Like many young Sikh-Canadians and Sikh-Americans, I've done the full circuit.
I started as a kid at the Punjabi Sunday School, moved on to the day camps run by the gurdwaras during school holidays. Then, in university and after, I started going from the West Coast to the East, attending conferences and retreats.
So, when I learned about the Sidak program put on by the Sikh Research Institute, I was pretty intrigued.
A two-week long leadership development program? Now, what did that mean?
There are courses you enroll in? And they have homework to complete and it’s graded?
It was clear this was unlike any other Sikhi educational experience I had been to before.
My wife and I decided to sign up for the Gurmukhi 101 track. We wanted to develop a closer relationship with Guru Granth Sahib. We were excited at the opportunity to learn about its grammatical system, learn more about its languages and deepen our gurbani vocabulary.
To call it an enriching experience would be a gross understatement. No, it was transformative. The breadth and depth of the knowledge our instructor, Surender Pal Singh, brought was inspiring. He knew gurbani so well, and yet, it was clear right from the start that this wasn't just an intellectual exercise for him. No, there was more: there was passion involved.
I've attended hundreds of hours of university level courses and I can tell you that this was the first time in my life that I've been moved to tears by my instructor. SP, as we called him, would sometimes stop his lessons and go off on beautiful tangents about the grandeur and beauty of a certain aspect of bani, or a particular shabad or the Guru's perspective on some topic, and it would just floor us.
Hearing those beautiful bursts of insight were enriching enough, but there was a lot more to Gurmukhi 101 than that. In two short weeks, I got to know and appreciate my Guru as I never had before. I gained new-found awe at the genius of the authors of gurbani. I learned to appreciate the linguistic diversity of Guru Granth Sahib, from Bhagat Jai Dev's shabads in Sanskrit to Guru Tegh Bahadar's in Brij Bhasha.
My familiarity with words from gurbani grew, as a result, to such an extent that I could actually sit and listen to kirtan without having to go through my phone to check the meaning of what I was listening to! And through long, L-O-N-G hours of homework, I finally began to grasp the grammatical rules of gurbani, which in turn allowed me to understand the Guru Granth at a deeper level.
I could go on and on. I could talk about the quality of the friendships I developed at Sidak. The bonds that develop when you’re away at camps can be so powerful, but imagine having half a month to get to know and learn from your fellow participants! I can tell you about the amazing divans, where we sang Asa ki Vaar together, and how inspiring it was to see participants progress in their pronunciation of bani over the two weeks, or how Harinder Singh's explanation of a hukam would leave us inspired and ready to apply the lessons of bani to our daily lives.
I could tell you about how we sat, shocked, as we learned about the Oak Creek massacre, which occurred on the very first day of Sidak and how I was so touched to see all these young Sikhs commit to go out and make a difference in honour of the victims. I could tell you about all the great camaraderie, the amazing meals and the wonderful conversations that you never wanted to end (the conversations, not the meals ... even I can’t eat that much!).
But, instead, I'll tell you about how I was so inspired by Sidak that I decided I wanted to commit myself to working with the Sikh Research Institute; that I have rediscovered my own passion for teaching Sikhi and sharing my ideas with others; that I wanted to be a part of something that could be so transformative, so uplifting, informative and beautiful.
Sidak helped me fall in deeper love with this beautiful path of Sikhi. And for that, I will always be thankful.
Santbir Singh lives in Toronto with his wife and two children. He is now an instructor with the Sikh Research Institute.