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The World’s Best Kept Secret:
Janam Da Firangee,
Sikhi Mai Mangee

FATEHPAL SINGH TARNEY

 

 

 





Some years ago, the great raagi from Australia, Bhai Dya Singh, visited our south Florida gurdwara and after his wonderful kirtan he spoke to our sangat.

He  said something quite insightful and significant: that Sikhi is the world’s best-kept secret. I tend to agree. This column is basically an elaboration on Dya Singh’s point. 

However, before I begin, allow me to preface with the following admission.

I have always been a very sensitive person. My two careers before retirement have been as a soldier and as a history teacher. Teachers, of course, regularly have conferences with parents. I could meet with 50 parents in an evening and have 49 of them tell me that their children love my classes. All it took was one parent to be critical and the entire evening was spoiled for me.

Such a parent might say “My son always loved history until this year!” I discovered very often that a student would go home with a complaint about me that had nothing to do with academics or my teaching methodology, but merely that I told him or her to spit out the chewing gum, for example. That detail was of course not shared with the parents.

I had the honor of speaking to the sadh sangat of a Michigan Gadara recently. I spoke of my misadventures with the Punjabi language, which were often humorous incidents. These elicited some laughter. I also spoke of the importance of converts to our faith throughout the centuries and why Sikhi appealed to so many people. I called attention to the hukamnama from the Darbar Sahib for that day which referred to the so-called ‘low caste’ Hindu, Namdev, who was expelled from a Hindu temple by so-called high-caste Fellow Hindus and had to go outside, behind the building, to do his puja.

God, the story goes, then turned the temple to face Namdev, with the front-door facing him, in tribute to his devotion which had nothing to do with his low social status. Our Gurus led by example by leading good, moral lives, protecting the weak and the downtrodden, they spoke out against the injustices of the Hindu caste system and the Hindu practice of suttee (widow burning). They spoke out against the Muslim practice of purdah, which is the physical segregation of women and the concealment of women under burqas and niqabs.

Our Gurus were committed to gender equality. They were ahead of their time.

I also appealed for more warmth and hospitality in the West to non-Sikh visitors to gurdwaras. This was perhaps the most important point I tried to make. We are not doing enough in the West to welcome non-Sikh visitors.

Why do non-Sikhs visit gurdwaras?

1    Curiosity.
2    They take classes in comparative religion in school or college and attend for
some academic purpose.
3    They participate in interfaith programs.
4    They have a Sikh friend who invites them.
5    They have deep and serious spiritual needs and Sikhi and gurbani give them solace.

When we remain insular and xenophobic, we are denying people the blessings and benefits of gurbani and are acting antithetical to the core values we profess to believe in!

After my presentation, I received many compliments from people, which was quite gratifying. However, one Sardar, much younger than me, came up to me and was very critical of my talk. He said that it was highly inappropriate to speak about anything other than gurbani. A personal story about my life or anything that is humorous or that generates laughter is not allowed in the Diwan Hall, he said.

An elderly Sardar, much older than me, accompanied this fellow. I assume he had either no English or very little and given my speech, he knew that my Punjabi was limited. He looked at me with such hostility that if looks could kill, I would’ve died a thousand times. The only times I have experienced antagonistic looks like this were when haters mistook me for a Muslim.

I made four points to the young Sardar to explain the rationale of my speech.

1   One can refer directly to gurbani or one can discuss being inspired by gurbani.

2   I pointed out that Sikhi practices Miri and Piri – that is, both social and
spiritual aspects of life.

3   Central to Sikh life is Chardi Kalaa, which refers to consistent optimism and cheerfulness in life.

4   When Guru Angad’s son, Datu, resented Amardas Ji becoming the third Guru instead of him and kicked him, Guru Sahib made a joke out of this.

None of these points made any impact of this young Sikh. He just glared at me.

I reiterate some points I have made in previous columns: a smile is an important form of sewa and even with no or only limited English, a smile can mean a great deal to a gurdwara guest.  Furthermore, all sewa should be done cheerfully and with humility ... And a dose of humour, when warranted.

*   *   *   *   *

For many years, on or around September 12, I have made a short presentation to my home sangat on the Battle of Saragarhi. In 1897, 21 Sikhs at a remote signal post fought to the last man resisting an attack of over 10,000 Pathan tribesmen in the Northwest Frontier Province in what was then British India.

This presentation has always been well received. I have always made the point that, of course, intellect and training were keys to Sikh military prowess, but more important, was the inspiration of gurbani.


August 7, 2017
 

Conversation about this article

1: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), August 09, 2017, 10:59 AM.

Fatehpal Singh ji, the younger Sardar who was critical of you seems to have acquired Sikhi in this country. Probably he was born in USA and learnt Sikhi through management of some gurdwara. Obviously the young Sardar needs further coaching. Basically, in any gurdwara (while in operation), past the bhog, any social, economic or political problems can be discussed. Guru Granth Sahib represents the spiritual and divine base of Sikhi. The participating sangat is coming with secular ideals of honorable and fruitful living in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib.

2: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), August 15, 2017, 4:12 PM.

The young Sikh was wrong, you were 100 percent in the right. End of story.

3: Arjan Singh (USA), August 16, 2017, 7:45 AM.

Fatehpal ji: Please continue to share your stories. I can assure you there are many such men/women coming from India. They do look Sikh from outward appearance, however it is not their fault entirely. But they do not carry the true ethos of Sikhi. The culture in India is extremely hateful and vengeful. Most people on the streets rarely smile to each other, and are ready to jump into a fight on the slightest provocation. Punjab used to be more jovial and happy place, but unfortunately the majority Indian culture has penetrated Punjab as well. Most Sikhs from Punjab feel that the gurdwara is a place that requires boot camp-style discipline. Minor issues are turned into huge provocations, and they rarely smile and are always chiding young children. The entire idea of the gurdwara being a place for relaxation and peace of mind is turned on its head. This is the reason some younger people in the West have stopped coming to the gurdwara. Keep the humor coming. It keeps us in chardi kalaa.

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Janam Da Firangee,
Sikhi Mai Mangee"









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