Monthly Archives: November 2012

…Darshan…

A short story to commemorate the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji, the founder of the Sikh Faith.

I woke up earlier than usual on darshan day. The time must have been a little after midnight. Something seemed different that day. With difficulty I lifted my head and peeped out of the small window of my hut. Although I could not see anything due to the pitch darkness of the night, I sensed some activity in the trees. I closed my eyes and listened. To my surprise I sensed the trees were in the same jovial mood as they were when spring was approaching. Winter had just started, it would be months before even the slightest hint of spring. I lay down my head back on the pillow and realized that I too was in a jovial mood – my heart too hinted some hope and excitement. That was quite a change from the past few years of my miserable and painful existence.

It had been almost twenty years ago that I had been diagnosed with an incurable form of leprosy. This had been the first such case in the memberable history of my village and the people did not know what to do with me. I had been quite a cheerful and promising young boy before the village doctor noticed the state of the perpetually open wounds on my back. After he announced my disease, my life changed drastically.

The elders banished me despite my family’s (particularly my mother’s) heart breaking pleas. My brother and uncles built a hut for me three miles from the village and promised me daily visits. At first, all my relatives and friends came each and every day, and brought me gifts and tried their best to lift the dark and heavy depression that was suffocating me, but due to my negative and cynical view (and because love is rarely true amongst worldly people), the number of people visiting me reduced to one – my mother.

She would bring food for me two times a day. She would come and clean my hut, bathe and feed me. At first, I eagerly awaited her visits. I asked her about all my friends. But gradually, it only pained me to listen to her.

Soon after, I started bolting the door and would ask her to leave the food outside and go away. I also asked her to come only once a day since I realized it was hard for her. With much reluctance, she agreed, but she could not understand my isolation from her. This continued for over ten years. My condition was only getting worse. Although I was in my early twenties, I felt like an old man. Laying all day in bed and being angry and depressed had certainly taken their tolls. I had a hard time even going to the nearby river to get my supply of water. My bones would groan and creak at every effort. My mind had turned into a dull and a stagnant vessel which would not hold any thoughts except for the immediate bodily needs.

Then one day things changed. My mother was taken seriously ill with tuberculosis. Even in her illness, she prepared food for me, but she did not have enough strength to deliver it to me. She asked my nephew to accomplish that task. Consider it fate, but for reasons known only to my nephew, the food was not delivered to me. The first day without food, I cried like a baby and shouted out to my mother. I had tried to eat berries from a low hanging bush, but due to ignorance, had eaten poisonous ones. This only made the situation worse. After three painful, lonely and sleepless days I assumed my mother was dead and I would never again see another human.

I decided to end my life. It was the middle of the night and death seemed like an inviting and pleasant escape. I slowly and painfully got up from the bed and made my way towards the river. I envisioned myself jumping in and drowning. I had made it half-way to the river-bed when I tripped on a bush and fell heavily on my face. Due to my general poor health and lack of food, I could not lift myself up again. Only with a tremendous amount of effort, I turned and lay on my back. Miraculously, I fell asleep.

In that wonderful sleep I dreamt that a man with a beard and a blue piece of cloth wrapped on his head took my hand and led me to two big doors. Although I could no see the man, he appeared to radiating grace and elegance. With his hands he pushed open the doors. A ball of white light immediately engulfed me and with a jerk lifted me a few feet out of my body. The jerking movement woke me up. I was breathing slowly and deeply. I felt light and joyful. To my joy, I realized I was still hovering slightly above my body. I had heard several times from the village pundits that the soul was an entity distinct from the body, but I had given it as much thought as I suspect they did. But that day in an instant my life changed. I cannot express the relief I felt at the thought that this deformed and rotten body was not me.

Since then, my life had revolved around getting that sensation back. I have tried all the methods that I have heard about to gain that light feeling. But even though I have become still inside, and can listen to myself and nature more easily, that wonderful feeling never graced me. Most of my days were still spent drowned in thought and depression.

But that darshan day felt different. I couldn’t go back to sleep no matter how hard I tried. Finally at dawn, I got out of bed and looked out of the window. The sun had just risen making everything golden. The birds and the wind were joyfully singing songs of love. I stood there for a long time bathing in freshness. And for the first time in about twelve years I decided to go for a walk during daylight. I was an avid walker once but the horrified looks of a boy who had accidently seen me had locked me inside. But that day, all that didn’t matter.

I felt a trace of life in me. I spent the whole day seeped in nature and waiting for something to happen. At the end of the day, I was more surprised than disappointed that nothing had happened. I lay on my bed and dozedoff.

