Unaccustomed Earth

For anyone in the D.C. area interested in Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing- she is on a book tour and will be speaking at Sixth & I on Wednesday, April 23 at 7 pm.

Tickets are available at Politics & Prose for $6 or you can buy the book for $25 and get 2 free tickets with it. Contact P & P at 202. 364. 1919.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories about the Indian-American diaspora vividly evoke both the ambivalence of the older generation appreciating their adopted nation, but feeling dislocated and the freedom of the younger generation, unfettered by their South Asian origins, except for parental expectations. Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for The Interpreter of Maladies, and her second novel, The Namesake, was adapted to a film in 2007.

A little more info: Lahiri’s new collection of stories (as well as her older works) elegantly capture the way we navigate dual cultures.

Assimilation, in Lahiri’s fiction, is about coming to terms with disorientation. It is about not fitting in or settling down, not starting over from scratch and freely forging a new identity or destiny. Her characters balance precariously between two worldsnot just Asian and Western, but inner and outer…

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My Daughter the Terrorist

The question is poignant: What makes anyone want to blow themselves up for a cause?

As the discussion of violence has manifested itself a number of times on this young blog, I read with interest discussions of this documentary, My Daughter the Terrorist. As most discussions on political violence are the tales of men or women-victims, often using the language of chest-beating and revenge or human rights and dignity, this documentary seems to focus on a different tale. From its own webpage it states:

In this intimate and personal portrait we join two young female elite soldiers trained for the ultimate mission. We share their childhood experiences, their dreams and their families loss. Left behind are the mothers. [Emphasis added]

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Creating Your Own Path

How many of you have ever heard the following words from your parents, “Become a Doctor, (feel free to interchange with Lawyer or Engineer for the same effect)!”?weirdo.jpg

Our generation is definitely starting to see the freedom to pursue career paths that are unconventional to our parents’ or their parents’ generation. When you realize you will ultimately be doing the same job for the rest of your life, you begin to think about what you’re most “passionate” about. Many parents are coming around to the idea that there are many lucrative fields of work for their children to pursue and which they are “passionate” about.

Last week I heard journalist Lisa Ling say that she is often asked to speak at college graduations, and the one thing she feels a lot of students are doing is studying for a career, rather than studying to become a well-rounded person and allowing the career to find you.

Many of us are told to pursue a “stable” career first, and do your “hobby” on the side. Although patterns have shown that Sikhs are probably one of the most entrepreneurial group of people in the world. Our ancestors before us have shown how perseverance of a dream can become a reality. Many of our parents’ generation came to the West with a few dollars, or pounds, in their pocket to begin their new life- and live the American Dream.

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“Volunteering Is Good For The Soul”

Shifting focus from the hoopla surrounding this year’s Surrey’s Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan, I found just a nice piece highlighting one Sikh Granthi’s service. While we often comment onGiani_Narinder_Singh_20080330.jpg those granthis that are corrupt, perverse, and all kinds of bad adjectives that I could list, I still believe that this is the exception not the rule. Unfortunately, their actions have maligned many. Here is Surrey’s Granthi Narinder Singh that is letting his actions at the local hospital speak:

The elderly lady with the long grey hair was furious. The stroke that had confined her to a wheelchair and restricted her ability to move had also left her unable to speak. But her eyes were flashing with indignation and she was clearly greatly offended about something. She kept pointing at her chest.

Singh, who regularly visited the hospital to conduct religious services for Sikh patients, had forged a friendly relationship with the dignified older woman, evolving an improvised sign language to communicate.

She would even let him comb her hair, something she refused to permit the nurses to do. He could see the problem right away. Someone, probably a well-meaning nurse, had buttoned up the ladys sweater for her, but got the buttons in the wrong order. Her garb was crooked and she didnt have enough mobility in her hands to fix it. Singh re-buttoned the sweater properly. She smiled, threw her arms wide and hugged him.

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Awarding Interfaith Dialogue

On March 24th, His holiness the 14th Dalia Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was named the first recipient of the Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize, awarded by Hofstra University.

dalai_lama_2.jpgThe $50,000 prize, which recognizes efforts at interfaith dialogue, will be presented to His Holiness on November 18, 2008 in India by a delegation including Hofstra officials, the family of Sardar Ishar Singh Bindra, which established the prize at Hofstra, and former Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, a member of the Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize Honorary Committee. The Dalai Lama has agreed to visit Hofstra in the near future.

The Prize:

The biennial prize for $50,000 was established at Hofstra University in 2006 by the family of Sardar Ishar Singh Bindra to encourage and award organizations and people who strive to increase dialogue amongst people of different faiths and understanding. A chair of Sikh Studies, the Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair, named after the family’s matriarch was also established at the same time.

