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Standing At The Annual Crossroads

by HARINDER SINGH

 

 

On 31 July 1972, I was given a graceful opportunity to land on earth.

Being of the Creator and Creation, I am to experience the Divine freedom while enjoying and living life to its fullest. One Universal Force, Guru, parents, family, friends, and those who I wrongly perceive as my foes (for there are none), all are part of my collective consciousness that made me what I am today.

The "horror-scope" says I'm Leo. But I can't accept my life being defined by zodiac signs. I have not quite made it to LEO (Low Earth Orbit; 100-1240 miles) though I spent substantial time flying last year. My telling of "Up in the Air" would be a bit of a different tale than George Clooney's. My time was spent mostly "meeting" prophets and poets, by reading their revelations and creations at 30,000 feet. I also indulged in high-altitude episodes of "The Wire" (best TV I have seen in years) as well.

I am thirty eight today.

I take this opportunity to reflect on the most recent year of my existence. Uncle Sam demands tax accountability every April, what about life at large?

Last July, nearing my thirty-seventh birthday, I ventured into interpreting the Sikh Vision for community building in Vancouver. It was to be a display of solidarity with the Ravidasi community in the aftermath of the Vienna violence which was leveraged by opportunists to create a caste divide - an oxymoron to Sikhi, but a visible reality in this world. The aftermath of this social wedging infiltrated the larger Sikh community and the Ravidasis. Both seem to have forgotten the vision of "Begampura" - the City without Sorrow - which is possible only when no one is treated as a second- or third-class citizen.

Doctrinally, we accept all people as divine, for the One Force is within us all. Our tent must be large enough to accept all people, and fight for their rights (not just the Sikh factions) even if my own lifestyle and discipline is not in sync with them:
atheists, homosexuals, immigrants, all marginalized people.

What have I done towards this end?

Also on this very day in 1941, the Final Solution to the "Jewish question" was demanded by Adolf Hitler which would ultimately result in the Nazi Holocaust. The responses to this still unfathomable act of organized hate and structured killing, ranged from the unprecedented international cooperation of the Nuremberg trials, to the recent Tarantino film, "Inglorious Bastards."

The Sikhs cannot have their own Elie Wiesel, or even a Lt. Aldo Raine, when the Sikh 'establishment' remains apologetic, complicit and unconcerned with the extrajudicial killings of Sikhs, a truth well-documented by the Ensaaf organization. I personally witnessed and survived the 1984 Sikh genocidal killings and am well aware of the continued ethnocide.

Guru Nanak Sahib reminds us to identify with the downtrodden and not to ape the established. What have I done towards this end?

Last October, while in the UK, someone asked me if I knew of Udham Singh. I asked why and was told that they were looking for someone to give a lecture on him. I answered then, that I was born on the day Udham Singh was hanged for delivering justice to General Michael O'Dwyer. It was Udham Singh's personal response to the Amritsar Massacre of 1919. He was condemned by the Indian National Congress leaders, including Nehru and Gandhi. To me, he kissed the noose so all South Asians could be free. And he did so under the alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, displaying the freedom-loving nature of a Sikh who operates beyond boundaries, embracing all while practicing doctrine of love and justice.

What have I done towards this end?

We were blessed with Gani (carefree and rich) Kaur in November. A precious female "paragon of light" whom Guru Nanak Sahib proclaims "will continue the path perpetually." I hope to impart the richness of Guru Granth Sahib so Gani Kaur can become carefree like the Creator, and not careless like me. I was congratulated, by presumably and visibly good Sikhs, on how my family is now complete (I also have a 3 1/2 year-old son, Jodha Singh). My wife and I witnessed how the birth of a girl is still interpreted by some in the community as 'the Creator's Will', with little or passive celebration.

So, had we not had a son, our family would have been incomplete? - astonishing for the twenty-first century! Transcending sexist prejudice is a global concern. There are more than 50 million women missing in the world, according to the UN. We must embrace the "completeness" of all peoples, for their divine spirit rather than their gender.

