My friend Tarsem King died earlier this week. Many know him as Lord Tarsem King, the first Sikh in the House of Lords. Others know him as the former leader of the Metropolitan borough of Sandwell (despite it being an authority roughly the size of Bradford or Belfast very few civil servants in Whitehall know just how big Sandwell is). I know him as my gentle friend who has given wise counsel since I became an MP. He died aged 75 years whilst returning to his beloved wife Mohinder, after a day at the House of Lords.
He remained active until the last, never squandering a single day of his 27654.
In all the time I knew him, Tarsem never once raised his voice or uttered a word in anger. Patience, a buddha like smile, a slight twinkle in the eye were Tarsem’s trademark features. To use the phrase “he had the patience of a saint” would be an understatement when applied to my friend. With such qualities he often found himself in the centre of disputes, be they amongst the powerful personalities at the heart of the Labour Party or the many leaders of the diverse communities of Sandwell and beyond. He was a builder of bridges and an optimistic mediator, able to find the good in everyone he met.
Tarsem told great tales. Leaving his home in the Punjab for the first time and arriving at a meeting point in West Bromwich, England – a pub in the centre of town frequented by thirsty, dehydrated foundry workers at the end of their shift, Tarsem with his suitcase wearing pink Farrah trousers. He told of the time he failed to get a job as a conductor. His arithmetic was deemed inadequate by the interview panel despite in later life becoming the head of a Maths department in a busy high school, racism being endemic on the busses in those days.
One of his prized possessions was a picture of Guru Nanak drawn for him by “the 100 year old woman” and inscribed with the words, “there is nothing I can give you to say thank you except my art”. A tiny act of kindness was, as Tarsem understood, worth more money than any man can earn in a lifetime. Thankfully his life was nourished by kindness and love, both given and received.
I’m going to miss my patient, gentle friend. We’re all going to miss him. My thoughts are with his family.