As the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak taught that we discover our oneness with humanity by exploring the differences that separate us. The Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize recognizes and supports the efforts of those individuals and organizations who work to advance that vision.

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Murder of Elderly Punjabi Sikh Man: Rethinking Elderly Care In The Diaspora

Recently there was a news report of an elderly 70-year old Punjabi Sikh man, Pargat Singh Kahlon, who was found decapitated in Alberta, Canada. His right hand was also damaged, according to Police, in an effort to prevent identification based on tattoosmug.jpg commonly seen on elderly Punjabi Sikh men and women.

Police say they believe Kahlon was slain because there was a high level of physical violence visible on his remains.

Kahlon had moved from Vancouver to Calgary and was currently living at a Sikh Society Center. Last time, anyone saw him was when [he] got a ride to the bank.

Apparently, like many elderly parents in Canada/U.S. with children left behind in India, he was providing his sons with financial help.

“He had to send money to one of his sons in India. He went to the bank in the northeast and from there he withdrew $2,500,” Aujla told reporters.

He wasn’t seen again.

Police are still investigating the crime to discover a motive for the killing and possible suspects. Does anyone have recent updates on the case?

Khalons death also made me reflect on the need for us to rethink elderly care in the Diaspora based on the varied circumstances and needs of elderly Punjabi Sikhs. For example, different waves of South Asian immigration to North America has created an elderly Punjabi Sikh community that has raised 1.5, 2nd and 3rd generation children in the Diaspora; while many elderly men and women have recently immigrated to the United States/Canada with financial and moral responsibilities to support and resettle children still in Punjab. How do these issues influence elderly care in the form of day-centers, nursing homes, and in-home assistance for our community?


The Rights of Punjabi Farmworkers

In the past few months, New America Media has reported on the treatment and exploitation of Punjabi farmworkers and the cultural isolation they are experiencing. This is not a new issue nor is it unique to Punjabi farmworkers, but it is a growing trend that is beginning to be addressed by workers’ rights organizations. One of the most recent articles by NAM speaks about the exploitation of farmworkers who are here on temporary visas.

yubaupdate_1130.gifIn California’s rural Central Valley farmland, there are rumors that American farmers of Indian origin are, in an ironic twist, also abusing the temporary work visa program. In 2005, the case against a prominent Yuba City, Calif. grower, Harbans Bath, was settled in favor of his workers. He had been accused of housing hundreds of temporary workers, including some of his own relatives, in trailers, pesticide storage sheds and other structures that didn’t meet housing safety and health standards. According to Lee Pliscou, a lead attorney at California Rural Legal Assistance, the workers weren’t provided with food – instead, they were made to eat the crops they picked. They were also told that they wouldn’t be paid until the end of the harvest season. The workers from the Indian state of Punjab readily accepted this condition, since that is how payment has often worked on Punjabi farms.

An interesting statistic suggests that while South Asian growers account for less than one percent of the farmers in California, records show that they have been the targets of five percent of civil actions. Related to labor violations, Punjabi farmworkers are also experiencing cultural isolation that is adversely impacting their health. California governmental agencies that are responsible for protecting the rights of farm workers do not have Punjabi-speaking outreach workers. Many farm-working Punjabis often endure hazardous conditions, substandard pay, and little or no access to health care. Indian American growers in California have paid more than $15,000 in field violation fines to county agricultural commissioners in the past two years.

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UPDATE: Who is this Child?

In an interesting twist an Indian Bihari family is claiming that the 9-years-old Gurrinder isSingh360_307115a.jpg really their kidnapped son 6-years-old Shintu Kumar, who was kidnapped on March 3rd of this year.

The mother has stated:

“We saw his photo too [on TV]… I know my child.”

The Bihari police have stated that a DNA test will need to be conducted before proceeding further. The family was able to move immediately as the mother is related to a prominent Bihari legislator. Officials in England have been notified. Our thoughts are with the child and hope that he is being taken care of and that he may be reunited with his proper family soon. More as it become available….

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Although there may be more pressing global news, especially as the morning newspapers report about the 4,000th death of an American soldier, along with the soon approaching 90,000 projected Iraqi civilian deaths, in the last six years in Iraq, I start the week with a question that is being asked by the Sikh community in Southall (London, UK). Who is this child?

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Harambee and Daswand

Right after I graduated college, I moved to semi-rural Kenya. I had heard that there was a historic desi/Sikh population, so I looked for the nearest gurdwara. I found it two hours away on Temple Road in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city and the cultural capital of Luo-land.

