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Devotees offer miniature aircraft at Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara in Punjab to fulfil their dreams of going abroad.
It's not difficult to locate Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara in Talhan village near Jalandhar on NH-1. Just ask for the "hawai jahaz gurdwara" or the "aeroplane gurdwara", and you'll be promptly guided to it.
Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara, which looks like a typical Sikh shrine with its pristine white domes, was a bone of contention between Jats and Dalits a decade ago; the two communities had fought for control of its management, and the dispute had even led to riots and curfew. But no one remembers or cares for that bitter past any more. Instead, the gurdwara is now a symbol of hope and a brighter, wealthier future, somewhere in New Jersey or Toronto. Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara, or the hawai jahaz gurdwara, is a ticket to the West; if you offer a toy aeroplane there as prasad, you can be "assured" of a visa. Or so, believe devotees who flock to the shrine with miniature aircraft as offerings, from across Punjab's Doaba region, which consists of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Nawanshahr districts, and which has over six million of its natives settled abroad. It is believed that every family in Doaba has at least one member living overseas.
The gate to Talhan village has a cement model of a British Airways aircraft sitting on top of it, and the road to Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara is lined with shops selling toy models of international carriers such as Lufthansa, British Airways, Air Canada, etc, priced between Rs 50 and Rs 550. Sukhpreet Singh, who runs one such shop, says the trend of offering aeroplane models started four to five years ago. "A visitor from Ludhiana came here and prayed that he would offer a model of an aeroplane if he got a US visa. Four days later, he came with a big model of an aircraft and offered it as prasad for having got the visa. The news spread, and it became a tradition."