Wednesday, April 8, 2020

G is for Gurudwara #AtoZChallenge


I was born and raised in peaceful times, even though both sets of my grandparents arrived as refugees in the newly independent India of 1947.

Gory stories of partition leaked through adult conversations and as a child I would imagine those details belonging to another world, a different race. 

Perhaps those they talked about in whispers and shushed each other with, "Accha bus karo hunn, bacchean de saamne nahin."(Enough now, not in front of the children) were demons and rakshasasThe hushed up horrors their eyes screamed but their tongues didn't have the guts to spit out were too fantastic to be of any human doing. 

Mingled with tales of Krishna and Rama, the partition of 1947 became another once-upon-a -time story: assigned to fantasy and fables, myths and mistakes committed by other-worldly beings just so we could learn our lessons from their pain and never, ever repeat them.

Innocence is blissful and blind.

Patel Nagar, where my grandfather grew his garden, was designed and built as a refugee colony. Houses were built  in rows; stacked next to each other. They resembled railway bogies. Ours was the corner house. I'm told that my father bought the plot of land that later became our beloved garden in an auction in 1964. 

Our neighbours in Patel Nagar had one thing in common. They had all been uprooted from the land of their forefathers. 

Daarji and his family lived across the street from us. Mummy was very fond of them and so were Seema and I. Our favourites were his two youngest daughters: Neena didi and Charan didi. Didi means big sister in Hindi. They must've been in their early twenties when we were five and four.

When the temple next door rang out with the sounds of the evening arati (prayers), the two of us would run across to Daarji's house and sit with Neena didi watching her knead aata (dough) in a big brass paraat (flat pan). Her steel kada (bangle) would tinkle every time it hit the paraat.

Daarji's family are sikhs. 

Calendars, old and new, with photos of the ten Sikh Gurus hung on the walls of their sitting room. The two young sons of Sri Gobind Singh ji held me captive for hours. The half built wall in its foreground sends shivers down my spine even today. 

Tales of the brave Gurus and sweet words of Gurbani floated in and out of the kitchen. We would listen while watching them cook and lose track of time. 

Sometimes, Neena didi would feed us garam, garam phulke (hot rotis) with daal or subzi and pacify Mummy is she got upset about our lateness to get back home.

Gurudwara visits on Saturdays were one of the many exciting expeditions we went on with the two didis when we were little. Of course as I grew older, my greed for the delicious kada prasad with black channas grew too. 

You've not lived if you've not tasted the sheer bliss of this divine mix of flour, ghee and sugar cooked in a karahi on medium or slow heat. It was worth standing in line for in the gurudwara, not once, not twice, but as many times as possible till one got told off by Bhai ji, with love and very politely.

Watching was a hobby of mine as a child. In fact, it still is.

I would watch Neena didi get ready for the gurudwara visit. She'd tie her long hair in a plait, pick out a chiffon dupatta from her almaree and drape it over her head. As a five year old, I was exempt from covering my head to enter the gurudwara but I wanted to be just like didi. So she'd sometimes give me an old dupatta to drape. I'd feel so grown up in it. But the dupatta would prove to be such a nuisance that I'd give up on it quickly. Neena didi would end up carrying it for me!

Our didis taught us the etiquette of being in a holy place: how to enter; how to bow down to the floor and fold hands and do the parikrama (circle) around Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji; how to sit quietly and enjoy the shabad kirtan (hymns) and how to put both palms together to accept Kada prasad. I'd copy them and after eating my prasad rub my ghee hands on my head just like they did.

On Sundays, Daarji would dry his long kesh (hair) in the sun, sitting on a munjhi in their verandah while his many puggan (turban cloths) fluttered from the eaves. The translucent turban cloths of many hues: pink, green, purple and yellow would slowly turn stiff with the maandh (home made starch) that had been prepared in the morning. He always looked like Father Christmas on Sundays-- his long, fluffy grey beard floating freely.

They were not family. We didn't share the same religion. They were neighbours who had put new roots down, like Papaji, in an unknown land.  

Ordinary lives lived in peace is an ideal not palatable to the gods of destiny. They get jealous and start meddling.

Suddenly, without warning, the ugly side of religion, feigning dormancy for long years since 1947, woke up on the night of  October 31st, 1984. All at once, innocence went up in flames. Without warning, the demons and rakshasas of 1947 came back to plunder and pillage.

