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A Cup of Tea

by NEHA SINGH GOHIL

 

On a rainy March morning in Amritsar, I made my way into Harmandar Sahib.

For the first time, I watched a group of people go through a familiar morning routine  -  the pre-dawn inaugural recitation of Guru Granth Sahib, and the singing of Asa di Vaar ("The Psalm of Hope").

Surrounded by lights twinkling on the water, I stood to one side, closed my eyes, folded my hands, and silently repeated "Waheguru, Waheguru" until I heard the clarion call of "Bole So Nihaal ..."

Lost in my thoughts, I nearly forgot that I hadn't come alone. While I was immersed in the sheer joy of being at our "holiest of holies", fifteen of my classmates from Columbia's School of Journalism stood by, silently bearing witness to the goings-on.

A group of them wove through the throng of believers surrounding the Guru Granth Sahib, their cameras clicking. As we made our way into the inner sanctum, I sat down while they marveled at the intricate artwork on the walls and the crowded balconies.

When it was all over, we walked outside in our bare feet, cold and wet. Some of the students walked off to find their shoes. But Karla, a slim girl with papery-white skin, spotted someone holding a cup of tea. Shivering, she grabbed a few rupees from her bag and set off to buy some for herself. She wasn't prepared, though, to have it handed to her for free, along with a seemingly bottomless bowl of pilaf rice.

Though I'd explained the concept of parshad to them in preparation for our trip to Amritsar, none of my classmates, it seemed, really believed it. That we could eat entire meals for free, and that they would be handed to us with so much genuine love and devotion, was a completely foreign concept to these students of religion.

A few days later, debriefing the class on our trip, our professor asked which faith we would convert to, if we felt compelled to change from our own. With the exception of two students, the entire class raised their hands when he said "Sikhism".

I sat there, stunned. Having grown up in Sikhi, I had always taken it for granted. I hadn't realized the broad appeal of my own religion.

At the group's final dinner in India, we were asked about our most memorable moments during the whirlwind four-city tour of the country. At least half of the class mentioned experiences in Harmandar Sahib. Karla remembered the parshad, and that she had offered to pay for the tea that morning, but the money had been turned down. "That's what religion is all about", she said, impressed by the sense of community and sharing in the faith.

Nowadays, when I visit gurdwaras back here in the U.S., I have a newfound feeling of amazement, both at how this sense of community endures, and how it is regularly ignored. Hundreds of Sikhs travel hours to reach their nearest gurdwaras, to cook for their communities, to be part of a sangat. Countless others work tirelessly to serve the public wherever they live  -  whether through government jobs or various forms of community service.

Still, rivalries within or between gurdwaras, the divisions of gurdwaras by caste, and the often-ugly world of gurdwara politics, mar the concepts of community and sharing that are such an intrinsic and widely-admired aspect of our faith.

Weeks after our class returned to the U.S., a few days before graduation, we had a final bash, where that cup of tea in Amritsar came up once again.

"It was the best tea I've ever had", said Tina Shah.

I tell you, the product of the collective effort, and a real belief in the Guru's values, made that tea back in the precincts of the Durbar Sahib, sweeter than any cup of gourmet coffee here in New York City!

 

[Photos by Tania Haas]

Conversation about this article

1: Jagjinder Singh (Bangalore, India), July 04, 2007, 11:32 PM.

Wonderful - cup of tea! Felt proud! I am a recent admirer of sikhchi.com and am now a regular reader.

2: Kiran (Thailand), July 09, 2007, 3:55 AM.

I too grew up taking Sikhism for granted and have only recently learnt about how much our religion has to offer. Now everyday is a learning process and I am continually amazed by the wisdom of our Gurus.

3: Aman (Chennai, India), July 09, 2007, 9:14 AM.

Wonderful Article! Makes me feel proud!

4: Jyoti (Fairfax, U.S.A.), July 10, 2007, 7:28 AM.

