Saturday, April 29, 2006


Wearied of chronicling the stupid ups and downs with Spooky. Here is something I wrote a while ago about Sikhs, a group I greatly admire.


At the airport in on the crowded city street, who's that burly bearded man in the turban? Is he an Arab? Look at his wrist --- is he wearing an metal bracelet? If so, he's a Sikh, not a Muslim at all. As a sign of their faith, male Sikhs wear on their persons five things (that begin with the sound /k/ in Hindi): beard, comb, turban, special breeches or underwear, and a sword. Today, this last is a small ceremonial item, not an actual weapon.

Unlike so many in India, the Sikh rejects omens, magic, the caste system, drug-induced mysticism, oppression in the name of religion, and idolatry of any kind. However, they are not forbidden from exploring other faiths. Imagine that! A non-dogmatic, tolerant religion! The world could use a little more of that.

All Sikh males are surnamed Singh (Punjabi for "lion"), all females Kaur ("lioness"). From this you may discern a pride in Sikh heritage and a reputation for boldness. They are supposed to refrain from all intoxicants (but I have met Sikhs who will recoil in pious alarm from a cigarette, but who will eager drinking alcohol).

Historically, Sikhs are doughty warriors, but today, they are often cab drivers, in India as well as here in the States. I don't know why. The Sikhs I have met have been helpful, honorable, capable and decent people. (Why, just check out item L on this list of Sikh beliefs --- you don't get much more ethical than that!)

One, when I was in India with my family, our taxi broke down on a desolate stretch of road. It was a Sikh driving by who stopped his own cab, flipped the hood of our taxi and worked on the engine until the taxi ran again. He gave our hapless Hindi driver a look of withering contempt, refused our offers of payment definitely and politely, and left.

There is concern that Sikhs in Western countries can be the victims of misguided anti-Arab prejudice. This actually happened to a friend of my father's. In New York City a few years ago, this Sikh --- let's call him Singh --- was grabbed by a white American who started shouting about 9/11. Before this could escalate into something very bad, another Westerner leaped out of a cab and shouted at the assailant, "He's a Sikh, you fool!" Interesting that a concerned and informed person should come along so fortuitously at that moment, but then, there are all kinds in New York.

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