Born in Montpellier, South France, he is currently residing at Anandpur Sahib. Born as Michel Jean Louis Rudel, he is now known as Darshan Singh Rudel. Born as a Roman Catholic, he is now a Sikh. Is it some kind of a paradox we are talking about? Or is it destiny? “No, it is Waheguru dabhana“, says a smiling Darshan Singh at his organic farm in Anandpur Sahib, which is popularly called as Angrez da farm.
Darshan, right from childhood, was a spiritual-minded person, but his different ideas and intricate questioning were bringing him into conflict with his practising Roman Catholic parents. He never believed that only Catholics and Christians had “monopoly on the truth.” “What about others,” he used to ask. He refused to eat meat because of the lines in the Bible, which said “Thou shalt not kill.” This saying, felt Darshan, also extended to animal life. Similarly, he had long hair because all the prophets and philosophers kept their hair unshorn.
He was baptised and remained an “altar boy” in the village Catholic church till 15 years of age. “I knew very little about India except that Buddhism originated here and it was the land of Mahatma Gandhi. I had no knowledge of Sikhism at all. But ever since I had a very strong desire to visit India”, tells Darshan.
Because of the difference of opinion he had with his parents, he never studied further, and at the age 10 he was doing organic farming on his father’s farm in Montpellier, France. “If I would have studied agriculture, it would have been against the ideals of organic farming, and I always wanted to work in close harmony with Mother Nature. I enjoyed being on my own in those days,” reveals Darshan Singh. “At the age of 16, I left my home, wishing to learn mostly agriculture while travelling around the world. I had become agnostic and I was often hostile towards organised religion”, remembers Darshan.
It was in 1977, during the time of the Emergency, that Darshan first landed in India to discover the diversity of India as well to know more about Gandhian philosophy. Nine months in various parts of India brought him into contacts with Sikhs. Darshan used to wonder if some of them were keeping turbans and beards merely out of tradition rather than out of vital faith. “I met a few Sikhs and I was deeply impressed with their personality and kindness, and I had the urge to know more about the faith. Then I visited Amritsar and spent some time at Guru Ramdas guest house, near the Golden Temple,” informs Darshan.
The discovery of the Golden Temple had a great impact on him, and Darshan Singh felt deeply impressed with the beauty, serenity and the universal spirit of the Temple of God, since the foundation was laid by a Muslim saint and the four gates welcomed all. He also felt that Guru ka Langar, which provides food to all, is a marvellous way of sharing with the less fortunate ones, and a radical way to eradicate barriers between caste and creed. Listening to kirtan was also a unique experience for him, though he did not know the meaning of the shabads. The kirtan had a soothing effect on him. “It was this encounter with Sikhism that had the greatest impact on me, since I always believed in universal rights, and Sikhism propagated Sarbat da bhala,” said Darshan.
“Sikhism restored my faith in God and made me realise that it is always our ego which keeps us away from reality”, says Darshan in a triumphant tone. Then he left India, taking with him some literature on Sikhism. Darshan Singh then became an international traveller, hopping from one country to the other. First he went to Greece, where he worked in an agricultural company. From Greece he went to Switzerland, and then to New Zealand and Australia, where he interacted with the Sikh community settled there and worked on agricultural farms.
Finally it was on July 10, 1991, that Darshan was baptised as a Sikh after partaking amrit from Sikh clergymen. Darshan Singh finally landed in England in 1983. He lived amongst Sikhs, learnt Punjabi and listened to kirtan while doing sewa at the local gurdwaras. “In England I joined British Red Cross as a volunteer member after doing first aid and nursing courses, since it is an organisation doing humanitarian work without any discrimination — something in the spirit of Sikhism”, remarks Darshan.
“In the name of secularism and integration, French laws are discriminating against people converting to another faith,” laments Darshan. He wrote a letter to the French Consulate in London that since it did not recognise his Sikh identity, he would not be acknowledging his French nationality any further. He returned his passport. He got his name recognised in the UK after he signed a statutory declaration. He became a British citizen after renouncing his French citizenship.
In 1997, at the age of 40, he got married to Malwinder Kaur at the Sector 34 gurdwara in Chandigarh, and now lives with his wife and step-daughter. Thereafter, he purchased some agricultural land in Anandpur Sahib, which he calls his place of rebirth and is doing organic farming there.