This article really warmed my heart. Chai really is the best when it comes from the heart :)

5: Gagan (Canada), July 10, 2007, 8:09 AM.

It was a good read. Simply amazing to see the effect Sikhism can have on non-Sikhs. Makes me proud to be a Sikh.

6: Nirinjan Singh (Los Angeles, U.S.A.), July 10, 2007, 8:42 AM.

If each one of us reading this article took, say, fifteen of our friends or associates to the Darbar Sahib, or even our local Gurdwara, it would go a long way in dispelling misunderstandings, hate reactions and discrimination.

7: Gagandeep Singh Grewal (Windsor, Ontario, Canada), July 10, 2007, 8:49 AM.

Karla's experience reminds me of another incident that happened many years ago in Punjab, when a European company was engaged in the four-laning of National Highway 1 throughout Punjab. It so happened that one of the "high-ups" of this company went to a Gurdwara (I forget which one) with a local employee. The visitor was served langar, which he enjoyed immensely. Upon finishing his food, he wanted to know where to pay for it. His employee then explained the concept of langar to him, which left him totally surprised. Such was the impression cast upon this gentleman, that he arranged for the whole unpaved perimeter around the Gurdwara to be paved at his company's expense!

8: Gagandeep Singh (Hyderabad, India), July 10, 2007, 9:12 AM.

Good to read such an article. It always surprises us that other people get impressed by the universal appeal of Sikhism.

9: Puneet Kapur (Florida, U.S.A.), July 10, 2007, 9:38 AM.

I am at a loss for words to express my thoughts on this article as it touches my heart deeply. We miss these moments that you have captured so well, living here in the U.S. You did a wonderful job to take these people to Harmandar Sahib. I'm proud of people like you. Keep it up.

10: Jesica (India), July 10, 2007, 9:59 AM.

Your article instills a warmth & love which any human being, no matter what religion one comes from, can relate to. Sikhism attracts people to its charm of community welfare and sharing and thus, in a true sense, is a universal religion.

11: Bhajan Singh Gill (Hayward, CA, U.S.A.), July 10, 2007, 10:42 AM.

While you are going through the article, it touches you deeply. What a great religion we have been blessed with! But then, you'tre saddened when you look around and see a Ramgarhia Gurdwara here, a Ravidas Giudwara there, and so on ... What a travesty! Hope the new generation will have the good sense to steer away from the pakhand.

12: Jagjit Singh (Riverside, CA, U.S.A.), July 10, 2007, 12:27 PM.

Nice article. I just witnessed an incident of rivalry at the Riverside Gurudwara, where committee members (some of them clean-shaven but calling themselves "superior jatts") called police into the gurdwara and had the kirpan forcibly removed from a guy who wears full baana every day. In short, it was part of some sad politicking. My heart was shattered and I felt pained in that an article of faith was taken off from a gursikh, at the behest of gurdwara authorities! I felt, what any and every teenager would feel ... the desire to disconnect myself from this gurudwara ... it was a whole day of police cars and people fighting with each other ... I couldn't find peace. This article has instantly recharged my sikhi in me! Thank you.

13: Devinder Singh (Southampton, U.K.), July 10, 2007, 3:38 PM.

That's really amazing ... Thanks for sharing such a wonderful experience.

14: Gurpreet Singh (U.S.A.), July 10, 2007, 4:35 PM.

If I have to take birth again and again, and if God gives me a choice ... I would choose to be a Sikh each time.

15: Harjot Singh (Los Angeles, U.S.A.), July 10, 2007, 4:57 PM.

Really a nice one. I never drink chai except the one served at a Gurdwara. I think there is something special about it!

16: Amrit Singh (Australia), July 10, 2007, 5:08 PM.

An excellent article. Indeed, we need to spread the message of Naan Japna and Vand Chhakna far and wide. Reading the piece makes me yearn to visit the Durbar Sahib soon, and to stay over for a few days this time around, so as to be able to attend in the early hours and taste the ambrosia of amrit vela...

