Defiance

Sometimes I look at images from the destruction and bloodshed of the attack on Darbar Sahib in 1984 during the Battle of Amritsar
And honestly I feel nothing anymore
I’ve been seeing these images since I was kid and I guess I’ve become desensitized
But there’s still one image that gets me every time
And those are the images of Guru Granth Sahib Ji birs that were set on fire
Those images are etched in my head
Even when all the fighting and destruction was done
There alone, was Guru Granth Sahib Ji in flames
The only fire to be found
As though it was purposely done right before the enemies left
Our enemies were not just trying to kill Sikhs
They were trying to kill Sikhi
They were trying to kill our spirit
They knew our history
They knew that by killing Sikhs
We would only take inspiration from our fallen brothers and sisters
And return only stronger than we were before
But if they attack the Guru, perhaps that would finish us for good
Because they knew that the Guru was the source of our strength
The truth is…it is our Guru’s baani that has our oppressor trembling in fear…always has
So every morning, when you take parkaash of Guru Granth Sahib Ji
You read baani, reflect, discuss its meaning, and find ways to incorporate it in your life
Know that it’s not only for you to gain the wisdom and insight to connect with Akaal Purakh
But know that it is also an act of defiance, to all the oppressors we face – past, present, and future
An act of defiance to all those who stand in the way of justice 
Because to the oppressor
The most dangerous person in the world is a Guru-connected Sikh


Daughters [Spoken Word]

Years ago, I remember reading poems themed around “If I should have a daughter.” This is my “Now that I have a daughter” poem – lessons and reflections from a father of two amazing Kaurs.

Just because he has the loudest voice in the room
Doesn’t mean he’s right

Confidence and arrogance is no substitute for intelligence
So know your shit, look’em dead in the eye
Speak with confidence and hold your head high
They may not like you
But you’ll have their respect
Running circles around them with your intellect

That’s the daughter we raised
Faith, Education, and Self-reflection

Your faith, your discipline is not just for show
It’s to internalize, better yourself, and grow

Your faith in the Divine
Should always be your north star
Keeping you grounded, knowing exactly who you are

Education

Yeah, we push you to hit the books and get good grades
But it’s not just about honor rolls and getting straight As

See your education is not merely for building wealth
It’s a tool to live a life that’s bigger than yourself

So when systems are unfair, unjust and corrupt
Then dismantle those systems and lift people up

And when you finally reach that board room on the top floor
Send the elevator back down and tell them to make room for more

As as a young woman of color, it’s not just about you
It’s about paving a way for others to come through
So find that sisterhood to elevate you and make sure give back
Let’em know the color of queens come in brown and black

In what lies before you the challenges will be tall
The powers that be trying to make you feel small
But believe in yourself and project you voice
Let them know interrupting you will be the wrong choice

So put in the work and let God do the rest
But don’t ever go out there, without giving them your best

You may think I am asking a lot of you, the expectations are high
And you’d be right
And why not?
Look at where you come from?

You’ve been given blessings through generations in layers
Your mere existence is the answer to your ancestors prayers

The women of your family have given you your powers
So live your life with purpose, so you can give them their flowers

Yes, we have high expectations for you

But saying all this gives me pause.
Because as your father, I realize that I have to play a role in this too
How can I expect you to defend your ideas if I’m the one dismissing them?
How are you supposed to elevate your voice if I’m the one interrupting you?
For me to model the right behaviors I need to unlearn and unravel my own conditioning
It’s something I will try and fail it, but will improve on day to by day
Because after all…we are in this together

I know your potential is limitless

Take time every day for self-reflection
To align with the Flow, heading a divine direction

I know one day you’ll have the world’s attention
And I’ll just sit back and watch your ascension

So pursue your goals and aim for perfection
Succeed or fail you’ll have our love and affection

And when the world is too much and you fall off the track
Know your Mom and I will always have your back

Know’s there’s nothing you can’t accomplish
Nothing you can’t do
Just believe in yourself, like we believe in you


Look Like An American [Spoken Word]

Years ago while at a restaurant with my wife, an elderly couple next to us overheard us talking. After some time, the man leaned over to me and whispered, “When are you going to start looking like an American?” Without much thought I immediately responded, “What does an American look like?” This poem is a reflection of the exchange that day.

When are you going to start looking like an American?

Look like an American?
Tell me what I’m supposed to do?
Do I need to cut myself and prove to you that I bleed red, white, and blue?
Is there something I need to prove, a test to put me through?
You gonna quiz me on who won the world series of 1962?

