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“One of the highlights of the exhibition, Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum, is its focus on the Raj – the colonial years when the Indian princes, deprived by the British of their absolute rule, could concentrate on the decorative things in life. Pictured here is the Maharaja of Patiala, wearing a diamond and platinum parade necklace created by Cartier in 1928.”

The exhibit is being shown at the V&A in London through Jan. 17. Check it out if you can. Learn more here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/10/fashion/10iht-fjewels.html

The New York Times recently published a series of essays written by college and graduate students in “The U Issue.” Among the varied stories about freshman year and life’s big questions, I stumbled upon an essay written by a young Singh featured under the heading of “College Life.” In his essay “Becoming a Dukie (and an American),” Harsimarbir Singh describes how his Duke sweatshirt (and not his turban) catches the attention of other students and explains how he, a teetotaler, handled himself at parties. He even manages to embrace The Freshman 15 by eating his way through pounds of cookie dough. Hear his experience and series of transformations as a master’s student through his own words by clicking here.

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.

The Pew Forum, through their recently released “US Religious Landscape Survey,” provided information regarding a niche that the US Census manages to avoid: religious affiliation. You could imagine my excitement as I clicked on religions.pewforum.org to check it out and learn what the survey found in regards to Sikh Americans.

And that’s when it all started moving in slow-motion.

“Main page.” I scan through it. “Where’s the category for Sikhs? Okay, no worries. Perhaps we’re buried in the ‘Religious Composition of the US’ table in Chapter 1.” I move the edge of my finger over the mousepad ever so slightly so as to scroll down the page inch by inch. “It’s there, it’s there,” I tell myself reassuringly. “Wow, categories for Eclectic, a little bit of everything, own beliefs, New Age and Native American. Okay, seriously, where are we?” I shoot back up to the top and carefully re-scroll downwards. “You wouldn’t want to publicly hate on a survey for no reason. You’re definitely missing it.” I re-read the text. No luck. Re-loading the page doesn’t work either. “This can’t be for real.”

The record in my head came to a screeching halt.

After going through the entire frickin report I feel comfortable declaring that Sikhs were not included as a category in the study. We are neither a religion, an other world religion, an other faith nor an unaffiliated religion. I don’t get it. Out of the 35556 people over the age of 18 surveyed not one Sikh was reached? We weren’t away from our phones having post-Vaisakhi celebrations between May and August of 2007 (the time period the survey was conducted). How we got shafted remains uncertain.

It’s one thing for you and me to not be able to experience the joy that comes from seeing statistical data published on Sikhs. And trust me, our joy is of major importance to me. But it’s entirely problematic when a survey of great political importance snubs a huge percentage of the American diaspora.

…Muslims rival Mormons as having the largest families. And Hindus are the best-educated and among the richest religious groups, the survey found.

“I think politicians will be looking at this survey to see what groups they ought to target,” Professor Prothero said. “If the Hindu population is negligible, they won’t have to worry about it. But if it is wealthy, then they may have to pay attention.”

Experts said the wide-ranging variety of religious affiliation could set the stage for further conflicts over morality or politics, or new alliances on certain issues, as religious people have done on climate change or Jews and Hindus have done over relations between the United States, Israel and India. (NYT, Feb 26)

I hate to admit that certain groups are lobbied in greater preference than others and politicians cater to certain groups for self gain, but it’s sadly the nature of the beast. Our exclusion from this study is a big loss for our community. We must make sure that this isn’t repeated again. Speak up, people.

A pain assessment usually begins with the following question: on a scale of 0 to 10, how would you rate your current level of pain? During a long day of asking people to describe and illustrate their pain through words I tried to find a bit of humor by imagining whether this scoring system could be adapted and applied elsewhere…

Twenty-five years ago, when Kanwaljeet Anand was a medical resident in a neonatal intensive care unit, his tiny patients, many of them preterm infants, were often wheeled out of the ward and into an operating room.

The journey of a Sikh and his career is described in a main article in this Sunday’s Times magazine. Wow. +3 points.

Known to all as Sunny, Anand is a soft-spoken man who wears the turban and beard of his Sikh faith.

The author highlights the physical emblems of our faith. +2 points. Yet, what did this comment add to the article? -1 point. I wonder why Singh was omitted from his name. -1 point.