17: Parminderjit Singh (Temecula, CA, U.S.A.), July 10, 2007, 6:04 PM.

So-called and self-acclaimed sevadars or presidents, VP's and other gurdwara bureaucrats seem to have no time for things other than politics. I see them judging and pigeon-holing members of the sangat by the level of their donations. In the Escondido Gurudwara (California) the other day, I heard some in the congregation referred to as, "Oh, those people are just here for Langar only"! This article tells us so eloquently what should remain the primary focus in our Gurdwaras.

18: Balwin (Malaysia), July 10, 2007, 9:09 PM.

Nice job, mate. It really makes you appreciate what is otherwise taken for granted. Makes me immensely proud. Cheers.

19: Harjinder Kaur (USA), July 10, 2007, 9:45 PM.

Such a simple story with such a profound message, especially for the people living overseas. You are so right about the fact that some Gurdwaras here are used for politics and for silly caste agendas that our Gurus tried to abolish so long ago. My heart ached and I almost cried reading the testimonies. Yes, it makes me so proud to be part of this great religion that teaches us to love and respect all but, at the same time, it saddens me to see how some people manipulate it. I hope, like one of the other readers, that the new generation will be more vigilant and observant. There is so much love to share in Sikhism. Thank you for such a refreshing outlook.

20: Darshan Singh Dhillon (Fontana, CA, U.S.A.), July 10, 2007, 11:14 PM.

This article made me feel very special for being part of the Sikh Community.

21: Jolly (India), July 10, 2007, 11:46 PM.

First of all, I wish to thank sikhchic.com for uniting the Sikhs all over the world and making the Sikhs in India more aware and proud of being a part of this wonderful religion. Hats off to your work. Now, about the article: yes, indeed, a very heartwarming article. Certain practices which we Sikhs take for granted, are so touching if you really reflect on them. I feel more and more proud of my heritage as I discover our heritage through such articles. I am also reminded of my own recent visit to Harmandar Sahib when at the chhabeel (where free water is served), they were serving cold soft drinks free of cost to all and sundry. The import of such gestures goes unnoticed by us. But, in retrospect, they are indeed so wonderfully warm and touching.

22: Jarnail Singh (India), July 10, 2007, 11:57 PM.

It is indeed a wonderful article. Sikhism is a religion of God and nature. The path of Sikhism teaches you to live in consonance with nature. The concept of the free langar therefore is an inevitable product of that philosophy: that we should take care of the basic needs of all people with no cost to them. We should respect the law of nature. Today, our world is in danger because Man is interfering with nature, cutting jungles and spreading pollution. Glaciers are melting away and it is being predicted that very soon there will be a problem with drinking water. Air, water, earth, all are being polluted. And, in the same way, we are polluting our bodies too. We need to stop it and follow the principles of Sikhi.

23: Mani (Tokyo), July 11, 2007, 12:44 AM.

Simply Marvellous ... words fail me. God bless you.

24: Navit (Ipoh, Malaysia), July 11, 2007, 1:39 AM.

This was a cup of chai for the soul, alright! Often one has to get back to the root of things which, you then discover, is amazing in its sheer simplicity.

25: Savinder Pall Singh (K.L., Malaysia), July 11, 2007, 1:57 AM.

This is indeed true. I'm not a very religious person, but I did experience the same feeling when I visited Harmandar Sahib a couple of years ago. The impact is so great, that you are just left dazzled by the whole experience.

26: Karamveer Kaur (India), July 11, 2007, 3:59 AM.

Thanks for sharing such beautiful words :) God Bless you.

27: Satwinder Singh (Dublin, Ireland), July 11, 2007, 4:37 AM.

