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Introduction of The Book ‘Amongst The Sikhs’ By Dr. Surjit Kaur
The landing of the first men on the moon in July 1969 is the subject of a popular joke amongst the Sikhs. As the American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin set foot on the lunar soil, who did they run into but a Sardarji family out for an evening stroll.
Armstrong and Aldrin asked them in utter amazement, 'When on earth did you get here?'
'We decided to come and settle here when we left Pakistan following the Partition of India in 1947,' replied the head of the family.
The joke is meant to illustrate the fact that no matter where you go in the world, you are sure to run into a handful of Sikhs. Out of an estimated population of around 19 million, well over a million Sikhs live in foreign lands.
Sikh emigration began during the British rule in India. In the course of the two Anglo-Sikh wars in 1845 and 1849, the English got a taste of Sikh prowess. After defeating and annexing their kingdoms, the British recruited Sikhs in large numbers for the British Indian Army. Thereafter, whenever the British were engaged in hostilities, Sikh soldiers constituted the vanguard. The British also recruited Sikhs in sizeable numbers for the police. To date Sikhs are known as Bengalis in Burma (Myanmar) because the first batch to be sent there hailed from the Bengal police. Sikh soldiers and policemen were also dispatched to Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. On retirement many of them decided to settle in these countries. And their sons ventured out to yet other countries. Some headed for Thailand and the Philippines, while others settled in Australia and became farmers.
Woolooga, a village north of Brisbane, is largely populated by Sikhs growing avocado pears and bananas. The village has two gurdwaras. In one of them, the Guru ka langar is equipped with a bar to serve beer and spirits after the evening service. A few Sikhs found their way to New Zealand, and some became cattle-breeders. In one catde farm I saw a huge but aged stud bull roaming around the house. The lady of the house explained, 'We have not sold him because he fathered most of our prize-winning cows and bulls. He is one of the family, and the founder of our fortunes. We call him Sardar Bahadur.'
During the same period, Sikhs began to migrate to British colonies on the West Coast of Africa, mainly Kenya and Uganda. Unlike other migrants who were largely agriculturists, most of those who went to Africa were craftsmen, entrepreneurs and professionals: mechanics, carpenters, doctors, engineers, teachers and the like. In the 1970s the cannibal dictator Idi Amin grabbed power and drove Indians out of Uganda. At the same time the well-being of Indians bred a lot of resentment amongst black Kenyans. Increasingly ill at ease in Kenya, Indians migrated in large numbers to England and other European, countries.
Sikhs from Africa are still distinguishable from the style in which they, wear their white turbans. There was yet another wave of Sikh emigration comprising mainly agricultural workers and building contractors from Punjab to the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Those who could cross immigration barriers managed to get to Europe. An example of their grit is the existence of a small colony of Sikh farmers in villages a short distance from Milan.
How many of these Sikh emigres have been able to conform to the Khalsa tradition of unshorn hair and unshaved beards? Have their second and third generations been able to conform to these diktats? What impact have events in their homeland like the demand for a separate sovereign Sikh State (Khalistan), had on them? These are some of the questions which Dr Surjit Kaur, a qualified sociologist based in Washington DC has tried to answer through extensive interviews of a cross-section of Sikhs settled in the United States, England, Canada and Australia.
With his distinctive turban and beard, a Sikh stands out in a crowd. Yet there is a lot of disinformation about the Sikh faith and way of life. A recent example of such ignorance was the eruption of xenophobia in North America following the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, and the attack on the Pentagon in Washington DC on Tuesday, 11 September 2001. Hoodlums picked on Sikhs in the belief that they were Arab Muslims and, therefore, supporters of Osama bin Laden. One Sikh was shot dead in Arizona.
Having lived abroad off and on from the early 1930s, I have had many amusing experiences of a mistaken identity. Jn my student days in England, I was mistaken either for a magician or a Maharaja. In Canada I was a Red Indian who wrapped feathers under a piece of cloth, instead of wearing them on his head. The most amusing experience, however, was in Jerusalem. In the hotel dining room I found myself seated next to an American-Jewish couple on a pilgrimage to their Holy Land. They were puzzled by my appearance. After some hesitation the man turned to me and said, 'Sir, forgive my intrusion. My wife Ruth and I were wondering where you may be from.'
I decided to have some fun at their expense and replied, 'I'll give you three guesses.'
After a pause the wife ventured, 'You wouldn't be Jewish, would you?' 'No, I am not a Jew.'
'How could he be Jewish?' scolded her husband. 'Does he look like a Jew? Maybe you are a Muscleman.'