In my dream, the same man with a blue turban appeared again. This time he held me by my hand and took me to the river. He signalled me to go into the water. I went in. I looked at my reflection in the water and with a shock realised that I had been cured. I looked for the man but he had entered a hut. I ran and knocked on his door. No answer. I knocked again… With a start I woke up. Someone was knocking at my door. I opened the door and saw a sight that filled me with wonder and awe.

There stood a middle-aged man at the door. He had a small bundle of what appeared to be books and clothes on one shoulder, and a box which appeared to be a case for a musical instrument on the other shoulder. And a few steps behind him, stood the man from my visions. He was wearing a yellow robe, wooden slippers and a blue turban. Although His robe was faded and old, He looked like a king of all kings. Although His beard was mostly white, His face was filled, nay, overflowing with youthfulness. Although His eyes were half-closed and hidden in the dark, a thousand suns could not match their brilliance; a thousand moons could not match their serenity; a thousand kings could not match their splendor.

Instinctively I sank to my knees and bowed. Without a word they both entered my hut and sat on the bed. I was quite dumb-founded and tongue-tied. I just kept staring at Him. At times, I would quickly glance at His face, but it proved to be too intense an experience for me and I would quickly revert my glance back to His feet. I wanted to say words of welcome, I wanted to thank Him for being there, I wanted to ask for forgiveness for my sinful being, but my throat would not, could not form words.

With His signal, the man with the instrument opened it up and started playing it. Ah, the wonderful music captivated me. Then He sang. The song entered me, nay, flooded and imprisoned me. I drank His song and lost my thirst. His song opened the dam of tears in me and I wept. With One note of His song, He gave me enough to fill my life, With one note of His song, I was drenched in bliss. With one note of His song, my thoughts ceased. With one note of His song, my soul separated from the pained and diseased body.

He sang about light. He sang about darkness that enveloped me. He sang about the world within. He sang about sorrow-less and death-less truth. He sang about sorrows and death of untruth. He sang about becoming truth. He sang about merging within. He sang about the wonderful naam. He sang about the blissful naami. He sang about One, One, One….

After songs there was songs of silence. I was in freedom. My beard was literally drenched with tears of repressed emotions. Without a word, His companion filled a bowl he was carrying with water from my water pitcher and started reciting verses. Whereas the songs were rapped in love and longing, the verses were wrapped in wisdom and One’s greatness. I listened. I felt wise and clean. For the first time in my life I felt pure. At that time everything was pure, my clothes, my hut, the forest around. Blessed was my bed which was serving them – the angels of One.

How fortunate was His companion. Throughout the songs and recitation the companion gazed at His face with an intent of a child looking at his mother. I found myself gazing at His companion’s face. Whereas His face was like the sun – much too bright for me – His companion’s face resembled the moon. It was quite a moment. I, staring at the moon, the moon staring at the sun and the sun focused on the One. The companion finished the verses, took the bowl of water to His feet and dipped His toe in the water. The companion motioned me to drink the water. To my surprise, it was sweet. I gulped it down. Never had I tasted such contentment. I felt intoxicated. I felt I belonged to Him and He to me. I felt His love, His grace, I felt Him in me.

He leaned towards me, and in my ear whispered “Wahe Guru”. A thousand bright suns dawned in me, a thousand blissful winds blew in me, a thousand colorful flowers bloomed in me, a thousand joyful fountains sprang up in me, a thousand celestial chords played within me, a thousand angels sang in me. All the suns, winds, flowers, fountains, chords, angels sang “Waheguru Waheguru Waheguru”

Sunlight on my face brought me back to this world. They had departed. A pain shot through my body at seeing the bed empty. For a moment I wanted to run and find Him, but the quietness of the trees told me they had gone far. Slowly I got up from the spot in which I had spent the whole joyful night. What a night, I thought; the trees were certainly justified in singing about spring. He was spring.

For a brief moment I thought this was all a dream. Perhaps I was still in a dream. But instantly I realized this was real – on the bed lay a small book. With excitement, I picked it up. It was the verses His companion had recited. Although I didn’t know the language it was written in, I still could read it because it was in a language similar to one I knew. And the verses written were the same ones His companion had recited and they were deeply embedded within me. I quickly read the first page. I turned the page. My heart missed a beat. It wasn’t the book but the sight of my hand. It’s sores were dry. I carefully put the book back on the bed and with trembling hand and heart examined my body. Yes, all my sores were either dry or were getting dry. He had cured me. He, the angel of the One had cured me. He had come to my unclean abode and purified me. Tears welled up in me when I thought of His mercy. Me, a sinner’s sinner, an unclean, nay, filthy untrue animal had been touched by His grace.

