Kids Corner


Random Thoughts:
Janam Da Firangee,
Sikhi Mai Mangee







It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. I agree. This column is in the style of the late Khushwant Singh's 'Big Book of Malice'. This marvelous little book is a series of thoughts, impressions, and prejudices of this great Sikh writer. In his foreword to the book, he writes “I love to gossip and have an insatiable appetite for scandal.” I plead guilty to the same affections.

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I recently attended an interfaith program at which the keynote speaker was a Jewish lady, a rabbi from a congregation in my town. At the end of her presentation, she posed several interesting questions and the diverse audience was randomly assigned to separate tables to discuss them.

I ended up as the only male at my table. Across from me were two Protestant women from different denominations that I cannot recall. On my left were two very devout and conservative Roman Catholic women. On my right were two very devout, very conservative Jewish women. After some discussion, we agreed that we worshiped in different ways, but we also agreed that we worshiped the same God.

Toward the end of the evening, one of the Jewish ladies looked at me very intently -- looking at my dastaar; my daarhi, and my face -- and said, “You don't look Indian!”

This gave me an opportunity to explain that Sikhism is neither a race, nor an ethnicity, nor a nationality – much like Judaism!


A dear Sardar friend of mine, no longer with us, lived a long and very productive life and taught me much about Sikh history and spirituality. He was retired from the Indian foreign service having worked in embassies in places like Laos, Iraq, and the former Yugoslavia.

He once told me a story about his arranged marriage reflecting back after 60 years of happiness with his wife. It was a stressful incident at the time, but quite amusing with the passage of time. He did not actually meet his betrothed until their Anand Karaj and did not even see a picture of her. What did occur was a meeting with her six brothers, the eldest of whom told him the following. I am paraphrasing, of course, from what I was told:

“If you want to learn what our sister looks like, look at this brother over here, because they look alike … If you want learn something about her personality, talk to our brother sitting over there, because they are very similar in that regard!”


America drops a very powerful and very expensive bomb on insurgents in Afghanistan and much is made of the result: the killing of about 100 insurgents, including perhaps 4 commanders.

Yet, shortly thereafter, Taliban militants killed at least 140 people, mostly soldiers at a military base. These militants were disguised in army uniforms. This Taliban attack was far less expensive with apparently better results than the American MOAB!

The lesson, which we can hope Trump learns, but it is doubtful, is that Afghanistan is a problem that cannot be solved with the mother of all bombs!


I have been mistaken for a Muslim numerous times in both Florida and Michigan. Half the time, people are friendly and have the best intentions. They often say “As-salamu alaykum.” I usually reply, “Peace be with you!”

When time and the atmosphere permits, I try to explain that I am not a Muslim, but that we Sikhs respect all faiths, including Islam.

Once I had trouble paying for gas at the pump and had to go into the convenience store to pay. I decided to get a chocolate milk as well. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a large black fellow staring at me. Of course, I was concerned. He then came up to me, raised his fist, but with a smile, and shouted, “Allahu Akbar!” I responded, “Yes, God is great, have a nice day!”

At the same time, I have experienced an equal number of hostile, anti-Muslim mistaken identity incidents. Hooligans have shouted, “Down with the Taliban!” at me, and “Go back to Arabia!” which is interesting, given that my mother was born in Italy.


I grew up in the 1950s in a neighborhood in Queens, New York City, that was basically half Jewish and half Italian. One would think that it was a highly polarized community, but far from it. The key bond was food.

There was a saying common in both Yiddish and Italian. I give it in English translation: “Being full is no excuse for not eating!”

In those days, there were elderly grandmothers still alive and living in the households of kids' parents. The Jewish grandmothers were known as “bubbies” and were born in Europe and they wore babushkas, which were head scarfs, not unlike Muslim hijabs. The Italian grandmothers, like my own, usually dressed all in black and often had a gold tooth or two.

After school, if we went to a Jewish home for a snack, the bubbie would feed us and say “Essen!” [Eat!]; if we went to an Italian home, the grandmother would say “ Mangiare!” [Eat!]

