Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sikh Awareness Exhibition: Bedford Museum

On Wednesday 19th October I had the honour of being asked to present at the Bedford Museum on a topic entitled ‘Sikhism’ – the presentation being part of a special exhibition that will celebrate the traditions and principles of the Sikh Community in North Bedfordshire. Its aim is to bring communities together in an effort to raise awareness and understanding of the Sikh culture and ‘fill in’ the gaps in people’s knowledge of Sikhism.

I was asked to present by Mr Tirath Singh of Guru Nanak Gurdwara, Bedford. Mr Tirath Singh, Norman, Kamaljit and many volunteers (sorry for not remembering all the names) had worked hard the previous weekend to set-up a fantastic series of displays. Included amongst the exhibits one can find, musical instruments, original painting, artefacts and rare coins. The team have been successful in getting private collectors and other museums to lend their items for this exhibition.

During my preparation for the presentation I wondered what gave me any right to talk about the theme. After some thought I concluded that the best I could do was to offer a short insight into our religion, discuss openly the effects of 9/11 (I call it the ripple effect against those that are unaware of who we are. I mentioned the unfortunate and ignorant killing of Sodhi Singh in the USA) and some personal life episodes. The latter focused on how as a child I had faced issues – local neighbourhood kids throwing stones or institutionalised educational bias. Although much has changed I suggested that until the media and story writers could place realistic characters into the mainstream – greater awareness would be constrained. There is a need for us to be accepted as British Sikhs. I ended on a positive outlining how many Sikhs in the UK are involved in charity work.

When Mr Triath Singh kindly picked me up from Bedford Station, during our conversation he mentioned that he is also involved in chaplaincy work with some prisons – sitting, talking, praying and having langar with Sikhs that may have unfortunately committed crimes. There are so many unsung heroes that do perform such work; they in my view are the true givers of good to humanity. The same applies to many volunteers that give their time up to work in hospitals, giving confidence and hope to patients.

The audience I presented to were school teachers and this is a great place to start to promote greater understanding between communities. Children can enjoy a hands on experience with playing instruments and making badges.

The Sikh awareness exhibition is free admission event and is being held at the Bedford Museum, Castle Lane, Bedford, MK40 3XD www.bedfordmuseum.org, bmuseum@bedford.org – for more information contact: 01234 353323- The event will run until 12th January 2006 and is strongly recommended. If you have time you can do what I did – pop along to the Bedford Gurdwara and view the development of the new Gurdwara right next door. I’m sure you will be impressed with the dedication of everyone there.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The art of courtesy was never written down

It was clearly my fault but I horned anyway. The situation was as follows: Having visited the local laundrette to attempt to handle the weekly mass of drying I was slowly protruding out of a side road as I hoped to turn left. I noticed one car to my right needing to turn left into the narrow road I was exiting from. Therefore, I decided that I could indeed try to take advantage of that situation – Not a good idea I hasten to add as it was both a bit provocative and dangerous. The vehicle behind the car that was turning left into the road I was attempting to exit was having none of it. Although the road was tight, he over took both the latter car and my protruding one. In frustration I horned the chappy. Again, I hasten to add, not a good idea. Having scored a double negative whammy, I thought nothing off it apart from considering that I should have been more patient.

It would have been great if the story ended there. However, to my amazement the van driver decided to halt his van in the middle of the proceeding roundabout resulting in a hold-up of at least 3-4 cars behind him, including mine, still stuck at the junction. Having parked, he decided to jump out of his van and walk aggressively toward mine. His manner was threatening and a countless number of explicatives did not hesitate to spawn from his mouth. After a few remarks, he retreated to his van. Maybe I should not have horned at him but I manage to suggest that he demonstrate something called courtesy – an unwritten rule of the road. In a defensive manner I shouted back at him, ‘there is something called courtesy of the road’. His explicatives and self-righteousness continued.

It was quite ironic that I noticed that this week Lynn Truss of ‘Eats shoots and leaves’ (the importance of essential punctuation) has published a new book called, ‘Talk to the hand’. The full phrase or saying is ‘Talk to the hand 'cause the face ain't listening’. She asks the question, when did the world get to be so rude? When did society become so inconsiderate? Talk to the Hand is a rallying cry for courtesy. Its context is slightly different to my episode. For example, what makes your builder think he can treat you like dirt in your own home? When you phone a utility with a complaint its amazing that the supervisor is never there! Why is it mostly impossible to ever speak to a person who is authorised to apologise?

As an afterthought I wondered how easy it is to get into a fight based on our own pride and unfortunate self-righteousness. No body likes to be criticised and if one is following the rules its only one’s temper that needs to be controlled. Maybe the world is too serious, defensive of its own space, impatient and unwilling to give way to others. In the same way those that emerge from a junction need to appreciate the rules but in life there is always an opportunity for understanding and give and take - I guess that is what I mean by simple courtesy!

