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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Glory Days

the-khalsa-serving-langar-in-jungles-in-18th-century-v2When I was assigned to teach a history class at a Sikh youth camp this Summer, I was nervous.

For years, I’ve been trying to focus on learning and teaching gurmat, so the idea of going back to memorizing names and dates was intimidating.  But after dusting off a few books and re-learning about our 18th century heroes – Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Taru Singh, and so many more…I was captivated.  And although part of me re-read history with the same excitement and curiosity as a child, another part of me read it through the lens of our current day challenges.

As far back as I can remember, I would teach Sikh history with an immense sense of pride…perhaps even with a touch of entitlement. I would speak about how honor and valor were traits we inherited directly from our Guru and all of the shaheeds that followed.  I would speak of the lineage of bravery and courage that we came from, where our ancestors stood up to the most heinous of oppressors. I spoke about Sikh history as though heroism ran through our blood.  As though by growing up in a Sikh family, we’ve inherited a trait of fearlessness that somehow made us more special.

These days…I’m not so sure. Reflecting on the Khalsa of the 18th century has given me pause.

From living day to day with a price on your head, from surviving life in the jungles with nothing, to sleeping on horseback – all while fighting tyranny and remaining in a state of chardi kalaa…it’s overwhelming. After the vada ghalugara, where historians quote one-third to nearly half of the Sikh population was completely wiped out, it would only be a matter of months before the Khalsa would capture Sirhind, then Amritsar, and ultimately Lahore, all while carrying out campaigns to free thousands of men & women from slavery.  Even in our most difficult of times with the most limited of resources, we were defending the defenseless. I am fascinated by their resilience.

If we look at the lives and sacrifices of Bhai Taru Singh, Baba Deep Singh, Mai Bhago, and so many others, it is clear to me – they earned their right to be in the pages of Sikh history.
They earned their right to be displayed on the walls of our gurdwaras and homes of Sikhs all over the world for centuries.
They earned the right to have their lives memorialized in bedtime stories for every Sikh child.
They earned it.

I, however, have earned nothing.

I believe that our shaheeds did not give their lives so hundreds of years later we could bask in their glory, instead, they gave their lives so we can create our own glory…today.

And today, when I read sad and depressing news, I often think, ”What would the Khalsa do?”  I don’t know for sure…but history tells me they would be at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline
History tells me they would be on the ground in Aleppo
History tells me they would be aiding refugees stranded across Europe.
History tells me they would be arm in arm with #BlackLivesMatter protestors throughout the US
…and so many more struggles, the worst of them, which will never make international headlines. If there’s one thing I’m convinced of, it’s that the world needs the Khalsa now more than ever.

When teaching Sikh history, I focus heavily on the time Sikhs organized themselves in misls, made tough decisions and resolved conflict through Sarbat Khalsa.  And how the commitment to Guru Granth & Guru Panth moved us forward as a nation.  This is a time where we seemed invincible.  I often refer to it as the “glory days.”

But I wonder, how long will I have to keep bringing up slides of 18th century Sikhs to talk about how spirited we were?

A hundred years from now, I hope my great-great-grand children are not pointing at those same slides that I do today.  Instead, I want them to talk about the early 21st century Sikhs and how they transformed the panth.  I want them to say…

They were the generation that wiped out drugs in Punjab
They were the generation who stood side by side with minority communities in protest all throughout the US
They were the ones who freed all the Sikh Political prisoners
They were the ones who showed up first when natural disaster struck
They were the generation that ended farmer suicides
They were the generation who opened their homes to refugees when the rest of the world turned them away
They were the generation that re-instituted the Sarbat Khalsa
They were the generation that made gender equality in Sikhi more than a principle, but a practice, the way Guru Sahib intended
They were the ones who put the architects of the 1984 pogroms in jail
They were the ones who ended the global water crisis
They were the ones who ended the ban on women doing keertan and seva at Darbar Sahib
They were the generation that reminded us…that we were sovereign
…those first few decades of the 21st century were an inflection point for the Sikh qaum, and the Sikhs of that generation answered the call.  Those were the glory days.

