Switching on the Lights: Sidak - Sikh Research Institute

Switching on the Lights: Sidak

I was 17 when Prof Devidas Chatterjee opened up the world of poetry for me.

Until then, I had studied English poetry for years, but it had yet to pierce my soul. It was still a chore, still no more than words laid out in a variety of clever configurations, always ending in what appeared to be a contrived rhyme.

It was stuff that you were required to memorize … and recite … but there didn’t appear to be head or tail to the exercise. Why not talk straight, like normal people, I remember asking myself from time to time.

And then, it all changed.

Each time Prof Chatterjee walked into my B A English Honours class at Patna College (Patna University, Bihar, India), he would simply recite a string of verses, as he paced back and forth, or weaved between the aisles in our classroom, his eyes fixed on a distant, invisible star.

And, as he began, you could feel the air charged with electricity. Suddenly, it felt like he had switched on the lights and turned on the air-flow.

Word by articulated word, syllable by accentuated syllable, he brought each sound alive and laden in meaning, though what they exactly meant remained elusive.

Until he finished his recital and began to analyze, phrase by phrase, line by line, the poet’s thoughts and emotions, and explain the context of each language usage, the choice and juxtaposition of each sound.

Over the weeks and months that followed, I began to uncover a new universe. Poetry now not only made sense, I actually began to put aside time and jealously guarded it as specially reserved for reading poetry out aloud … to myself.

My love for poetry has only grown since then.

Inevitably … it was only a matter of time … Punjabi poetry became part of my haunting grounds. And then … gurbani. The journey is long. It continues. But it is delicious at every step and turn.

*   *   *   *   *

I recognized the same spark in the eyes of some of the students in Inderpreet Singh’s Asa ki Vaar class yesterday at Sidak.

For me, he was doing a Devidas Chatterjee with a paurrhi from the Vaar. Verses I have heard sung a million times by a thousand different voices. Songs that have inspired and infused generations, century after century. Yet, I’ve never had the opportunity to have someone do a Devidas Chatterjee treatment on gurbani.

I’ve said this before … and I say it again, because it has reverberated in my head over and over again these past two weeks here in San Antonio … my only disappointment, hearing Inderpreet gambol with the words, is that I didn’t have this experience earlier in life. Ideally … it would’ve done wonders for me … if I had been able to attend something like this when I was 17!

One would think that a class of young men and women today would have little time for, or get very little out of a seemingly dry subject such as gurbani vichaar. But I’ve seen them enthralled and mesmerized, glued to their seats, from hour to hour.

I ask a number of them during a break, trying to goad them into giving me their honest reactions, well out of earshot of the others.

“It is awesome!” one says.

Never heard that word applied to gurbani before, not by one who doesn’t have any gray in her hair yet.

“I’ve heard these very words sung every Sunday, and enjoyed them,” she gushes on. “But after these classes, I can’t believe it … I actually understand them! And … they … are … so-o … beautiful … so full of meaning … so current … so real … so relevant to what I do, to everything we are grappling with these days …”

She’s a young professional and now, past a university education, and has been working for a couple of years. These two weeks have been her annual two-week vacation. “I’m glad I came …!” she exclaims.

I speak to one of the youngest in the class … one who obviously suffers from the same form of attention deficit disorder that everyone with a ‘smart-phone’ does these days.  

“It’s my favourite class,” he says. “I’ve attended over 30 camps in my life-time …”

My jaw drops; he shrugs his shoulders, and continues:

“… and I’ve never had more fun. Veerji has taught me to appreciate the words, their meaning, like I never did before. It makes sense … and now I want to learn more …”

“Will you be back next year?” I ask.

“Not sure,” he says. “Maybe I’m ready for something more advanced … the next stage. This has got me hungering for more.”

*   *   *   *   *

Inderpreet Singh, 43, is no ordinary ’instructor’. He doesn’t do this full-time, and has never been trained to be a teacher of any ilk.  

Yet he is a teacher. And a good and popular one at that. In his ‘day-job’ at Siemens, he often finds himself training or speaking to his peers, or corporate types, and is sought out for his skills.
He chairs the Board of Directors that shepherds the Sikh Research Institute (“SikhRI”) whose baby Sidak is.

Teaching at Sidak for two-weeks every summer is now an annual commitment. In addition, he teaches from time to time in each of SikhRI’s many regular educational programs. The main thrust of his role, however, is in helping formulate its policy, guide its finances and fundraising, and give it shape, growth and direction. 

