My Story

Naginder Sehmi

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Naginder Singh Sehmi was born in Eldoret, Kenya in January 1937. He started his career in his hometown as a trained primary school teacher and Wood Badge scoutmaster.

From early age he was interested in science and mathematics. He considered other branches as general knowledge requiring little effort to learn. Kenya did not have an university then. His father could not afford to send him to UK to study for a scientific or engineering career. He earned a Kenya government teachers’ scholarship that permitted him to attend Trinity College, Dublin University, Ireland. In his effort to derive the maximum benefit during the four year, 1959-1963, he obtained a general degree in history, geography and experimental psychology and simultaneously passed a postgraduate Diploma in Geography and a Diploma in Public Administration. He also left a mark in sports and student societies, which enabled him to attend conferences in Europe as well as the 1961 Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm and teach in international children’s summer camps in Switzerland and New Hampshire, USA.

He taught in a high school in Eldoret for two years and in 1965 joined Kenya Water Department as hydrologist. The following year he went to Prague, Czech Republic and obtained a Diploma in Hydrology. In 1969 he was appointed co-manager of Hydro-meteorological Survey of the Upper Nile, a multinational UN funded project.

At the beginning of 1970 he was selected for a post in the Hydrology and Water Resources Department of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a specialized agency of the UN located in Geneva, Switzerland. He retired in 1997. During the last ten years in WMO he was responsible for development projects related to monitoring and assessment of water resources and flood forecasting in developing countries.

As a scout and then Scoutmaster he did not like wearing the uniform because he was conscious of his skinniness. But in scout guise he could to go in for an outdoor life of adventure at little cost and also in this way get recognition in his small Asian community by proving that he could do things that people do not normally do. People did not appreciate much his climbing Kilimanjaro in 1956: “Are you crazy; what if you got killed? What is there to gain?”   He climbed Mount Kenya (Lenana Point) in 1958 and Kilimanjaro three more times (last in November 2002) once as assistant trainer in the Outward Bound Mountain School. With a party of five he walked during the peak activity of Mau-Mau nationalists in 1956 from Nairobi to Nakuru in the Rift Valley a distance of over 160 km.

His mother died in India when he was not yet five. His father, took him and his brother, a year and half younger, to Kenya in 1948 and brought them up with meager resources. Father, a technician operating a flour mill in Eldoret, was a man of few words but gifted with remarkable practical wisdom. He could not read and could write awkwardly only his name and numbers to record the number of incoming grain bags and outgoing bags of flour. Boys remember the effectiveness of his simple one-time remark, “If you don’t want to study it’s your wish. You can do what I’m doing”. He could not help the boys in their schoolwork; but he kept their minds active by asking them rustic brainteasers that he carried with him from the Punjab. He shared every thing with them including housework. The boys did not notice that life was a struggle. They learnt to cook, hand wash clothes, and press them with charcoal heated iron. There was nothing else to learn at home. Family sentiments and love, social values and judgment in relationship with others remained buried deep down undeveloped. Whatever they learnt on these vital qualities was by watching others. Yet few others saw these deficiencies in them. On occasions when the two quarreled there was no one to mediate or separate them or advice.

At school Naginder learnt Urdu as second language. He had a good grounding in Punjabi from India and improved it without difficulty. At 15 or 16 he became a “Granthophilia” expert competing with adults in speed-reading.  By “Granthophilia” he means reading the Adi Granth (AG), the sacred book of Sikhs in Gurmukhi script but without understanding much of it. Uninterrupted reading of 1430 pages of AG within 48 hours is a Sikh tradition and trademark. At that stage he also learnt to sing Sikh hymns and play percussion drums.

Looking back at his life trail starting from a remote place in Kenya highlands to mountainous Switzerland, he is convinced that it is a product of a random process or chance. It just happened; there was no planning whatsoever. A mighty time flow carried him along.

From young age religion made considerable but unconvincing impact on him.  He found it difficult to write off the role of a supernatural hand. But that could not explain to him why so many others he knows took a similar path to other destinations. He concludes that it all boils down to the manner in which an individual reacts and adjusts to changing all-encompassing circumstances and conditions. For him the supernatural power we call God resides in the environment or milieu; we just ignore to see it.

With regard to body and mind he has complete faith in the saying “if you don’t use it you may lose it”. He never totally gave up sports. At the age of 58 he took up jogging, trekking in the Alps, Nordic and downhill skiing, and regular fitness classes. Jogging led him to long distance racing; graduating with age from seven kilometers to half Marathons of Lausanne and Geneva (2006). He is a competent all rounder and loves building work, woodwork, mechanical repairs, watch repairing, playing music and singing at religious and social functions.

