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I have scoured many a library and bookstore back in the day in an attempt to look for books, articles, anything! on Sikhi. Just imagine your Sikhpulse writer at age 6, a seasoned master of the Dewey Decimal system (or at least she thought she was), learning that the institutions she revered and placed so much faith in had failed her. The smile she usually wore instead resembled the same form as her pigtails: a frown.

She may have transitioned out of the pigtails and gained some command of appropriate expletive usage, but, twenty years later, the frown persists.

Two Sikh pals and I checked out a major bookstore in a major US city that had a major section dedicated to Philosophy and Religion. Six stacks were reserved for Christianity alone. Two stacks were filled completely with Bibles. Judiasm won three stacks and Islam and Hinduism competed for two stacks. There was another stack for Eastern Religions including Buddhism and Taoism. Atheists and agnostics got some love too with their own stack.

How many stacks were dedicated to Sikhi? Brace yourself now.

There were more Sikhs within the bookstore than there were books on Sikhi. Only two books made up the entire Religion and Philosophy section. Not stacks, but books! Both books were tiny and less than 75 pages in length. And both books were awful representations of Sikhi: one even made strange and incorrect correlations to Hinduism.

Is there a dearth of Sikh literature? Is this what resulted in the dismay of three Sikhs over the selection of two books? Perhaps but certainly there are more than two books that could have populated the stacks. The Sikh Coalition’s campaign to supply local libraries with resources about Sikhi is a great start but it shouldn’t be become our endpoint. We, writers and artists of the future, need to keep fresh and new thoughts in the mix by continuing to document our history, past and newly-formed, and think critically about Gurbani in a way that is accessible to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.

Please help me from ever telling a corny joke that starts off with “three Sikhs stood in front of a stack of books…” Work the supply and demand theory by reading and buying our texts. Help the Coalition with their project or speak up with your pen or voice and ask your bookstores and libraries to accurately represent a major world religion through the number of quality books offered on their shelves.

So the last few posts have been pretty heavy which means I probably lost your interest completely. It’s time I get it back.

Twenty-four year old Californian comedian and soon-to-be-movie-star Harvin Sethi is part of a 4-comic comedy troupe in a show that aims to “ease religious tensions through laughter and a healthy dose of political incorrectness.” Titled Make Chai, Not War, the Indian-American comedians (Muslim, Sikh, Christian, and Jewish) threw out jokes to an equally diverse crowd on April 28 in the D.C. area. Co-creator Azhar Usman commented that “some of the comics have a deep commitment to interfaith and bringing communities together. For others, it’s probably just another gig” (newsblaze.com). Although Harvin clearly identifies himself as Indian, here’s hoping he’s also part of the former. And if not, well, it doesn’t bother me much: he’ll win you over with his laughs as well. Here’s a great one from March 2005: The Power of the Jatt.*

*Uh oh, I might have made your Caste-is-Bad bell go off. Remember: this is just for laughs.

A probing public service announcement made by the folks at rethinkbias.org/A More Perfect Union/Virginia Interfaith Center (probably with the help of both SALDEF and Sikh Coalition) is being streamed on TV stations across the Virginia/D.C. area.

Watch “Airplane” here.

Dramaticized? Reactionary? Exaggerated? Yeah, a little bit. (And perhaps I showed my own ignorance when I first saw it and thought hey, why is that Jack Bauer/Kiefer Sutherland dude being such an awful character?) But it relays the message clearly to the viewer: education and outreach are the answers to ignorance and intolerance.

As a mediocre “writer” I look up to and try to learn from publications such as The New York Times. Sometimes they win my complete admiration. And sometimes they make me go up in arms. Why, oh why, do they have to make our relationship so tumultuous and difficult?

The Times apparently likes recycling stories. Especially ones as interesting as the multitude of faiths practiced in the diverse town of Flushing located in Queens, New York. But even I, blogger-unextraordinaire, know it’s possible to freshen up a recycled story by including perspectives and views that may not have been addressed in the past.

Back in 1999, they published an article titled “A Snapshot of World Faith; On One Queens Block, Many Prayers Are Spoken.” The piece briefly acknowledged the existence of a Gurdwara in the first paragraph of a two-page article but nothing more. It made me upset at the time, but I somehow managed to keep it together and get over it.

Fast-forward to 2007. The same topic is drafted into an article for their Travel section. Omitting multifaith options in New York is the best way to describe it. This time around the sangat and Gurudwara aren’t even mentioned. I was pissed enough to write a blog entry, and had begged you to write letters to the editor.

May 2, 2008. I take a moment to check out the main page of the Times website. Oh look: the same topic has now been released as a video report and as an article in the Arts section. And oh look: there’s still absolutely NO mention of our lovely gurdwara and sangat.

Let me once again illustrate where our “forgotten” gurdwara is located in relation to the other religious venues that have somehow managed to capture the attention of three different NYT writers over a span of a decade:

FYI: The Hindu temple and Gurdwara are less than a block away from each other!

