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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

My Sikhi

Thank you Puneet2 for asking a very important question. I have pondered over that question several times myself. I think the question is just a variation of the self- identity question that Freud said every human being asks himself. We, as humans, have the insatiable curiosity to find out who we are in relation to this Universe and in relation to God. As Sikhs, this question becomes even more pertinent because not only do we ask ourselves that question but the rest of the world seems to inquire about our identification on a daily basis.

Let me address your question in two steps. First, let me explain why I keep my kesh. And in the next post, I shall try to argue if I think Sikhism is a static religion. Unfortunately, both posts are going to be very verbose. They will perhaps be unstructured as well but I assure you it will all be straight from the heart.

For me, this is what Sikhi means.

I was a premature baby. My parents tell me that I was in the ICU for almost a month. After they got me out of the hospital, they took me to the Gurdwara in our city and put the Sacred Jal in my mouth. I smiled, they tell me. They also tell me that after they tried to put some Prasad in my mouth, I seemed to relish it immensely. Since then, my parents have inculcated in me the basic religious values that every Indian parent passes onto their kids. They wanted me to go to the Gurdwara frequently, which I did. They wanted me to memorize the first few Pauris of Japji Saheb ,which I did. I was an obedient kid, you know. Then as I grew up and my mind started to think on its own, I started to find reasons for what my parents were asking me to do. This was a journey of self realization. I started reading about religion, God and spirituality. Like any other confused teen, my mind was in turmoil. Yeah, I would go to the Gurdwara before my exams and ask Babaji to help me score good grades. Yeah, I would bow before Babaji and ask for a good career. But sometime then, I don't know how but I started to see the big picture. I realized that God was indeed my Holy Father and I loved him not because he would help me get good grades or get a bike on my birthday but because I had love for him.

Later on, as I grew up, I found that intellectuals have labeled the above model of religion as the "Paternalistic model", whereby God is looked upon as a fatherly figure and His wishes are deemed as paternal commands. I was kind of hooked onto this model for a long time. It kind of gave me the justification for getting up earlier than my friends every morning and clumsily wrapping seven meters of cloth around my head. There were days when my turban would not be perfect and those days, my mind would be roiled up in a million twists. I would question myself the whole logic of doing something which took so much effort only to make me look weird. But then most days I would be at peace with myself. I continued to go to the Gurdwara and for some strange reason, every time I would bow before SGGS, I would feel inner peace. I would feel something inside me grow stronger and I felt like a better person. I could barely understand the keertan but for some reason, the melodies lingered on in my mind and strengthened what I later realized was my devotion. I found a love for God that seems to spring from the innermost nooks of my soul. I did not understand Him, I did not comprehend Him but I loved Him. One of my cousins had told me:" The more you analyze, the more respect for God you lose". So, I just followed along. I just loved God and did what others told me was His bidding. It was a general love for God rather than precise knowledge of Sikh edicts that made me wear the turban.

For a long time, my knowledge of Sikhism was elementary. To be very honest, even now I am only a student of Sikhi. I am aware of the broad principles that our Gurus have put forth but I do not understand Gurbani fully. And the simple reason is that I don't understand the language. Like most young Sikhs, I feel more comfortable expressing myself and understanding English than archaic Punjabi. Like most Sikh kids, my parents tried to teach me basic principles of Sikhism but were unable to go beyond that. And again, like most Sikh youth, I was so busy trying to make a career that I never devoted time to understand the minutiae of Sikhism. Yeah, I had read Vivekananda and Henry Thoreau but I never read Sahib Singh. Even though I have been brought up in Punjab, that does not mean that by default, I received a good education in Sikhism. And I was by no means alone. Most of my Sikh friends could not tell you the name of our 10 Gurus if you asked them. Since everybody around you was wearing a turban and growing a beard, you had to do it too. Most of us never questioned that. There were a few rebellious brats who would do the unthinkable of cutting their kesh but they were the "bad boys" and hence considered an object of abhorrence. Strangely enough, they were also thought of as "Jatt" sikhs who for some weird reason had the divine right to do as they please with their kesh. Anyways, none of that ever bothered me. I was part of a larger crowd and the cushion of familiarity was good enough to maintain my calm.

9/11 and the tragic murder of some Sikhs following that was the first shock for me. I had always heard how Sikhs were doing so well in UK, Canada and the US. Overnight, that perception changed. Suddenly, Sikhs were targets of "mistaken identity". To my dismay, I learnt that even though Sikhs had done so well abroad but the Sikh swaroop had not enjoyed that prosperity. Most turbaned Sikhs had relegated themselves into small unknown towns where they would good money but never got integrated into the American society. Most of the new FOB's were too afraid to be made mistaken victims of the post 9/11 frenzy and would rather have a hair-cut at Frankfurt than land on the American soil with a turban on their head. I came to USA 1 year after 9/11. I had heard lot of horror-stories and I think people almost expected that I would cut off my hair. But I didn't. I guess the love for God and that association with the Gurdwara that I had formed as a child won over. For my first few days in the US, I felt afraid, very afraid. But then God gave me the strength to go out and carry on with my life and career. The external things keep on changing but for some reason, my inner being refuses to give in.

It is only now that I am in the US and by the grace of God, well settled in my career, that I have rekindled the passion to learn more about my religion. I have started to read English translations of the Sikh texts and I have joined Gurmat classes. I am mature enough that I can understand a lot of things and so far, my love for Sikhism and God in general has only multiplied. I was aware of how Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji formed the Khalsa and how the tradition of tying the turban became a part and parcel of Sikh life but only now I realize the significance of not giving in to pressure. The turban is a sign of human resilience against tyranny. It is easy for a confused mind to question the relevance of turban in today's life. I don't think that analyzing and over-analyzing Sikh philosophy helps that confusion either. I think it is unconditional love and surrender to God that brings peace to the mind.

I will wrap up this post by saying that I can not give any logical answer why I keep my Sikhi swaroop. But more importantly, I do not need a logical answer. Maybe it is some thing that has been indelibly imprinted on my mind, may be it is my sense of duty to the invisible Parmatama. I don't know but now I know that I don't need any logic.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post!

4:02 AM, February 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful .. God can't be explained away.

6:24 PM, February 09, 2006  
Blogger AzRaKeL said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:47 PM, February 09, 2006  

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