Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

6.15 p.m. on a weekday, with your phone nearly dead, is really not, completely not, when you want your car to stall in the middle of a congested KL highway.

Accompanied by the soundtrack of stuttering and jerking car sounds, frustration, resignation, and the painful acceptance of my own dimwit-ness all exploded at the exact same time, along with the very strange feeling of being trapped in a stationary vehicle while around me people were driving past full of purpose and promise of a destination.

My car would argue that this was really my own doing; only so long before a hungry car seizes its wheels and says no more! I demand appropriate and fair compensation for my hard work. Feed me now, or I quit.

All my begging, prodding, and pushing was met with the same response: none. It was time for Plan B, which had to be very sophisticatedly executed given my phone’s battery life.

11%, and falling. Double-tap, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. I exited all the background apps.

My husband would have been my first point of call, except our worlds were markedly divided by the wave of drivers heading home from work. He was too far away to help (I was wrong of course; he is the one who saved the situation with my phone drama, so really I should have called him first anyway!).

Pitaji is away in Scotland, bearing live witness to the band he founded some 30 years ago marching and playing Scottish music in the Highlands. I would not have swapped places with him for all the world, for this moment is completely his.

My brother is blowing with the wind, insofar as it takes him exactly to the wonders very carefully mapped out in his travel log. Somewhere between the glory of Brandenburg Gate and the remnants of Palatine Hill, his head was in a different world and completely disengaged from my humid reality.

With the men in the family eliminated from the potential rescuer list (shamelessly admitting to gender bias when it comes to car trouble, based on how clueless I am about them), I called Ma. I explained that I would be calling the breakdown service, so don’t worry, I’ll keep you updated, and please no calls as my dying phone would be busy.

10%, and falling. I turned off mobile data. Calls and texts only now.

The insurance company was contacted, and a wonderfully emphatic En. Helmi was the definition of courtesy as he arranged a tow-truck at no cost to me, even though the cause of the breakdown was, as expressed earlier, my own dimwit-ness. ETA: 1 hour. It was the best he could do and I knew that it was a realistic estimate.  

Na├»ve of me to think that Ma would leave me in the hands of strangers; sweet as mothers are, she was very soon activating the family SOS network and my cousin called a few seconds later to coordinate the rescue mission. I was very grateful for my brother’s offer (thank you, Veera, and later, Tarsem!), but I knew that I was on the wrong side of the road and with traffic as it was it would have taken ages to get to me.

8%, and falling. Desperate times call for...

I considered placing the phone between my palms to enhance the percentage energetically. I was infamous for blowing up lightbulbs at home, surely I had enough charge in me to revive a phone.

8%, and falling. Honestly, Harkiren. This isn’t X-Men! Foolishness.

10 minutes later, the tow-truck driver had still not contacted me. At 8%, to call or not to call was a time-sensitive question.

I decided to call, and lucky thing I did. He was at the opposite end of Kuala Lumpur, and made it very clear that it would take him at least 1.5 hours to reach me. I believed him. Cheras was a black hole at 6.30 p.m. and I was near Gombak.

You learn so many things from situations like these. I discovered that insurance companies contact other intermediaries, and then those companies contact individual tow-truck drivers. In order to keep costs low, everyone calls the cheapest service without any consideration to the relationship between where the rescuer would emerge from and his proximity to the distress scene.

By now, my dimwit moment had passed and I was in action mode. I called (they might say harassed) everyone from all 3 parties until they found me a truck that I deemed was of a suitable distance to my location.

6%, and falling. What was life like before mobile phones?!

The phone rang, with my husband on the line. CANCEL! CANCEL! You can't possibly have anything helpful to say to me now!

The ringing ceased. A few texts arrived.

10%, and rising. The man is a GENIUS. Apparently it is still possible to charge your phone even if you haven’t got an ounce in your car’s belly. Well, sheesh. Clueless about cars and phones as it turns out.

14%, and rising. Life was now rosy again. There were meadows and hay bales everywhere.

Shortly after the phone situation settled, a car pulled up by my window. A middle-eastern man leaned out of the passenger window and asked if there was anything they could do to help. I smiled in gratitude and shook my head, saying that help was on the way. 

