In memoriam: The lasting tribute – HARBAJAN SINGH VEDI

HARBAJAN SINGH VEDI

For a fighter, life never ends…

Neither the blistering heat of June this year in New Delhi nor his failing health deterred  H S Vedi from visiting the grave of his wife at the Prithvitaj Road cemetery. But this time there was something unusual.  He carted his way on a wheelchair to the grave of his wife but stayed there just for a short while unlike long hours in the past.

“He called me and took me to the adjacent spot which he booked for his own grave and asked for a sweeper to get it cleaned of dried leaves and dust.” the curator of the cemetery recalled. When everything was cleaned The lasting tribute – HARBAJAN SINGH VEDI up, Vedi smiled and said it is a beautiful resting place. “I will come soon again and see everything remains in place,” he told the curator and left. He was never to come again in person.

HARBAJAN SINGH VEDI

Despite knowing that he could have got the best treatment in India, he preferred to return to Kuwait.  If not premonition, it was his love for this land that brought him here. Surely he wanted to breathe his last as a tribute to Kuwait, a country that gave him so much love and affection.

Diagnosed with cancer in January 2012, H S Vedi fought death for over 20 months boldly and valiantly as he fought for his principles and ideals all his life.  He went into a deep sleep forever on August 24 at the Amiri Hospital in a distant land which became his home for about five decades.

A proverbial story of rags to riches, Vedi’s enthusiasm for life was unlimited.  He stood strongly for what he believed and never cowed down to threats or adversity that came up in his life.  It was this amazing trait in his personality that made him a towing figure in the Indian community and also the most visible face of the Indian community in the royal family of Kuwait.

Vedi was among many Indians who landed in a ship in 1967 armed only with a degree in architecture but with a load of determination to make big in life. Back home, he had a large family of many brothers and sister and aged parents to support who were living in a state of penury.

HARBAJAN SINGH VEDI

Getting a petty job in a construction company, Vedi’s skill in architecture and his incisive work soon began to speak for itself and in a couple of years he had made his presence known in Kuwait market.  As luck springs surprises many a time, the petro dollar boom in early 1970’s saw a major surge in construction activities across the Gulf. Soon Vedi found himself flooded with so much work that he floated his own company. Success had finally arrived for him at his doorstep

Not in Kuwait alone; Vedi’s firm began to spread its tentacles in Iraq, Sudan, UAE, and Oman executing major projects that came their way.  In the boom period, he led a task force of over 16,000 workers spread across many countries.

Vedi reputation and hard work soon found its echo in the royal family as he procured many assignments to design palaces, chalets and villas for the royalty.  His personal relation with H.H. the late Amir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah grew when he designed many of his work. It may be mentioned that the late Amir too had minute eyes for architectural work.

In many of the visits of the royal family members to India, it was Vedi who accompanied them.

Vedi’s love for Kuwait manifested during the tragic invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Husain regime in 1990.He stayed behind during that troubled time and along with some Indians floated Indian Citizens Committee to help evacuate the large Indian community, which by then constituted some 1,70,000 souls.

The evacuation was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Kuwait government indeed recognized his immense contribution in bringing India and Kuwait closer and Vedi was among the few Indians who did not need a sponsor. He was self-sponsored, a testimony of the affection he attracted in Kuwait.

His mortal remains was taken to New Delhi for final burial.  Although he was a Sikh, his last wish was to be buried alongside his wife in a Christian cemetery.

Chairman of Delhi Cemetery Father Rebello who led the funeral prayers recalled his association with Vedi and said he was a noble soul full of humility. “He was a frequent visitor here and even when he was sick he used to come on a wheelchair.”

Lesley Gibbons a Protestant Christian and a young Harbhajan Singh Vedi, met for the first time in New Delhi. Their meeting grew and they fell madly in love with each other. Overcoming conservativism, they got married only to find family acceptance later.

For Vedi, Lesley was the lady luck and for her, he was always the prince charming. Their love bore fruit in the form of three beautiful children. All along their lives religion never came their way; it was just love and caring for each other.

In 2004, Lesley fell sick and diagnosed with cancer in an advanced stage. She lost the battle with cancer in December 2004. Vedi brought her to India and as per her wish buried her in a Christian cemetery.

“My wife has gone on a long sleep” he would often say. He not only got the grave of his wife renovated but decorated the entire passage with flowers, marble floorings, and trees.

Vedi took a conscious decision, bought a space for himself in the cemetery next to his wife as his own resting place for the future.  It was at this very same place Vedi was buried amidst a large gathering of his family, friends, and relatives.

In death, Vedi has indeed left a deep message. – for a fighter life never ends.

– By S A H Rizvi, Special to The Times – Kuwait