Having read the article and comments, obviously I too feel proud as a Sikh like everyone else. But, my dear brother and sisters, our pride seems to be limited to mere leaving nice and positive comments on the site. We all know that Sikhism has universal appeal (as all of the above agree), based on equality and dignity of the whole human race. And we also know where we as a community stand vis-a-vis this principle and day-to-practice. Today, portions of the community has become caste-ridden - a cancerous disease our beloved Guru Sahebaan condemned and eradicated; yet, many still take pride to be known as Jatt Sikh, Ramgariha Sikh, Ravdassi Sikh, and so on. We behave differently with our fellow Sikh brothers and sisters because they do not have the same label as us. And the worst thing is the establishment of Gurdwaras on caste basis ... we seem to have now further institutionalised this disease. We talk proudly about the institution of langar and sharing, equality of women, the glorious past of our forefathers, but how long can we continue to feed on this, while our actual jeevan is exactly the opposite. The concept of langar and sharing has been confined to the four walls of the Langar Hall in most gurdwaras all over the world. Our less fortunate Sikh farmers, for example, are committing suicide because they can't pay their debt. We abort our daughters even before they take birth... We have to practice Sikhi in our daily lives, if we really want Sikhism to be respected and to flourish. Please, can we help other, less fortunate Sikhs and non-Sikhs? Can we please respect our daughters? Can we stop taking pride in caste, out of respect for our beloved Guru, if for no other reason? Can we advise our family and friends not to do anything which has any reference to caste? One simple example is stopping the use of caste labels with your name. What a shame actually that our beloved Dasmesh Pita gave us "Singh" and "Kaur" as surnames, but we still use caste ... it is sheer ego and manmat! We need to stop this. We as a community often talk about racism, but to be honest, have we done our own house-cleaning? Let us, each one of us, do something beyond mere talk. For our own community, for the world...

28: Ravinder Kaur (Kissimme, Florida), July 11, 2007, 5:18 AM.

I am an active member of the Sikh community.I give you ten stars for sharing this wonderful experience with all of us.

29: Dave Bains (Vancouver, Canada), July 11, 2007, 6:31 AM.

Wonderful story. The pictures add a special dimension.

30: Kulbir Singh Bahl (Jaipur, India), July 11, 2007, 7:07 AM.

Deeply moved by the reactions of these visitors on the values and traditions of Sikhism. I wish the Dharam Prachar Committee of the SGPC would take note of such responses and build on them, instead of hankering after politics.

31: Kahlon (U.S.A.), July 11, 2007, 9:47 AM.

If we live in accordance with Sikhi, we'll be able to rise above petty things like elections to gurughars, etc. And avoid the black sheep babas and deras that are now plaguing the community.

32: Sifar (U.S.A.), July 11, 2007, 1:15 PM.

Out here in the West, people do not believe that anything good comes for free. Only recently, there was a news item about Sikhs in Boston who were offering cold drinks to passers by on the occasion of a Shaheedi Gurparab and some people were skeptical and simply refusing to partake because "nothing comes for free". I hope more and more Sikhs worldwide will make efforts to bring the Gurus' Word to the masses. Good job.

33: Jatinder Singh (Sydney, Australia), July 11, 2007, 6:14 PM.

A marvellous account of universal equality and brotherhood as preached and practiced by the Sikh faith and which bind all, far and near, into one.

34: Pushproop Singh (Brampton, Canada), July 11, 2007, 6:14 PM.

The article touches the heart and makes us all so proud of the wonderful traditions of love, equality and selfess service preached by our gurus. It is ironic that we search the world over for wealth when our own backyard is full of gold.

35: Harjit Kaur (Kulim, Kedah, Malaysia), July 11, 2007, 7:30 PM.

Recently I had an opportunity to visit India and Pakistan. My visit to Harmandar Sahib will forever be embedded in my memory - it was a beautiful experience, serene and inspiring. A cup of chai there, I agree, always tastes wonderful ... after all, it is made in a gurdwara ("House of God").