'No, I am not a Mussalman.'
'No, I am not even a Buddhist.'
They could not think of another religion or nationality. 'We give up. Please tell us who you are?'
'I am a Sikh,' I replied.
'That's the same as Sheikh. Aren't Sheikhs Musclemen?'
'Not Sheikh, but Sikh. We are not Mussalmans.'
'Ah!' said the man triumphantly, 'Then you must be from Sikkim.'
I threw up my hands in despair, abandoning all attempts to educate them. The man told me he had a nice laundry business in New York. It was understandable that he knew nothing about Sikhs. What would an Indian dhobi know about Jews?
Now for a few words about the genesis of this unique community, what it believes in and why it looks different from all others.
The word 'Sikh' is derived from the Sanskrit 'shishya' meaning disciple. Sikhs are disciples often Gurus or teachers— from Guru Nanak (1469-1539) to Guru Gobind Singh (d 1708). Their faith is enshrined in their holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, compiled in 1603 by Guru Arjan, their fifth Guru, who was later arrested, and tortured to death on the orders of the Mughal Governor of Lahore. The Guru Granth Sahib comprises over 6000 hymns set to the ragas of Indian classical music. It contains writings of the first five Gurus to which the last Guru added compositions of his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, who was executed by the Mughal authorities in Delhi in ad 1675. The Guru Granth Sahib is perhaps the only truly eclectic religious scripture, as it also includes compositions of Hindu and Muslim poet-saints of the time. A Sikh is defined as one who believes in the ten Gurus, the Guru Granth Sahib, and does not subscribe to any other religion.
Sikhs are monotheists. They believe in the one formless and unperishable God, who is the Supreme Truth. They do not subscribe to idol worship or the caste system. They do not accept exclusivism or celibacy as a means to achieve godhead, and believe goodness should be achieved by living with one's family and as a member of society. In Guru Nanak's words: 'Work, share some of what you have earned, take the name of the Lord.'
After the martyrdom of their fifth and ninth Gurus, Sikhism underwent a radical change. While sticking to the tenets of Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh decided to take up arms in defense of his faith. 'When all other means have failed, it is righteous to draw the sword,' he said. In ad 1699 he called on his followers to constitute a fraternity named the Khalsa or the Pure. He made them take vows, which included, amongst other things, to never cut their hair or shave their beards. This was customary amongst his predecessors and certain sects of sadhus: he wanted to create an army of soldier-saints. All of them were given the surname Singh (lion) to signify that they all belonged to a family sans cast. He himself changed his name from Gobind Rai to Gobind Singh.
In his battles against the Mughals, Gobind Singh lost all his four sons. He declared the end of the succession of the Gurus, and established the Guru Granth Sahib as the symbolic representation of the ten Gurus. Guru Gobind Singh was assassinated by two of his Pathan Muslim retainers at Nanded (Maharashtra) in 1708.
Although Guru Gobind Singh did not win any spectacular victories, he infused his followers with a spirit of daredevilry which helped them oust the Mughals from Punjab, and by the end of the eighteenth century set up a kingdom of their own under Maharaja Ranjit Singh (ad 1780-1839). The kingdom disintegrated soon after his death, and after the two wars in 1845 and 1869, was annexed by the British.
Sikhs have two parallel traditions. Their theology remains the same as enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib and is largely based on the Upanishads. Alongside runs the tradition of the militant Khalsa conceived by Guru Gobind Singh. Some of the never-say-die spirit, which they inherited from the Guru, survives in the form of enterprise and one-upmanship. In a country teeming with beggars, you will never see a Sikh begging for alms.
This collection of profiles of Sikhs is entirely the work of Dr Surjit Kaur, carried out under my guidance and with my collaboration. We felt strongly that the story of Sikhs living away from their homeland, striking roots in alien soils and yet retaining their distinct identity, needed to be told. We have done our best to tell it.
From the Frontcover of the Book ‘Amongst The Sikhs’ By Dr. Surjit Kaur
When some of the Sikhs left their homeland, an uncertain future stared them in the face. The antidote to this incertitude was their determination to make a name for themselves wherever their destiny would propel them. And so they did. Some spread Guru Nanak's message in the Western Hemisphere, while others went on to become Members of Parliament in their adopted countries. Yet others sang the Gurbani in the West or were invested with the Order of the British Empire. They entertained the high and mighty at their chain of Indian hotels, and even regaled the world during wrestling bouts.
Neither the lack of funds nor the feeling of cultural alienation could dwarf their will to succeed.
