Humility is not a peculiar habit of self-effacement...it is self-less respect for reality, and one of the most difficult and central of all virtues - Iris Murdoch in The Sovereignty of Good (1970) ///
Pain make man think. Thought make man wise. Wisdom make life endurable - Sakini, in The Tea House of the August Moon (John Patrick (1953)
Monday, 10 June 2019
SECULARISM IN A HOUSE OF GOD
NB: I was sent this by a friend who saw it on Facebook. I post it without permission of the author as I am sure he will not mind. It is meant for us all to read. It is one of the most beautiful stories I have read in many years. My warm regards to you General sahib; and may God bless you. DS
Last November, I was
driving from Dehradun from Chandigarh - a fascinating four-hour journey, with
the added attraction of visiting Paonta Sahib Gurdwara. I had to break on the
way to give myself and my car some rest. And what better than entering the
abode of the Guru. Besides the soothing kirtan, it is the langar that one
savours, seated on the floor among a multitude of people from all walks of
life. Some partake of all meals as they have no means to satiate their hunger.
Breaking bread with
them gives an indescribable spiritual high, and to experience this, one doesn’t
have to belong to any one religion. I, too, enjoyed the langar and came out to
get on with my journey.
I stopped to buy some
knick-knacks from a kiosk outside the gurdwara. Just then, I spotted a family
of Gujjars (Muslims nomads who rear cattle in semi mountains and sell milk), in
an intent discussion in front of a tea vendor. The family comprised an elderly
couple, two middle-aged couples and four children. Three women were partially
veiled. They seemed poor as the eldest gentleman (probably the father) counted
coins and some crumpled notes.
Undoubtedly, the issue
was how much they could afford to buy. They asked for three cups of tea and
four samosas (popular Indian snack). Gathering courage, I asked him, “Kya aap
sab khana khayenge?” (would you all like to have food!!) They looked at one
another with a mix of surprise, apprehension and a hurt self-respect. There was
silence. Sometimes, silence can be loud. The innocent eyes of the kids were
filled with hope. "Hum kha ke aaaye hain (We have eaten already)," he
responded. There was an instant
retort: "Kahan khayaa hai subeh se kuch bhi, Abba? (We have not eaten
anything since morning, papa)." Hearing that, a dull ache in my chest
caught me by surprise. The stern look in the eyes of the three men and the
pleading moist eyes of the women said it all.
I insisted that they
come with me. They agreed, reluctantly. We entered the gurdwara.
A good feeling
descended over me as I deposited their shoes at the jora ghar (Shoe-deposite
room in all gurdwaras). The elders were awed by the architectural marvel.
However, there was
fear in their eyes, which was understandable. They were entering a non-Islamic
place of worship for the first time. But the children
couldn’t care less, their innocent faces single-mindedly focused on food. Some
onlookers flashed strange looks from the corner of their eyes. But then I
followed the children, adopting their easy attitude as they excitedly chose
head wraps of different colours. (Everyone is supposed to cover their heads
inside a gurdwara).
Except for the eldest
member, all accompanied me inside, and emulating me, bowed their heads and
touched their forehead to the floor. Many others must have noticed, as I did,
that these children went through this ritual with utmost reverence. They took
Parshad (offering) from the Bhaiji (the priest) ) who asked them if they needed
more. The children gladly nodded.
We entered the Langar
Hall and I took the kids along to collect thaalis (plates). They did it with joy,
like only kids would. Seated opposite us was a newly-married couple. The bride,
with red bangles accentuating her charm, asked the children to sit beside her,
and two of them sat between them. The way she was looking after them, I could
tell she would make a loving mother.
Langar was served, and
though I had already eaten, I ate a little to make my guests comfortable. One
had to see to believe how they relished it. The initial apprehension had
vanished and they ate to their fill. I have no words to describe the joy I
experienced. We had nearly finished
when an elderly Sikh and a youth with flowing beard (perhaps the head granthi
and sewadar-helper) sought me out. I was overcome by
fear, and more than me, my guests were scared. I walked up to them with folded
"Inhaan nu tusi le ke aaye ho? (Have you brought them in?)" I nodded.
The next question had
me baffled, "Tusi har din path karde ho? (Do you say prayers every
day?)." I almost blurted, "Yes", but it would have been a lie.
So, with utmost humility I said, "No."
admonishment, he surprised me: "Tuhaanu tha koi lorh hi nahin. Aj tuhaanu
sab kuch mil gaya hai ji (You don’t need to. Today you have got
everything)." I was flabbergasted. Was it advice or sarcasm? He added,
"Inhaanu Babbe de ghar lya ke te langar shaka ke tusi sab kuch paa laya.
Tuhaada dhanwad. Assi dhan ho gaye (By bringing them to the guru’s abode for
langar, you’ve got everything from god. Thank you. We are blessed)."
Then, with folded
hands, he walked up to the elderly couple and requested them: "Aap jad bhi
idhar aao to langar kha ke jaaiye. Yeh to uparwale da diya hai ji (Whenever you
happen to pass through here, please come and have food. It is god’s
I escorted my guests
out of the Langar Hall. Just as we were about to pick our footwear, one of the
children said, "Humme aur halwa do naa." (Get us some more sweet
offering). We five went in to get more parshad. Finally, as they were
about to depart, the elderly lady whispered to her husband.
I enquired, "Koi
baat, Miyaji? (Is there any problem, mianji?)"
Almost pleadingly, he
said, "Yeh keh rahin ki, kya aap ke sar par haath rakh sakti hain? (She is
asking, can she keep her hand on your head?)" I bowed as she blessed
me with tears in her eyes. A wave of emotions swept over me. Is it my imagination,
or for real, that I often feel the beautiful hand of a Muslim lady, wrapped in
purity and love, on my head?