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Being and Becoming a Sikh

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"Being and Becoming a Sikh"

By Gurpal Singh

Saturday, May 03, 2003 - 07:21 AM EST

Being and Becoming a Sikh, I.J. Singh, Centennial Foundation, 2003

Age often bestows to us the “graybeard” title that some choose to call us by; it often lends gravity to oneself. Few however possess the insight and wisdom that is shown in this new book by I. J. Singh. “Being and Becoming a Sikh” is the third collection of essays that Singh has produced and it shows again the keen observation and reflection that has been the hallmark of the previous two.

The book starts off with an autobiographical essay where the author discusses his personal growth in Sikhi and how he has traveled the “inner journey”. To him it is a work in progress that gives direction to his life and he thus becomes the constant student – the real “Sikh”. From there he goes on to discuss what a “modern Sikh” is and the power of a uniform. Although he discusses what a uniform imposes on the wearer, he does not go on to discuss the unique features of Sikhism – are we unique because we keep long hair or are we unique because our set of values is so high? What should be the attributes of the “Sant –sipahi”?

There are thoughtful looks at fundamentalism and fanaticism, whether Sikhs are a different race or are they an ethnic entity, on turbans and patkas and on singing and dancing. He discusses the role of the Gurus in nation building although it seems to be a stretch. Nation building requires a code of law and Sikh jurisprudence has still to make its mark so that it can be seriously regarded. There is an excellent piece on the enemies of the cause – but instead of listing those enemies it points out how it is the enemy within that requires our attention.

The events of the modern day continue to exercise the author. He makes note of the controversy that surrounds Dya Singh, the accomplished Sikh performer and also the scandals involving Enron and the corporate greed they exhibited. There is a cautionary note about our republican origins and his hope for the future – that we will survive if we remember our role as a movement for human self-development. There is also comment on the controversy in the Catholic Church and compares it with the Sikhs who do not have an organized theological bureaucracy. In one of his concluding essays there is a hilarious speech given by an imaginary Sikh Gurdwara President who is convinced of his own righteousness. It is followed by a string of provocative questions including “What would Guru Nanak think if he came here today?”

This book makes for an excellent read for a Sikh. Its utility for a non-Sikh may be limited because of the issues peculiar to our religion that he discusses. There is also some duplication of comment and incident. These are probably appropriate for a column written over a period of time but it could have been edited out of this book. However, these are small oversights.

I found the book to be thoughtful without being trenchant, while providing a fresh and whimsical look at some venerable institutions within Sikhism. It is a “must read” for all Sikhs – particularly the young ones out on the front lines who are keeping the flag flying. Being a Sikh is the easy part – we all are- while becoming a Sikh requires the effort and the “himmat” that few of us have.

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