Right behind them came a motorcyclist. Another kind face offering to help push my car to the side of the road (until this point I was still marking my glorious spot right in the thick of things). He was sweet to offer, but really there was nothing we could do. Cars were hardly moving and we would not have been able to find enough space to push a car 3 lanes to the left. I looked at this good Malay man, and again with my palms together, thanked him, and said the tow-truck was almost there.

Apparently it was bonus season in Kindness-ville. Some minutes later, yet another motorist stopped at the side of the road, parallel to my car, and got off his bike. He started waving down other drivers, and finally caught the attention of another man. I watched curiously and then realised that he had been enlisting help in order to assist to me. It took them a few minutes to cross the 3 lanes as traffic was finally clearing and cars were picking up speed. The bubbly Chinese man and his young Malay recruit tapped on my window and said don’t worry, just shift into Neutral and we will push your car to the side.
Which they did. I sat at the wheel, beaming, so, so pleased at how wonderfully this entire backfired evening was turning out.

Once safely out of traffic’s way, my Malay rescuer rode off with a wave. Thank you, thank you.

Alan wasn’t done. He asked if I had a triangle, and together we looked for it in my boot, assembled it, and he helped place it some distance away. He walked up and down a few times until he was happy with its position and stability. Finally, he walked me back to my car, made sure that someone was coming to get me, and waved his hand shyly when I asked for a photograph. Then he was on his bike, waving me good luck and heading home. 

These past few weeks, the actions of some of my countrymen have made me ashamed and heavy-hearted. We claim to live in an Asian culture, although I’m not sure what that even means anymore. It used to stand for community, integrity, simplicity, and hospitality, but in the whirlpool of recent events plaguing the nation, it seems impossible to believe that we ever even lived by those principles. Was there really such a time, or have we imagined it in our nostalgic innocence? Certainly those occupying the media stage are demonstrating no shred of these values. And while they choke the limelight, we are blinded with their gross misappropriations of trust and resources combined.

I wish I ran into them more often, the good and kind people that are my neighbours. If you’ve lived in KL, you'll know what the sentiment is like on the roads after work. Long working days, hours of driving and sitting in traffic, inconsiderate drivers darting in and out, accidents, tolls, thunderstorms, corrupt cops, and foolish Harkirens who drive without enough petrol. It is a complete zoo, and the only thing that unites us at that hour is the desire to get home.

Against a backdrop of street crime, road rage, and impatient drivers, KLites are advised to place caution above compassion. Lending a helping hand to strangers has burnt so many fingers that most of us keep our hands safely in our pockets, eyes on the ground, and ears closed to the problems around us.

In the midst of all this, these men borrowed a few moments out of their hectic day to show kindness to a stranger. I know for a fact that as a woman driving alone in KL, I would not have done the same. We are taught to drive on and if the situation needs attention, then to call emergency services from a safe distance. Maybe the dynamic is different for men, but I will not belittle the kindness they showed me by saying that it was easier for a man to do that. It was an inconvenience, period, and they saw beyond that when they came to offer me aid.

The encounters with my ordinary, living-the-simple-life, neighbourly Malaysians were not over. The tow-truck could have done with a wash, and maybe a seat belt in the front passenger seat (ironic how I am always lecturing everyone about seat belts and on this day rode without one!), but Jerry was reassuring, light-hearted, and professional beyond expectations. He stifled a grin when I told him why I was stuck, and quickly countered it with a “never mind la”. He took care of everything; including getting us both to the nearest Shell at a safe speed, fuelling up the car, and moving to the side to unload it instead of hogging up space at the petrol booth. I didn’t have to lift a finger and at no point did even a flash of doubt cross my mind.

When I tried to tip him at the end, he steadfastly refused, again and again. I almost gave up and in a final attempt pushed the money forward and said: for your family, Jerry. At last, he accepted.

43%, and rising. Tank full. Time to go home.

Thank you to all those who stopped to offer assistance, and unforgettably, those who stepped out to help.

It is now some days later, and I am reflecting on what I learnt from those 2 priceless hours.

To be more compassionate towards drivers stranded in the middle of the highway. The frustration of having wasted precious moments stuck in traffic is something we have all experienced. Hey, even smart people do silly things sometimes, and they are probably even more anxious just trying to get out of that situation.