The Guru Nanak Gurdwara is pleasant with a diverse sangat, but even more exciting was the building across the street — the “Guru Nanak Harambee Dispensary Center.” The dispensary center is as big, if not bigger, than the gurdwara itself. I found it refreshing that the gurdwara not only serves langar each day, but it has devoted equal resources to (re)distributing aid.

It’s hard to give a good translation of “harambee,” but it reflects a community coming together to do good work. If I had to distill it into keywords, I’d pick unity, mobilization, and empowerment. These concepts reminded me of our earlier conversation on daswand. In Kenya, harambee is a means of reaching across differences in wealth, tribal ancestry, gender, and profession. I believe that daswand, paired with seva, attempts to build community in similar ways.

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Update: The Flying Sardar?

sikhhelmet.jpgUPDATE: Canadian courts ruled against Baljinder Singh’s request for a religious exemption to its mandatory motorcycle helmet law. While the court found that the law DID violate his right to religious freedom, they felt that the net benefit to the country’s healthcare system justified such an infringement [Globe & Mail]. The court also argues that failure to wear a helmet raises the potential for emotional risk and trauma should Mr. Singh — and other Sikhs — suffer injury in a collision. I found the last point a little weird; was the court attempting to avoid civil suits against it for negligence or some other such duress (lawyer-readers, can you help me out here)? Mr. Singh will be appealing the Ontario decision.

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We saw this story last week, but I wanted to comment on the recent coverage of a kesdari Sikh who challenged Ontario’s motorcycle helmet statute under grounds that it is unfairly applied to turban-wearing Sikhs [cite 1, cite 2]:

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Beyond Empire, A Thousand Kosovos Now

Throughout the world, the reverberations of Kosovos independence are still being felt. A number of nations have continued to recognize the new country, the latest including Canada. freedom.jpgThe issue of self-determination was raised earlier and I want to return to it for this brief post.

The word balkanization has entered out vocabulary. Although first coming about with the fall of Titos regime, it has come to mean different ethnic groups breaking into smaller ‘ineffectual’ regimes. The word has an extreme negative denotation [check out the dictionary.com definition]. No longer quite relevant in Europe, it flows East to look at remnant Empires — maybe China and India. These two states are much larger than any existing nation-state. They are imperial remnants from a bygone age.

With Kosovos declaration of independence, commentators from China and India have been quick to reply. Indian newspapers are full of headlines such as Kosovos declaration places India in a quandary and Why India must oppose Kosovos independence. Newspapers in China are little different. The current situation in Tibet China, may be read in light of what has occurred in Kosovo and the international spotlight with the upcoming Olympic Games.

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Towards an American Sikh collective

collective.htmBloggers have discussed past achievements in the Sikh community and ideas for future efforts in collective action. But we haven’t yet really talked about what this collectivism is, where the contrasting individualism stems from, and what both entail.

Whats the difference between an individualist and a collectivist psychology? Collectivists emphasize group harmony and duties to the group over their individual, personal goals. They emphasize cooperation, respectfulness, and loyalty. Collectivists tend to communicate in spirals, taking a scenic route to tell a story and generally avoid conflict because it disrupts group harmony. In contrast, individualists value personal freedom, self-reliance, competition, and personal achievement over anyone else’s. Individualists see conflict as a positive opportunity for change and prefer to address it directly. Strong individualists like many Americans are rigidly linear in their communication.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced spiral communication. Think of your dadaji telling a story in a way that incorporates the broad history of the era, and every group in the village, maybe even details like the type of birds that were flying through the air at that moment in time. He will get to the pointof the story in a winding, colorful manner.

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The Art of Giving

Last weeks Fortune magazine named Apple the most admired company. Being a fan of Apples innovative products for some time, I read the article with pride. The article was very interesting and talked a great deal about Steve Jobs and his struggles to get where he is today. bxp67488.jpgHowever, there was one thing I learned from the article that disappointed me, and that was the fact that Apple is one of the least philanthropic companies in the world. On the other hand, Bill Gates company Microsoft may have been 16th on this list, but they are considered one of the most philanthropic companies globally. This article facilitated some personal thought to my own quest in giving enough back to the community, and what the importance of charity is in our Sikhi. Wand kay shako is one of the three main concepts of Sikhi, which encourages Sikhs to share their earnings with those less fortunate than ourselves. Guru ka Langar is a way in which we distribute this concept in the Gurdwaras. Dasvandh is donating a tenth of our earnings. It’s interesting that there are many religions that uphold the concept that “a tenth” of your income should be donated to charity in some form.

