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The Porch Light is Always On

by HARVIND KAUR

 

All those years I spent as either a camper or a counselor at Sikh Camps never prepared me for what I face now. I remember going to them and being energized and feeling good about meeting other people who were like me.

How easy it is to forget that those camp experiences lasted only two weeks during the summer. What about the other fifty weeks in the year when everything but the teachings of those camps is foremost on a child's mind?

Now, as a mother of a beautiful and smart two-year-old daughter and another baby on the way, I constantly question how I will be able to impart Sikh values to my kids. I have so much more to offer them both financially and culturally. After all, I have straddled both Western and Sikh cultures and believe that I have emerged from it all as a balanced person.

But is it really that easy?

As a child, I owed a lot of my identity-building to my parents. I came from an immigrant family. I was only two when we moved to Canada. Not until now, as an adult and parent myself, did I see the awesomeness of my parents' struggle.

I grew up in Toronto in the seventies. It was different then. We were disparagingly called "Pakis" all the time and there weren't as many Sikhs or Punjabis visible and prospering as there are now.

My dad was off in Ottawa, finishing a degree and my mom worked to support us. We were latchkey kids. It was the best they could do for us while they tried to make ends meet and prosper in a whole new environment.

But, even for all the hardships, we were always grounded in Sikhi. It wasn't overly intense or religious. We still watched TV, wore dresses and halter tops, and I even had a Baby Alive doll. Our faith and culture wasn't forced upon us; it was just a gentle and consistent reminder of who we were and what we believed in.

It didn't come from any fancy teaching aids. It came from the actions and the day-to-day goings-on in our household.

We were regular gurdwara-goers. I remember the Pape Street Gurdwara ... before it erupted with poltical infighting one day. I remember the York Mills Road Gurdwara ... also before it, too, had its troubles.

And I remember when the plans for the new Scarborough Gurdwara were just drawn up. Every week, regardless of the weather, we took two different buses to reach it. The community was small and we used to take Langar from home. We were always assigned to bring something.

We would go into the Durbar Hall and listen and try to be patient. My mom would make sure we learned how to do paath and my sister, being older, learned how to read and write Gurmukhi in the Sunday classes.

It was a hard but simple life. Regardless of the size of  the apartment we lived in, my mom always found space to do parkaash and show us how important it was to pray. Not that we understood any of it. Nor did my parents tell us what it meant.

It wouldn't be until many years later that I would invest my own time and effort into understanding all the things I was witness to as a child.

I went through my own rebellions. How could I accept what my parents wanted me to learn? I was Western, not Punjabi. Sikhism was even further from my mind. But that was then. 

Now, things are different. The financial comfort we have gained over the years has made life great for me. My husband and I are both well-educated. We have a strong faith, but can we share that faith with our children without being hypocrites? Will it be as simple as going to the gurdwara every week, like I did as a child?

In the end, we will have to set examples for our family if we hope that they, too, will embrace, or at least appreciate, the great heritage that is Sikhi.

But, at the same time, I know deep down in my soul, that I must let my children decide for themselves the life they will live. I can show them with honesty and integrity what it is that Sikhi teaches. I can send them to camps and put them in touch with other people who can try to teach them. But in the end, their decision will be their own.

They might be disappointed by what they see from time to time ... human beings everywhere, no matter what they subscribe to, and that includes us ... will disappoint and fall short of ideals. But, I pray that they will look beyond the failings of others, and those of their own, and treat them as, well, exactly what they are: very human failings.

I nurse a strong hope that, regardless of all the various paths they take in their lives, they will always come back to the foundation of their values. We will raise them with Sikh values.

And in Sikhi, the porch light is always on for those who want to embrace its endlessly rich way of life, regardless of where they've been and how they got there.

[Photos:  Second from bottom  -  detail from a photo by Charles Meacham. Third from bottom  -  detail from a photo by Raminder Pal Singh.] 

Conversation about this article

1: Chintan Singh (San Jose, U.S.A.), July 18, 2007, 1:51 PM.

Harvind, great job on sharing with us your parenting concerns. I too struggle with the same issues, having a fifteen-month-old and, everytime, come to the conclusion that in today's complex world, we can do our best in conveying the message and teachings of the Gurus to our children, and hope and pray they will then themselves learn to appreciate the full beauty of it.

2: Jessi Kaur (California), July 18, 2007, 3:41 PM.

What a lovely piece! Harvind, with a Mom like you, how can your kids turn out anything but simply beautiful!

3: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), July 20, 2007, 4:13 AM.

Welcome, Harvind, and a great essay. Nothing quite helps us connect with what our parental generation must have experienced with us until we walk in their shoes. And, I suppose, when we do, then starts wisdom. Congratulations on a very sensitive piece.

4: Kanwal Talwar (Jacksonville, U.S.A.), July 28, 2007, 7:00 AM.

You mirrored my emotions! I am not a parent but I grew up just like you described ... with subtle reminders of Sikh identity and my rebellions, asking lots of questions. And it was left to me to finally arrive at my own sense of pride in the Sikh identity. I grew up in remote places like the Andamans and I must say there were fewer sikhs in those places then one comes across in the Western world. I see the struggle parents have in nudging their children towards Sikhi. Indeed, it is not easy ... I remember my own questions ... but one needs good and solid answers. Mine came from the discourses of Giani Sant Singh Maskeen. I am sure camps here try and fill that void. All in all, a good article. Filled me with a sense of deja vu!

5: Singh (Toronto, Canada), January 06, 2008, 12:20 PM.

Amazing reflection on the Pape Avenue and the Scarbrough gurdwara situations from years ago! I know I am at Scarborough every, but just the planning and everything you talk about ... it brings back memories.

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