I still love the traditional bana, but…

In the twilight of my 64th year...rather than external appearances, my attention is now drawn to the spiritual, ethical, and philosophical dimensions of Sikhi. - GURNAM SINGH

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Gurnam Singh in 1981 in Southall during his university days in West London.

By Gurnam Singh | Opinion |

The below picture captures a moment in 1981 in Southall during my university days in West London. I was at the tender, impressionable age of 21, and 43 years later, looking back on those times, all I can say is, “doesn’t time fly!” The swift passage of four decades marks my transformation from youthful exuberance to seasoned maturity. Though, in all honesty, I find myself occasionally regressing.

During those formative years in the UK, it wasn’t the norm for individuals, especially in my age group, to don the traditional Sikh warrior attire. I was among the few amritdhari Sikhs embracing the distinctive look. For me, this choice wasn’t merely a fashion statement; against the background radiation of racism, it represented a profound chapter in my journey to rediscover my hitherto largely discarded historical, linguistic, and cultural heritage.

The reminiscence of those days brings forth a tangible connection to the past, emphasizing the enduring significance of culture and identity in developing self-esteem. The traditional bana and weapons, once symbolic of a fervent embrace of Sikhi, now serve as poignant artifacts linking the vibrant and idealistic youth of 1981 to what I feel, though some may disagree, is the more reflective, pragmatic, and less impatient person I am today,

Despite the passage of time, my enduring love and respect for bana remain steadfast. However, a touch of melancholy creeps in when witnessing contemporary Sikhs, often dressed in warrior attire, expressing anger towards each other, be it on social media or in the precincts of Gurdwaras worldwide.

Sometimes these conflicts are over deep ideological rifts, notably in relation to the issue of Sikh nationalism and support for Khalistan. But more often, they are related to petty issues regarding daily religious routines, such as whether one can consume meat, the length of prayers, appearance, and also the status of secondary texts.

This observation prompts a deeper realization of the essence of true Sikhi, emphasizing the delicate equilibrium between the spirited energy of a warrior and the serene composure of a saint. I have come to realize that in order to transform the world, one also needs to transform oneself first. Over time, adopting a more reflective mode of thinking and acting, one realizes change is possible but cannot be forced; you have to convince others through reason and love.

In the twilight of my 64th year, officially stepping into the realm of old age, the occasional urge to wear traditional attire resurfaces. Yet, the focus has evolved. Rather than external appearances, my attention is now drawn to the spiritual, ethical, and philosophical dimensions of Sikhi. The bana and weapons, though cherished, remain important symbols of my transformative journey, reflecting the growth from seeking external approval to the internal pursuit of spiritual depth and understanding.

Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at Gurnam.singh.1@warwick.ac.uk

* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.

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