Mercifully, not much will change in Patel Nagar, but I'll watch big, grey plumes of smoke rising from petrol stations which were torched because the owners were Sikh and I'll wonder about the families where one son is Sikh and the other Hindu.* 

I'll think of the story Mummy loved to recall from her maiden days. The one about her best friend, Bano, who used to share saviyan kheer on meethi (sweet) Eid chori-chhupe (secretly) with her because their mothers didn't want them to be friends.

Why can't religion be only about sweet things and friendships?

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*It was quite common in Punjab to have families where one son would surrender to Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji as his spiritual guide while the other sought refuge in the Bhagwat Geeta. 

There was a time, I was told by my grandparents, when Hindu couples would wow their eldest born into Sikhism if they were having trouble conceiving or if their children didn't survive. 

Neena didi's stories have stayed with me. My children, when we moved to the UK, loved visiting the gurudwara every Sunday for the same reason their mother did when she was their age. Yes, for the delicious kada prasad and langar

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If you have time, come sit with me in quiet contemplation at Hemkund Sahib ji

where blue poppies bloom.
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Where do you find your calm?


36 comments:

  1. My family has stories that they never mentioned in front of the children either. So much of oral history is lost because of that...

    The Multicolored Diary

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  2. Hari OM
    My first landlady in Australia was a Sikh lady. She became my friend, and 'aunty' and I experienced the local Gurudwara with her - and got to help in the langar! The warmth and welcome... began a journey for me those thirty years back the eventuated in my becoming a Vedantaacharya - teacher within the Hindu faith. As one who began by teaching Sunday School and exploring Buddhism, Judaism, and, indeed, Islam, it became apparent to me that there were far more things in common among them than differences. Only the people who 'practice' them create the divisions...

    Thank you Arti. A heartfelt and moving post. YAM xx

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    1. Thank you Yamini. You're such a minefield of experiences. And I read on Deborah's blog that you're a homeopath too. I'd love for us to meet some day.
      Hugs. xx

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  3. lovely read.. our families all had stories from that era.

    https://serendipityofdreams.blogspot.com/

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  4. This post made me feel a variety of emotions. What a wonderful world it would have been if only people could disregard their differences and exist peacefully together. It also made me feel very very hungry!

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    1. Yes, Shweta, this can be a peaceful world if we can see beyond our own points of view.
      You know what--I ate rasmalai and chocolate today after writing about kada prasad. Not wise as it is the month of sitting!!

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  5. You covered so much in this piece, taught me stuff too. My calm place is a nearby secluded beach where I sit listening to and watching the rolling waves.

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  6. My first comment didn't get through Arti. If you are posting on Blogchatters fb page do say a little hi so that I can see you.
    If I tell you that you stirred a storm in my heart it wouldn't be enough. Ignorance is blind. You've left me with that thought.

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    1. Thank you Sonia.
      I'll be popping over to yours in a bit to get my dose of history and poetry:)

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  7. Oh Arti...Your story of 1984 did remind me of the movie Train to Pakistan & Pinjar which belonged to 1947 the Partition days for obvious reasons...! Actually my every Punjabi /Sikh/ Sindhi friend has one such story to relate to. 31st Oct 1984 we were on a family Holiday and planned to visit the Vrindavan Garden, Bangalore. And what a day it was! Even miles away from the North we smelt the fumes shown in TV & witnessed the Demons & Rakshasas.
    I was barely 10 yrs old so atleast to me anyone without a Pagadi was not Sardarji then.
    Those days most Taxiwalas were Sardarjis in Mumbai,with their majestic personality, neatly tied pagadi and warm heart they greeted any and every child "puttar",every lady "behenji" & every man "bhaisaab".But as we returned to Mumbai, there were Sardarjis who dint look like one i used to see.They were now called 'Cut-Sard, a term which always left a ? mark in my mind then.
    My first Gurudwara visit was in Dubai way back in 1999. Undoubtedly Gurbanis touches the soul directly & the culture of langar is unbelievable. Prasads & ringing the huge Brass bells were one of my most exciting part of the temples.Anything in the name of Prasad was always tasty. We sisters had a duty to take our Amuma to a Hanuman temple on every Saturday. Rules to follow from parents was traditional clothing and to wear an old slipper which we would be not sorry to lose if stolen! I found calm in my balcony though we had one full wall of the Kitchen dedicated to all the Hindu Devis and Devtas.

