by Rubin Paul Singh
While on a road trip this past summer, my seven-year-old niece asked me a question that caught me off guard. She asked:
“Mama ji, why don’t you tie your beard?“
To be honest, it wasn’t something I had thought much about, so it wasn’t easy to come up with a quick answer, let alone one that would satisfy an inquiring seven-year-old.
With little thought, I quickly responded: “Because I want to look like my heroes.” She didn’t ask any more questions. The answer seemed to satisfy her, but I wasn’t sure if it satisfied me; perhaps it needed a little more thought.
Like many young boys born and raised in the U.S., my bedroom reflected all of my interests, and its walls paid homage to many of my heroes. I was an avid sports fan – so, the likes of Michael Jordan, Walter Payton and John Riggins adorned a wall.
But as the mid-80’s approached, my interests shifted. Unrest was growing in Punjab and I became inspired to learn more about my faith and my history.
From the moment I began delving into our rich past, I was captivated! The more I read, the more fascinated I was, not only by the Gurus and their lives, but also by the brave generals who came after the period of the Gurus. They fought intense battles against injustice and for the sovereignty of the Khalsa Panth. Soon enough, the pictures of my sports heroes came down, and images of Banda Singh Bahadur, Baba Deep Singh, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh made their way onto my walls. My room became a shrine to Sikh leaders and battlefield heroes, like Hari Singh Nalwa, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, and Akali Phula Singh.
Given the political climate at the time and my study of the Sikh struggle of the 1980’s, the likes of modern-day generals such as Baba Jarnail Singh, Bhai Amrik Singh, and General Shubeg Singh made their way to my wall.
As I got older and broadened my learning, pictures of Giani Ditt Singh, Prof. Puran Singh, and Bhai Vir Singh were also proudly displayed. Often times, I would daydream gazing at my wall, and I would think of all that these charismatic leaders, brave soldiers and amazing personalities had in common – their sheer courage, their ability to overcome adversity, their commitment to their faith, and their passion for Sikhi. But at a quick glance, you would notice the one thing that stood out automatically – they all had long, flowing beards!
Since then, I have found the “khullih-dharrih” look to be both regal and impressive. I know you cannot judge a book by its cover and “baana” alone does not define your character, but at a completely superficial level, I find it beautiful!
The flowing beard is like poetry to me … or, as I call it, “Floetry.”
Perhaps because it reminds me of what my Gurus must have looked like, and of their personality and their character, and their ability to re-mould society.
Whenever I see someone similar at the gurdwara, at a nagar kirtan, in downtown, or at the mall, I feel a connection. I am overwhelmed – and I find a deeper appreciation for my own kakaars.
People may have many theories as to why Guru Sahib gifted this to us, but to me, I believe it is to give me just this feeling and emotion. I remember years ago, while on a business trip in New Zealand, stopped at a traffic light, I looked over and spotted another driver with a beautiful kesri dastaar and a khullah dharrah! I don’t know what came over me – but it brought tears to my eyes. There I was, far from home, far from my sangat – but this image alone, connected me to my Gurus, to my heroes, and to my history.
Although I have chosen to let my beard flow at Sikh functions for years, I finally decided to stop tying it at work, as well. This may seem like a small deal to most, but regardless of my admiration of the khullih dharrih look, it was still something I was conscious about for myself. But with my wife’s encouragement, I was able to “take the plunge” and can say that I’ve been gel- and hairspray-free for over a year.
It’s been an interesting transition. When walking through the mall or in the city, sure, I do get a few extra stares, and maybe a few more ignorant comments than before, but for every negative, I receive just as many positive comments. Sometimes children will come up to me and tell me they like my beard. Often times the “follicle-challenged” would explain how hard they’ve tried to grow a beard like mine and failed. And I especially like it when fellow bearded-men smile and nod with a look of camaraderie and brotherhood, as though we are part of some secret society.
It’s pretty amusing. I never had these interactions before.
So, when I think back on when my niece asked me why I didn’t tie my beard, I wish I could say there was something philosophical or spiritual to it, but the truth is, there isn’t. Perhaps it is the kid in me who just wants to look like his heroes, or it is the adult in me who is trying to live up to what his heroes stood for, or maybe just the Sikh in me, who loves his faith, and wants to shout it out from a mountaintop.
January 2, 2009