Lesson from coronavirus: Begone big weddings

In our big lavish weddings, we sometimes forget the purpose, which is two people who are about to become one on a journey together.   

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By Manjit Kaur (UK) | OPINION |

I have been reflecting on the COVID 19 pandemic for many months, and what this means for me personally and humanity. But now that there is talk about life after Corona virus, I thought this was a good time to share my thoughts. As the COVID 19 vaccine roll-out is taking effect, there is talk about returning back to normal.

In the UK, we have had our fair share of tragedies and suffering, though I have been lucky to avoid the virus and am soon to have my second vaccination. I know that some people from ethnic minority communities, because of a mixture of superstition, mistrust and misinformation, have been reluctant to get the vaccine. This is tragic because we know the only way out of the pandemic is mass vaccination and, as well as unnecessarily suffering for themselves, these individuals will cause others to suffer.

I can only thank the scientists and health professionals for saving so many lives. And if there is a God, then I have doubt it is these professionals and the not so-called ‘holy people’ who have his ‘bakshish’ or blessing.

All the talk now if of how life will be after the lockdown? Will we return back to life as before or has virus changed our lives be forever in a new normal? I guess we can approach these questions from lots of different angles, but for me, especially concerning some of our unpleasant community attitudes, I would be very disappointed if things go back to as they were before the Pandemic.

BEGONE BIG WEDDINGS

Take for example the typical Panjab wedding, where before the lockdown people would spend in excess of £50,000 catering for 500 to 600 guests or more. But during the lockdown, most weddings were cancelled and those that were allowed were restricted to 15 to 30 people, which meant concentring on those relatives that really matter. We saw the same happening with birth and death ceremonies in Gurdwaras where restrictions were in place.

I know some people love the big gatherings, and certainly the gurdwaras and catering businesses have taken a big hit, but for me, there is something magical about having much more intimate weddings. There is a saying that ‘small is beautiful’ and I do believe having a wedding where the guests are not strangers or hangers-on, but people who you love and care for and you know they will be there for you when you truly need them. In our big lavish weddings, we sometimes forget the purpose, which is two people who are about to become one on a journey together.

Whether it is an arranged or love marriage, every marriage has ups and downs, but nowadays it could be argued that the pressure on most couples is greater than ever. Though not the only factor, perhaps because of unrealistic expectations or the pressure to please others rather than put you and your partners needs first, we have seen a big increase in divorces rates, both in India and across the world. When we focus too much on servicing the needs of relatives, we neglect our immediate family, each other and our children.

When we marry in front of Guru Granth Sahib ji, we take a vow to not only work together as a couple but to think as one, and to grow and learn together. We all know the lines from Gurbani that “they are not husband and wife if they simply sit together; only when two souls become one are they truly husband and wife.” And for most couples, coming together is also about bringing new lives into this world. And when you decide to do this, to have a child, it is very important that the child connects, first with the parents, and then with the wider family.

Children who develop healthy attachments will develop confidence and self-esteem. And a child who is comfortable at home with their parents and siblings is much more likely to feel comfortable with others from different communities.  But I would add this cannot happen at a distance through online communication, but only through close contact with others. Indeed, lack of human contact is one of the causes of fear, mistrust and hate towards others. Children are not born with racist attitudes but pick them up from their surroundings. One of the downsides of social media is that such attitudes can be easily spread and be picked up. It is so important that we teach our children to value all human beings as equals. As Guru Gobind Singh said, “Recognise the human race as one.”

THE SIMPLE THINGS THAT MATTER

Coming back to the COVID 19 experience, though it has been painful, I feel it has also allowed humanity to pause, reflect and think what is really important in life? And what I have discovered is that it’s not the material things that matter, but those things that either cannot be bought, such as a simple smile or loving embrace, or those things that are free, like a walk in the park, or helping others. But perhaps the most precious thing is our physical and mental health, which if we are honest, we do tend to neglect.

So I believe what COVID 19 has taught us of the dangers of selfish and self-harming behaviour, of the importance of caring for ourselves and others. In this regard, I have been very proud of those Sikhs throughout the world who have been providing langar and medical care to the needy. Some of the scenes in Delhi of people dying in the streets and in rikshaws gaping for oxygen were truly horrific, but I was so humbled by my Sikh brothers and sisters who, in Delhi and across the world, did what they could to help those in need. I am reminded of the words of Sikh historian Rattan Singh Bhangu, who in his composition Prachin Panth Prakash, said, “The mouth of a poor person is the treasury of the Guru”.

Another lesson that COVID 19 has taught us is the importance of respecting and loving the environment as if it were a living thing. Indeed, in Japji Sahib, Guru Nanak says this very thing: “The air we breathe is Guru, the water we drink is our father and the land from where all our food is obtained is our mother.”  And so I think, after the lockdown, we need to be much kinder to nature and that means reducing our wasteful consumption and working towards regenerating not destroying the natural world. It means having fewer desires, spending less and consuming less. As Guru Nanak warns in Japji Sahib “Bhukia bhukh na utaree, jay bhana puria paar” or “Our hunger to consume is never complete, even if we establish mountains of material goods.”