What have I done towards this end?

A few months ago, I was tested yet again by the pressure to do the things that will please people. The choices ranged from stopping my work for a Sikh organization, or to continuing but in a way that would compromise my truest self. Addressing real issues at home, at work, or in the community is never easy. In my current vocation, I emphatically share with people that Sikhi is about here and now, to free us from whatever binds us. With the best intentions, good people tell me to obey the elders, become practical, and keep spirituality on the side when it comes to critical decisions.

I do believe, when it is all said and done, I'm answerable to my Guru first, and it is my Guru who is my primary allegiance, not merely a Board of Directors at whose behest I serve. Mission-focus or values-based decisions seem to be reserved for speech-making only, otherwise they cause discomfort. I have heard that to confront issues is to be ready to lose a limb. I can be prepared for that, but how do I know which issue is worth it?

The 12G Force - a term I coined to encompass the values and lifestyle of the Guru Sahibs (the Ten Nanaks and the Guru Granth-Panth), given my affinity for the epic Star Wars - demands I continue to religiously develop myself and my surroundings.

What have I done towards this end?

This past February I finally got a chance to visit Panchbati - Bhai Vir Singh's summer home in Dehradun - thanks to Inni Kaur's encouragement. Bhai Sahib's literary work shaped my understanding of Sikhi. I was fortunate to address an audience at an academy in Delhi named after him on the topic of "Naam - Identification with the Divine." I have come across articles attempting to reduce Bhai Sahib's impact, to which I respond (to paraphrase Bhagat Kabir ji), "They can't contribute anything, but libel those whose whole existence is benevolent!"

Bhai Sahib was "dangerous" because he empowered the rural and urban folks alike; he worked tirelessly to develop Sikhs and Punjabis in literary, economic and spiritual arenas.

What have I done towards this end?

I was lecturing on Jathedars Banda Singh Bahadar and Jarnail Singh Bhindrawala this May and June during a tour of the U.S., Canada and UK. By the time these men were thirty-eight years old, both had taken on the forces of domination without worry for the consequences. And they were quite successful at it; one sign of their success is how their character is, to this day, maligned by the opposition. They were lovers in the way Asa-ki-Vaar (Ode of Hope) expresses love, for they did not determine their responses based on gains or losses. Giving voice to the voiceless is something more than a task prescribed for a Sikh.

What have I done towards this end?

About a fortnight ago, the Iroquois (or the Haudenosaunee, as they call themselves) were forced to drop out of the world championships of lacrosse, a sport invented by their ancestors. Why? Because they wanted to maintain their independence as a people and a nation, while caught between the political borders of the U.S. and Canada. It brought to mind Toba Tek Singh's narrative of the 1947 Partition and how a Sikh died in the no-man's land between the borders of newly carved India and Pakistan. My ancestors, the inspired Sikhs of the Guru, fought to build bridges among the cultures and civilization in the land of the Five Rivers - Punjab. Now we are not even a party to policy decisions that affect Punjabis on both sides of the crude, hurried and incompetent British map-making we inherited?

What have I done towards this end?

Last week I was reminded of why I must not wait to do things that need to get done.

Ajeet Singh Matharu, a very promising young Sikh scholar at Columbia University, died in a car accident. His showing at last year's Sikholar conference remains vivid to me:

Ajeet's (invincible) intellectual aptitude, his bright Sikh spirit and rare brand of courage shone as he skillfully revealed the shallowness and dishonesty of the Sikh and Punjabi Studies programs. Over the last few years, I had several opportunities to converse, visit and work with him; it was a most pleasant experience. His major criticism of me was that I am not vocal enough in the community forums about the Sikhs stances, especially political ones.  I hope to work on this front as a tribute to my friend. 

Guru Nanak asks us "To speak the truth when it is needed."

