The Fire of LearningT. SHER SINGH
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
It was a lazy, relaxed, fall Saturday morning, several years ago.
I was sitting up in bed, a cup of tea in one hand, a newspaper spread out in front of me.
Spread-eagled on the carpet next to the bed was my daughter. A cup of hot chocolate beside her. Another newspaper spread out in front of her.
The proud father in me notes that she is engrossed in the newspaper. A NEWSPAPER? A 15-year old! And reading the news section too. Obviously, the commotion around the recent election has planted a seed. My kid’s growing up fast, I say to myself.
I continue to watch her from the corner of my eye, relishing every moment. I see her poring over each page, from story to story.
She turns the page. A huge photo catches her eye. I can see it’s that of a Sikh gentleman. The smart turban, the style of his beard, his demeanour, his age, indicate to me, even from a distance, that it’s a photo of a retired army officer.
I immediately recall catching the tail end of a story on the radio the previous night. Something really silly, Some Canadian Legion member out somewhere in the West had apparently refused admission to a Sikh-Canadian veteran. On Remembrance Day. From a Remembrance Day ceremony or something. Because he was wearing a turban and not a hat.
I had switched the radio off. I knew such stories tended to sadden me - I didn’t need another reason to feel depressed. Through a long established defence mechanism, I instantly drove it out of my mind. Denial, I’m sure some people would call it.
I looked at my daughter as she shifted elbows and peered more closely at the story beneath the photo. I winced. Must be the same stupid story! If it was, I secretly hoped she would skip it.
I intently watch her anxiously, looking for tell-tale signs, while pretending to be engrossed in my own paper.
Suddenly, she gasped. Her eye-brows shot up. Then they crumpled with the forehead.
“What?” I heard her whisper softly. I guiltily looked down at my own paper, as if it was I who had done something wrong. Maybe, I thought, I had not done enough to protect her from this hurt.
I could feel her looking at me. Staring. Long seconds ticked by. I appeared totally lost in my world. But I knew exactly what was going through her mind: “Should I ask him? Should I tell him? It’ll hurt him …”
She slowly turned back to her paper. Gawked at it for a long time. Suddenly swung around and caught me looking at her. She instantly knew I know.
I didn’t know what to say. I shrugged my shoulders. God, I said to myself, how do I explain the meaning of life to a 15-year old on a lazy Saturday morning.
Luckily she could read all the answers written on my face. And they were all in the form of questions. She read them out, one by one.
“But why?” She looked at the photo again.
“What’s the problem? WHY?” She folded the paper in disgust.
“I don’t understand this, Dad. What’s their problem?”
She stomped out of the room. Left the paper on the carpet.
The pain drained away and I smiled. My child was growing up. Not only was she reading a newspaper - the news section! - but she was asking questions of her own. Understanding the issues. She was able to differentiate between right and wrong. She was also displaying the gumption of asking questions loud and clear.
I suddenly felt grateful to the legionnaires out West who had thrown the turbaned Canadian out of their Legion Hall. Even though they were war veterans themselves, availing of a hall and facilities meant for war veterans, and yet, they were refusing entry to another war veteran. One who had probably seen action while serving with the Allies in the World War, while they themselves hadn’t.
I felt thankful to them. After all, they were helping educate my child. Helping her to think. To be strong. To understand that people do terrible, senseless wrongs to others. And these wrongs hurt. And they must be questioned. And somebody has to ask questions. And sometimes somebody has to fight to even raise these questions, and to have them addressed.
I am indebted to those few legionnaires and wish, really wish, that they will continue their crusade of protecting their Legion Hall from Sikh-Canadians.
It will be painful for all Canadians. But we will continue to learn lessons from it every day the bigotry remains alive. These are lessons which are never learnt easily. It will teach us all that freedoms don’t come easy. And once in hand, they are difficult to keep. They require vigilance everyday, from all directions, not just from the enemy.
We will learn, slowly but surely, that being Canadian is not to be taken for granted. It grants you rights and freedoms, but to enjoy them you will have to fight for them, over and over again.
It will teach us - especially those like my daughter and I who practice the Sikh faith - that one’s faith is not to be taken for granted. If we really believe in it, we must be ready to defend it every day of our lives. Not just defend one’s own faith but, more importantly, defend the right to practice a faith. Any faith. Every faith.
It’ll make us all strong in the process. It’s the fire we all need to be better. It’ll make us better Canadians, better humans. And, if I’m permitted a bit of selfishness, it’ll make Sikh-Canadians better Sikhs. And better Canadians, better humans.
Thank you, good legionnaires of British Columbia, and Cornwall, Ontario, and the few brave ones on the East Coast. You have fought wars in the past, and made innumerable sacrifices in the name of freedom. This too - your crusade against turbans - ultimately adds to the cause of freedom.