To keep my tank sufficiently full (maybe this should have been the first lesson!). It’s better to spend 10 minutes after a long day at the petrol pump, than…

To see my countrymen as people first, with the same aspirations, fears, grievances, and joys as people everywhere (well, let’s not get carried away; obviously exclusions to the “human first” rule are allowed where abuse of power is involved!).

And… drumroll please… to listen to the wisdom of my dear husband more often (I hope he is not reading this!).

To end, and since we know how much I love lists, here are a few things that might be useful to you in preparation of similar situations:

1. Cars run on fuel, not baseless optimism. You would think everyone knows this, but you would be wrong (points at self).

2. Phones are an ingenious tool that were originally invented for communication. It is of no use having one if you can’t communicate with it! Charge your phone before travelling and keep a charger at your office/ in your bag. Have the common sense to actually use said charger when battery life is low (I have cables in both locations and look what happened to me).

3. Keep a phone charger in your vehicle. Know how to charge your phone in your car even without petrol. Something about one turn of the key/ one push of the button with your foot off the pedal? Bla bla bla. Although, I am not sure if this works when your car battery runs out (advice welcome!), in which case, I hope you read point #2.

4. It’s useful to have flip-flops in the car, especially for women drivers who dress in heels. You never know when you’ll need to get out and roll up your sleeves for some roadside rescue action.

5. We rely on mobile phones and mobile data so much these days. What if they fail us suddenly? Have your emergency numbers written down in your purse/ car, including numbers for your insurance company and breakdown service.

6. If you are being referred from one person to the next when calling for help, ask for the name and number of who is going to be calling you back. In case they don’t within a reasonable time, you‘ll still know who to call.

7. Go ol’ skool. Pen and paper in the car. Must.

8. Leave your hazard lights on to alert other drivers to be careful.

9. Humans run on air, not wireless data connections. Roll down your windows slightly to allow circulation.

10. Learn how to share your location with another person using the location pin in Google Maps or Waze. I fumbled around with Google Maps for a few minutes before figuring it out, and this was how Jerry found me. Google Maps does not require a sign-in, whereas Waze needs your phone number (something I refuse to give as I don't see the relevance). 

How do I end this post? It seems to be such a jumble of details, emotions, revelations, lists, confessions, and realities. Just like true, Malaysian-style rojak.

Perhaps with an expression of gratitude.

It is comforting, how Guru covered everything.
It is beautiful, how good people exist.
And it is simply humbling, how I am able to sit here, and recognise it all.

Note: Thank you to Veerji Harbhajan for giving this post a voice through Asia Samachar. Blessings!

Friday, 29 May 2015

The (alternative) Wedding Guide

It was the 3rd of October, 2013, and I was stuck on a couch in Quito, recovering from a nasty bug from unfiltered water (so diagnosed by a doctor from Perlita’s extensive local network).

The internet was down so there was no opportunity for mindless online distraction. I couldn’t really walk in a straight line so leaving the house was out of the question. I had already completed my Spanish homework on Los Tres Cerditos and just could not bring myself to read my massacre of the beautiful language yet again.

And just like that, I opened up a newly-bought, blank notebook and started making lists (LOVE LISTS!). Having just been engaged two weekends earlier, it felt like it was time to start planning a wedding! I filled up the pages with timelines, shabads, shopping plans, guest names, outfits, menus, venues, and lists of other lists that would need to be made closer to the date (LOVE LISTS!).

I highly doubt that my actions were in anyway ground-breaking; most people who are planning a big event go into some sort of planning mode. The only variable is probably the obsessiveness of said planning (guilty!).

It goes without being said, I hope, that more important than planning a wedding, is obviously giving your energy into the marriage. Here, I can hear my husband laughing, because at many times during our turn, I lost sight of this and became frantic over the most ridiculous things. Invitation font size comes to mind immediately. Such fools we are sometimes.

And during each of those episodes (embarrassed cough), he always reminded me that regardless of whether the colour was coral or salmon (it’s almost like choosing between black and white, really), regardless of whether the paneer would be better served on Sunday as opposed to Friday (why wouldn’t they just agree with me!), and regardless of a hundred other frivolous things, come noontime on the day of our wedding, we would be married. And so, everything else really didn’t matter.

