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“But You're A White Man!”
- Janam Da Firangee,
Sikhi Mai Mangee

FATEHPAL SINGH TARNEY

 

 

 





I wrote this column in a stream of consciousness fashion in the style of the late Khushwant Singh. I have done this in previous columns. This involves a flow of thoughts and impressions that may or not be connected.

I say again that I have always had a love-hate relationship – not with Khushwant Singh, but with his writings. I have trouble with his religious orientation – doubting the existence of God, and his enjoyment of intoxicating drinks, but I admire his honesty and I, of course, agree with his view, “I am alone, but never lonely. You have always books around you.”

In his book, ‘Agnostic Khushwant: There Is No God‘, he makes a case that organized religion has done more harm than good throughout history. Yet, he notes the beauty within holy scriptures of various faiths. His writings are fascinating, but filled with contradictions.

There is no God? I disagree! One of my favorite Khushwant Singh books, and I have many favorites, is his ‘Big Book of Malice‘, which contains attacks on both people, events, and institutions. I admire Khushwant Singh's courage and honesty. He, for example, begins this particular book with the topic of nose-picking!

I greatly admire and try to emulate his stated position, “I have never lost my temper. I let out my venom in my writing...”


BUT YOU’RE A WHITE MAN!

Some years ago, I attended a conference at a gurdwara in a southern US state. All the Sikhs participating stayed at a local hotel owned and run by a Sardar. I was in the lobby at one point when I saw a young gori lady working at the front desk staring at me.

I went up to her and said hello. Obviously, this young lady was no stranger to Sikhs, given that she worked for them. She looked at my turban and beard, and all she said was “But you're a white man!”

I tried to explain to her, which I have done on many similar occasions, that Sikhism is not a race, ethnicity, or nationality, but a religion. I suppose her experience with darker-skinned Sikhs made it very difficult for her to accept my explanation.


EARLY SEEDS OF TRUMP SUPPORT

The 1982 Richard Attenborough film, ‘Gandhi‘, depicts the life of Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi's non-violent independence movement against the British is central to this film.

The school I taught at during the film's debut in America decided to take students in social studies classes to the film at a local theater. I was saddened and taken aback when the majority of the students laughed and cheered when Gandhi supporters were brutally beaten by British police.

Back at school, in my classes, I tried to engage my students in a serious discussion of the subcontinent’s independence movement by offering some similarities with our own American revolution against British rule and then asked why all the laughter during the film. The response was, “Not seeing people resist being beaten was really funny!”

Of course, beneath this explanation was a racism deeply ingrained in our society – all my students were affluent white kids. I attempted to explain the effectiveness of Gandhi's non-violent civil disobedience movement in gaining independence from the British, and how it influenced Martin Luther King Jr.'s approach to civil rights in America. This got me nowhere!

I take some comfort in Trump's election success and current power by once again recalling Khushwant Singh: “Nature provides that a man who slaves all day should spend the hours of the night in a palace full of houris whereas a king who wields the sceptre by day should have his sleep disturbed by nightmares of rebellion and assassination.”


FLATTERY WILL GET YOU EVERYWHERE

There seem to be two groups of advisers in the Trump White House. A small number of dedicated patriots trying to exert some control over a bull-in-a-china-shop president, and a larger number of flatterers feeding Trump's colossal ego. I base these conclusions first on my concerns and outrage at the behavior of Trump and his minions, and secondly, I offer reflections on my over four decades of prep school and college teaching.

It was my experience that outstanding educators who were superb in the classroom in terms of knowledge, the ability to convey it to students, a capacity to stimulate enthusiasm for their subject, and have real rapport with young people, were on the thinnest ice. The weak and mediocre teachers who excelled at boot licking had the most job security and received the biggest pay raises and promotions. They were the ones who ended up as administrators and rewarded people just like themselves.

By the way, that stomach-turning cabinet meeting last June, where everyone heaped praise on Trump, was reminiscent of what one routinely sees in North Korea, or watching trained seals at a circus.


RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY

I have always believed in the idea of not just tolerating the existence of different faiths in the world, but of actively supporting such diversity. I like the following, very simple, crayon imagery: a group of crayons may come in a variety of colors and some may continue to be sharp while others get dull through their popularity and use. Yet, they all can fit nicely into the same box.


AT A RESTAURANT IN MICHIGAN

My wife and I had eye doctor appointments with a superb retina specialist in Michigan. This was a person born here, but of South Asian ancestry. Given his surname, I asked him if he was related in any way to the great Tamil writer with that name. He said that he wasn't and that his surname was rather common in south India, which reminded me of names such as Patel in Gujarat.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in that town which is near to a large university. In an adjacent booth, there were four young Chinese students. Among themselves, they spoke rapid fire Mandarin. I take pride in being able to distinguish between the Mandarin and Cantonese dialects.

All four ordered a “surf and turf” entrée – steak and lobster tail. They were not eating at the school cafeteria or at fast food places – at least not that day! I was impressed with the English they spoke with their server. None of them had even a trace of accent. In other words, their English was impeccable in terms of both pronunciation and vocabulary. I have no idea whether these fellows were foreign students or Chinese-American citizens, but their mastery of English was far superior to so many of the anti-immigrant people in the United States.


A KHANDA TATOO

I confess to doing a lot of people-watching, which includes my time in gurdwaras. This past summer, I noticed a handsome young lad at a Sunday diwan who did not keep kes or wear a turban, but sported a Khanda tattoo behind his right ear.

My aversion to tattoos, I think, reflects my generation. These days, ink is so common that whenever I see the lower back on a young woman without a tattoo, it reminds me of an empty billboard. Moreover, I think there are better ways of expressing one's religious identity and devoutness than tattoos. Seva, of course, is one of the best ways.

Interesting that were this young lad to have kept his kes and worn a turban, the Khanda tattoo would not be visible.


October 12, 2017
 

Conversation about this article

1: Mohan Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 13, 2017, 8:23 AM.

Waheguru is Generator, Operator and Destroyer. It's not easy to realize 'Him', it requires continuous efforts such as simran, rehni, concentration, etc 24 hours a day by involving in katha-vyakhya, shabad-kirtan and reading Gurbani time and again. Bani has profound divine energy. One who does this will feel infused by the divine, and protected.

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- Janam Da Firangee,
Sikhi Mai Mangee"









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