When I shared these thoughts with my class and asked, “what it’s going to take for us to be the generation that turned things around?“…a hand went up, and the answer was “We need to educate!” And for the first time ever, I said that answer was wrong.  Truth is…it’s going to take more than education.  It is going to take more than awareness.  For Sikhs to rise to the challenges that stand before us, both as a qaum and to solve broader problems in the world…we need ideas, we need creativity, we need action, we need grit, and most of all…we need to hold one another accountable.  We may not have inherited courage and bravery from our heroes and sheroes of the past, but our Gurus and champions of Sikh history surely set an example. They have cleared a path for us…now all we need to do is walk it.


Tryouts

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A few weeks back, we took our daughter to a tryout for the “travel” team.

For those unfamiliar with the hierarchy in youth soccer, there is a “recreational” league open to everyone, where she typically plays.  Then a more competitive “select” team you have to try out for.  Then there’s “travel”…or what I like to refer to as “the elite.”

Just watching the other girls warmup as we arrived, I knew my daughter felt intimidated.  And I was having one of those moments, that many parents can relate to, where I showed a big smile on my face but in the back of my head was wondering…did I do the right thing?  Was it a smart idea to bring her to a tryout two levels in advance of where she normally plays?  But after a quick pep talk, she reluctantly made her way to the field.

The tryout was rough.  These girls were clearly on another level.   They were much faster, more skilled, and she could barely keep up.  My heart would wrench when the ball would hit her in the face or the stomach, or when she would stumble and fall.

The other girls weren’t particularly nice to her either.  They didn’t say much to her, no encouragement, no high-fives, no helping her up when she fell.  On the sideline I eagerly watched, cheered her on, and had her water ready for her when she needed a break.  At the first break, she was visibly upset at me for bringing her there.  I thought she was ready to leave, and honestly, so was I.  But she went back on the field.  She struggled some more and her abilities were pushed to the limit.  But toward the end of the tryout…something happened.

She was keeping up with the other girls.  She was gelling with the other players.  She was kicking harder, passing better, and most importantly, playing with more confidence.  She was challenged, pushed out of her comfort zone, but motivated to play at a higher level.  Over the course of those 90 minutes, while playing with the best…they made her better.

As I sat their watching, I started wondering about the role that sangat plays in our lives. What does Guru Sahib mean when he refers to the  “Saadh Sangat”, or those Waheguru-connected souls.  I always thought my sangat were the people who lived their Sikhi like me, who had similar views, similar aspirations, who applauded me when I showed strength, and ran to my defense in times of weakness.

But maybe I had it all wrong.

Perhaps the sangat I need are those who challenge me, who push me out of my comfort zone, who motivate me to live at a higher level…and make me better.

I wonder that in my fear of being “judged”, I have avoided bringing that sangat in my life.  But what I’ve since learned is that it’s my own haumai (ego) that decides what is truly “judgement” and what is “tough love” from my sangat, who are only trying to bring me closer to the Guru.

A coach of mine once said “The company you keep will bring you up or they will bring you down…there’s nothing in between.  Because even if they keep you where you are, you’re not growing.”

So it begs the question…is my sangat truly bringing me closer to the guru?  And would I be receptive to “tough love” from my sangat without fear of being “judged?”

And am I being the right kind of sangat to those around me?  Or do I avoid the tough conversations in fear of not sounding “judgy?”

Guru Sahib is clear in the role that sangat plays in our life, so what is preventing me from fully realizing it?

As for the tryout, I’m not sure if my daughter will make the travel team, thats not up for me to decide.  But as parents, we felt it was important she go to the tryout.  At a minimum, she now knows where the bar is set, she knows what she has to do to make it there.  And as for me, I will eagerly watch, cheer her on, and have her water ready for her when she needs a break.