Saturday, 19 January 2008

The family that prays together, stays together

The quote above is something my maternal grandparents believe in very strongly. Growing up, every vacation spent at our family home in Ulu Yam included Rehraas (evening prayer) being done together as a family in the living room, right under a frame carrying those very words. (Japji was your own responsibility, and it didn’t matter if you had been chatting until dawn and only woke up at noon – breakfast/ lunch was not served until Japji was done!). This was a pretty amazing feat since we are quite a large family and at any time there would be at least 20 people at home :)
What may have started as a forced discipline during our adolescence has now grown to a binding knot between us. To us, the grandchildren, prayer is in a way the central theme whenever we go home. It’s really quite nice to have such a beautiful commonness in the family.
At end-2006, we had a family Akhand Paath (continuous recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib) in our home, and as we loved it so much, we’ve made it an annual family tradition and had our second one recently.
The Ulu Yam family Akhand Paath operates slightly differently from the norm.
For one thing, it was Nanaji, our aunts and uncles, and my fellow cousins who read from the Guru - roughly 30 paathis out of a family of almost 50, with ages ranging between 8 and 80 :) As you can imagine, setting the timetable was quite a challenge – we simply had too many paathis!
agonising over the timetable to make sure everyone had an opportunity to read from the Guru
Also, we ignore the usual 48-hour tradition – the point here is to take our time and enjoy Baani. In 2006 it took us 67 hours, and this time we’d been practicing a little more so we cropped off 10 hours to make it a nice 57 :) And I’d say it was just nice for everyone to truly enjoy it.
in the Darbar, we had 2 pothi sahibs and a laptop with the Gurbani computer software, so at any time, there would be a few of us in the Darbar and either following the Paath with a pothi sahib to improve our reading, or following the English translation

in meditation

Ekjot, our youngest paathi-cousin, warming up with some practice before his turn

our glorious mothers-paathis-chefs taking a break

the eternal Ulu Yam Swing – its been around forever :) Nanaji and the men catching up at tea-time

sleeping in the corridors is an age-old Ulu Yam tradition – even when there are vacant beds we all habitually charge for the floor!

Sharan and Trishvin stumble upon the ideal location for morning nitnem - the kitchen floor :)

on one evening, we headed over to our beautiful little village Gurdwara for an informal kirtan session

I like to think that it is this ‘formula’ for an Akhand Paath that brings it meaning, where the journey matters and not the destination. With everyone making the effort to read the translations, the ritual was transformed to meaningful practice. By keeping it in the family it truly becomes for the family, and with everyone having a hand in something we are reminded of the common roots that bind us.

Coming together like this is a grounding experience. It is this family, with its devotion and its tight knot; this home, with its organised confusion of 50 inhabitants; this village, with its little Gurdwara and vegetable patch, that has shaped so much of who I am.

the family paathis
Its nice to know that I’m rooted to this place. The roots are strong and go deep; they will not let go and will not let me forget. I may fly high but anytime I need to touch the ground they will find me and hold me safe, until I am ready to spread my wings again. And they will remind me that because we pray together, we will stay together.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Eastenders come to town!

Last weekend we had some really nice company at home – Preetkamal and Gurcharan are friends from London and they bunked with us for a few days.
Malaysia is just one of their stops; they are in fact on a 6-month backpacking trip round South East Asia!
Hearing their stories made me so envious – doing something like that is on the top 5 of my wish list, only I want to cover Latin America instead. The longest Surabhi and I were on the road for was a month. This is 6 months! Envy envy pure primal animal-like envy! :)
Imagine living out of a little backpack containing only the following: minimal clothes, a pillow case, water purification tablets, flip flops, a Lonely Planet guide (God bless Lonely Planet!), waterless hand cleanser, a good luck charm, train timetables, an insurance policy, a digital camera (totally out of place amongst other meagre posessions!) a secondhand book, pepper spray, a youth discount card, and not much else.
...Sleeping in strange hard/lumpy/springy/saggy alien beds in shared dorms where the women are slappers and the men snore
...Having your passport scrutinised and stamped at a new country every week
...Retracing history through the backdoor alleys of little towns
...Long, long, long dreamy train journeys
...Hauling your backpack around town in blazing heat because your hostel is closed during the siesta hour
...Swapping travel anecdotes (your most prized possesion!) with other skint backpackers
...Learning to say the 3 most important phrases in the local language:
– thank you;
– please; and
– where is the restroom? :p
...Desperately hunting for vegetarian food in the middle of carnivore-ville
...Enduring endless chatter and deafening silences
...Carrying the baggage of time while walking in ancient ruins
...Going into a church to pray because sometimes you simply can’t find a Gurdwara
...Balancing the budget every night and living on bread rolls and sleeping in train stations in order to be able to afford that museum/ opera/ ch√Ęteau/ gallery/ cruise/ walking tour/ train ticket/ tacky souvenir
...Getting lost in sleepy little towns because that part is simply not on your map and where no one understands English/ your version of sign language/ your feeble attempt to vocalise the sentences in your phrasebook
Did I mention long train journeys? I LOVE long train journeys!
I have Louis Armstrong in my head...
I’m in Heaven
And my heart beats so
That I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together
Dancing cheek to cheek
Hmm... maybe the last sentence needs to be adjusted :)
Anyway back to Preet and Gurcharan :p. So far they’ve been to Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Cambodia as well, and from what I’ve heard they’re having a blast!
While in Malaysia they also attended the Samelan – which they declare was an incredible experience. Still, wanting to make sure that they would never never ever forget Malaysia, we decided to treat them to some durians! The results were… erm… well. Perhaps you want to hear about that (and many other travel stories) first hand - by visiting their travel blog!
The next destination is Laos, and they go back to Thailand before heading to their last destination on this trip - India.
One of my backpacking trips led me to discover what the Empress Sissi of Austria once said: Destinations are only desirable because a journey lies in between.
So blog-walk with them and enjoy the ride!