December 4, 2020


(c) J. Singh, 2016

"I have heard that nobody goes empty-handed from the house of Guru Nanak Sahib, if they come with a pure heart."

It was Dilbagh Singh asking the question. He was sitting in the Gurudwara, drinking hot tea in the mostly empty langar hall. He sat next to a wise old man who went by the simple moniker Babaji.

"Is it really true?" Dilbagh asked earnestly.

What brought Dilbagh to ask that question on that day was a series of events that had began months ago. It started when his employer, a large multinational corporation, began facing business difficulties during the long recession. The management had reacted by instituting layoffs, and the behemoth of a company was starting to shed employee's rapidly at the somewhat alarming rate of a thousand per week. The news coverage was extensive, and all of it was negative.

It had come as a surprise to Dilbagh, unannounced and unexpected. On a Monday morning, just like any other Monday, Dilbagh headed to work, and was sitting his cubicle reviewing his unread emails when his manager, Rajesh, suddenly appeared.

"Hi, Dilbagh, good morning," announced Rajesh.

Dilbagh was surprised. He looked up from his laptop, and saw Rajesh standing there holding a file and laptop under one arm, and a coffee mug held in other hand. He hadn't expected to see Rajesh, as the manager was based at the corporate headquarters, which were in California. Flying up to Seattle where Dilbagh was located took a few hours, and Rajesh always announced his visits beforehand so that his direct reports could schedule time in their calendars for meetings with him.

So this was a surprise, to see Rajesh standing there, having shown up unannounced.

"Morning," replied Dilbagh, "I didn't know you were going to be in town. Did I miss your email?"

"No, you didn't, I came up on short notice," said Rajesh. "Hey, can I talk to you?"

"Sure," Dilbagh locked his laptop screen and stood. He reached to pick up his laptop, but Rajesh abruptly said, "You won't be needing that."

"Okay," said Dilbagh, feeling confused. He had never before been told by anyone in the company that he wouldn't need his laptop.

"I have booked a room," Rajesh said as they walked down the hall. They passed by several vacant conference and stood waiting for the elevator. When it arrived with a ding, they walked in and Rajesh pushed the button for the fourth floor. Dilbagh watched in silence, wondering why they hadn't used any of the many empty conference rooms on the second floor. This was another odd thing. During all his time working at the company, he had always been able to find a conference room on the floor where he worked. He had never had to go to another floor. By now, he had an inkling that something was not quite right.

By the time they reached the fourth floor and walked into the tiny room with no windows, Dilbagh had started to feel uneasy. He felt a growing sense of dread.

"We have one more person who will be joining us," said Rajesh as he took his seat, and neatly placed his laptop and the file on the table.

The person who joined them was a woman that Dilbagh had never seen before. As soon as she walked in, Dilbagh guessed that she worked in Human Resources, and he realized that he was going to be given his employment termination notice.

"Hi, I'm Mandy," she said in a loud voice. She had curly blonde hair just past her shoulders, and was wearing a bright blue dress. She was carrying a pile of file folders which were stuffed full of papers. She set these down heavily onto the table.

Dilbagh greeted her quietly.

"Thanks for coming, Mandy, we haven't talked yet, I will inform Dilbagh now," said Rajesh, as Mandy took her seat.

"As you may know," said Rajesh, addressing Dilbagh, "recently, there has been some corporate restructuring, and as a result of that restructuring, your position has been eliminated."

Dilbagh listened as Rajesh recited a well-rehearsed speech. At the end of it, Mandy produced several forms which she arranged neatly on the table in front of Dilbagh, and set a pen on the table.

Rajesh's tone suddenly changed.

"If you want the severance package," he said sternly, "you have to sign this form."

"What does it mean?" asked Dilbagh.

"It is an agreement that states that you are accepting the separation terms from the company," said Mandy, "and that you will not pursue legal action against the company."

Dilbagh was still reeling from the sudden shock of the news. He picked up the pen and hesitated, looking down at the four forms in front of him. If he didn't sign, he would not have another paycheck. He thought of his family, his wife Manjit, and his two young children, Ganeev Kaur who was a toddler, and baby Harjas Singh.

He signed the forms.

After that, Mandy explained the timeline of what would occur next. This was an immediate termination, meaning that today was Dilbagh's last day. He would receive his last paycheck at the end of the week, and his severance pay would arrive two weeks later in the mail. His health insurance benefits would be discontinued at the end of the day.

The meeting was over shortly. Dilbagh had hardly spoken. Everything had happened so suddenly and quickly that he just was trying to understand and process it all.

Rajesh escorted him back to his desk.

"I'll just shut down my computer," said Dilbagh, thinking that he would reply to any emails that might have arrived while he had been in the meeting with Rajesh and Mandy. It was probably the courteous thing to do, thought Dilbagh, since all the other employees wouldn't see him at the office again.

But Rajesh stopped him. "You can't touch your laptop," he blurted out, "IT will take care of it."

Dilbagh was stunned. He felt like he was being treated as a criminal. He stood there, in his small cubicle, while Rajesh produced one of those folding carboard boxes that are used by packing and moving companies.

