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The Anvil:
Sidak II

T. SHER SINGH

 

 

 

Continued from yesterday ...

 

 

With understanding as the anvil,

Knowledge and learning the tools ...

[Guru Nanak, Japji:38, GGS:8]

 

 

On Saturday night, as I’m about to rush out of my home and hit the road, I stop at the CD rack in the hallway and quickly rifle through some titles that will help me pass the time during the drive.

I pick up a Carol King. A Miles Davis. A selection of Erhu renditions. And then, as an afterthought, I pick up something titled “Vintage Dya Singh”. Haven’t heard this one … not for some time anyway.

Two hours later, inspired by the farmers I stumbled into at the gas station, I select the Dya Singh CD from the stack sitting beside me on the passenger seat, and I slip it into the player. I have another hour to kill before I get to my destination for the night.

The selection proves to be a surprise. Not the usual fare. Not shabads, but poems. Verses dripping with history and poignancy, sung in the grand voices of the Minstrel from Australia and his wonderful ensemble.

Each piece is entertaining, both in form and content. But the first and last ones intrigue me in particular.

The opening piece is a poem I’ve heard  sung often in recent years. “Daam to na de sakoo(n) …” - “Unable am I to Pay the Price …”

It captures an imagined dialogue between Guru Gobind Rai, as he sits in bir aasan -- the warrior's posture -- before the newly minted Punj Pyarey on the First Vaisakhi Day, and Daya Singh. The Guru expresses his desire to be initiated into the Khalsa and spells out, dutifully as a ‘disciple’, what he vows to do in return for the honour.

The words are soul-stirring, and guaranteed to awaken even the dead.

I replay this one and the concluding song over and over again. Until it hits me why I’m drawn to them so strongly.

The first one is sung in street Hindi, with sprinklings of words particularly common to the Bihari lingo. Being one who was born and brought up in Patna, Bihar, the words touch a chord deep inside me. The choice of language is all the more fitting, being in the “voice” of young Gobind Rai, who too was born in Patna and spent his childhood there.

For me, His thoughts come alive with the emphatic, repetitive use of the word  ‘daam’. While the Punjabi term for ‘price’ is ’keemat’ -- with origins in Persian -- ’daam’ is what the Bihari uses a dozen times a day, buying wittles or negotiating a rickshaw ride.

The link to the last song then follows automatically. I realize it rings nostalgic for me personally because it’s sung in the folksy, bhajan style heard late into the night in Bihari-Hindu neighbourhoods when our servants, lubricated with toddy, would belt out full-throated devotional songs all night long, accompanied by a dholak and cymbals, until their voices would cooperate no more.

My thoughts drift to the forums where I first learnt to enjoy these very two-fisted renditions of poetry stringed together from the pages of Sikh history and Punjabi lore: the erstwhile kavi darbars -- poetry concerts -- which were held in conjunction with all the major gurpurab celebrations at the Takht Patna Sahib.

It is the anvil on which, as a child, my love for Sikhi was forged.

Not through any formal schooling or structured instruction, but through osmosis via sporadic and scattered events such as ‘poetry nights’ that we, living far away -- a thousand miles from our native ’homeland’ -- grasped at, as straws of cultural and spiritual nourishment.

Though my parents’ role in the growth of my Sikhi was of no small consequence, still, in many a sense of the word, I am an ‘accidental’ Sikh. That is, my Sikhi was nurtured despite the environment I was brought up in, not because of it.

My parents planted the seed and handed me the tools. The kavi darbars, the gurpurabs and the jalloos-es (now known as ‘nagar kirtans’) created the hunger.

Thereon, to satiate it, my journey in Sikhi was on my own.  

I’ve enjoyed more than my fair share of Irish luck through the successive stages thereafter, and am eternally grateful for it. But, now that it is behind me, I can safely venture into saying that luck is not what you can take to the bank.

Nor can we raise our youth and the coming generations on luck and nothing else. One doesn’t plan the future of a community on a wing and a prayer … literally or otherwise. 

Which brings me to Sidak … and San Antonio, Texas, USA.

*   *   *   *   *

I step out of my cabin into an amniotic 37 degrees C. It’s dry and comforting. A few feet from my door, a family of deer freeze, suddenly alert, but then graciously let me walk by without panicking or fleeing … them, that is. A dozen peacocks are foraging in the shade of the trees a few feet away, waiting, I believe, for the cooler hours of evening when it is time for them to sing again and regale the residents.

It is on the anvil of the hot Texas sun that 34 young Sikh men and women have gathered here at the Concept Therapy Institute complex for two weeks to learn about things Sikh.