Although I know that other religions are strict in making sure this donation is made on an annual level, I am not sure whether we are as philanthropic? How much are you as families donating to the cause of Wand kay Shako? We are lucky to be a part of a religion that is so progressive and way ahead of the times. There is even more we can do to be more involved in the concept of “giving back”, because there are a growing number of organizations that are allowing us to contribute our “dasvandh” for a great cause – such as Sikhcess, Sikh Coalition, Sikhnet, and Sikh Giving. Many of these organizations have been started by our generation, which shows we truly are a generation of change and a generation of humanity!

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NRI Women and Grooms-For-Money-And-Visas: What is Going On In Punjab And Abroad?

Recently on “The Langar Hall” there has been discussion about “Runaway Grooms” who with their immigration status abroad marry women from Punjab, only to abandon them after receiving the dowry. Along with being deserted by their husbands, these womens dreams of going abroad are also shattered. These dreams were generally a primary reason many of the women were married to these men. Hasit Shah writes in his BBC news article,

“You can see it around you. There is a lot of foreign money in this city [Jalandhar]. The NRIs have been coming back and building huge houses and flaunting their success. The locals see this and want a better life for their daughters, but when the husband is unscrupulous, the women’s lives are ruined.”

Many Punjabi men in Punjab/India are also tremendously influenced by this wealth and have dreams of going abroad (a lot of it has to do with lack of job/economic opportunities in Punjab). NRI womens green cards and citizenship status become routes for gaining permanent residency abroad. Interestingly, it is the unscrupulousness behavior of husbands and gendered power dynamics prevalent in Runaway Groom situations that translate into the predicaments faced by a growing number of NRI women who are also manipulated and abused by their Punjabi Sikh husbands from Punjab/India. Their husbands were not interested in a marriage … they really only wanted the money and permanent residency abroad. I completely agree that this is not the outcome of all NRI and non-NRI marriages. Many couples are very happy. Yes, I acknowledge that the circumstances are different for NRI and non-NRI women based on the power hierarchy between the US and Punjab, which influence the choices these women make. However, with these issues aside, in this post I would like to focus on the similarity of situations between NRI and non-NRI Punjabi Sikh women and highlight the unique circumstances of NRI women.

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Generation 2 Blues

Last week, an article appeared in the Toronto Star by a young university student, Jasmeet Sidhu. In the article Jasmeet discusses her [is this gender assumptions or what, the name given is only Jasmeet Sidhu and nowhere in the article does it state whether she is male or female, but I am assuming female based on her music tastes]liberation.jpg problems with living the life of a “bicultural suburban teen.” Now this topic is hardly new to the The Langar Hall. In fact in some ways, it has been discussed here in various manifestations many many many times.

Jasmeet’s case seems to follow a similar story. Tired of the what she feels is the hypocrisy of her own community, she is attracted by the lures of greater Canadian society. [An interesting assumption here is that Punjabi-Canadian society can never be considered 'Canadian' despite the huge presence, influence, and cross-cultural encounters that have spanned for more than a century.]

For Jasmeet and for many others, the world seems only binaries:

Bhangra or Rihanna? Arranged or “love” marriages?

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Another Sikh Wedding Act?

Too often in the diaspora, Sikhs are discouraged from becoming involved with the politics of their homeland. While on certain occasions I have been critical of special ‘entitlements‘ and malicious effects the diaspora has had on the Punjabi homeland, sometimes ourwed46.jpg political workings can bring about great effects.

In an earlier post, I had mentioned what I believed to be the Top 5 Sikh Successes of 2007. At #2 I mentioned the Pakistani Sikh Anand Marriage Act. This certainly has been a long demand from the community. In fact it was due to the nullification of the Anand Marriage Act of 1909 and the lumping of Sikhs as “Hindus” in the Indian Constitution that Sikh representatives refused to ratify the constitution.

Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale often reminded Sikhs that if they believe they have an independent status within the Indian state, look no further than their marriage certificate that is signed under the Hindu Marriage Act and compare that to the separate status of the Muslim and Christian communities. The efforts of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee and the American Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee led to the announcement last year that Pakistan will recognize and enact legislation recognizing the Anand Marriage Act.

It seems that this political pressure may mark dividends for Sikhs in Punjab. This week, the Indian Law and Justice Minister HR Bhardwaj stated that the government of India is planning to bring in a special marriage act for the Sikhs.

He said the Government has taken note of demands in this regard from various Sikh organisations and “there should not be a problem” in introducing such an act.