My closest friend, when I was a youngster, was a Jewish lad. He went through a rebellious, agnostic stage just before his Bar Mitzvah, a ceremony at 13 years of age when he is considered an adult in terms of religious responsibilities.

The Sikh Dastaar Bandhi ceremony would be comparable to the Bar Mitzvah. My friend told me that he did not believe in any of the rituals but would go through the motions so as not to disappoint his parents or offend his grandparents.

Later on in my Sikh life, this reminded me of a Sikh Sunday school class where a young lad was asked why he kept his kes and all he said was that his grandparents would be upset if his hair was cut.

My friend and I went to the movies together often and the time I remember most was when we took the subway into Manhattan to see ‘The Ten Commandments’ with Charlton Heston. In those days, lengthy film spectaculars like this one had intermissions. So after about two hours, there was a 15 minutes intermission.

My 13-year-old friend and I wondered why all the elderly men were rushing to the lavatory. Now, as a senior citizen myself, I fully understand why these guys were making haste for the restroom!

This film, The Ten Commandments, made a tremendous impact on me and prompted my longstanding interest in ancient history and really determined my teaching career. When we departed the theater, I was so impressed with this film that I was beyond words.

I asked my friend what he thought of it. He said that he did not like it. I was shocked and asked him why. He said, “This movie had no plot!”

I was speechless. As far as plots are concerned in this classic film, there is:

Good vs. Evil; Monotheism versus idolatry; Freedom vs. Bondage; Resistance of the Weak to the Strong, to cite just a few.

Later on, in my college studies of Egyptology, I learned that even if the biblical ‘miracle’ of the parting of the Red Sea by God to allow the Israelites to flee the army of the pharaoh did not actually occur, something remarkable did happen. At the greatest height of ancient Egypt's power, during its New Kingdom period, a group of people once enslaved in Egypt did gain their freedom in the land of Canaan.

By the way, my Jewish friend when I was growing up, who did not like this movie, became a rabbi!


We Sikhs have much in common with Judaism in that both religions are strictly monotheistic; both faiths do not believe in proselytizing, and we, like Jews, have been subjected to discrimination both in our ancestral homeland as well as in our own diaspora.

Like Armenians, we were for many centuries under the control of Muslims coming from Central Asia who attempted to convert us by force to Islam. We resisted and held on to our own beliefs and principles. We respect all other faiths including Islam. Lest we forget, Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty on the subcontinent, was a descendant of both Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. Babur's tribal group were Mongols, but considered themselves Turks in language and culture, having resided in Turkish lands for a long time.

It is noteworthy that the Ottomon Turks completed their conquest of Anatolia [Asia Minor], including Armenia, in 1517 – two short years before Babur's first raid into Punjab - 1519.

We Sikhs can take some pride in knowing more about the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide than either Jews or Armenians know about our victimization under unscrupulous rulers acting in the name of Islam and Hinduism.

We have many things both spiritual and historical in common with Jews and Armenians and I always try to convey these at interfaith meetings.

I recently attended a program, “An Evening of Remembrance,” that was extraordinary and shall not be soon forgotten. In addition to commemorating the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide beginning in 1915, other genocides were commemorated such as in Ukraine, Darfur, and Rwanda, but no mention of we Sikhs. I am trying to educate.


In several previous columns I have written about post-traumatic stress disorder. For anyone interested in this issue, I would like to recommend a novel and two films that, for me at least, explain the misery, suffering and futility of war. There are others, of course. One might learn a lot from these.

John Dos Pasos's novel, ‘Three Soldiers‘ about World War I, and two films: ‘Jump Into Hell’ about the turning point Battle of Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam between the French and the communist Viet Minh, and ‘Southern Comfort‘, a film about a group of American army reservists lost on routine training in the Louisiana Bayous and at the mercy of locals.

May 2, 2017

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Janam Da Firangee,
Sikhi Mai Mangee"

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