਿਸਾਹੀਆ ਜੇ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਨਦਰਿ ਕਰੇਇ, which means you cannot get anything without the blessings of God.
In the year 1997, my family migrated to the United States. The first few years were very difficult for us to survive. When I tried to speak to any Sikh man or woman, they would not respond. I was trying to see if anyone knew my family or me. Many people from my village and relatives were there, but they did not recognize me. Then, one day, a gentleman told me that I had a relative who had a workshop and that he could help me get a good job. He took me to his workshop, but this so-called relative did not even try to talk to me sympathetically.
In the apartment complex where we were living, so many people were my relatives, but they ignored us every time. My wife and daughter had never seen such a hard time. One day, I took my graduate daughter to a hiring agency. She was selected for a good job, but they told my daughter that she would have to carry 10 lbs. weight along with her other responsibilities. This was a normal condition at every hiring agency, but my daughter did not know, and she started crying and told me that she would not do such a job. I convinced her to do the job for only one week, and if it did not suit her, she could quit it. She agreed and ended up working there for five years, without any breaks.
My family worked hard, day and night. I worked sixteen hours a day for four years, and my son performed the same way. My daughter worked eight hours, seven days a week. My wife was a housewife from day one and still is. She has played an essential role in establishing our family from all points of view.
In 1997, I was invited to attend the International Rotary Conference held in Glasgow. The local London Rotary Club honored me with a stay in a five-star hotel in London. At that time, I occasionally used to drink liquor. One of my top Sikh Leader friends in the U.K., who was an Amritdhari (Baptized), invited me for dinner. When I reached his house, he showed me my room to sleep and relax. He also presented me with a bottle of whisky and said, “you can drink as much as you need.” I humbly requested that I could not drink since his entire family was Amritdhari. He still hides the bottle in a box containing precious ornaments for the ladies of the house. I drank one shot, and after eating dinner, I went straight to my room to sleep. That night I could not sleep well since my conscience was guilty. Early in the morning, a friend came to pick me up the next day. After a couple of days, this Sikh leader again picked me up to have dinner together. He told me to go to my room, have a drink, and then come back to the kitchen to have dinner together. When I picked up the bottle to have a shot, I noticed there was only one shot left in the bottle. Several questions came to mind, as the whole family was Amritdhari (Baptized). Now I know what happened, but I will keep this a secret for now.
After this ordeal, I served my city as Sister City Commissioner for seven years. Later, Santa Clara County Government nominated me as a commissioner, playing an essential role during my tenure. Several organizations, including the Punjab State Government, honored me from time to time for my services for the welfare of our society. I was on the frontline after 9/11 when Sikhs and South Asian people were being targeted at their workplaces.
I started publishing a Punjabi Newspaper in 2005 (www.punjabnewsusa.com) and an English newspaper, Punjaboutlook (www.punjaboutlook.com), in 2012. Moreover, I even started my own Non-Profit Organization in 2011 (www.thenapa.com). On this website, you can see the work we’ve done so far for the welfare of our society.
My son and daughter are both married and have kids. Both my daughter and daughter-in-law work in senior positions at national-grade hospitals. My son, Sandeep Singh Chahal, is doing well in his own business. These days, I am swamped playing with my grandkids, reading and writing articles – though not watching T.V. In a nutshell, you can say I’m a busy man without work. I also have a puppy who will eat only if I stand near him.
Yes, I am a little foolish; anyone can cheat me very quickly. However, I would like to share one life lesson with all my well-wishers: women are less likely to cheat than men. Women have cheated me financially only three times in my entire lifetime, but men, oh my God! – About $80,000 is owed to me by those who have advertised in our newspapers. . They are not only cheaters but also big liars. That’s my story in a nutshell.