"You can put your personal belongings in here," said Rajesh, "I'll wait."

Dilbagh felt indignant anger rising in him. He remembered all the projects he had worked on, the late nights spent debugging problems, the company lunches, and the glowing annual performance reviews. It was in stark contrast with the treatment he was getting now. He felt like his self-respect and his dignity were gone. And even worse than that, he felt that he had poured his life energy into this job, and now the company didn't even care what happened to him. He wouldn't even be allowed to say goodbye to his team-mates. They would return to their cubicles from their meetings and wonder what had happened to him. At the very least, he felt, Rajesh could have let him have his dignity and self-respect, and leave the premises on his own, trusting him to walk out in an orderly fashion, without causing a scene.

But Rajesh stood hovering just outside his cube, looking slightly impatiently at his wristwatch.

Dilbagh sighed, opened the box and set it on the table. He had some books on software programming, and a few other personal artifacts - a plaque that he had received as an award for participating in the release of version 7.0 of the company's software, a small green plant, the remaining packets of instant oatmeal, and a notebook.

He checked the overhead cabinets, drawers, and took one last look around. Then, carrying his box, he stepped out of his cubicle. He pulled off his name tag from the cube wall and dropped it in the box.

"Well, Rajesh," he said, extending his hand, "It's been good to work with you."

He felt that he should part on good terms, regardless of whether he disagreed with Rajesh's approach and the company's procedure. He was trying to be professional.

But Rajesh didn't shake his hand.

"I'll walk with you," he said.

"Oh, ok," Dilbagh was not expecting this. The two of them walked down the hallway, with Dilbagh holding his box like a dead man walking. It felt awkward, walking past the rows of cubicles like that. A few people glanced at them as they walked by, aware of what was happening. Nobody said anything. It was an eerie silence. Even the clicking and tapping sounds on the keyboards stopped as they walked by.

The walked through the break room and down the stairs to the side entrance. Rajesh opened the door and they stepped out.

Dilbagh turned to Rajesh again. He still tried to maintain his professional conduct. He again extended his hand, "Thank you Rajesh, wish you all the best," he said.

"I'll walk you to your car," said Rajesh, "where are you parked?"

Dilbagh felt yet another shock. He couldn't believe what was happening. What kind of ruckus did they think he could possibly cause in the parking lot, he wondered.

He sighed and shook his head. He pointed to his vehicle, a green Honda Civic, and the two of them walked over. He put his box in the trunk, and then got into the car, while Rajesh stood and watched.

Dilbagh started the car, then rolled down the window.

"Want to come in the car and ride with me to my house?" he asked, with a tinge of irritation.

"No, no," said Rajesh, laughing.

"Goodbye, and good luck," said Dilbagh, and drove off without waiting for a reply.

The days, weeks, and months that followed were a long series of rejections from every company that Dilbagh applied to. He had sent out thousands of letters of application with his resume, and out of those employers that had bothered to respond, they were all rejections.

Dilbagh found that he could spend more time with Manjit and Ganeev and Harjas, which he was grateful for, but his savings were dwindling fast and he was not making much progress in getting another job. He started visiting the Gurudwara more often, listening to the keertan and spending time doing seva in the langar hall and the kitchen. It gave him peace of mind and settled his anxiety and nervousness about the uncertain future for him and his family.

Late one night, he sat awake in the dark, staring at the pale blue glow of the laptop screen as his email displayed yet another rejection letter from a potential employer. Both the kids were asleep. Manjit came to the door and saw him sitting silently with a defeated look on his face. Manjit came and sat beside him.

He looked at her apologetically.

"Another rejection?" she asked, nodding at the laptop. He nodded.

"What are we going to do?" she asked.

"Don't worry," Dilbagh reassured her, "I'll find another job. It may not pay as much, but at least our expenses will be covered."

"But it's a recession," she replied with worry in her voice, "jobs are not easily available. Nobody is hiring."

In the next several weeks, Dilbagh doubled his efforts. He sought out and applied to twice as many company. He extended his job search to a wider geographic area, willing to drive up to 100 miles now. He relaxed many of the criteria he had previously applied. Now, if any company had any opening that could make use of even part of his skill set, he applied for the job. He even began driving to company offices and leaving his resume and cover letter with the receptionist at the front desk.

All of his efforts resulted in only more rejection letters. He did manage to get one telephone interview, which he prepared for very meticulously. But they had over twenty applicants for the job, and it was an entry-level position paying a very low salary. Another candidate got the job. All other calls he got were from telemarketers trying to sell him various products and services.

And so the day came when Dilbagh found himself sitting in the Gurudwara, drinking hot tea in the mostly empty langar hall, next to Babaji. And he asked the question:

"I have heard that nobody goes empty-handed from the house of Guru Nanak Sahib, if they come with a pure heart. Is it really true?"

Babaji took a sip of his hot tea and smiled mysteriously. He seemed to be deeply contented, with not a care in the world. He was light, and free.

"You are worried about providing for your family, for your wife and your two young children," Babaji echoed Dilbagh's concerns. Dilbagh had explained his situation, the layoff from his previous job, and the difficulty in getting a new job, and how his savings had eroded to almost nothing.