Damn it, it was so annoying that he was absolutely right.

I am very, very blessed, that after weeks of him drilling this into my ears, I finally got it. I was trying to control everything, but nothing was actually in my control. It was Guru who brought us together, and Guru would see it through. Yes, make a plan and get things done, but stop trying to control the outcome.

And just like that, everything shifted. I ended up loving the weeks close to our wedding. I was relaxed, calm, and I daresay, even pleasant to be around. I talked with my friends overseas, hung out with the ones here. I ate well, drove around town on invitation card missions, and spent time with my family. I joked with my tailor, made time for a fun wedding guide, rewrote the Laava(n) translation using words I liked, said yes to all the changes in the menu, and left the flower arrangements in the hands of someone else. It was quite simply, delightful.

It all boiled down to one thing: Letting Go, and Letting God. In that time, I learnt how to divert my energy from the trivial, to the purposeful.

By Thy Grace
Photo credit to Angad Singh

There are enough articles out there to cover everything else. 5 Things Every Bride Must Have, How to Create the Perfect Wedding, blah, and blah, and blah. Some are useful, some are silly, and some insult the intelligence. Enjoy reading them (I did!) :)

Here I offer another list. Perhaps a little unusual, but it was invaluable to me, and I’ve added to it since our wedding too. I’ve ended each section with a note on where the wisdom originated from, for without them, the only item on this list would have been #10, and really that one you could have figured out without me!

1. Lullaby

The days before the wedding will be manic. You will be needed everywhere, and frankly even if you are not needed, you’ll be poking your nose into it. Guests arriving, last-minute errands, utter chaos! As you walk towards your bed at night, dead tired and already half asleep, sit up for a few minutes and read Sohela. This is your time, this is quiet time, this is time for surrendering control to the Infinite. Tune out for the day, and get ready for another adventure tomorrow. If you are not familiar with it, find a recording. Do it alone, do it as a family, do it in your pyjamas. Guru doesn’t mind, really.

This was a gift from my brother, Ravinderpal. Thank you, dear Rumta, for always connecting me with the Divine.

2. Ten minutes

I’m Punjabi and make no apologies for the drama gene in my blood! But the day before the wedding is pretty symbolic, you have to agree. A lot of reasons to burst forth into fountains of tears. Maybe it's your last day at your parent’s home, before you’re off to make your own. A lot of ‘lasts’ here… I’ll skip them because just thinking about them is making me squishy! So, the day before your wedding, claim 10 minutes of your mother’s time. Sit with her, and say thank you. The words are so, so, SO small (how to say thank you for giving you life, I mean?!), but say them anyway. Tell her you’re grateful, tell her you’ll miss her. Tell her whatever, but spend those moments being a thankful daughter.

My soul sister Manmeet held my arm and made me promise I would do this. I am so grateful.

In many ways, our mothers are more prepared for the vidayi; having gone through it themselves and having watched their sisters and friends do the same. For a father, however, it’s probable that he only really experiences its significance when his daughter’s doli leaves the home. Prior to that moment, every action and emotion is caught up in wedding arrangements. The palla ceremony may prepare him a little, but that takes place right in the middle of everything and there may not be space to pause.

Photo credit to Living Images

So, spend 10 minutes with him too. Hear the love in his steady voice, and feel the strength of the protection he has always placed above you, whether physical, financial, or spiritual. The ground you walk on is solid because of his devotion.

Take the best of the home your parents created, and carry it with you when you make your own.

This later section was added post publication, following the sound words of Amru Phenji. Thank you for the precious reminder!

3. Laava(n)

Know the words and the significance of the verses that will bind you on your journey, for they are filled with wisdom and devotion. Read them, understand them, enjoy them. These are not ritualistic empty words uttered by a Giani Ji; these are sacred vows. How much love Guru Ram Das poured into them!

How beautifully Sikhi is growing; there is no shortage of sources where both the Laava(n) and translations are available. I share here my favourite version by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa:

Thank you to that Bride, many summers ago, who panicked and asked someone to translate the Laava(n) for her just before she walked into the Darbar. I knew then that I didn’t want to wait until it was that late. 