Tell me what does an American look like…to you?

Of all the things an American can be
What makes you think an American can’t look like me?

You can’t fathom this accent-less voice matching my look?
Perhaps you should put down your guns and pick up a book

Learn about the world, and where you fit in it all
Rather than acting like some kind of authority, making me feel small

Tell me what does an American look like?
Does he look like the indigenous man who quietly fills you with guilt?
Or the does he look like the enslaved, upon whose back this all was built?

Tell me what does an American look like?

Now you’ve got me fired me up, writing these rhymes
With you ignorant ass and racist paradigms

Just say you what you mean, put in plain sight
I do not look like an American
Because I am not white

You see
At my age
I’m no longer fazed by yells across the street “Hey Bin Laden”
The names and obscenities I get called just walking in the mall, minding my own
I just brush them off
But what hurts me to the core is that question…
“So…where are you from?”
And after I tell them, the inevitable follow-up feel like a gut punch
“No, where are you really from”

Your question, even with the best of intentions, tells me that I don’t belong here
That I am the other. A guest visiting your home

But let tell me you where I’m from

I am from a family of immigrants
And we are your doctors, nurses, lawyers, techies, shop keepers, cab drivers, artists, poets, teachers, truck drivers
And we are part of communities of black and brown who are the invisible wheels that keep this country moving even in the most challenging of times
Our stories have been written out of our country’s history, but the moral fabric of this nation has been sewn by us

This is my home, and I am here
And I’m not going anywhere, nor will I cower in fear

Despite my cynicism and criticism
I believe in the American dream
Not the one they show on TV
But realizing my full potential and lifting those up around me
It is near, it is real
But it requires us as a nation to truth-tell, repair, and heal.

That is the America I believe in, it’s the one that I see
It’s the home of the brave and the land of the free

So if you ever wonder who an American is supposed to be
Just look me in the eyes, cuz he looks just like me


Nitnem [Spoken Word]

https://soundcloud.com/spiritofthesikh/nitnem

Before I even open my eyes each morning
My mind is racing
I’m dreading to even look at my phone

What transpired at work overnight?
What the hell happened in the world in the last 7 hours?
I doom scroll through Twitter, scan through my social media

My wifi connection is strong, but my Guru connection is weak
I am drifting into the darkness even before I‘ve gotten out of bed

After a quick shower, my nitnem begins
And I’m reminded, today is not about me
Slowly releasing me from my ego and setting me free

Waheguru has given me this breath today so I can break that wall of falsehood

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My Guru reels me back in…

Inspiring me with His song
He let me drift away
But showed me he was with me all along

My nitnem serves as the guard rails for my day
Keeping my discipline tight so I won’t go astray

And when I think it’s enough just through the words that I say
He tells me my actions through love is the only way

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Nitnem is the song of love
Pulling me through the fiery ocean, helping me rise above

Japji starts my day
Sohila ends my night
Giving me the strength for another day to fight
Keeping me focused with with my goals in sight
Pushing away the darkness inside so I can flip on the light

I try to slow my paath down, not take it for granted
Watering the seeds my ancestors planted

But truth be told
There are some days when I just don’t feel it
When my nitnem just feels like an empty ritual, going through the motions

Sometimes I finish my paath and a few minutes later, I can’t remember if I did it or not
Or sometimes I’ll start with Japji Sahib and next thing I know I’m doing Sohila Sahib
Sometimes I wonder, what’s the point?

But I do it anyway

Because for every hundredth time I rattle through my Japji Sahib, I’ll catch a line that I remember hearing in a shabad or discussing with a friend and it will move me to tears

Every now and then, I’ll lose myself in the rhythm of Jaap Sahib and find myself on horseback riding alongside my Guru

It is these moments that Guru Sahib has gifted us with nitnem

Even when it feels like it’s all in vain
Like a soldier, it’s how we train
When we wake up, we train, we go to sleep we train
We train until Guru-like actions are ingrained
We train through our nitnem to keep us cool and steady
So when it’s time for battle
We always stay ready

Trapped in the fears and anxieties of my day
Nitnem illuminates the path and guides me the way

When I’ve lost direction and don’t know where to go
My nitnem helps bring me back into Waheguru’s flow

When I’ve drifted too far and feel lost and alone
I know I can open my gutka and it will lead me back home


Ang [Spoken Word]

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(A reflection during sehaj paath, a complete reading of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib)

Finding my rhythm
Finding my rhythm
Sounds become syllables
Syllables become words
Words become poetry
And poetry becomes magic

