Monday, September 24, 2007

From the Loins of Punjab !

Saw a hilarous movie yesterday called the 'Loins of Punjab'. I have still to figure out the context of the title but one of the things that comically stand out is a pair of guys who by inference were Sikhs. Only by inference since they are intoduced with a misleading 'Gupta' surname ( which for the uninitiated means they are non sikhs). A unique interpretation of 'Punjabi' bhangra in rap, language punctuated by the *F* word, the turban and the kick ass in your face attitude - and there you have it - makes them who the world loves to laugh at - sardars !

Kind of brings me to my own crisis of identity. Most people who qualify to give me a pet name call me a 'sardar' which is a unisex way of calling anyone from the north of the country, with a challenged left brain ! I myself completely identify with the popular interpretation of what 'Sardar' means in the Indian contex and I love the Punjabi language after some painful years of adolescence of being acutely embarassed of what is my mother tongue. Yet in my heart I know that I am hardly a Sikh. And I also know that I have visted this topic before... but I love to ramble...

I was born into a middle class sikh family. I did not get any formal education in sikhism. My maternal grandmother probably ( since I dont exactly remember) taught me 2 paudis of Japji Sahab and the odd saakhis from the Sikh scriptures. What it meant to be a Sikh kid was to keep long unshorn hair, never to touch a packet of ciggerettes or tobbacco and to go to the gurudwara on gurupurabs. The gurudwara visits were engaging of course. The concept of seva ( community service like polishing shoes, cleaning the floors of the Gurudwara, cooking...) and my fine ear for good music made it a blissful experience.

But growing up as a sikh child in the Uttar Pradesh heartland was tough for me and my younger siblings. There were not many others around and I think I was the only sikh child in my class for years. The standard jokes about the eggs in the sardar's joodi, the 'barah baj gaye' jokes didnt make it any easy, nor did the lack of any relegious education or reinforcement of our special and unique identity.

Dad would occassionaly tell us about Guru Nanak who is the founder saint of Sikhisim and Guru Gobind Singh, the last of them all. There were these two huge Sobha Singh paintings of both these Gurus in our living room. Often mom would mumble the Ardas standing with folded hands in front of these. I would endlessly stare at Sobha Singh's Guru Nanak Dev ji. The picture would speak to me and benovelence and love would leap out. Guru Gobind Singh ji was always intimidating...all in my imaginary world of those tender years.

I picked up the 'Ardas' which is the main prayer before the start and the end of any prayer service and the 'Anand Sahib' ( the concluding hym ) while going to Gurudwaras but beyond that strange pride in being part of a unique community, there was much left wanting in me.

My mom was a regular at the local Gurudwara. She was always also very enthusiastic about the annual visit to the Harmandir Sahib popularly called the Golden Tepmple in Amritsar. But I think it was part of her social set up more than anything else. The gurudwara politics, the elections, seva for the langar were a very important part of the routine. I wish she had instead been educated in 'sikhi' and that she would have imparted that gift to her children. But that was not to be.

My father never really enjoyed going to the Gurudwara and I never saw him ever read the 'path' all my life. He stubbornly believed that being Sikh meant not cutting one's hair and to wear the turban or the 'Pag'. Though he belonged to a devoutly relegious family and atleast three of his elder sisters had taken the vow of Amrit at Harmandir sahib, wore the kirpan and were staunch practising sikhs but he was untouched by all that. He just liked being part of the community, indulge himself in the feeling of being marginalised by the government and the Hindus and believing that being Sikhs was a natural equivalent to being anti Hindu.

As I grew up, I drew my own interpretation of my 'sikhi'. It is also a convenient interpretation since it allows me to live a life that I like. My hypocricy troubles me more often than not. But my God is in a Gurudwara. Ironically my husband's God is in a Mosque. And for the moment my daughter's God lives in the sky and she is most worried he/she may be very uncomfortable with global warming.


Anonymous said...

sir i want to let you know that you have written....
"Only by inference
since they are intoduced with a
misleading 'Gupta' surname
( which for the uninitiated means
they are non sikhs)"
but thats wrong.
My name is Prabh Simran Singh Goel. Although I know that there is no caste system in sikhism but my caste is Goel and m khatri sikh.
I just want to tell you that there are baniya sikh in our religion too, that is what i am.
bhul chuk di maafi

Inexplicably said...

Sat Sri Akal and thanks for educating me Prabh Simran :) I didn't know this. I sure, not may people do.