Punjab: To Anandpur Sahib and the Clash of Cultures

Good morning everyone,

Took a trip to Anandpur Sahib and back (in 33 hours) with my brother, Anoopji, and his cousin.  The pics on the left are the result at least from Amritsar to Anandpur Sahib.  It is 184.4 km from Amritsar.  However, we’re talking about Indian roads and Punjabi Death Fog, and we were in a caravan of vehicles which was also stopped so that young people could give us langar on the way, so what would take 2 hours on a Canadian highway took more like 8.  It was so much fun!
I had exactly 1/2 hour notice that the trip was on.  Bring on the spontaneity!  Seriously, Anoopji said “want to go?  Be ready at 1.”… that was at 12:30.  I was ready at 12:45, which brought gales of laughter from him.  I was becoming a little worried about the laughter… what did I forget to pack?  would I need some secret Sikh initiation thing that he’s not telling me about?  am I not dressed appropriately?  WHAT?!?  That’s when his wife said “He’s laughing because he could never believe that any girl could be ready in 15 minutes.”  Ah, aha.  Ummm… nah, I’m not touching that stereotype.  

As usual, we stopped at a gurdwara or two along the way.  Eleven in total.  Eleven.  It’s a record for me.  Where I would have been frustrated with other company, with Anoopji and his cousin, it was fun.  They are very well informed and he speaks English way better than he believes he does, so I learned a lot.

The first stop on our trip was at a gurdwara in Saher, near Ropar village.  This is, I am told, the site where Gangu had taken Mata Gujri Ji and the two youngest Shahebzadas before he tried to steal from them and had them arrested.  Not far away is Gurdwara Kotwali Sahib, where the youngest sons of Guru Gobind Singh Ji – Zorawar Singh Ji and Fateh Singh Ji were initially imprisoned with their grandmother, Mata Gujri Ji.  This gurdwara is known as Gurdwara Shish Ganj Sahib or also Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj Sahib.

There was a little boy out front of the gurdwara sitting all by himself on a motorcycle.  I tried to get him to look at me for a pic but… no luck.  Good boy, ignoring strangers.  His parents taught him well (and I’m pretty sure Dad was no more than 20 metres or so away talking with someone).  I only thought about how creepy it was afterward… Yeap, good going Himmatpreet, get yourself arrested in India.  That sounds like a good plan.

Along the way, through the fields of Punjab, I tried to have Anoopji and his cousin identify some of the local flora for me.  This led to a discussion about sugar cane, which is being harvested this time of year.  At one point, Anoopji told me to take a picture of a large load of sugar cane in the oncoming lane being hauled by a red tractor.  Just as I was lining up a shot, boom the tractor was right beside me.  The look on the tractor driver’s face was … a little bit of surprise and a lot more “crazy freakin’ tourist, what the frack?”

We then headed away from Morinda toward Anandpur Sahib again when we were met by a parade!  Well not really.  This was a pilgrimage of Sikhs walking from Anandpur Sahib near the border with Himachal Pradesh to Fatehgarh Sahib, much further south.  They were led first by a decked out TATA truck, then an elephant in full paint and regalia, then a camel!  I begged the boys to stop so I could take some pictures of the procession.  So glad I did.  There have been a lot of elephants on the roads and highways.  I’ve been waiting to get a half decent picture of one.  When I do, he’s joined by a camel.  Awesome.

Our next stop on our own pilgrimage was Parivar Vichora, a gurdwara at the top of a hill near the River Sirsa which marks the spot of a tragedy that occurred in the life of our tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

After leaving Anandpur after the Battle of Anandpur and while being pursued by Mughal forces, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, his family and a number of other Sikhs had to cross the River Sirsa when it was in high water.  Guruji managed to cross the river with his two eldest sons, Bhai Ajit Singh Ji and Bhai Jujhar Singh Ji but he was separated from the rest of his family.  Mata Sahib Kaur Ji was also separated and was escorted to Delhi.  Gangu, who you’ve read about escorted Guruji’s mother, Mata Gujri Ji and his two youngest sons, Bhai Zorawar Singh Ji and Bhai Fateh Singh Ji to his village, where he would later betray them and have them arrested.