As I began my journey, I struggled through each page
focusing on grammar and pauses, finding it hard to engage

I need to read it right and treat it with respect
Making sure I get my sassas and jajjas correct

But days later, several pages in, I started to find the rhythm within
The words strung together, forming beautiful art
I was reading less with my eyes and more with my heart

I was lost in the rhythm, baani rolling off my tongue
Blinded by the beauty of Waheguru’s rang

The more pages I read, my body would sway
Like my ancestors did back in the day

I guess that’s what it’s like to be in the zone
When you lose yourself in baani you are never alone
While I am reading, thousands all across the world are reading along with me
There is an uncle starting off his day with parkaash before he goes to work
There is a young Kaur finishing sukhaasan before she goes to bed
There are sehaj paaths, akhand paaths out of gratitude or sorrow
Thanking the divine for today and wishing for a peaceful tomorrow
Right now, somewhere a Khalsa is taking hukam to start her day
For direction and purpose, and to guide them the way
I am them and they are me
Deep in the rhythm, there is only we

This journey has been like a trek through the desert
Where sometimes I’m confused or not sure where I’m going
But every now and then I’ll find an oasis that will quench my thirst and soothe my soul

A shabad would arrive with overwhelming nostalgia

The first shabad I ever read
The shabad I sang before going to bed
The shabad my family would recite before we drove anywhere, across the country or across the street
The shabads my kirtani friends would sing every time we would meet
Every theme shabad from every camp I’ve been to
I’d be thrown back to every lesson I taught, every activity we led, beautiful memories popping into my head
Shabads I heard in times of joy
Shabads I heard in times of grief
Shabads when I was in pain…looking for relief
Shabads that have felt like the touch of Guru’s grace
And shabads that felt like a slap in the face

It’s all here

Baani has been the soundtrack of my life
Every milestone from marriage to the naming of our children to the losing of a loved one
My history lives within these pages
Maybe that’s why it is called an Ang
Because each page is part of me

Guru Sahib says “Pyoo Daday Ka Khol Ditaa Khajanaa”
When I opened it up, I gazed upon the treasures of my father and grandfather
This sehaj paath has made me catch a glimpse of that experience
Discovering the treasures of my Guru

Navigating my way through each ang links me to my past and my future
It is the story that’s been told and the story yet to be told

Reflecting on the baani is a like mirror to my soul
It helps remind me that I am part of the whole

I’ve learned so much on this journey, I don’t want it to end
But I feel blessed knowing when it’s done, I can start over again


The Problem With Diljit

Diljit

On my recent trip to Punjab, I noticed the Coca-Cola ads of Diljit Dosanjh everywhere.  Twelve years back, I remember Daler Mehndi was on those same Coke ads, and the discussions I had then are starting to resurface now…about how it’s so great to have a Sikh role model like Diljit wearing a dastaar, “but” it sure would be nice if he were a “saabat surat” Sikh with a full dhari.

On the one hand, I get it.

Although I don’t really watch his movies or listen to his music, my time in Punjab clearly showed the influence Diljit has on pop culture.  Majority of the young Sikh boys I saw wearing dastaars worked hard to emulate his look – there were Diljits everywhere.  There is no doubt he is a role model to many.  So naturally, as a Sikh parent, wouldn’t I want my child’s role model to reflect the look I want my child to have? Of course!

On the other hand, doesn’t this put a lot of pressure on Diljit?

He is an entertainer – a singer, an actor.  And I don’t know where Diljit may be on his personal journey of Sikhi (if at all), but I’m pretty sure he didn’t sign up to be our children’s Sikh role model.  I’m reminded of Charles Barkley’s “I am not a role model” Nike commercial from the early 90’s.

But all this made me question a few things…

Why is it that so many young Sikhs flock to Diljit and other singers and actors, but do not connect with parcharaks that inspire them toward gurmat?  Has the model of parchar in Punjab (or American for that matter) failed to evolve, to the point where youth do not resonate with them at all?

Or has the model evolved just fine?  Personally, I did not grow up in a time where YouTube videos were readily available, and institutions like Basics of Sikhi, Nanak Naam and so many others worked hard to make baani and history accessible (in english) and consumable to all.  Every few weeks I see a new resource online like The Sikh CastThe Story of the Sikhs, and a treasure trove of archived webinars from SikhRI or Khoj Gurbani.  And on any given Sunday, I can go on to facebook and watch live streaming keertan and katha from just about anywhere.