  • Sri Shirdi Saibaba Temple = 46-16 Robinson Street
  • B’Nai Abraham synagogue = 75-03 Main Street
  • St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang Roman Catholic Chapel and Center, Evergreen Presbyterian Church, Hazrat-I-Abubakr Sadiq mosque = take my word for it: they’re all close by as well

If I drew a map there would be a bunch of dots within a mile radius of each other and the Gurdwara would be right along side all of them.

This is absolutely frustrating. Should I direct my strikes towards The New York Times or the sangat and sevadars of the Bowne Street Gurudwara who may have not picked up on the ignorance of my typically very unignorant newspaper? I would be crushed if this was recycled again for the fourth time and I didn’t see any mention of our house of worship and spirited, presumably civically-engaged people. I think it’s time for desperate measures… either a stern letter to the editor/op-ed piece or boycotting my once beloved and favorite newspaper.

Some people trace their past through memorable events: birthdays, graduations, taking Amrit, changing jobs. I use sounds to form a timeline: certain shabads remind me of road trips taken with family and friends; I can map nearly all my years in school through songs released during the same time. Some sounds have become Pavlovian: hearing Mil Mere Preetama Jio makes me feel like walking against a crisp wind through a quiet tree-lined neighborhood. The urge to run on a beach and build sandcastles comes on strong when I hear Paul Simon’s “If You Be My Bodyguard.”

When I hear a single solitary beep followed by a 1.5 second pause on an overhead speaker in a hospital, however, the Pavlovian reflex is entirely distressing. A woman’s voice follows the pause and usually asks for an illegally parked car to be moved or for an employee to return a page. Yet, sometimes the calm and soothing nature of the voice is all but deceiving.

I was near the end of discussing my plan for a very sick patient yesterday on rounds. “So, in terms of GI (gastrointestinal system), the differential includes Clostridium difficile colitis, ischemic bowel, or toxic megacolon. We continued fluid resuscitation and started broad-spectrum antibiotics. Surgery just came by to see the patient but is waiting for imaging studies. Mr. A finished his contrast and was rolled down to CT roughly 30 minutes ago. Pending the scan we’ll decide on a total colectomy versus medical management.” The resident flipped through his papers while the attending scribbled his note. “Very good,” the attending replied. “Anything else?”

A single solitary beep came through the overhead speaker followed by a 1.5 second pause.
[My Pavlovian connection kicked in: Stomach drops. Heart skips a beat.]
A woman’s voice followed. “Code Blue, Radiology CT.”
[Gasp.]
“Code Blue.”
[Hold onto everything in your pockets and bolt towards Radiology.]
“Radiology CT.”
[Crap, it’s Mr. A! We just sent him down there!]
“Repeat.”
[Fly down 4 flights of stairs.]
“Code”
[Keep running.]
“Blue.”
[Turn the corner and keep running.]

The room was packed with frantic nurses and technicians trying to recount what had happened. The other intern and I grabbed gowns and gloves and pushed our way through to the patient lying on the table and covered in his own bloody vomitus. Being that the man barely made the weight requirement for the CT scanner, I jumped on a stool and compressed his chest with all my might. The sounds of the room and the voice leading the code suddenly became soft and muffled. All I could hear were crunching noises of broken ribs that transmitted beneath my hands. I couldn’t help but look in his eyes while I kept count of my compressions. Strange, I thought, he’s looking back me. But how? Did he have enough blood perfusing his brain that he was still “alive?” Was he really looking back and communicating through his eyes?

“Hold compressions!” screamed the resident.

I stopped and caught my breath. We had been at it for 20 minutes and there was still no heart rhythm. His eyes rolled to the side. Perhaps I was witnessing a soul in the process of departing. Oh, Waheguru.

He was pronounced dead 2 minutes later.

Later that day, I passed by the room that was once assigned to Mr. A. It was being disinfected and prepared for another patient: a woman, Mrs. E, who had given birth 6 hours earlier but had an unsteady blood pressure and was still bleeding. My ears picked up a familiar sound in the distance. Playing on the TV in the corner was one of my favorite tunes of recent: Orba Squara’s “Sunshine.” As I listened thoughts of warm, sunny days full of love, life and cute pigs came racing in. Spirits, both inanimate and of organism, were being reborn.

In Japji of Guru Nanak there is a phrase that refers to a cosmic phenomenon that takes place when the disciple gets embedded in his soul-consciousness– nucleus of the life of the spirit, small as a mustard grain, bright as a point of fire. The disciple lives inspired of it, and is sustained by it as the mother is by the child, the artist by beauty, the opium-eater by his dose, the Majnun of his Leili. The disciple dies when this spark of life is extinguished. His lungs breathe the moral spirit of the spiritual universe, and his eyes see what those around him do not see.*

One can only utter Waheguru when learning that the baby was born at roughly the same time Mr. A. had passed away. The spirit of the limitless one breathed life into another. Mrs E. is now thriving in the same hospital room where Mr. A spent his last few moments. The same room where “Sunshine” played before she arrived.

Death, renewal, and spiritual reincarnation are inevitably linked. Just like sounds and memories, both pleasant and anxiety-inducing, both past and newly formed. Thank you, Waheguru, for your constant watch, guidance and protection and this kind reminder.

*Spirit Born People, Puran Singh