Anand says he does not oppose abortion in all circumstances but says decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.

How do Sikhs approach the issue of abortion? Is all life, no matter whether he will be born with defects or endanger his mother, entrenched with a blessed spirit? How do we feel about aggressive medical care for those nearing the end of their lives? Is this in some way meddling with Waheguru’s plan for our destiny? +5 points for getting us to think about this.

In the push to pass fetal-pain legislation, Anand’s name has been invoked at every turn; he has become a favorite expert of the anti-abortion movement precisely because of his credentials. “This Oxford- and Harvard-trained neonatal pediatrician had some jarring testimony about the subject of fetal pain,” announced the Republican congressman Mike Pence to the House of Representatives in 2004, “and it is truly made more astonishing when one considers the fact that Dr. Anand is not a stereotypical Bible-thumping pro-lifer.” Anand maintains that doctors performing abortions at 20 weeks or later should take steps to prevent or relieve fetal pain.

My, what an observation. He is not a stereotypical Bible-thumping pro-lifer. -0.5 point.

Total: 7.5 points. A considerable amount of pain on a scale of 0 to 10, but not bad on my imaginary scale of a good read that raises awareness of our community and promotes open discourse on important issues that are often pushed aside.

I have a problem with our cultural attitudes. A big problem. And although the problem isn’t a new one I’m still going to write a post about it so bear with me.

Sometimes I feel so out of place when I’m with a bunch of Sikhs. Perhaps it is because I didn’t grow up in a tight-knit Sikh community. Perhaps it was my way of maintaining distance from certain superficial cultural attitudes that I had no intention of perpetuating or adopting. I thought I could be a contributing member of the sangat and simply ignore the nonsense.

Easier said than done.

Earlier this month, Harbhajan Singh, a popular cricket Indian player also known (slightly cheezily) as “The Turbinator,” was accused of making a racist comment towards Andrew Symonds, Australia’s only black player. Although the Australians are currently under investigation by the International Cricket Council for equally not-so-nice remarks towards South Asians and Africans, it wasn’t pleasant to hear someone who identifies himself as a Sikh espouse beliefs inconsistent with Sikh doctrine and see it splashed all over worldwide media.

It’s even harder to contain my expletives when I hear similar crap in person. Especially when it comes from a specific group of highly identifiable aunties gathered in langar halls around North America. They scour the sangat under a cloak of narrowminded beliefs and regurgitate their definition of beauty under hushed tones: that to be ideal is to be fair-skinned (the lighter, the better), tall (above 5’5″ and you’re all set), thin (but body fat percentage doesn’t matter), sharp-nosed (but not too sharp) and have long luscious hair (but don’t you dare have a hair anywhere else). Even L’Oreal, Garnier, and Ponds are aware of the power of auntie-think as they have pushed chemical-laden products that help lighten skin throughout markets in India and the US. How ironic that mega-corporations are looting aunties through their deeply embedded sense of self-hatred and laughing straight to the bank because of it.

I often refer to my thinking (and the thinking of some of you awesome readers) as progressive or revolutionary, but it isn’t, dammit! The ideas of equality, anti-discrimination, and empowerment were outlined by the Gurus not too long ago. What the hell is it going to take to get rid of the hurtful and ridiculous auntie-think that pervades our community? It may take readers like you to make an auntie afflicted with auntie-think aware of her ignorance. [Note: must be done with extreme politeness and respect to be effective. I’ve done it before (and in Punjabi I must add), and she stopped her remarks although I did get a strange look from her as we walked away.] It may take the form of young women speaking up in women’s groups and gatherings. It may be time for our young men to step in and confront their mothers, sisters, and wives. And, oh yeah, don’t purchase the disgusting products like the ones mentioned above.

The cure is in our possession, my friends; are you ready to help administer it?

The Guru Granth Sahib that graces my nuclear family is one that my ancestors preserved and passed forward. My grandfather brought his family’s Guru Sahib from India and gave it to my father when he settled in the United States. Although we weren’t able to delegate a separate room for Guru Sahib in our two-bedroom condominium we respectfully housed it in my bedroom closet. The act of prakash would transform my room into my family’s collective sanctuary. A sense of tranquility emanated from the room amidst the majestic palki hanging over and brightly colored and sparkling rumaals decorating Guru Sahib. Sukhasan and ardas concluded Guru Sahib’s public presence, and my room converted back into its former setting with stacks of video games, books, and art supplies sprawled over my bed and shelves.