So maybe it begs a bigger question?  As a parent, how much time are my children watching Diljit movies and listening to his music?  And how does that fair in comparison to the time my children are listening, watching, and engaging in meaningful conversation about gurmat?  Don’t get me wrong, I have not perfected this either and I know I could be doing a lot more as a parent to expose my children to more gurmat-oriented resources – but I’m not making excuses for it, and I’m surely not blaming Diljit.

So perhaps the problem is not with Diljit after all…maybe it’s with us.


Bricks [Spoken Word]

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Today we walked through the town of Fatehgarh Sahib
Our daughters have read books for years on the lives and deaths of our beloved Sahibzade
But as parents, the books were not enough

We wanted them to walk the same ground that Baba Zorwarar Singh walked
To touch the same soil where Baba Fateh Singh’s blood fell
To feel the warmth of Mata Gujri’s presence while standing in the Tunda Burj
We wanted them to see the wall with their own eyes
To run their hands across the bricks
To hear the story those bricks tell
I wish I could rip those bricks right out of the walls and put them in their backpacks so they will alway feel the weight of their sacrifice in every step, in every mile they walk for the rest of their lives
Our history cannot just be told
It must be felt

As we sat in Gurdwara FatehGarh Sahib
The guru’s shabad was flowing all around us
But as parents, feeling the presence of the chotay sahibzade around us
Listening to the shabad wasn’t enough
It wasn’t just the shabad I wanted them to hear
I wanted them to feel that the guru was near
I didn’t want them to just listen to the raag and the reet
I wanted them to hear the guru’s heartbeat
They already know our baani is a gem
But I want them to know that the guru is speaking to them
I don’t want the shabad to just flow through their ears
I want the shabad to move them and bring them to tears
Our baani cannot just be sung
It must be felt

Standing in FatehGarh Sahib, armed with baani and history
I wanted them to feel that they are invincible
That they have the inspiration to move mountains and they stood in the very place where our heroes showed us how
I wanted them to feel the rush, that divine thrill
That calm and cool feeling of acceptance of guru’s will
That the price we pay for the guru’s setting us free
Is that they have to live a life that’s bigger than “me”
That when injustice is near and you’re not sure where to begin
That they hear the call of the khalsa panth from within
That they never be a bystander, always stay true
And when the world needs an ally, know that ally is you
When armed with baani and history, you can face any attack
Because your guru’s always with you, and he’s always got your back
And when the weight of the world’s problems brings them down
They know their sangat will be the net that will help them rebound
I want them to know the life of a gursikh is rare,
The path is sharper than a sword, and finer than a hair

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Our path cannot be explained
It must be walked

Sitting steps away from where our chotay sahibzade gave their lives
I knew that as a parent, I cannot let
Gurmat be a subject we learn like math and science
Or something we take our kids to on Sunday
Or that extra checkbox we need to make our kids well-rounded
But instead, gurmat must be the lens in which they view the world
The way in which they approach everything else in their life
Because when it comes down to it…it is our everything

It is our Sikhi that determines what we give and what we take
It is our Sikhi that guides us in the decisions we make
It is our Sikhi that helps us know right from wrong
It is our Sikhi when in fear, will help us stay strong
And when our conviction is tested, it will not matter what we’ve been taught
It is our Sikhi that will show us how much courage we’ve got
Not just that tough-guy courage
But the courage in our actions when no one else is looking

I want them to know

That a seven and nine year old
didn’t give their lives so we can reminisce and cry
They gave their lives so we can hold our heads high
So when the Wazir Khans of the world put us to the test
We stand up, brave and fierce, and let Waheguru handle the rest

 

Photo Credit:  Taken by RP Singh; original preserved brick of Qila Anandgarh Sahib, at Anandpur Sahib, Panjab


Clocks

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once I dreamt that I met my Guru face to face

he walked over and hugged me
it was the kind of hug that old friends do
swaying
lasting for minutes
silently reminiscing of all the ups and downs we’ve been through
it was a warmth I had never felt before

i woke up
cold

bonds like that do not happen overnight
relationships that close and that powerful take time to build

i better hurry


Sikhi Is Dying In Punjab

IMG_0120On a Sunday night, we visited Gurdwara Shaheed Baba Deep Singh Ji in Ludhiana
It was not gurpurab, or any other special occasion
But in our hour there, the flow of sangat entering the darbar hall never stopped
An all-female jatha was leading the sangat in keertan
At one point, I looked around to see the sangat
All different kinds, all at different stages in their journey with the Guru
Half the sangat was engrossed in the keertan
While the other half had gutkae in their hand quietly finishing their paath
I started to think about the conversations my friends and I would have back in the States
About how Sikhi is dying in Punjab
But my thoughts were interrupted by the jatha asking the entire sangat to join in simran
As I closed my eyes and let the Guru take over
Shaheed Baba Deep Singh whispered in my ear and said
We’re going to be just fine…worry about yourself


Revolutions

HHE

If you know me well, you know I love hip hop.