4. Wedding? What wedding?

Pre-wedding, most conversations with your partner will be centered around wedding planning. Standing on this side, I now find it amusing how a beautiful relationship ripe with promise and bliss is placed on hold to make way for the most absurd arguments. Since everything that’s happening is urgent and needs to fit into the schedule, add one other thing to it: time out. Set in advance dates and phone calls where there will be absolutely no wedding talk. Remember what that was like? :)

This I owe to my better half. Genius, the man is.

5. The family that prays together

Photo credit to Living Images

Only you know what values you want your marriage to be based on, what your path will be, and how you will walk it together. To nurture mutual dedication to it, pour your energy into a joint prayer that both of you recite daily on the days leading to the wedding. Sharing your life with someone is a pretty big step; sharing a prayer makes it a whole lot easier. Some ideas: do the Beynti Chaupaee, read the Laava(n)/ translation, take a Hukumana and recite that, choose a favourite shabad, or do a meditation together.

Credit again to my Beloved. Heart and mind to Guru first, and always.

6. Roots

If you are fortunate to have your grandparents still with you, spend some time with them and recognise the grit and toughness they had to endure for you to be able to stand in front of them today. We all share different levels of closeness with our elders, so keep it real! If they are your buddies, pour your heart out. If the relationship is more formal, eat your pakoras quietly and ask them about their latest Gurdwara visit. I remember how much my Manji and Nanaji used to BEAM when I went to visit them. That glow accompanied me on the day I was married, even though I could not touch their faces.

They won’t live forever, you know. Have an agenda-less cup of tea with them while you can.

This is wisdom from the Divine. Thank You for allowing me the time and space to spend countless days with them before calling them home.

7. Diamonds are forever

Photo credit to Living Images

You cannot possibly fathom how much you will lean on your sisters and girlfriends before/ during/ after your wedding. They will show up when you need them (without being invited), they will do what needs to be done (without being asked), and they will reassure you that everything is going perfectly (without the slightest hesitation). You may be an absolute basket during the whole thing, but they will make you, yes even you, appear to be normal. So, make time for them, before, during, after, and always.

Photo credit to Living Images

And... the brothers come in useful now and then too. Especially when the girls don't want to do any heavy-lifting after their manicures! It does pay to be nice to them as well :p

This I have always known, for I am surrounded by diamonds.

8. Pat the dog, change the lightbulb

It is a truth universally acknowledged that attending a Punjabi wedding is on most people’s bucket list. Shopping for psychedelic outfits and dancing to lightbulb-changing steps is usually more exciting that witnessing a friend’s wedding ceremony (it’s ok dear, I’m sure deep down they really do love you).

To view, click here

Chances are that you’ll have family members/ guests from different ethnic communities at the wedding. Our week-long celebrations are befuddling even for the bride and groom (no end to rituals that no one knows the reasons for), so you can only imagine how bewildered they must feel. Think of a way to engage them in the celebrations: prepare a short write-up on the events, organise an introduction to bhangra class (mainly to avoid bodily harm on the day itself), invite them for langgar at the Gurdwara sometime, appoint someone to take care of them during the celebrations. I started out with the intention of producing a simple information flyer, and ended up discovering hidden artistic talent in drawing stick figures :)

Inspiration: the London weddings!

9. Who’s got your back?

I’ve always found our culture strange in that the bride’s Chunni Fiddler is pre-determined based on family position. You know, the one who sits behind the bride in the Gurdwara and fidgets with every stray thread that dares rear its ugly head from the bride’s outfit. The idea that someone I didn’t know well would stick to me on such a momentous day was a staggeringly uneasy thought.

I chose not one, but two Chunni Fiddlers (but no, I’m not high maintenance at all :p). Both at least as crazy as me, both ones that I’d shared fits of giggles with, both had been honoured by the pouring of my tears on their shoulders. But most importantly, both ones that knew how much I did NOT want to be bothered on that day. Let the stray threads come out in throngs. I was going to be too busy getting married to care.

Photo credit to Living Images

So if you want to, choose your own CF(s). You can also outsource the bag-holding and tissue-carrying to them. These, as you’ll come to learn, are often dismissed, but absolutely critical tasks that you can only entrust to a select few.

