The Ballad of Distan Singh

Satire / Comedy

A poem by Dhiren.

You may have read Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘Gunga Din’ about a heroic Indian sepoy in the British army. The narrator is a common British soldier serving in Colonial India before the war.

It seems dated and sentimental now, and finishes with the famous patronising line: “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.’

Well, here’s a version for our times, (apologies to Rudyard Kipling – and to our mali!).

The Ballad of Distan Singh

Mali, Osho's gardener
Now in India’s sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time,
A-working in the gardens at the ‘shram,
The finest man I knew,
In all of Mukta’s crew,
Was our departmental mali, Distan Singh.

We were; “Singh! Singh! Singh!
You lazy lump of ladoo, Distan Singh!
O baba, do your duty! Idder ao!
And don’t forget to water; pani lao!”
See, he wasn’t really social, Distan Singh!

The clothin’ that he wore
Was nothin’ much before,
And rather less than ’arf of that be’ind,
He rode a rusty bike,
Raised goats he never liked,
But he paid back all his karma, never mind!

When we sweatin’ gardeners lay,
At the hottest time of day,
The heat would make your very eyebrows crawl,
We shouted, “Where’s the chai?”
Till our throats were croakin’ dry,
But we thanked him ‘cos he served us one and all.
It was: “Singh! Singh! Singh!
Where the bloody hell you ‘bin?
You’ve stayed away too long!
Now baba, say what’s wrong:
Why do you keep your distance, Distan Singh?”

If you’d had Dengue, Hep, or Herpes
You could bet your last 10 rupees,
He’d be walking more than fifteen feet be’ind.
And that’s what touched your heart,
The way he kept apart
While teaching us the ‘Truth of Distan Singh’:
Though he only spoke Marathi,
And he never threw a party,
Still he taught the rules of social distancing!

But we were; “Singh, Singh, Singh,
Where the bloody hell you ‘bin?
You’ve stayed away too long!
Now baba, say what’s wrong:
Why do you keep your distance, Distan Singh?”

I shan’t forget the night,
When he talked of germs and shite,
And taught us all to keep our bodies clean;
(Oh, he really wasn’t social, Distan Singh!)
“Just stay five feet apart,
Don’t sneeze or cough or fart;
One day you’ll heed my words and so survive:
Yes, old Distan Singh will help you stay alive!”

And now it’s: “Singh, Singh, Singh!
Where the bloody hell you bin?
(Ah! You’ve done just what I asked
And gone to buy more masks:
I bet you kept your distance, Distan Singh!’)

Though you were always such a loner
Now you’ll help us beat the ‘rona!
Since we’re living by your rules, old Distan Singh!
And by the livin’ God that made you,
You’re a mali in a million:
You’re a better man than I am, Distan Singh!


Dhiren is a therapist, communication trainer, and writer.

Photo of Osho’s mali credit to Prem Nisimo

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