What have I done towards this end?

It seems convenient to celebrate birthdays on a yearly basis, but amidst the merry making, I must stop to ask, what am I celebrating? Whatever I have accomplished, in the bigger picture, is it even meaningful?

Guru Amardas reminds me to ask this question everyday: "O mortal, what have you done since you came into this world?"

I am dumb-founded to tackle this; I do not know where to begin answering this query!

 

[Harinder Singh is a co-founder of the Sikh Research Institute.]
July 31, 2010


 

 

 

Conversation about this article

1: N. Singh (Canada), July 31, 2010, 8:19 AM.

Harinder Singh ji: You have accomplished a LOT! Way more than the so-called Sikh 'leaders' in the diaspora or in India could ever hope or claim to achieve in a life time, but that is probably because they are so busy working against Sikh principles rather than spreading the message of Sikhi. You are a candle in the darkness which has enveloped the Sikhs, and I only hope that a dozen more like you will spring up. May Waheguru bless you and keep you well.

2: Amardeep (U.S.A.), July 31, 2010, 1:24 PM.

Thought provoking article. It will be great if you can also tell us your achievements during the last year. It can serve many purposes. It can be a source of inspiration, can help during decision making to donate to SikhRI, it can be a source of reflection about what we consider success in front of our Guru, etc., etc. I guess in life there are two kinds of people, some inspire others and some get inspired and do something themselves.

3: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, CT, U.S.A.), July 31, 2010, 2:25 PM.

Bouquet of good wishes and blessings from Panchbati. Guru ang sung!

4: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 31, 2010, 5:53 PM.

To me personally, in the wee hours of this morning it was like taking out my electronic MY SKY gadget when pointed out to any star, pressing the trigger, thanks to the built-in GPS, it would tell the name of the star, and tell for example, it was such an such name and merely 700 light years away. But this time I didn't have to resort to MY SKY but the sikhchic.com that I knew when Sher Singh ji would come up with new postings. I have precisely worked out his timings from taking his cup of tea and wielding his pen. This time I discovered a new star named 'Harinder' and available within shouting distance, in a manner of speaking. I would henceforth be lapping up every word, spoken or written that would emanate from him. Like him, I was weaned on Bhai Vir Singh's works and then added Dr. Balbir Singh, his younger brother's writings. These works have been my bedside reading for the last 60 years at least. It is like Grey's Anatomy if you want a deeper meaning of Sikhism. Added to it was the second blessed soul, although no longer among us and gone like a shooting star but lives through his works. It was Principal Satbir Singh that I had the honour to know him personally. His writings were inspired and came out from the very depth of his soul. Bless you, Harinder ji, you are one of the LEO satellites. Incidentally I track routinely as a controller of the Satellite Ground Station at the National Planetarium, Kuala Lumpur. I have now, technically speaking, put your spiritual Keplerian elements and and you are on my tracking list.

5: Harinder Singh (San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.), August 01, 2010, 3:53 PM.

Our work is detailed at www.SikhRI.org via events, annual reports, etc. I'm one of several people at the Sikh Research Institute working towards internal development of the Sikh community through education. All are welcomed to be part of the perpetual work with your gifts of spirituality, intellect and money. Thank you.

6: Yadwinder Singh (Canada), August 02, 2010, 8:43 AM.

Harinder Veer ji, Gur Fateh. You have answered your own query by saying that "Our tent must be large enough to accept all people, and fight for their rights (not just the Sikh factions) even if my own lifestyle and discipline is not in sync with them". A good article indeed.

7: Bibek Singh (New York, U.S.A.), August 24, 2010, 11:15 AM.

Harinder Singh ji: I was fortunate enough to attend your lecture on 'Banda & Jarnail' at New York in June this year. As I mentioned to you earlier after the divan, that it was one of the most inspiring lectures of my life. May Waheguru give you energy to deliver more such lectures and to continue the good work.

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