36: J.S. Aurora (Chandigarh, India), July 11, 2007, 8:43 PM.

It is a joy reading the article. It renews and reinforces our faith in our faith. Now I understand and appreciate the sentiments expressed by most people after a visit to the Gurudwara; and the wisdom of our Gurus in installing the institution of Langar in our places of worship.

37: ParamJeet Kaur (Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia), July 11, 2007, 10:34 PM.

Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience with us. Shows how a mere cup of chai can make such a big difference. We can go to any Gurdwara, and the parshad, langar and chai are always so comforting and nurturing. I am so proud to be a Sikh. God Bless.

38: Sat Hari Singh (Bronx, NY, U.S.A.), July 14, 2007, 8:25 AM.

Decades ago, I too came across Sikhism in a religious studies class, where it was mentioned for about five minutes. That was 1970. I then began my long investigation of Sikhism ... and became a Sikh. I think it is important for society to have a religion which makes sense. Neha Kaur's yatra is so inspiring. Thanks.

39: Harpriya Kaur (India), July 15, 2007, 12:21 AM.

It was really touching...I like the fact that people from other faiths are learning about Sikhism and are fascinated by it...I'm impressed that Sikhs living abroad are working hard to spread the message of Sikhi. I was feeling really low for so many months as I found some people making fun and cracking jokes over our religion. But, after reading this, I'm feeling better ... and proud to be a Sikh!

40: Rabinder Singh (Ipoh, Malaysia), July 15, 2007, 5:22 AM.

A wonderful article, which makes me proud to be a Sikh.

41: Sarb Singh (Vancouver, B.C., Canada), July 17, 2007, 12:58 PM.

That was an eye opener. Thanks for reminding us of the beauty of the langar concept and practice, which we take for granted. Good job and God Bless. Please keep such articles coming.

42: Supreet Dhillon (Chicago, U.S.A.), July 18, 2007, 8:40 AM.

Excellent! Thanks for sharing your experiences, Neha. Your words have touched my heart. Look forward to reading more from you.

43: Balbir Kaur (Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia), July 20, 2007, 11:51 PM.

Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience. "Bole so nihaal, Sat Sri Akaal", to all Sikh brothers and sisters.

44: Gurvinder Singh (Delhi, India), July 21, 2007, 6:20 AM.

Its great to go through the entire story. It makes me proud to be a Sikh.

45: Paramjit Singh (Gurgaon, India), July 26, 2007, 11:12 PM.

Really, a wonderful and an eye-opening article. A religion which preaches universal ove, brotherhood, equality and selfless service to all humanity is not being served well by selfish leaders and jathedars playing politics in Gurdwaras all over the world. The importance of keeping the Five Ks and following the Rehat Maryada should be emphasied, and our lofty ideals should be taught in the Gurdwaras. And, there should be no prefix (relating to trade-caste, community, etc) attached to the name or description of any Gurdwara.

46: Deepinder Singh Bhatia (Sydney, Australia), July 27, 2007, 7:21 PM.

It's beautiful. I live close to a Gurdwara, which is within walking distance. I don't go there often, nor am I a tea drinker. But, after reading this article, I feel I should go everyday to the Gurdwara, not just because of the tea, but also for spiritual nourishment.

47: Rajindar Pelizzo (Sydney, Australia), March 03, 2008, 7:44 PM.

I was just browsing through the net when I came across this. Just reaffirms my faith. We can't worry about others and their way of practicing their faith. All we can do is commit to our faith and practice 'sokiret keeja, naam leeja, nerak mool na jaye'.

48: Rajendra (Mumbai, India), March 19, 2009, 12:33 AM.

Beautiful article! You truly bring out what Sikhism stands for.

49: Amandeep singh (India, New Delhi ), July 20, 2012, 8:48 AM.

The strength of the sangat is in faith and humanity. If we learn this, then only do we get nihal nihal nihal ...

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