I may get slammed for admitting the above as some would say that the Guru Granth Sahib is to always be in the setting of an open throne and presence of the sangat and certainly not tucked away in a bedroom closet. Perhaps this is true. When I read about folks like Pritam Singh who build second homes for the sole purpose of meditation and prayer, my description of our keeping of Guru Sahib appears terrible. I guess I can limit the amount of negative mail I receive by adding that the next home we lived in included a private room for Guru Sahib with a large custom designed colored-glass window with Waheguru in Punjabi etched into a portion of it.

Or maybe I can’t prevent your negative feelings from rushing in. And I’m okay with that. Why?

In each of the aforementioned instances the Guru Granth Sahib is a physical presence of one’s personal sanctuary and a source of guidance for her current life and eventual connection with Waheguru. In each setting it is read with purpose and held with reverence. More importantly, the ideas and content within the spoken word of the Gurus infiltrate our conversations and daily activities. The spirit moves within a Gurmukh no matter what setting he is in, be it at work, the gurudwara, a restaurant, or a concert. Waheguru surrounds every living being in all moments, thoughts, and locales, and to be able to remember and translate his message into practice is what makes us truly blessed.

Do you keep a personal gutka? A Guru Granth Sahib? In a closet? A separate room? In your heart? Please share your thoughts.

Bowne Street in Queens, New York makes my inner spirit smile. Three places of worship lie within feet of each other: a gurudwara at one corner, a Buddhist temple directly across the street, and a Hindu temple next door. The sights, smells, and sounds that erupt on that corner during weekends or on holy days lure people of all faiths together. I love seeing the distinct but common beliefs of bald men wrapped in red robes swirl together with long bearded men wielding kirpans.

The sweet nectar of community and remembrance of God that attracts the hungered soul was described in a recent article in the travel section of The New York Times. Why, there’s more to the holiday season than just the birth of Christ. We musn’t forget the devotees of other faiths: Hindus, Jews, and Muslims.

Oh, but wait. Let us opt to not mention the Sikhs. Even better, let us describe the Hindu temple on Bowne Street in painful detail but not reflect on the gurudwara that neighbors it.

This article is screaming letter to the editor. Okay, maybe not screaming. Perhaps just a gentle nudge that Sikhs make up a large proportion of the multifaith milieu as well.

I love it when I see articles in major newspapers covering issues important to the Sikh community. I’m always hopeful they’ll be positive reflections; however, this article didn’t necessarily bring out the warmest of emotions. Rather, it left me feeling hurt and worried.

Popularity contests, apathy, and laziness are the leading forces behind why one of the most conspicuous emblems of our faith is nearing extinction. Sadly, I don’t think I’m exaggerating. A sense of deep concern is reverberating through our community as seen by the number of Sikh revivalism schemes flourishing as of recent. Young Sikhs can visit “turban clinics” to learn how to tie fashionable turbans. A CD titled Smart Turban 1.0 is being marketed to the technologically hip. “Mr. Singh International Pageants” are being held to celebrate the accomplishments of model Gursikhs.

The gurus taught us to embody an independent spirit by maintaining a unique appearance. A sense of duty, responsibility, and respect naturally follows with the adoption of this identity. It seems that these remarkable and forward-thinking teachings alone are not enough to motivate our youth.

Why do we need to market our article of faith as a fashion statement in order for young Sikhs to keep their kesh and wear a turban? Why can’t we simply accept and respect our unshorn hair as a part of God’s design? Why are we blinded by embarrassment and the need to conform instead of seeing our turban as a crown and symbol of wisdom, power, and knowledge? To single out men and place them at fault alone wouldn’t be fair: what has happened to our mothers, our strongest female presence, who are vital in raising proud young Gursikhs? What are our mothers teaching our daughters, the next wave of women responsible for raising the next generation of young Gursikhs?

As long as our community addresses this issue as one that is complex and demanding of our attention, I think we’ll be okay. This isn’t going to be as easy as tossing in a couple of pills to get rid of an annoying headache. A much more not-so-tasty regimen will be needed to reverse this self-created and self-destructive pathology.