This lightbulb came from Manmeet, who broke out of the norm and appointed a non-relative (me!) as her CF. I can confirm that no one was injured in the process.

10. Uh-oh, where’d it go?

If your salvaar/ churidar has a nalaa, make sure it is looped. Open-ended nalaas bear the risk of one end disappearing in the folds, not to be recovered again without significant manoeuvring (safety pin! hook! help!) and much accompanied stress.

9-year old me was once stuck in a Samelan bathroom for 20 minutes while waiting for help. Key words: Samelan bathroom. Understandably, it is a lesson vividly etched in my senses.

11. Not (just) your wedding

Really, it isn’t. It is also your mother’s daughter's wedding, your grandfather's granddaughter’s wedding, your brother’s sister’s wedding. You are not the only one who gets to decide on everything. You are not the only one who knows what’s best. You are not the only one who wants it to go perfectly. It is as much their joy as it is yours. 

Photo credit to Living Images

Amrit taught me this. I heard her when she first said it, but I only really listened much, much later. Maybe you will be wiser than me and heed her words earlier.

12. To Zafar, with Love

If you have a beloved family pet that won’t be moving with you, hug them and take an insane amount of selfies with them. They don’t speak our language, but they sense everything. They know that change is coming, that you’re leaving. Their universe is pretty small compared to yours, and losing one person from that space is a huge deal. They’ll probably miss you more than you’ll miss them.

If they are dogs, that is. I have nothing to say on cats, sorry :p.

Casper’s footprint on Simran’s wedding invitation reminded me that our dogs would stand with our families through every joy.

13. Every poignant scene needs a soundtrack

Photo credit to Living Images

We all have our favourite songs, compositions, hymns, Baanis, voices. You might want something familiar to feel settled and to calm your nerves on the morning of your wedding. Never in my life had I spent that much time getting dressed and I would have been bored senseless just staring at my face in the mirror with nothing else to focus on. My cherished shabads and mantras kept me company and reminded me that life was really a lot bigger than the next few hours. So plan ahead, and create a playlist for this once-in-a-lifetime morning.

I shamelessly admit that this was inspired by Bollywood. If Kajol could have a fabulous soundtrack while getting her hair done, why couldn’t I?!

In fact, choose your own wedding band! Ahem... I meant Kirtani Jatha :) I know this is not always possible in some Gurdwaras, where you are bound to the Committee decisions. But if you can, run with it. Our family and friends played such a big part in our Anand Karaj, and hearing their voices around us made us feel like it was a close family affair. Even though (in typical Punjabi fashion), there were hundreds of people at the wedding :p. 

Photo credit to Living Images

Getting married without my brothers' voices in the background? Not happening!

14. Every movie has (at least) one superheroINE

And no, this isn’t you.

I mentioned diamonds earlier. Here are more. Your aunts, grandmothers, and mum’s girlfriends will appear out of the woodwork to take on the most glamourless, thankless, and forgotten roles. You’ll wish there were more photos of them in your album, but they were too busy holding the backdrop in place. You’ll search for their faces in the wedding video, but they had taken off their dancing shoes in order to run around keeping the party going.

Photo credit to Living Images

Let them know that you noticed. Do something nice for them: feed them chocolates, invite them over for tea, give them foot massages, bring them souvenirs from your honeymoon.

Photo credit to Living Images

This I know because everything was perfect. I see them in every photo they are not in. The silent doers that held all the strings together.

15. Throw away the Panic Button

Things have a habit of not going according to plan. Your wedding will be no different. Two choices: panic, or let go.

The former is the default reaction, the auto-pilot one. It results in unnecessary stress, takes you away from the pure joy that is taking place all around you, and returns an unsmiling face in your wedding photos (only get to do those once, unfortunately).

The latter will seem impossible to do. But it is the only real choice. There are only so many minutes in that most memorable day, and you can’t rewrite them. So choose this one. Force a smile, shrug it off, and pre-select your response to every kink in the master plan.

Teri Razaa. Dhan Guru Nanak. Tera Kiya Meetha Lageh. Tva Prasaad. Or just simply: NEXT!

