“Before becoming a Sikh, a Muslim, a Hindu, or Christian, let’s become a human first.” -Guru Nanak
Well hello there! By now I’m hoping you’ve had a chance to listen to the HKP podcast episode on Sikhism. If not, it’s linked up above – check it out! This blog post will supplement that episode. I could give you a history lesson on Sikhism right now but that’s what Wikipedia is for. I’m going to tell you a story instead.
My mom and I took a trip to India in 2007 for about three months in the summer. It was hotter than the devil’s buttcrack and the villages didn’t have air conditioning, and because of rolling blackouts due to a corrupt and ineffective government, the electric fans would stop blowing their cooling breaths on us randomly throughout the day (usually around the time that grandma and I were laying down for our afternoon nap). But hey, I was sweating out all my toxins and losing weight by just sitting there so it wasn’t all bad. What really tested my resolve was the two day long train ride we took from Punjab to Nanded, Maharastra. We were going to Hazur Sahib, one of the panj takhats (5 thrones). This is where the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, lived until he was attacked by assassins. He killed the assassins but was fatally wounded and passed a few days later. Hazur Sahib is a very sacred place for Sikhs. (It’s where my grandmother went to pray for me when my parents were having trouble conceiving. She washed her face in one of the sacred fountains that flow from the river Godavri and swears that as she cupped her hands, she saw the form of an infant in her palms. I was born later that year. I don’t know if I believe her wish was granted by a particular divine cosmic being or not, but it’s still a great story, especially when she tells it.) But getting back to my story, guys, I was stuck in a loud and crowded moving tube with my mom and a bunch of sweaty strangers for two days without a cell phone. And spoiler, the train didn’t have air conditioning either.
We left early in the morning while it was still cool, but by just 9 in the morning, everything was baking. Dust was flying in through the open train windows and pasting itself to my sweaty face. I had sweated through my cotton kamiz (traditional top for Punjabi women worn with a salwar or pants) and was pretty sure I’d left a sweaty buttprint on the plasticky train seat. I looked so sexy.
All the heat had pretty much murdered my appetite but if you sweat enough, you have to replenish the nutrients you’re losing. Mom and I knew that getting off the train to look for food meant delaying our trip even more and we didn’t have time for that. And eating the food on the train looked pretty unbearable. There was nothing substantial. But as the evening started cooling just a wee bit and the sky took on a pinkish cotton candy glow, a crew of men in orange turbans jumped on the train as it slowed and started handing out free bundles of food. They dropped the bundles in extended hands, racing through the train compartments. After filling as many hands as they could, they quickly hopped off the train as it started gaining speed again to head to the next stop.
The group of volunteers were from a nearby gurdwara (Sikh temple) and were making sure travelers on the train would have an evening meal. India’s trains often have stow-aways and beggars hitching a ride from one town to the next. The gurdwaras share their langar with everyone. To Sikhs, since all living things carry divinity within them, feeding a hungry person is to feed the divinity within.
For a country so torn between religious and caste divisions, this kind of even handed service blew me away. These volunteers probably spent all day in front of giant fires and stoves in the already unforgiving Indian sun to prepare meals for strangers FOR FREE! Who does that? It’s amazing. I couldn’t have been more filled with pride and gratitude to these people. Memories like this always inspire me to live a life dedicated to service and love.
I hope you will do more of your own research and exploration of who the Sikhs are. I’ve been living and studying the culture for a while now and I still am surprised by what I learn.
Check in next week to the podcast for more on Sikhs and hate crimes. We hope that meaningful discussion will start to bring some changes.
Ciao for now,