It is the type of retreat I could’ve used to advantage when I was growing up; it would‘ve given me a jump start on my voyage of discovery, once I had been set sail by my parents, saved me years of self-study, and put me years ahead of where I have been, and am today.

When I first got a look at the program charted out by the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI) for its Sidak students, I knew it is what I have yearned for, for much of my life.

Now that I am here and have begun attending the ‘classes’ in each of its streams and tracks, I can see that it is something the likes of which, ideally, should be a mandatory component of coming of age for every Sikh teenager.

My introduction to Punjabi and Gurmukhi, as a child, consisted of speaking the language at home; learning the alphabet; moving on to some basic vocabulary, phrases and idioms; learning to recite the nitnem; reading a few novels … and then being thrown into the ocean of bani via the Vaars of Bhai Gurdas, followed by a sink-or-swim introduction to the Guru Granth Sahib itself.

Here at Sidak, Surender Pal Singh -- a young man sporting Master’s degrees in English and Religious Studies who has flown in from Punjab for the duration of this retreat -- begins Gurmukhi 101 systematically and structurally, by leading us through correct pronunciation and grammar.

Inderpreet Singh from Boston -- an engineer by training, now a technology professional with a multinational --  is the lead into Sikh Theology.

We’ve been given a breakdown of the basic structure of the Guru Granth Sahib.

Inderpreet’s mission is to take us through the garden of Asa ki Vaar and help us appreciate more than its mere song and music.

Harinder Singh, a former aerospace engineer who has recently transplanted himself and his family from Texas to New Jersey, guides us through his multiple passions of Sikh history, polity and poetry.

Arpinder Kaur, who flies commercial aircraft for American Airlines, pilots the group through nitnem and gurdwara protocol.

Santbir Singh, a community activist from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, is the resident treasure-house of information on … everything you wanted know, but were afraid to ask …
 
Jasmine Kaur, an educationist from Texas, and Sara Stroo, an Oregonian grounded in Media Studies, run the entire show seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly.   

There are many more … I’m still getting to know them. More on all of these ‘instructors’ and guiding hands in the days to come. What fascinates me the most about the whole group, though, is that their average age is around 40!

But, more than the dazzle of those who lead is the glitter of those who follow.

Each of the 34 or so young men and women I have met so far is a delight: in the  promise each brings; the variety of backgrounds -- geographical, educational, professional; their career choices and plans; and their passion in and their commitment to Sikhi.     

As I sit through the ‘classes’ and feel the petals of my brain open, one by one, I also see those who sit around me imbibing in the same awe.

I haven’t put my finger on it yet. But hope to. As to what makes Sidak work so well.

Religion is serious business, but not meant to be taken too seriously.

Even more so, Sikhi is meant to be fun.

And Sidak seems to proves the point by showing that study and learning don’t need to take anything away from that aspect of it by any degree whatsoever.   


More tomorrow …

 

For PART I of this series, please CLICK here.

July 30, 2013 

 

 

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ), July 30, 2013, 4:40 PM.

An excellent autobiographical glimpse that calls for full wind for the sails and to weaving in your growing pains and the 'prem kahanis'. Those grown without the benefit of present tinsel serials only had 'what monkey sees, monkey does' that stood in good stead with liberal application of hammer to work on the anvil to shape the tyke. In calmer moments it was: "kar updays jhirhkay baho bhaatee bahurh pitaa gal laavai" [GGS:624.17] - "His father teaches him, and scolds him so many times. But still he gives the child a hug in the end." Looking for more hugs in the next episode.

2: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), August 01, 2013, 5:23 AM.

I like it! To quote T. Sher Singh, "Religion is serious business, but not meant to be taken too seriously." That, precisely, is the problem with the world today. Sher Singh's life journey and Sikhi learning curve are remarkably similar to mine. Born at Bhuj in Kutch (Gujarat) where Bapu ji was a Granthi of a "Rasala" (cavalry) detachment, via Punjab and Malaya ... to the UK. I do wish that I could be a word craftsman like him, though. And yes, about Dya Singh of Oz, Sher Singh is referring to his "Delhi Recording" when Dya walked into a Delhi studio and was out within a couple of hours with a cassette recording in his hand! I think he was on his way to meet his mentor, the late Jagjit Singh. "Sidak" reminds me of Prof Sahib Singh's "Sikh sidak na haaray" (autobiography, "A Sikh should not lose his faith"). SikhRI seminars and courses give us much hope for the future of mainstream Sikhi. Word concepts like "sidak" need interpretation in the context of Sikh tradition and brought forward in today's world. Religion is serious business, but when properly understood and lived, it loses its fanaticism and brings people together.

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Sidak II"









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