This precious lesson in grace I soaked from Bal, Meerat, Manmeet, and Jagdeep, who are grace itself, and reside in the London-shaped lovemark in my heart. 


And there it is. Possibly the only really useful list I’ve ever compiled! :)

I hope it serves you in some way. Wishing you many blessings on your journey together, Tva Prasaad.

And! Never, never forget #10 :p.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Just A Little Red.

I remember being at an Annual Samelan in Malaysia, when during the Heart-to-Heart session, a girl sitting next to me asked me in a whisper if she was allowed to do chaur seva while she was on her period.

I was young(er), and dumbfounded that she had even asked me that. I had been brought up to not even consider that as a valid question... it sounded so ridiculous to me that such a natural process would stand in the way of me and my Guru. Still, thinking myself as immature and unqualified to answer her, I urged her to ask the panel, feeling certain that they would knock some sense into this little thing.

Imagine my distress when a lady from the panel answered quite the opposite: she advised the girl to avoid seva in the Darbar Sahib during her cycle. For the sake of cleanliness or hygiene or something equally preposterous.

That was just a little too much BS for my ‘immature’ spirit to handle, and I recall being possessed into springing up and saying quite forcefully that I completely disagreed with that statement.

Artist unknown

I was certainly not as eloquent as Rupi Kaur when she said: “i bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. my womb is home to the divine. a source of life for our species. whether i choose to create or not”. Wow.

Instead I ranted along the lines of equality (So Kyo Manda Aakhiay… “how can you call Her unclean, She who gives birth to Kings”) and empowerment (I may not have been able to spell that then but I knew what it meant). Frankly, if hygiene was the real concern, then no one in the Samelan would have been allowed anywhere near the Guru given the state of the toilets on the grounds.

I’m certain I must have sounded like a loudmouth on her way to becoming a rebellious teenager (oh how they must have pitied my mother!). But I hadn't spoken up because she was giving birth to any doubt in my mind. I was just determined to not let the other little girls in the room have any confused notions about their beauty and divinity, and certainly not from another woman (it seems a whole lot worse when it comes from our mothers, aunts and sisters, whom we look to for strength and validation).

If you think this was an issue of the past... how I wish it was. This question continues to be asked and answered at our camps to this very day. My measure of the issue has evolved from how it is answered to why have we made our girls so insecure that they feel the need to ask it at all?   

Artist unknown

I am at a loss… I feel so silly even having to justify these arguments in today’s day and age, and in this way of life where I seriously thought that we had dealt with these issues like some 500 years ago. I would like to think that this misguidance is an opinion of the few rather than the norm, but it is alarming how many of these ‘few’ have access to a microphone and a stage.

The Guru that they are trying to keep us away from, that Guru Nanak, is the same one who taught my parents to give me the same opportunities they would give my brother. In fact, I believe they've spent more time building my self-worth and confidence than they did his, knowing the battles I’d have to face in society on the days that lay ahead.

The loudmouthed (opinionated), rebellious (spirited) teenager is a little older today. If a little girl asks me that question now, I hope I will rant less and enlighten more :). In addition to equality and empowerment, I would also say that from a health perspective, hygiene is important and women should take care of themselves (every day of the month, not just a precious few), and approach anything (not just a prayer room) with a clean mind and body. Just as one would after rock-climbing, or making those (dreaded) round rotis, or climbing a tree, or playing in the mud with a pet dog.

I end my gloomy musing with one hopeful experience. Very recently, my young cousin led a gup-chup style session at a camp where she debunked period myths with a group of young girls. A few of us oldies were invited to share our wisdom (ahem!), but she was the conductor and I was so proud of her big-sista-tell-me-your-secrets style, and for breaking the boundaries for the girls to speak openly about their fears and experiences. It was chummy, funny, and most importantly, taboo-breaking. The message was that it was a big deal that wasn't really a big deal.  
There is something special about this Red. It brings forth life.

And yet there is nothing special about this Red. It’s just another biological process. Like breathing.

Can’t stop a woman from bringing forth life or breathing, now, can we?

(Just in case you were hesitating, the answer is no, you cannot).

 ~ thanking dear Meerat for leading me to Rupi Kaur's resonant words, and my cousin for giving me hope!