Kids Corner

Above: the author. All photos by author.


Northbound to Toronto's
Sixth Annual
Spinning Wheel Film Festival



So the journey begins.

I browse through the Canadian embassy's website, looking for the necessary documents. Visa forms - check. Proof of job - check. Proof of income - check. Old passport, new passport, this paper, that form. Everything seems in place.

And thus starts my pilgrimage from the banks of the Mississippi River to the Golden Horseshoe and the City of Toronto. I'm heading there on the kind invitation of Sardar T. Sher Singh, Dr Birinder Singh Ahluwalia and the sponsors of The Spinning Wheel Film Festival.

I still don't have the visa to visit Canada. My plan is to show up at the embassy here in Buffalo tomorrow morning, get a visa, then leave for Toronto and arrive in time for the gala at 6 pm.

My desire to meet people with the same cause is very strong.

I came across a few of these torch-bearers of the Sikh and Punjabi movements on I found them open to the future, yet holding firm ground in the present; looking to the horizon, yet steadily connected to the past; encouraging the newcomers, yet maintaining strong ethics for the marines. These were the differentiators of dignity and vanity. And I hope to meet some of them at this heady event. 

I was raised in a small village on the Indo-Pak border of Punjab and I attended a Sikh boarding school in Himachal. And later, a Catholic school.

I heard and read the stories of "Mera Pind" (my village) as if it were a Utopian society. It never existed except in my dreams or in the stories of pre-partition Punjab - the society of the fictional characters from the sixth or seventh grader's Punjabi textbook, Likhtum (Writes) Baba Khema.

I have always believed culture and religion balance and invigorate each other. Religion is a personal approach to the Creator. It's very sacred, very personal. Culture, on the other hand, is the lifestyle of the people of a community, of a time. Cultures will change depending on the environment. However, religion fosters ethics and when ethics touch culture, the culture blooms and prospers.

The balancing act between the two is the path to a balanced life.

But how do we find the balance between these two?

The answer is apparent both in our culture and in our religion. In culture, we call it "Saath" (a cultural get-together) and in Sikhi we call it "Saadh Sangat" (a religious get-together).

When I received the invitation to this 2-in-1 pack of "Saath" and "Saadh Sangat" combined in the same place, it was hard to resist the offer. So here I am, on the borders of Maple Leaf country, in Buffalo, New York.

Never have been to this city. Never been to the state before. What if I don't get the visa? What if I'm stuck in Buffalo? It was a crazy idea to start with. However, I believe my steps towards Guru have led me here. He knows what I have to do next.

All of us are warriors, yet we are fighting different fights. Some of us are battling to keep the integrity of our outward look, some of us are fighting to keep the images of our inner selves together. The way we grow is not by condemning one another, but by appreciating and helping others in the battles we fight.

And I look forward to a glimpse of the utopian village of my elder "Baba Khema", the one who talked to me, first from the pages of a seventh grader's textbook.

I partially recall a stanza by some famous Punjabi poet:

Raavi sohni payi vagdi,

Jhanaa dee lehar mere boohe te vajdi,

Khaar khaar challan mere supneya vich ,

Punjab de darya! 

Beautiful flows the River Ravi,

The tides of the River Chenab knock on my door,

Thus, they gush through my dreams,

The Rivers of Punjab!


Toronto! Here I come! Oh, first let me ask the Canadian embassy!


[Next week: Part II - In Toronto at The Spinning Wheel!]

November 7, 2008

Conversation about this article

1: Pritam Singh Grewal (Canada), November 07, 2008, 2:32 PM.

The stanza "Raavi sohani payi vagdi..." quoted by Arvinder Singh occurs in a charming poem by Prof. Puran Singh, a celebrated Punjabi mystic and poet. I think the name 'Spinning Wheel Film Festival' too has been inspired by Prof. Puran Singh's book titled "The Sisters of the Spinning Wheel".

2: Kaser Singh (Irvine, California, U.S.A.), November 08, 2008, 10:40 AM.

"I heard and read the stories of "Mera Pind" (my village) as if it were a Utopian society. It never existed except in my dreams or in the stories of pre-partition Punjab" - This was a touching line, reminding me of my own grandfather and his fond memories of a time gone by.

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