Keeping America Secure
Gurutej Singh Khalsa
Founder Akal Security, Inc
Gurutej Singh Khalsa Founder Akal Security, Inc
Reaching Bibiji’s house I greeted her with a ‘Sat Sri Akal’ exchanging salutations in chaste Punjabi. ‘I hope you haven’t confused me with the other Khushwant Singh,’ were my first lines, as I had already been mistaken for my older namesake once before.
‘No, no,’ replied the lady, who wore a white salwar kameez and a white turban around her head. ‘We know who he is, and we wouldn’t have given permission for an interview if it was him,’ she replied. Was I treading on unfriendly territory? for I admired the old man greatly. But given Khushwant Singh’s image of Scotch, women and wine, his life was poles apart from the life practiced by Yogi’s Sikhs, who shunned alcohol and propagated vegetarianism. In fact, what makes these American Sikhs so successful is the unique combination of a puritanical and disciplined lifestyle as laid down by the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh (1666–1708) in the rehat for Sikhs. An American mindset and the opportunities that the US offered, combined with the Sikh network became a perfect formula for their success.
Lunch was Indian, or rather, totally Punjabi. It also offered me an opportunity to meet Yogi’s son Kulbir Singh and daughter Kamaljit.
It was at about 3.30 in the afternoon when Gurutej announced that we had to head for Espanola, the headquarters of Akal Security, as he had a few engagements lined up. ‘Keep drinking water,’ he advised as we started our journey through the rolling hills of New Mexico—also called the land of enchantment. The two-hour journey, besides emerging as a showcase of America’s geographic and cultural diversity, proved to be a journey through Gurutej Singh’s life where he virtually opened his heart and shared his life-story.
Gurutej had started his career as a law enforcement agent, post completing basic police science, a certificate course of New Mexico state police. He also underwent training for New Mexico’s peace officers, before a racist incident put a spanner in his growing career. ‘You will have to do away with your turban and beard to work in the force,’ an officer had told him. Gurutej preferred to stick with his faith, but the stint, nevertheless, had established Gurutej as a tough nut to crack, high on militaryskills. People working with him vouch for his skills and say Gurutej can pin a guy down in a split-second.
‘Start your own security company and the same people will beg you for jobs,’ Yogi had said to Gurutej. The humble servant, obeying his master’s order, started contemplating on a name, near meditating to get the most powerful name for his security agency. And Akal it was. Conscious that the name should be reflective of Gurutej’s and Daya’s Sikh heritage, Akal seemed to be the most appropriate. They reasoned that by naming the company Akal Security, they would establish an entity that would be strong and permanent. ‘We also felt that the name Akal would protect our personnel in the field and with the Guru’s blessings, Akal, in twenty-five years, has never lost an officer in the line of duty. Once we legally formed the corporation, we realised the added benefit of Akal, beginning with the letter “A”, since it would be one of the first to be listed in the telephone book,’ laughs Gurutej. The logo, like the name, was also designed in a fashion that would reflect their Sikh heritage.
The hawk or the eagle, common to both America and the Sikhs, in the Akal logo represents the top, higher than anybody else, but in complete control of things. The symbol of the double-edged sword placed in the eagle represents the path of the warrior of peace, walking fearlessly without veering left or right, living as both a saint and a warrior. The words, ‘In God We Trust’ affirms their strong faith in their Guru.
Some of the early assignments that Akal received comprised patrolling a business establishment in Espanola, Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Six feet tall Sikhs, with .45 caliber pistols in their holsters took over the streets of these cities of rampant crime, especially the old town of Albuquerque where merchants insisted that only Sikhs patrol the area. Burglaries dropped the moment the Sikhs stepped in. ‘People were actually scared of us when we started operations in the Eighties.’ Gurutej would put in hours of active duty himself, standing as a security guard. Gurutej, in fact, remained the personal security officer of Harbhajan Yogi and could be always seen standing behind the yogi, his razor-sharp eyes always on the lookout for any troublemaker. ‘Here I am, with a foot-long beard, a beehive sized turban on my head telling some guy he cannot go into a place. Imagine his plight,’ remarks Gurutej as we burst into laughter, marvelling at the fact that it took Sikhs to tame the Wild West. Akal also started getting hired for protecting gold mines, automobile dealers, supermarkets, art galleries, boutiques, pubs and singles’ bars where clients would insist that only Sikh guards be put on duty. Working as a security guard at one of the bars, Gurutej remembers an incident where he was hit on the jaw, after which all of his attackers had landed up in hospital. ‘We are not provoked easily but we don’t take things sitting down,’ he says.