Amongst the Sikhs: Reaching for the Stars is a celebration of Sikhs, especially diaspora Sikhs who came, who saw and who conquered.
From the Backcover of the Book ‘Amongst The Sikhs’ - Book By Dr. Surjit Kaur
Sikhs came to foreign lands in search of opportunities, and succeeded despite all odds. Jobs were difficult to come by, and neighbours regarded them with suspicion. Some gave up the outward emblems of their faith; others upheld their traditions, striving to overcome the prejudices of an alien people... All of them had to battle heavy odds in the beginning, but always kept up their 'Khalsa Spirit'. Often they were homesick; they missed their families left behind in Punjab, and wept each time a call or a letter apprised them of the death of a loved one.
The profiles in this book are of people who carved success for themselves out of alien surroundings. Their profiles may read like fictional pieces but they are real people, no different than you or I.
Dr Surjit Kaur
About the Author ‘Dr. Surjit Kaur’ of the Book ‘Amongst The Sikhs’
Dr Surjit Kaur is a profesional counsellor in Virginia in the US.. Educated first in Jalandhar, Punjab, she taught in Punjab for sometime before leaving for the US for higher studies. She received a Master's degree in Education from the University of Idaho, amid a Doctorate in counselling from Washington State University.
After a stint with the American Embassy in India, in the United States Agency for International Development, she became a senior research fellow at the Council for Social Development. She worked briefly with the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Planning as a consultant.
She is the author of Foundation and Counseling— a revised version of her doctoral thesis, Family Planning in Two Units, and Wastage of Children—a study of infant and child mortality.
She has recently been selected to participate in Leadership Fairfax, Class of 2003, in Fairfax, Virginia, USA.
Table Of Contents Of The Book ‘Amongst The Sikhs’ By Dr. Surjit Kaur
|Note to the Reader||15|
|Introducing Sikhism to America||19|
|SRI SINGH SAHIB HAR BHAJAN SINGH YOGI|
|The Power Behind the Yogi||31|
|BIBI INDERJIT KAUR KHALSA|
|America's Richest Sikh||36|
|DIDAR SINGH BAINS|
|Rich Farmer's Rich Daughter||43|
|DILJIT KAUR BAINS|
|Fame and Fortune through Fibre Optics||46|
|DR NARINDER SINGH KAPANY|
|Money and Culture||52|
|KAVELLE AND KULJIT BAJAJ|
|Tsar of Indian Hotels Abroad||58|
|SANT SINGH CHATWAL|
|Dentist and Scholar||65|
|DR I.J. SINGH|
|DR NIKKY-GUNINDER KAUR SINGH|
|Life Dedicated to Science and Sikhism||74|
|BHAI HARBANS LAL|
|Economics and Youth Campos||78|
|BIMAL KAUR AND DR BALWANT SINGH|
|Fifth Generation American||81|
|From the Aroma of Chandigarh to the|
|Cherry Blossoms of Washington||86|
|RANJU AND BRYJINDER SINGH KOHLI|
|From Poverty to Top Taxpayer||90|
|PUSHPINDER KAUR AND BALDEV SINGH|
|MIRIN AND TEJBIR SINGH PHOOL|
|Gurbani in the United States||99|
|BIBI AMARJIT KAUR|
|Proud of being Sikh and American||101|
|Spreading Guru lilanak's Message in the Western World||104|
|SHAKTA KAUR AND KARTAR SINGH KHALSA|
|Trading in Style||111|
|PAMMY AND NANAK KOHLI|
|The General Without an Army||116|
|DR GURMEET SINGH AULAKH|
|Holding Aloft the Khalsa Banner in Britain||121|
|DR KANWALJIT KAUR AND INDARJIT SINGH OBE|
|Member of British Parliament||126|
|PIARA SINGH KHABRA|
|Of Grit and Determination||131|
|GURDIP SINGH GUJRAL CBE|
|First Sikh Barrister in British Court||134|
|MOTA SINGH QC|
|Youngest Asian as Queen's Counsel||137|
|MANJIT SINGH GILL QC|
|School boy Millionaire||141|
|Making Souls Meet||143|
|PIARA SINGH AULAKH|
|Sikh in Canadian Parliament||156|
|GURBAX SINGH MALHI|
|The Right Deal||161|
|NAV AND ARVINDER BHATIA|
|Lawyer with an Edge||167|
|Leading the Toronto Sikh Community||174|
|HARBHAJAN SINGH PANDORI|
|GURDIP SINGH SALUJA|
|Singer with a Mission||183|
|Author||Dr. Surjit Kaur/ Khushwant Singh|