At the back of his mind a remorse stings him, “Why didn’t I specialize in a specific branch and devoted all my energy to it?” To make for the late start of English in school and no possibility of speaking at home, at Trinity he opted to study English literature in the first two years. The little art of writing he had acquired was lost during 27 years spent on drafting technical and administrative reports in the UN. After a few unsuccessful attempts at writing he gave up.  His genes refused to accept that. The yearning to communicate with people would not go. Then it happened. To thank friends who had welcomed him so lovingly he wrote four e-mails recounting things they did together during his 10-day visit of London in 1999. Their unexpected flattering reaction gave him confidence. He feels that if he could spend a year in the English society without speaking French and other Indic languages he would relearn English and readers would understand his writings better!

Writings in this website may be quoted or cited giving full reference to the source. Please address communications to: sehmi@bigbangyoga.org

Les écrits dans ce web site peuvent être cités indiquant pleinement la source. Veuillez adresser les communications a: sehmi@bigbangyoga.org

Hear it from me

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A Good Start

In Trinity itself his being the sole possessor of a turban has the practical advantage of enabling him to be recognized infallibly at a distance, even by the short-sighted.

When Naginder Singh Sehmi and some of his Sikh friends go into the more remote parts of Ireland they are often besieged by the local female population clamouring for autographs, in the conviction that because they wear turbans they must be princes or maharajahs.

In Trinity itself his being the sole possessor of a turban has the practical advantage of enabling him to be recognized infallibly at a distance, even by the short-sighted. Although he seems the embodiment of everyone’s romantic conception of an Indian, his home is in fact in Eldoret, (“64”), Kenya, numbering as he does among the thousands of his countrymen who have settled abroad.

In Kenya he was an instructor for the Outward Bound Course, taking part in such activities as expeditions to Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro, he is also a fine hockey player and athlete. He sings, and plays the “Tabla” (Indian drums). His interests range from science and technology to world affairs and politics, and he is one of those rare people who can talk in an interesting way about their own religion without getting worked up. Believing that each has something to offer, and has a good knowledge of He has represented the Societies at world-wide Student Conferences in The Hague and Stockholm, and although the badge “Irish Delegate” pinned to his chest must have come as a surprise to those who were expecting something savouring more of a bog and a brogue, he was nevertheless a great success. In Sweden he was filmed on television, and appeared in papers under the heading “Exotica”. Among the many interesting people he met was a Swedish couple who invited him to be a Family Father at an International Children’s Camp held last summer near Klosters. Any thing approaching blowing his own trumpet is unnatural to him, so he is very reluctant to talk about himself or his affairs to most people, and one can only get an idea of the true man from his attitude to problems and his approach to people and to his work. He feels slightly reserved when meeting people socially for the first time, but anyone who knows him at all well finds him delightful (and intelligent) company.Perhaps one of the reasons for his taking so active a part in College life is that he feels restless unless he has something specific to do.

 In addition to his General Studies he has taken on extra work like a Diploma in Geography and a second year Diploma in Public Administration. As well as being Chairman of D.U.A.I.A., he works for similar organizations in Dublin, such as the Irish U.N. Students’ Association. Recently he was awarded the Omolulu Trophy for the “promotion of understanding between students of all nationalities.” Few could have been more deserving than he was of this recognition of the amount of time and effort that he devotes to the benefit of other people.

He is not a man to parade across Front Square with a girl on each arm; anything smacking of exhibitionism is totally alien to his nature. However, we believe girls do find him extremely attractive, and when they do the chasing, he is content to let them.

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One Man Army

As well as being Chairman of D.U.A.I.A., he works for similar organizations in Dublin, such as the Irish U.N. Students’ Association.

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Life is Beautiful

He is not a man to parade across Front Square with a girl on each arm; anything smacking of exhibitionism is totally alien to his nature. However, we believe girls do find him extremely attractive, and when they do the chasing, he is content to let them.

He is not a man to parade across Front Square with a girl on each arm; anything smacking of exhibitionism is totally alien to his nature. However, we believe girls do find him extremely attractive, and when they do the chasing, he is content to let them.

It is largely his exceptional capacity for organization that makes him such an outstanding Chairman on the International Affairs.

His whole approach is down-to-earth and practical, and, when there is extra work to be done, he will do it himself rather than delegate it to his Committee. He has little time for those who talk endlessly.

In the Autumn he will be going back to Kenya to teach. (He did a Teachers’ Training Course and had three years’ practical experience before coming to Trinity).

He hopes sometime to serve his country in another capacity. Having a real sense of compassion and sympathy for the underprivileged people of the world, he likes to work for improvement in the living-conditions of so many of his countrymen who come onto this category. One can be sure that there is a very good chance of him putting his ideas into practice, for he is not a man to talk ideally.

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