I bowed to the book, I kissed it and I lovingly pressed it to my heart.

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Catalyst Birmingham Leadership Programme 2012

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

It was around a century before this popular quotation was written by the French philosopher Voltaire, that the Ninth Sikh master, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji demonstrated it literally in the Indian subcontinent by giving up his life to uphold the beliefs of others. By sacrificing himself, Guru Tegh Bahadaur ji not only put into practice the Sikh concept of “Sarbat da Bhalla” (welfare of all mankind) but ensured religious freedom of others at a time when they were being persecuted by the rulers of the day.

On the day Sikhs across the world paid tribute to Guru Tegh Bahadaur Ji on the anniversary of their Martyrdom, a group of young people from different faiths came together in Birmingham for the launch of the Catalyst Leadership programme.  The programme aims to contribute to the formation of a future leadership that prioritises civic engagement and builds association between different faiths and communities.

Today it’s impossible to imagine  true peace and harmony in the world, without an understanding between the adherents of the world’s religions. In an era of globalisation, in which we are far more likely to share society together because society is becoming more diverse and the Internet is creating a more global sense of community, the existence of such respect and mutual understanding becomes essential. The Catalyst programme has the potential to create that understanding. 12 young faith leaders representing the Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, and Sikh faith will now form the 2012 cohort of the Catalyst Leadership programme and meet regularly over the next few months and help realise that potential.

The Cohort will share ideas, engage in interfaith dialogue, help positively challenge each other whilst growing as individuals and young faith leaders. Andexamples such as that of Guru Tegh Bahadaur ji who gave up their life for the faith of another, will always help motivate us on our journey of interfaith.

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Interfaith within the Student Movement

I was asked by NUS Interfaith team to present the interfaith initiatives workshop at the Welfare Zone conference, which I happily accepted. As current VP Education & Welfare and ex-Ethnic Minority Students officer at Birmingham City Students Union, interfaith is very close to my heart, having been involved in interfaith activities and dialogue on all different levels within the student movement.

I used this chance to reflect on my journey and how I came about to feel so strongly about interfaith and what change it can bring. It was in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh, was killed outside his business in the first of several cases across the United States, that were reported to the police as acts of retaliation for the terrorist attacks. The killer mistook Sodhi’s turban and beard as a sign of support for the attack. I remember feeling that the world was still ignorant of the Sikh faith, and the significance of the turbans on our heads. For the first time, I could empathise with people of other faiths who had suffered racist, fascist abuse due to sheer ignorance of others.

When I came to University, I had already experienced interfaith events and realised the potential of bringing people of all faiths and no faith together onto one platform. However despite having a very multicultural student population, the university or union had no interfaith events to celebrate the diverse population. I quickly realised that the faith-based organisations were not engaged with the union as they had all the support they needed from national faith based student bodies such as UJS, FOSIS, and NHSF etc.

It was important to demonstrate to these societies that the union offered a lot more than generic advice and could help empower them and their members. It was through this dialogue that the first ever inter-faith week was celebrated at our Union with 6 societies taking part, and this has grown year on year. Just a few weeks back, we saw the launch of the BCU Interfaith association that helped bring 13 different societies onto one platform to collaborate on events and open up channels of communication between them.

The benefit of interfaith has also been felt in other areas of the union too, with many more students feeling more engaged and empowered. Number of student voters in the student union elections has increased in the last few years and more and more students from the traditionally “under-represented” groups are taking an active role within the SU.

But in my opinion the most important thing achieved from Union inter-faith initiatives is that now students graduate from university with more knowledge and tolerance of other faiths, beliefs and groups than ever before. And that is a skill that lasts well beyond the university years.

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The Pen is mightier than the sword…

The Power of Words

Written or spoken, words are continuously propelling us through life. They lift us up, drag us down, wound us deeply or heal our hearts. Words have the power to break confidences, build life long alliances or start wars.

Words can make or break us, both as individuals and as a society. What have you been saying lately?

The words you speak can have a profound effect on the people they reach. Are you encouraging or discouraging? Are you building up your children, your spouse, your friend or even the stranger you pass on the street? Or are you tearing down your own family with words of criticism, bitterness and judgment? Are you causing the destruction of your self-esteem by speaking ill suited words over yourself, your health and prosperity?

Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind…

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by | November 25, 2012 · 6:20 pm