Dilbagh nodded morosely, feeling defeated and despondent.

"I just feel there there is no way that I can get an income now, especially without a job, I'm not even getting any calls back, forget about interviews!" he sighed.

"Don't worry," Babaji said, with a twinkle in his eye, "Have faith in Vaheguroo. There is no way that you won't have an income. Always remember, trust in Vaheguroo, and whatever you need the most in your life, give that away. Just give it away. They more give it away, and the faster you do it, the more you will have!"

Dilbagh didn't understand exactly what Babaji was saying. But he respected the wise old man, so he listened quietly and paid attention. As he was getting ready to leave, Babaji said to him, "The treasure-houses of Guru Nanak Sahib are overflowing with eternal abundance and bliss. In all of history, there hasn't been anyone who has come away empty-handed from the house of Guru Nanak Sahib. Have some faith, and stay in Chardi Kala, because all your needs will surely be met."

Dilbagh felt much more calm and centered after his conversation with Babaji. He thanked him profusely before they parted, and resolved to follow his advice.

He started making donations. He gave to the Red Cross. The American Heart Association. Doctors without Borders. The United States Fund for UNICEF. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. He gave to local charities. He wrote checks donating to the Gurudwara. He gave to the homeless on the streets. He gave to everyone he could think of who needed it. He kept Babaji's words in his mind as he made all these donations. It did have an effect on him, as he started to experience a joy that had been hidden from him before. Seeing the happy faces of the sick children in the hospital ward when he brought in a bag full of toys, or seeing the gratitude of the homeless person when he handed him a blanket, all these things gave Dilbagh an appreciation of the things he did have in life. A roof over his head, his excellent health, his loving family. He was more appreciative, and began to experience a sense of inner calm and peace, and he felt truly thankful for his blessings, which he began to notice more and more.

Manjit, though, had concerns. She was worried. They didn't have much money left in the bank account, and what small amount was there had begun to evaporate even faster since Dilbagh had started donating to everyone. She expressed her concerns to him one day. He smiled broadly, full of confidence. His face seemed to be shining.

"Don't worry," he reassured her, "Have faith!"

"I do have faith," she replied, "but we have to be practical, too. We have two young children to feed and care for. When all the savings are gone, what will we do?"

Dilbagh didn't know what was going to happen. But he kept remembering Babaji's words, and he continued giving. He knew that his bank account was going to be empty within a matter of days. The few hundred dollars that were left were going to finish, and then he would have no more savings. But he had placed his entire belief at the feet of his Guru, and thus he left his fate up to his Guru. So he didn't feel burdened with worry.

It was late one Saturday night, after everyone had gone to sleep, that Dilbagh checked his bank account balance online. He logged into his bank account through the bank's website. From his rough calculations, he was expecting to down to his last $100 or so.

The screen changed as the web browser loaded up his account status and displayed it. He looked at and blinked. This must be wrong, he thought, staring at the screen. He checked the name on the account, and then reloaded the account balance page. It displayed the same result. His account didn't have $100, it had $17,638.

He wondered if this was a mistake, a glitch, or some other error. But when he looked at the deposit details, it had come from his previous employer.

He checked his email. In his inbox, he had an unread email from their Human Resources department. He clicked on it to open it and read it quickly. It stated that there had been a payroll error, and over the past year and a half, the company bonuses had been miscalculated. He had been underpaid for both the quarterly and annual bonuses. They were rectifying the error now and depositing the entire adjusted amount via direct deposit into his account, and they were very sorry for any inconvenience it had caused.

Dilbagh couldn't believe his eyes. He sat and stared at the computer screen for so long that his browser session timed-out and auto-logged off from the bank website. Still he sat and kept staring at the screen, a smile on his lips. He remembered Babaji and what he had said. His faith had been rewarded.

He didn't want to wake Manjit. He thought he would tell her in the morning. So he quietly went to bed and fell asleep.

The next morning, his phone began ringing early in the morning. Dilbagh sat up in bed and answered it.

"Hello?" he said, wondering who would be calling at such an hour.

"Mr. Singh?" the voice on the line sounded bright and energetic.

"Yes," he replied, wondering if this was another telemarketer.

"My name is Nathan Miller, I'm calling from Paxstar Corporation. We were just reviewing your resume and it looks like you are very well suited for an open position we currently have. We were wondering if you'd like to come in for an interview?"

"Oh," Dilbagh was immediately attentive and alert.  "Um, sure. Yes. When?"

"How about today? Would you be available this afternoon, say 2 o'clock?"

"Yes, sure, that works."

Beside him, Manjit had heard his conversation and now sat wide awake, looking at him with a huge smile on her face.

Before lunch, Dilbagh got phone calls from two other companies requesting interviews. All were scheduled within the same week.

Dilbagh started work the following Monday at his new employer, Paxstar Corporation.

That weekend, Dilbagh walked into the langar hall at the Gurudwara with his family in tow. There sat Babaji, cross-legged on the floor, sipping a cup of hot tea. When he saw Dilbagh's happy face, he gave a wink and a knowing smile.