The Sangat of Women: Book Review by NEHA SINGH GOHIL
Her Name Is Kaur
HER NAME IS KAUR, Edited by Meeta Kaur, She Writes Press (USA), 2014. English, paperback, pp 300. ISBN-10: 1938314700, ISBN-13: 978-1938314704.
A few years ago, I visited a “segregated” gurdwara in Scotland.
You might wonder how a gurdwara goes about segregating sangat members inside the building. I did, too, when a stern-looking man walked up to me in the diwan hall and repeatedly insisted that I “please go join the rest of the ladies in the langar kitchen.”
When I walked into the langar area, I realized that’s where all the women intended to remain for the rest of the service – as they’d been instructed.
I bristled, offended and mortified at this charade. I questioned some of the women about it – none of whom seemed interested in explaining – and grudgingly grabbed a velna to roll rotis.
As I worked, I listened to the buzzing conversations around me in the kitchen.
What I heard shocked me. Teenage girls discussed their upcoming weddings. Married women complained about the difficulty of buying groceries when they’re forbidden from leaving home without a male escort. Women nattered about their new grandchildren and jewelry.
The stories were both familiar and foreign. As they swirled around me, I was sickened at some of what I heard, but simultaneously proud of these women’s resilience.
Reading Her Name is Kaur took me right back to the middle of that maelstrom.
Emotionally and literally, both experiences reminded me that every woman carries her own community within herself and within her story.
Her Name is Kaur is presented as a series of essays by Sikh women about their faith, culture and love. Each essay’s author digs deep to reveal a single aspect of her own journey. The stories are raw and timeless. They celebrate and mourn everything from a mother’s hands to a child’s death; from a physician’s grueling training cycles to the Oak Creek (Wisconsin, USA) massacre.
Many of the stories chronicle how women in general, and Sikh women in particular, carry forward the hard work of bridging cultures and expectations. Several writers tell of the difficulties of attaining higher education with traditional “Punjabi” expectations for women to get married and have children, or even with more logistical ones about pumping milk on the job for a newborn.
Their stories of love are about finding partners who help them balance the bridge without alienating older family members.
Other stories illustrate the bravery of women who’ve taken the plunge to emigrate out of their home countries.
The beauty of those essays for me lies in the many Jhumpa Lahiri-esque details – Rooh Afza made with American water, teenagers flirting at Sikh leadership conferences, women in salwar kameezes walking up snowy Midwest driveways.
They are like scenes in a diorama, where we know all the details intimately, but may never have had a chance to reflect on how each detail fits into the overall picture of our community’s history.
The most powerful feature of this anthology, though, lies not in the different stories or the fierce feminists that penned them, but in their one commonality. Each and every essay touches in some way on a woman’s relationship with her family.
It’s heartening to see the range of definitions given to the word “family” in this context – from a female couple to the extended family who lives together, to a family torn apart by crime. What clearly rises to the top is that no matter how far women get outside the home, they are always wracked and wrapped in what goes on with their loved ones.
Coincidentally – or maybe not - most of these women had to leave their homes and their families in some way to find their balance. But ultimately, family, along with Sikhi, is each woman’s rock.
In 2014, Sikh women’s voices are still missing from powerful spaces in our community. You won’t find them on gurdwara committees or singing kirtan at Darbar Sahib. That’s why Her Name is Kaur offers a voice that Sikhs need to hear.
But it also presents a voice that women everywhere need to hear. The timing of Her Name is Kaur fits right in to our Lean In, #yesallwomen era. Its stories remind every woman that each of us stands for all of us. All women – Sikh or not - need to build their own communities or sangats to support, love and reflect on their lives.
Her Name is Kaur is a special text because it allows us to immerse ourselves in our sangat at a moment’s notice. No matter where you’re standing, just open the book to any page and you'll be pulled right back into the safety of that langar kitchen, surrounded by the women and stories that inspire and compel you to be yourself.
Her Name is Kaur is scheduled to be released on June 17, 2014.
June 2, 2014
Conversation about this article
1: Himadri Banerjee (Kolkata, Bengal, India), June 02, 2014, 7:49 AM.
It would be an interesting theme ... looking forward to reading it. It is likely that I may come across many interesting areas of gender in the Sikh world. I look forward to that day when similar intervention would be from this part of India. Congratulations to the authors.
2: Pargat Singh (London, United Kingdom), June 02, 2014, 9:29 AM.
What a lovely idea! Will have to get my hands on a copy and read the offerings. Keep up the good work!
3: Rehras Kaur (Missouri, USA), June 02, 2014, 2:28 PM.
Hope this is not a one-time effort. It would be great to have an annual collection of such essays and stories. A great project! All power to you ...