This gurdwara has a number of old weapons that were found on the site.  You climb a little more than 100 steps to reach the top of the gurdwara, which commands wide views of the plains below.

This would be the first 100 of several, several hundred stairs I would climb that day.  More on that later but suffice it to say, I won’t believe my brother any more when he tells me, “just like 5 or 10 more steps…”

When we were leaving Parivar Vichora Gurdwara, my brother decided to sit on someone’s Activa (a popular brand of scooter here in India), to put on his socks and shoes.  It’s winter and cold enough that socks are necessary and sandals are out.  We decided to take a few candid pics of him seated on the ancient Activa when the owner, an elderly man followed by four of his granddaughters came by … obviously the owner of the Activa.  With four grandchildren.  A scooter.  Because that’s how they play it here.  Five people on a scooter.  So long as you can all fit, it’s totally okay round these parts.

Our next stop was Gurdwara Patal Puri, on the River Sutlej.  This Gurdwara uses solar power to heat and light their langar hall, a project that is taking hold in more and more places in Punjab.

Gurdwara Patal Puri is a place where many Sikhs bring the ashes of their loved ones to immerse them in the Sutlej River.  This is no doubt because Guru Hargobind Ji was cremated here in 1644, and Guru Har Rai Ji was cremated here in 1661.  After Guru Harkrishan died in Delhi in 1664, his ashes were also brought here to be immersed in the Sutlej River.

Sikhs are discouraged from attachment and are not supposed to wail at funerals (some cultures in India hire people to come to funerals just to wail, which is a practice that is not permitted in Sikhi).  While we were at the gurdwara, we payed a respectful visit to the site where so many ashes are entrusted to the Sutlej.  We came upon a group who obviously had just moments before released their loved one’s ashes.  It was an emotional scene to watch.  The widow had to be assisted in walking away, so in mourning was she.  She was wailing.

I get the idea of not hiring professional wailers.  You don’t mourn your loved one more because you can afford 10 wailers as opposed to the poor family down the road who can only afford 1, right?  But discouraging this poor woman from wailing seems harsh.  Maybe it’s the widow in me, still not quite past it, that sympathizes with her need to let that sound out of her, to release that pain somehow.

Our next stop was Anandpur Sahib (well first, the Khalsa Museum) which you will see in the next post.  On to today’s topic and that is the Clash of Cultures.

I’m adjusting to life here pretty well.  There are only a few small things (nothing important on the grand scale of life) that I have had a hard time adjusting to.  First being that everyone wants to feed me all the time, and not healthy food either.  And declining food… well, that is NOT done.  Second is that people here (especially women) are real homebodies.  Not me.  I am not a homebody.  I like my home.  I love it really.  But I don’t want to spend all of my time in it.  I like to get out in the world and do some stuff.

Others have had a harder time adjusting to me.  That’s right.  It’s not only me who has an obligation to adjust to the culture of those around me but there is an obligation on the part of others to at least try to understand my own culture as well.  So, for example, try to understand why I am declining your constant offer of food.  Here’s how that seems to play out most of the time:

Host:  Have some tea.
Me:  Thank you.  Tea would be lovely.  [To self:  please don’t bring out all your best sweets with the tea.]
Host:  Have some sweets with your tea.  They are very tasty.
Me:  [To self:  Oh…but I HATE sugar.]  Thank you, you are very kind.  I’ll try one.  Mmmm.  Yes, that is very tasty.
Host:  Have some more.
Me:  Oh no, really, I couldn’t.
Host:  Just one more.  [To themselves:  What is wrong with her!  These are great sweets!]
Me:  [To self: What is the polite number of times to say no thank you?  Right, nope, she expects me to eat this next one too.  Maybe I can eat it really slowly…]  Thank you, just one more.
Host:   Why are you not eating?  Are you sick?  Is it not tasty?
Me:  It’s really, really tasty but I don’t really eat sweet things.  I try to eat more fruits and vegetables and rice than sugar.  You’re so kind to offer.
Host:  Oh, you want vegetables.  [Yells something in Panjabi to another person somewhere]
Me:  [Oh no…]  Not right now though, because I am full from all these sweets.  They are so delicious.
Host:  Have some subji (vegetables), dhal (lentils) and roti.  Do you want 5 or 9 rotis?
Me:  You’re so nice to offer.  Really though.  I am full,  Please don’t go through the trouble for me.
Host:  [Why will this woman not eat?  She’s going to die right here in my house of starvation and then what?  People will think I killed her!]  [Okay… probably my host is not thinking that but… something close]
Me:  I can’t possibly eat all this food.  [How do they eat ALL this food??!!??  It’s freakin’ delicious but HOW??!!??]