“We will bring it soon,” he said replying to supplementaries.

Reality? An empty promise? We’ll find out soon….


So How are Sikhs Passing Gas?

So yesterday I had to fill my car with gas. I never really pay attention to the price of gas until I get to the pump. Yikes!! Is it really $3.75?? And that is just for the 87 octane. I feel bad for the ‘ballers’ in our community that choose to drive expensive redundant SUVsgas.jpg and other vehicles that might come in handy should the apocalypse strike.

All over the media, we are hearing about the scary $4/gallon that is coming up. Most of these articles read the same. However, a recent article on the same subject in the Fresno Bee reminded me of another factor…we own these businesses.

Harry Dhaliwal, owner of the Olive Avenue Chevron, said he sympathizes with his customers, who are increasingly making smaller purchases of gas.

“It used to be people would spend $20, or $30, and now it’s more like $10 and $20,” Dhaliwal said. “The only people who fill up anymore are the people with the credit cards. What does that tell you?”

So let’s here our take. Are you driving less? Are you considering to join the hybrid craze? If you own a gas station, what has been the effect on your family? At least from the Fresno Bee poll, people are not putting the blame on gas stations. So, will there still be too many Hummers in the Gurdwara parking lot on Sunday?


A costly error by the Ministry of Women and Child Development

renukha_chowdhury.jpgIndia’s Women and Child Development Minister, Renukha Chowdury recently unveiled an expensive initiative to combat sex selection in India.

India has launched a dramatic initiative to stop the widespread practice of poor families aborting female foetuses by offering cash incentives for them to give birth to the girls and then bring them up.

Families can expect to earn around 1,500 per girl under a government scheme announced this week.

In many parts of India, especially in remote and rural areas, male babies have long been the preferred child of expectant parents. Such is the perceived cost of marrying off a daughter and the contrasting anticipated benefits of having a male child that millions of daughters are often killed before they are born.

Unfortunately, the plan suffers from a giant blind spot. The economic incentives that are at the plan’s foundation assume that it is primarily families in poverty who abort female fetuses. The incentives offered ($3,000 over the course of 18 years) will only entice families who do not own multiple cars and take vacations to hill stations.

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Looking After Our Elders

Old_Sikh_man_with_stick.jpgA recent documentary on BBC Asian Network discusses the growing population of South Asians entering old age and the impact that is being felt on the middle generations who look after them. The documentary discusses the responsibilities second-generation Asians have to look after their elderly family members while balancing a career at the same time. The documentary illustrates the difficulties and sacrifices people make when looking after their parents/grandparents and the subsequent loss of dignity the elderly experience when suffering with illnesses and a loss of independence. I’m glad the documentary brought attention to an important issue that we have not readily addressed in our community.

0fdadb5e_1d75_401c_86ba_c75a28c6826d_c985edca_0858_4b28_88ef_92eca2810e85.webjpg.jpgHaving had recent personal experience with this issue, it is something I have thought about extensively. In our community, it is natural for children and grandchildren to take care of their parents or grandparents. It is an integral part of our culture and in fact, I think it creates a special bond between generations who are often pulled apart by language and culture. The documentary talks about the duty to look after our elders and the guilt individuals feel when they are faced with the decision to put their parents/grandparents in a nursing home. As one individual says,

I never thought I’d be speaking to meals on blooming wheels for my father… and having to resort to the [government] to take care of him.

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Simmering Sikhs

The Economic Times of India in its ‘Special Pages’ section last week carried an extended article titled Simmering Discontent: Sikhs in Punjab are fighting many wars.profile_1.jpg

The article sought to understand the ‘current and cross-currents’ of Punjabi society.

At the forefront were:

  1. The rise of the Dera-complex the article cites that over 10 Deras in Punjab currently have over 100,000 followers, the largest being Dera Sacha Sauda, but the actual number of smaller Deras is almost infinite, only limited by the number of actual villages in Punjab

  2. The burning issue of caste

  3. Rising unemployment and the stagnation of the Green Revolution economy

  4. Drug Addiction

While the journalist, Praveen Thampi is most interested in asserting his political point:

Punjab has burning issues to address. But the only people interested in revival of the Khalistan movement are the journalists coming down from Delhi.

Although quoting another journalist about this issue, Thampi falls into the same trap. Instead of finding solutions and proposals for these burning problems, Thampi wants to waive the ‘Khalistan’ boogeyman to sensationalize his news.

So using some of the information, Thampi uncovers I humbly submit some of my thoughts on these four problems and invite other readers to comment, disagree, and suggest their own.

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