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    1. Thank you for this jhalak of Mumbai Vidya. Your balcony needs to be written about--or perhaps you can paint parts of it and make a balcony series? What say?

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  8. I love narratives. Yours was a soothing read, just like a river flows. I flowed with your words and thoughts. Amazing.

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    1. Thank you Swarnali. You have a beautiful name, by the way.
      Your kind words are very encouraging.

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  9. Touched by your writing. Initial part of your post brought alive all sweet memories of my visit to Punjab.
    Really partition & it's related pain - can't be expressed in words alone.

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  10. South India was spared of the tragedy of partition. But I have read many books on the suffering and pain it has caused.
    Sadly, we are still carrying the baggage of that; unable to bury the past and move on.
    Like you have said, why can't religion be all sweet things and friedships ... That's what I too constantly wonder!

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    1. Thank you Pradeep.
      Like Yamini says in her comment above, it's the people who practice the religions who make a mess of things. Basically, all regions show us how to live and let live.

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  11. It is so important to pass on our family history so future generations can understand where we came from and how.

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    1. My thoughts exactly. That's why I'm putting this memoir together.

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  12. I am glad the horror didn't reach right into your block, but still hate and violence can still be felt at a distance.

    Finding Eliza

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  13. Such lovely memories, and such sadness as well. I'm grateful for the calm places that sooth. Those blue poppies are like visions out of a dream. Any place there are flowers feels like paradise to me.

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    1. And the place where they bloom in the Himalayas is heaven on Earth in every sense of the word Deborah.

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  14. The last few lines of this post were so beautiful that I couldn't help reading multiple times... I really sometimes feel fortunate that I haven't witnessed such difficult times. I wonder how people who did must have built their strength to find their calm later on. I really hope and pray such things don't happen again and humanity doesn't ever lose humanity again!

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    1. Yes, Ira. I think that is our eternal hope but time and gain history stands proof to the fact that human memory is short-lived and we,as a race, are capable of inflicting unbelievable atrocities on our own kind and justify our actions afterwards. So,the learning never takes place.

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  15. My calm place is also Gurudwara , though I love going to a church too. Great post.. my parents were refugees. Though they were little babies during Partition they remembered the horrors of partition and longed to go back to their birth place.

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    1. Thank you.
      Yes, I find churches peaceful too and even some older temples. Recently, I've been inside a couple of mosques and the peace and quiet there is the same as the one in gurudwaras.

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  16. Your post took me to one of the very sad and dark times, I was a young girl on that fateful date, those were the times we used to get the news from All India Radio. From my father's reaction, I could understand the full seriousness of the news, as I was more playful and was so unaware of the politics.
    Well, Gurudwara is such a holy place, I have been fortunate to visit Gurudwara's few times, and have enjoyed the langar food. I also had sikh friends like yourself, little older from me, Chianjeev bhaiya and Gogi didi. Chiranjeev bhaiya used to help me with Maths in my Class XI and XII.
    Well, most praiseworthy is the attitude of the Sikhs, they are humble, hard working, and so devoted to the good cause.
    A great read, love, Nisha

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    1. Thank you for sharing Nisha.
      Love
      Arti xx

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  17. IshIshmusing.comMay 5, 2020 at 6:47 AM

    Another beautiful piece! It felt so personal in a way, but just the opposite. We were the only sikh family in a neighborhood full of Hindus from different parts of the country...I grew up in that amalgam of different food, different festivals and different languages and it felt like one big celebration for all of us as we shared our goodies..1984 was a horror driven by politics...to be precise, Congress..We were lucky to a non-Congress party ruling our state at that tim . So we got police protection for a week, even though it wasn't required

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    1. Thank you for sharing Ish. Your amalgam sounds blissful--that is the India of our childhood. I choose to pray for and hope for sense and sensibilities to return to our land of many hues.

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  18. Kada prasad . It's like Amrit you are putting into your mouth. Arti your writing is so lively like any screenplay is going on and you are watching it with different kinds of emotions . Beautiful indeed !

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    1. Thank you Simmi. Kada prasad is Amrit, truly.

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