Not sure whether it was the time period I was born or how it lined up perfectly with the heyday of hip hop music, but nevertheless, it was the soundtrack of my childhood.  And although much has changed since then, my affinity towards the genre has stayed consistent to this day.  So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Netflix notified me of a new documentary called “Hip Hop Evolution.”  Of course, I watched it that night.

I would often get in debates with other enthusiasts about rap legends and argue for hours over who the real pioneers of the movement were.  Was it the Sugarhill Gang?  Grandmaster Flash? Run DMC? Kurtis Blow? But after I watched the documentary, I learned the origins of hip hop came from somewhere else.  While most of America was obsessed with disco music, wearing fancy clothes in the hottest clubs, teenagers were going to parties held in rec rooms hosted by DJ Kool Herc on the West side of the Bronx.  Kool Herc refused to play records with the popular music of the time and instead went back to the roots of soul and funk.  And when songs would get to the breakdown, he would extend the break beat, sometimes playing two copies of the same record going back and forth to extend it, almost to the point where he was creating a new song.  Pair that with Coke La Rock who hyped the crowd with the mic, and lo and behold…a movement was born.

Where I had thought rap was born when Run DMC busted into the Top 40, it was actually a DJ and MC I never heard of going against the grain at house parties in the Bronx, with unique sounds and innovative techniques that would set the foundation for a revolution.

Revolutions are kind of like that.

Often times what makes the headlines or hits the history books are those prolific leaders and the milestone events, but that’s rarely where revolutions begin.  When I think of the Civil Rights movement, I think Dr King, Malcolm X, the March on Washington, and Selma.  But if you peel back the layers, I believe there would have been none of it had Rosa Parks not refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama or Ruby Bridges not gone to class that day to desegregate an all-white school in New Orleans.  In the larger scheme of things, these may not seem like momentous acts, but they were simple acts of courage that paved the way for the revolution to come

Even when I look at some of the most powerful moments in Sikh history –  Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib’s shaahedi, the first Parkash of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji or the establishment of Khalsa Panth to name a few – I know all of this began with Guru Nanak Sahib refusing to wear a janeeoo, or having dialogue with the siddhs, or splashing water the other direction in Hardwar.  Simple acts of courage…this is how revolutions are born.

And the revolution within is no different.

One definition of a revolution, is “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something :  a change of paradigm.”  Personally, as I strive towards gurmat, I have no doubt it requires a revolution.  It requires a fundamental change in the way I look at the world.  To stop looking through my own lens, and to start looking at the world through a guru-centered lens.  It requires me to minimize the “I” and see Waheguru’s wonder in everything.  To live a “happy” life not through the standards of social norms, but based on Guru Sahib’s paradigm for living.

But like most revolutions, they do not happen overnight.  In fact, those revelations that happen quickly are often the first to fizzle out.  Revolutions are not born through grand gestures, they are seeds that are planted, and cultivated over time through simple acts of courage.  For a Sikh those simple acts can range from embracing the physical form, to following the discipline, or passing the most subtle of tests that I find myself running into so frequently.

It’s the decision I make to say something or not after I hear a misogynistic comment with friends.  Or the racist comment I hear people of color make.

Isn’t it enough to just walk away?  After all, I didn’t say it.

Or is that extra effort I could take to make sure a marginalized person is heard?
Or deciding whether or not to be an ally for someone in need, even if it puts myself at risk.  Or making the unpopular decision that I know is right, at the risk of losing friends.

It’s these small decisions when no one is looking that hangs my Sikhi in the balance.

Simple acts of courage.

I often read these “good parenting” articles, that tell me I should stop asking my kids “how their day was” and ask them something different:
“What did you do that was compassionate today?”
“What did you do that was courageous or brave today?”

I’ve started doing this.
And also requested they ask me the same.
It is a daily measure that tests whether I am really part of the movement or just watching it pass by.

As I take a stock of where I am and how far I need to go to join Guru Nanak’s revolution, I am often disheartened.

But my Guru, in his impeccable timing, reminds me to worry not…for Spring has come.

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