I see the miracle of Sikhi in the likes of Inderpreet Singh … that is, laypersons who live real lives in grihast and the three-fold path of Sikhi … who give their all to the community when called for, with no strings attached. They do it for the sheer joy of it.

You can see it in everything Inderpreet does.

*   *   *   *   *

Like all of the stalwarts who do such seva, Inderpreet too is not a product of an assembly-line. Sikhi rejects any process or machinery that churns out ready-made and designated religious leaders. No separate queues, for example, for priests/preachers/teachers; soldiers/rulers/nation-builders; business-persons/entrepreneurs/traders; workers/labourers.

Every Sikh is all four persons in one, ever ready, willing and able to slide into any role dictated by the need of the hour. [I see it as our strength as a community, though it has its fair share of challenges.]

Inderpreet too has learnt his skills of leadership from life itself, from a journey-path which is as unique as he is.

Inderpreet’s father was born in Indonesia, but flitted back and forth between Japan, India and Canada for his business ventures. Though born in Delhi, Inderpreet was but an year old when his family moved back to Japan, where they lived for a few years before moving to Toronto, Canada. [His younger sister, Jasmine Kaur -- who now helps run Sidak and SikhRI as an administrator -- was born in Japan.]

Five years later, Inderpreet finds himself back in India for his schooling, first in New Delhi (Guru Harkrishan Public School) and then to boarding school in the Himalayan hill-station of Mussoorie.

Though the horrendous events of 1984 do not touch him directly, they ring obvious alarm bells for his family: India has suddenly taken a turn for the worse. Inderpreet is hurriedly retrieved from the boarding school in the distant hills and brought to New Delhi by an armed escort, and sent off to Japan to finish high school.

Thereafter, he joins Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a private research institute located in Massachusetts, USA. He studies for his degrees, first a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s, in Electrical Engineering. His focus is on Digital Signals & Systems.

In the years that follow, his career morphs into a specialization in Computer Networking & Security. Though he remains anchored in the Boston area, his work takes him for lengthy stints to locales such as Canada and Germany. 

Where did his passion for Sikhi and education germinate, I ask him.

His immediate family -- specifically his parents -- gave him a solid grounding in his faith. But the lure of self-driven scholarship -- the life of a ’sikh’ -- came from an earlier generation.

The fact that his paternal grandfather, Sardar Bahader Singh, was instrumental in the founding of the Khalsa English School, Medan, Indonesia, and in its running, has been an endless source of inspiration for Inderpreet.

Add to it his naana ji‘s constant encouragement to read -- even introducing him to some of his earliest reads in Sikhi - and we have the lighting of a spark which thereon bursts into a flame

Involvement in Sikh student groups during school and a variety of local children’s and youth camps -- as an instructor and mentor -- stokes the fires. Along comes the seminal Sikh Youth Network (“Synet“) -- later, the Sikh Network -- which feeds into Inderpreet’s passion with its ground-breaking project called “Fateh”, about which I have written earlier.

With his job keeping him too busy to take time off to join the Fateh volunteers in Punjab, there’s no dearth of seva opportunities on the home-front.

By 2005, he gets drawn into teaching in one of SikhRI’s many programs. One things leads to another … the rest is history.

Since two years ago, Inderpreet heads the Board of Directors.

Sidak is but one of its many successful projects which are now being delivered in one form or the other across the length and breadth of the diaspora. The list includes:

*   Sidak -- an annual two-week retreat
*   Sojhi  -- a K-to-8 Gurmat & Punjabi school curriculum. It is continually expanding, expecting to hit Grade 12 before long.

*   Saneha -- one-day, topic-based, in-person workshops.

*   Mahima -- topic-based, in-person lectures

*   Liv -- Webinars on a variety of topics on Sikhi and Sikh history, polity and culture.

*   Grihast -- weekend retreats for couples.

Where do you go from here, I ask him … What are SikhRI’s future plans?

There’s been an increasing clamour for more programs -- both in their frequency and in the multiplicity of the physical locations. There’s a need to keep abreast with hi-tech advancements by incorporating every development which distracts and preoccupies our youth.

And then, there’s the crying need for a Sojhi based school -- a physical entity built around the curriculum already being applied to schools the world over.

And a leadership academy where SikhRI can train the trainors …

So little time, so much to do.

Inderpreet, his team, and SikhRI have their work cut out for them.   


Article source: http://sikhchic.com/article-detail.php?id=4441&cat=12

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