Yes, we all need clothes, food, shelter, money and transportation, but in the post COVID world we need to downsize. I for one, have sold my car and I am looking to move into a smaller house. I ask myself, do we really need to spend so much money on lavish weddings? I would say no, so the question is, why do we consume so much? And the answer is because we lack inner self-worth, which is also the cause of unhappiness.  We over consume to make ourselves feel happy, but like a drug, we simply end up covering our unhappiness. On the outside, we might appear to be happy, but this is just a mask; underneath we may feel lonely and unhappy about our lives.

FEAR LOSING HONOUR

One of the biggest downfalls we all have, and this is something that I see a lot in our Panjabi community, is the habit of covering things up, of not dealing with the real issues at hand, of being afraid of what people might think, of a fear of loss of honour or ‘beizti’. In the new post-COVID 19 normal, as a community we must lift the lit on this collective self-denial.  We could start with the issue of mental health, which is a massive silent killer. We also need to look at family violence and abuse, both physical and sexual, which has increased significantly during to the lockdown.

Perhaps the greatest challenge we have faced during the lockdown is that of our loss of freedom. The restrictions have meant we were not able to travel, to meet people, to socialise with family and friends. In some cases, this resulted in tragic circumstances where loved ones could not even attend funerals of their close relatives and friends. It’s been a really sad time where we have felt like being imprisoned. But as we come out of the lockdown, I have also been thinking about what does it mean to be free? And for me, this boils down to three key things: not be overly influenced by others when making decisions, but to follow your instincts;  having the awareness and critical consciousness to not believe everything you are told; not to feel compelled to always please others and neglect yourself, especially in terms of extended family pressures that are put on us.

This last point is particularly important as I have come to realise that the more you go out of your way to please others, the more you are disrespected. It’s as if we are trying to please others so they will like us! I believe the people who truly care for you do so unconditionally. And when you get people treating you in this way, then you can give back the same unconditional respect.  Again, I feel this unconditional love was there to be seen across the world where Sikhs and others were doing ‘nishkaam seva’ or selfless service, by feeding, sheltering and caring for the needs of others irrespective of their race, caste, religion or status.

Over the past year or so under the COVID 19 lockdown, another thing that has changed my life is that, along with my sister, I have begun to provide constant care for my 87-year-old mother who is no longer able to live independently. This has meant that for part of the week I have been staying at her house, which is some 30 miles away from my home. For many people, the prospect of providing round the clock care for their elderly parents is a burden and sadly some do get neglected and worse. For sure, it is not easy to care for a frail elder, but when I think about the unconditional love and care she has given me for so many years, then actually, looking after her is not a duty but an expression of my love. When I take care my mum, I try to enter her world, to understand what she must be going through. Not long ago, she was an independent woman who was looking after so many other people, so I realise how she must be feeling.  I do sometimes get upset and tearful, but I am so happy that my partner, Gurnam,  has been very supportive and has given my mum, his mother-in-law, his complete unconditional love.

COPING WITH MY ANXIETY

If I am completely honest, the past 12 months has been very difficult for me, and my anxiety levels have been getting worse, especially regarding my mums wellbeing as she has become increasingly vulnerable. Thankfully, she is fully vaccinated, but, given her age, I have been worried about her catching the virus. However, I have realised that anxiety is an important emotion that requires management and action.

To cope with the anxiety I have developed two key strategies: to reflect on the reasons for my anxiety and to act appropriately; to find ways of calming my mind. In this regard, I have found doing mool mantar to be very powerful. Also, I have found regular exercise, walks and taking time out to read and talk with my partner is also be very helpful. The way not to deal with anxiety is to go in on yourself, which can only result in harm. Anxiety, I have realised is a natural emotion which prepares you to meet your challenges and to take new steps to move forward. The problem is that some people become trapped in anxiety, which then can lead inaction, which is not good.

All the signs are that the various vaccines that have been developed are managing to drive down COVID 19, though I suspect, for years to come, we will be under some kind of restrictions, such as, annual vaccine boosts, wearing masks in enclosed spaces, and vaccine passports for travel. We must not forget that in many poor countries the battle against the virus is still raging on and sadly millions more will die and suffer before we can say humanity has moved on. But if we don’t learn the bigger lessons, if we don’t continue to keep caring for each other, for the planet and simply return to the old ways, perhaps as a human race we need to accept nature will do its work and this means humanity has no future. But the good news is, the future is in our hands and for sure we can have a new beginning.

Manjit Kaur, a UK-based therapist and counsellor, is a presenter of the 1 Show on Akaal Channel. She can be contacted via email at manjitkaur1show@gmail.com

 

RELATED STORY:

Dealing with loss, separation during Covid-19 crisis (Asia Samachar, 13 May 2020)

 

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