Invariably, I end up getting the “She-Hates-Our-Food” face, which makes me sad and apologetic at the same time.  I try to take just one more mouthful and then … like on this trip … I throw up in the bathroom.  Not because the food was bad (it was awesome) but because I stuffed way too much of it into my body and my body finally said “Listen.  I told you about this.  You and I are now going to have a problem.  Take a little retching as punishment for your gluttonous ways.”  Blech.

The Clash of Cultures is even more extreme when it comes to the Host Unit and I.  We try hard to understand one another despite our language problems but we definitely do NOT see eye to eye on most things.  While I try hard to understand where she’s coming from most of the time (when my patience isn’t worn too thin), she doesn’t seem to want to meet me halfway.  So when I decline her food, it remains a personal issue for her.  There’s just something wrong with me.  When I get up at 3 a.m. to bathe and do my prayers and then go back to sleep, I’ve not done them (because she didn’t see them) so I’m not doing what an Amritdhari Sikh ought to be doing and that stresses her with worry.  When I want to spend time alone, she really doesn’t get that so I must be feeling sad, so she needs to get closer to cheer me up.  When I want to talk with the nice doctor I met, I get rude treatment in front of him because “that isn’t done in India.  Indians are cunning.”  What!?!  My God, keep me away from the man who delivers milk then because he and I have been practising our English and Panjabi respectively on one another… people might think I’m a harlot!!

I’m not complaining about the host unit.  I’m really not.  I think she’s great but I wish she would come even a quarter of the way to getting where I am coming from.  She’s constantly telling me “In India… In Canada…” stories when she doesn’t know the first thing a) about me and b) about Canada.  That’s just the way she is but it is because she is this way that she prevents herself from coming partway.  She already knows everything, so what is there to learn… sigh.

It makes me not want to be around her much, even though I like her and I think she’s genuinely trying to just be a good hostess and a nice person.

The Clash of Cultures was greatest over the doctor.  I don’t know what she thought was going on there but she acted like I had sex with him on the bench in a public park, when all that happened was an entertaining, 15 minute conversation with a very nice person.  There wasn’t even a handshake!

Oh look at that, I forgot one of the gurdwaras that we visited.  Nice segue right?  Well, the pic is there on the left, so yes… I’m calling it a nice seque.  The greenish fronted building is Baba Budha Shah Gurdwara.  Inside there are intricate paintings and calligraphy in Persian.  Beautiful!

The story goes that Baba Budha Shah, a Muslim holy man met Guru Nanak Dev Ji, our first Guru near this spot and offered him some milk during their long discussions about faith and God.  Guru Nanak Dev Ji said that he would return in his sixth incarnation to accept the milk.  Our sixth Guru was Guru Hargobind Ji, who is said to have also met Baba Budha Shah Ji.  He was offered the same bowl of milk, which had not spoilt in all that time.

One of the most colourful gurdwaras I have ever seen, inside is even more colourful and full of items which reinforce for me the positive relationship that Guru Nanak Dev Ji had with both Muslims and Hindus during his guruship.  In these days, when so many of us so readily wish to blame all Muslims for the actions of a few, and wish to punish present day Muslims for the sins of the Mughals against our Gurus, it is good to remember that our Gurus would have had a different perspective.  They never stood against all of Islam and all Muslims and they certainly did not hate Islam and all of the Muslims for what the Mughals did.  Baba Budha Shah’s relationship of respect with Guru Nanak Dev Ji is only but one example of how our Gurus dealt individually and respectfully with others.

Next time, we’ll visit the Khalsa Museum in Anandpur Sahib and we’ll talk about learning Panjabi.  Yes, yes, it’s still kicking my butt…

Until then all,
Peace and love,
– Himmatpreet


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