Sikh Missionary Society U.K. (Regd)
10, Featherstone Road. Southall, Middx, U.K. UB2 5AA
Tel: +44 020 8574 1902
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Reg Charity No: 262404
A Letter (From a Son to Father)
Sat Siri Akal
Your enquiry from a third party in this country as to whether I was stall wearing my turban and hair after living here for five years has prompted me to write this letter in addition to the regular family correspondence.
It was nice of you to enquire about welfare. It however reflected a typical parental worry by numerous persons who summarize Sikhism in a beard and a turban alone and not in the fundamental principles. Having been born and brought up in a Sikh family was the reason I was a Sikh before leaving India but the reason now is somewhat different. Now it is because I have decided to be a Sikh. This is how it all happened.
During my second year here, I asked myself a question. What is Sikhism and why was I a Sikh? With a built-in curiosity and a mind oriented for science research I was unwilling to accept the idea that I will remain a Sikh simply because I was born a Sikh. As you know recitation from Guru Granth Sahib was a daily ritual in our home and still is, but no one ever mentioned that I should learn Punjabi. The result is that till now I can't write our script and whatever reading practice I have is from reading mother's letters all these years. At home, I was told to and I did memorize Japji by heart but no one told me what it meant. I recall that belief in horoscopes and fasting was common in our family and now I wonder how little of the Sikh philosophy did we incorporate in our daily living. With a past like this my above questions were bound to appear sooner or later.
Where should I go in search of more facts about the history and heritage of the Sikhs in this foreign land? This was my next question. I started by looking under the word 'Sikh' in the reference catalogue of the library of a big university. To my surprise I found a treasure.
The need to know more about myself was so great and urgent that every day's delay amounted to a sense of guilt and un-fulfilment. With a full academic load, I started on my 'search'
I started of with the recently published History of the Sikhs, Vol. 1, by Khushwant Singh. It was very informative and translations of our holy writings at the end of the book were most valuable. For the first time I understood Japji and the Mool-Mantar which defined the Sikh God. I discovered great rationalism and maturity in the words, 'There is but one God, who is all Truth, the Creator, without fear and enmity, Immortal, Unborn, Self-existent. The True One was in the beginning, is now also and shall be in future too'.
Such a description of God did away with controversial and naive ideas like His skin colour, His place of birth, and numerous other attributes bestowed by man. But the most significant thing I found was that the definition of Akal-purakh did away the immature and egotistical human practice of casting God in the human garb, making Him subject to the laws of life and death, a form imperfect by definition and improper for the Almighty. Evolution of lush a concept as written in the Mool-Mantar, shows unusual maturity in the earliest stages of the development of Sikhism.
Then came Khushwant Singh's second volume of the History of the Sikhs published in 1966 by the Princeton University Press. I was lucky to find the 'Heritage of the Sikhs' by Harbans Singh published in 1964 in India. I learnt a lot from the book. Before that, I was unaware of the Sikh-English relations, the Singh Sabha and Gurdwara Movement, the account of Chief Khalsa Divan and other happenings in the past 120 years or so. One by one I read the works of Cunningham, Macauliffe, Kohli, Bannerji, Ganda Singh, Gopal Singh and others including the biography of Maharaja Ranjit Singh by Fakir Syed Waheedudeen published in 1965 from Pakistan. Regularly I read 'The Sikh Review' from Calcutta and 'The Sikh Courier' from London.
Well, you may ask, 'What happened from all this study you did?' I Think I have an answer. In India, I was a Sikh, true, but an inactive one, unaware of the rich heritage that covered five centuries before me, and just a Sikh in name. Now I am a Sikh, but not the same that I was in India. here I was a Sikh because I was born in a Sikh family. At this age and stage, I am a Sikh because I want to be one and to will I remain primarily because of my appreciation of what our religion stood for and stands for.
Have I cut my hair or will I? Part of this was the question you secretly asked someone else. I will not think of cutting my hair any more then removing my finger, or arm, or leg from my body. The hair besides being a cherished gift from Guru Gobind Singh, is an integral part of me. How could barter myself to suit some immature minds? Principles of Sikhism are sound enough to enable a Sikh to meet others on his own ground.
Although there is a lot of quibbling on religion even among people worshipping the same God in this country, America is basically tolerant to individual characteristics. My five years have not seen a single case where I felt bad or odd because I wear a turban. I know that the sight of a Sikh male catches immediate attention, or comment or stares. This is not an American characteristic, but a human one. Man is always curious, cautious, and perhaps suspicious of things or persons new in his environment. I remember how we used to stare at the Christian monks and nuns in their long 'peculiar' garbs when we were small.
Some Sikhs I know who came to this country shaved of their hair after varying periods of stay. One of them, a good friend of mine, removed his hair in the second year. One day when casually I asked him about the change, he said, 'I used to feel warm and uncomfortable in my office because of hair and turban.'
I really had a big laugh because this boy had spent twenty years living in Rajisthan (India), without feeling uncomfortable and here in an air-conditioned office he felt uncomfortable'. There are several cases like the one above because most of such people have an inferiority complex or lack in self-confidence. This is most likely due to their lack of knowledge about themselves and what they stood for. They are immature to the extent that they find it necessary to record themselves in the shape of the majority to live.
I find Sikhism more than just the outer appearance of Sikh. If this were not so I would not be writing this letter since I don't think Sikhs would have survived that long. There is a very fine example here. A gentleman I for is what we call SEHEJDHARI. But he is one of the strongest moving forces behind Sikh gatherings and celebrations in Chicago area. He travels several hundred mites to attend the monthly Kirtan in Chicago (U.S.A.). He is certainly a good Sikh.
My case is typical of an urban Sikh boy of India. He takes religion for granted. His family makes little attempt to make him more than a Sikh in appearance. Unfortunately, every boy who is the way I was, will not have easy access to books and other media on the subject because books are so expensive. But I sincerely hope that parents, schools and other organizations in India will leave no stone unturned to educate their children, students, and members.
Here is a noble project for Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. Sikhism will bloom to full potential only when the Sikhs understand the foundation of their very existence and live as they are supposed to. Sikhism is not a passive religion. Sikhs cannot afford to be passive. There are a lot of vultures all over the place.
So, here I am; a SIKH by choice. I cannot call myself a real Sikh because I have recently found myself. But one thing is sure. I have found the way.
With best regards to all at home.
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