Serving food and affirmations

Experience | Growing up in a small typical Malaysian town in the 80s, our small Sikh community was really close knitted. Saturday breakfasts and lunches were typically at the local Gurdwaras, by default, and we then quickly settled at home sometime before tea time to catch some obscure Bollywood movie that the local national tv channel would broadcast. - JAGDESH SINGH

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UNITED SIKHS – Langar 2012: On 21st July 2012 the eyes of the global community were on Fauja Singh, the 101 year-old marathon runner, the oldest torch bearer at London 2012, who carried the Torch on the 64th day of the Olympics Torch Relay. To celebrate the wonderful achievements of this under-spoken treasure of the Sikh community, UNITED SIKHS, alongside Gurdwaras and Sikhs from around the world participated in an unprecedented celebration of how Sikhs embrace diversity.

By Jagdesh Singh | Opinion |

The Darbar Sahib had an airy ambiance. I had swallowed my degh in one attempt. It wasn’t much but it was fulfilling, I thought to myself as I bowed down to head towards the Langgar Hall downstairs. But I couldn’t find her on my way out. My youngest daughter was the only company I had today for my weekly sojourn at the local Gurdwara. Curiously, I rushed downstairs to see if she had found some acquaintances her age to hang out with. It is a huge hall but empty still, with the crowd lingering around in the Darbar Sahib upstairs. Yet, she was not to be seen within my line of sight. Before I could step out as the solo search party, I hear her familiar “Pa!” and then she was right in front of me, sandwiched between 5 men, all lined up as the servers of lunch – buffet style.

Growing up in a small typical Malaysian town in the 80s, our small Sikh community was really close knitted. Saturday breakfasts and lunches were typically at the local Gurdwaras, by default, and we then quickly settled at home sometime before tea time to catch some obscure Bollywood movie that the local national tv channel would broadcast. Designed as the central social nerve center by our forefathers in India, families came together at our local Gurdwara for food, gossip, entertainment, and meaningful social interaction. As kids, helping with the kitchen, serving food, and cleaning up afterwards was really an activity that we naturally had to do. You come to Gurdwara, you either sit in the Darbar Sahib quietly or you go downstairs to play with your friends. Quite often, that playing with your friends organically became doing some seva together. When it was time to serve food to the congregation, we literally filled up the food into steel pails, and walked around dishing the food out onto waiting steel plates while loudly announcing what the food was.

“Dhaal ji! Dhaal ji!”

“Sabji ji! Sabji ji”

“Kheer ji! Kheer ji!”

“Chaol ji! Chaol ji!”

We were boisterous, and I personally enjoyed getting acknowledgement from the adults being served with the food. The simple nod, or a smile, even better the vocal “Thank you, beta!” was the positive affirmation I liked very much. It made us kids all feel that doing service without expecting any returns, serving people was fun. Especially when the rest of the gang of friends were also as noisy, as rambunctious. Mind you, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the spicy vegetarian food, but it was the smallest of issues compared to the fun we were having doing all that work. When the crowd subsided, some of us stayed back to clean up, even more fun!

Later in life, equipped with more knowledge of our heritage and our foundational Sikh principles, I began to be conscious on why doing service like this in the Gurudwara was important to us in life. I know I wasn’t the only one with this realization, with some of the closer friends also sharing the same appreciation. I won’t bore you with my interpretation of what this all meant, but I’ll say that it created an obligatory sense of trying to be in service to people around us. First as Sikhs, then as humans. There were times later in my life where I credited this part of my upbringing to being as helpful and humane as possible. As a Sikh, and as a human.

As I ate my last morsel of the chapati drenched with the dhaal, she was still busy serving piping hot vegetable curry to a long line of people from the Darbar Sahib upstairs. She was the only one in the below 25 age brackets, merely half the age of the rest of sevadars. It was obvious that they gave out a welcoming vibe to her that encouraged her to join their camaraderie. Mind you, like me at her age, her grasp of Punjabi was close to none. So, along with the age barrier there was the language barrier. Yet, there she was literally smiling with joy getting the same nod or ‘Thank you’ from those being served. I could already guess the feeling, if not remember it clearly from when I was her age. I did wonder what compelled her to join them in the first place. Then I remembered that during our previous visit to the same Gurdwara, along with her mother, she had wandered deep into the kitchen where the utensils and plates were being washed. She was drenched with soap and water but had the same smile. There were nods and smiles from the adults also washing the plates and utensils together with her. It looked like she belonged there.

Her mother and I are grateful that she’s naturally attracted to doing such service like this at her age. We’re still a little bemused but certainly patted ourselves in our backs even though we don’t really know what we did right. We’ll take the credit and run for now.

But long may it last. It will all come good for our baby girl, that we’re very sure.

Jagdesh Singh, a Kuala Lumpur-based executive with a US multinational company, is a father of three girls who are as opinionated as their mother

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

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