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Search for the hero inside yourself

It’s interesting that making up phrases is quite easy but carrying them out can be hard. Take for example, the following I just made up, ‘Life is too short to not leave behind a contribution’. I quite like the one from Walt Disney stuck on the side of one of the entry areas of Disneyworld: ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’. Both statements I believe should inspire you with confidence and energy. The reality is that we are so tied up in our daily lives of working and family life that it is rare to find the time to be creative. One could argue that dreaming & creating are the jobs of others, those that exist in the realms of research and development or aspiring to develop a business idea. The concept of dreaming and delivering should not be restricted to delivering a new technological aid. On the other hand no one should be forced into a situation. However, I believe we all have an opportunity to put some effort into doing something for others. In this way collectively we’ve made a difference or delivered a change – and there is much to do in so little time. The followwing items reveal practical steps or direct actions that you can personally take, today:

• Global warming (Nearly all observers agree that the last century witnessed a surface-level warming of the earth by approximately one degree Fahrenheit. Current projections suggest a range of warming over the next century between 2.5 degrees and 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit. ) – start to recycle and consider conservation in all aspects of your daily life. It only takes a few seconds to not throw a cola can or flatten an empty cereal pack. Divert its path to your council provided recycling box.
• Fair trade – understand the difference it makes and change your buying habits / shopping lists to include these items.
• Free world debt (Every single day, 30,000 children are dying as a result of extreme poverty – Hey! Reader – you must consider this as unacceptable!) – lobby your MP for justice by emailing or writing a letter to them about how this issue really needs their (MPs) support. Follow the activities of campaigns such as ‘make poverty history’ www.makepovertyhistory.com - a white band can help (!) but demanding change is a stronger route.
• Be kind to each other (Its about strength through diversity not alienation!) – Seek out and learning about our differences and respect each other for who we are.
• Protecting human rights (A visit to http://www.amnesty.org will surely open your eyes)– Read and write to your MP about reported cases of human rights abuses.

To borrow a line from a song lyric, ‘I’m looking for the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to make a change… If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make that change’.

I believe that we have a chance to make a difference everyday of our lives.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Soul Sikher – A mast Sikh! A must see!

I’d like to first thank Sody Singh Kahlon for kindly inviting us to the press night of his brand new one-man show – Soul Sikher. On a warm September evening I was behind schedule, having caught a late train. The result was that I only had seconds to go before the start of the show, but I’m glad I made it on time especially as one of Sody’s jokes during the performance related to the bad record, stereotypical I’d hasten to add, that a certain community has on arriving late. But that’s not what Sody’s distinctive humour is about. He is truly a genius in fusing together an insight into the psyche of living as an ethnic in the UK, a realisation of our potential to connect with ourselves and then making it accessible to a wide audience base using performance skills coupled with modern multi-media technology.

The show starts with the wonderful title track of Indi Kaur’s delightful CD: ‘Keep on Walking’ (released in 2005). Indeed all of the music throughout the show features such great artists including Grammy nominated Snatam Kaur. In parallel to the music we are presented with photographic progress of the fun times of a young Sikh boy. We sit and watch him playing with his sister, parents and relatives until he morphs into the Paul, a flat-capped faithless chap who has unfortunately lost the path to any sense of enlightenment. We see Paul interacting with his spiritual wife, his prejudiced boss and dealing with the public face of material success. Although the origins of his frustrations of a Sikh identity in a western society are less explored, it does mirror a situation that many British Sikhs find themselves in.

Paul works for Ingram Norten Information Technology (INIT), as a computer sales representative. He is ambitious but his glass ceiling is obvious and tiresome. It forms the framework for Sody to play a host of new characters all exploiting his ability to make us laugh through understanding their extreme patterns of behaviour. Many of us will associate them with people we have met or even seen in character traits of our own selves.

When Paul is presented with an assignment to fix an off-shore outsourcing problem, he reluctantly heads East. However his journey East is interceded by Divine Intervention which causes a car accident resulting in Paul’s eastern experiences all occurring in his head as he lies in a coma moments before he takes his last breath. Paul’s eastern voyage of self-discovery is further supported by more of Sody’s cheeky characters that guide Paul back to the Sikh path.

We are also treated to some essential Sikh history. I have to admit that a scene that sent the most tingles down my back was the way that Sody presented us images of how Sikhs sacrificed their lives for the liberty and freedoms of the people by fighting against ethnic cleansing. He also reminds us of a carnage episode from 1919 – another chilling holocaustic moment of history for us all.

Sody’s show is a great experience to realise through the medium of humour the importance of knowing one’s self and the need to not be deterred away from our religious heritage but most of all to keep it in tact as it is timeless.

At the end of the show, and just like Sody’s previous solo show, ‘Sikhs in the City’, he met the audience – an act that reveals him to be a warm and gracious person. I spoke to him and he admitted stretching the boundaries of the multi-media tool he was using. We have a great Sikh talent here and giving him more support will I’m certain result in him climbing to even greater international acclaim. I wish him all the best in this must see show of a mast Sikh! Make sure you catch it at Watermans, Brentford, Middlesex: (box office: 020 8232 1010) from 6th to 9th October 2005 or visit Sody’s cool site at www.sody.co.uk for further tour dates.

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