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Beyond the Gurpurab Celebration

05/16/2008

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    Guru Gobind Singh Ji dedicated his life to the upliftment of the spirit of mankind by standing firmly against the fanatic regime that was bent upon decimating the indigenous religious faiths in India. The contributions of Guru Ji are unparalleled in history and therefore the reverence and regards for Guru Ji is also unparalleled. On Vaisakhi Day of Year 1699 Guru Ji gave a clarion call to the nation to assemble at Anandpur Sahib and created Khalsa, which not only woke the nation up from its deep slumber but reshaped the history of the nation.

    When the time comes for the celebration of the creation of Khalsa, we celebrate it in a conventional manner by having huge gatherings with Keertan programs and huge processions. The processions create a massive disruption of life for others because of the traffic jams that they create. The trash that is generated is never fully and properly cleared and disposed of. Thus in the name of celebration, we have contributed to soiling the place and creating unhygienic conditions. Also, much of our energy and time is spent in preparing different kinds of foods and its distributions. If we were to ask Guru Gobind Singh Ji about how the momentous celebration should be celebrated would Guru Ji give approval to our celebrations? Would we be recipients of approval and acceptance from the Guru Ji? No! No! No! Guru Ji would never approve of this type of celebration.

    Imagine trying to go to the airport or the railway station to catch the flight or a train and on the way getting caught in the traffic jam because of the procession. Many a times it is not even possible to make a U turn and explore alternative routes. One is just struck there, totally helpless, frustrated with tempers frayed and cursing those celebrating and making life difficult for others. Let us take another situation, someone fell from a height and sustained serious injuries that require immediate medical attention or someone had a massive heart attack which again requires urgent medical care, and on the way to the hospital, they get struck in the traffic. The likelihood of the seriously injured making it and surviving gets slimmer and slimmer.

    For sure, we have never imagined ourselves being caught in such a whirlwind, while we had some pressing situation where our being there was crucial, we could not be happy in the midst of celebration all around us. Instead, we will be seething in anger and feeling deprived.

    So how should we celebrate these days? Should those be not celebrated on a massive scale? Should those occasions be not used to feed every passerby? Sure they need to be celebrated in a befitting manner. If Guru Ji’s revolutionary transformation provided succor to the nation, then our celebration should also provide joy and relief to the nation now. They need to be celebrated in commemorative manner, and it is very noble to feed the hungry. But could we also explore other avenues and options which will not disrupt life and produce a lasting effect of the disruption caused by the celebration.

    The ordinary folks who may have been the victims of our celebration can instead see and feel the affirmative effect of the celebration. It is quite possible that it may move them emotionally in such a way that they themselves will want to join in the next celebration. Instead of feeling frustrated and helpless they will be thankful and appreciative of this type of celebration. The celebration could become a legacy that leaves an indelible impression on the lives of others.

    So how can we have such a celebration? The answer is not going to be a simple one which will have approval and acceptance of the masses and the leaders who organize these events. The answers have to be explored by all of us as a community of followers of Guru Ji’s teachings. There could be multiple answers and options and this way different individuals based on their viewpoints, expertise, rationale can be part of different events.

    In order to get this ball rolling let us explore some options. It is not necessary that only these options need to become the blueprint of future celebrations. Instead it could just be that these options as discussed here provide the framework to think outside the box and come with an entirely new spectrum for celebration.

    Let us consider some of the options that come to mind:

    1. Clean the railway stations--- Our railways use coal, diesel as a fuel for the locomotives and passengers traveling on the trains use the platforms for spitting, throwing leftover food, cups, empty containers for water, juice and dumping other trash. The coal dust, diesel fumes, trash plus years of neglect and abuse have transformed the stations and platforms into ugly looking monsters. I can still vividly remember the landscape of Amritsar railway platform. Arriving at the station at 5:00 AM in the morning to catch Shatabdi train, and finding that the platform with a black coating of coal dust and soot is littered with empty containers of juice, water bottles, paper coffee cups, wrappers, plastic bags and napkin etc. Everything else was asleep - only the trash, flies, and the rodents feasting on it seemed alive. Imagine on the Vaisakhi days, if all the railway stations of the country get a clean, fresh look and are decorated with flowers and there are fresh foods stalls outside serving the passengers and passer bys. The immediate impact of this small initiative will be the goodwill and appreciation of all the passengers. The passengers will talk about it with their families, friends and at work. Then we can give the passengers literature about Guru Ji’s teachings to read while they are traveling. The money spent on this project will be much less than the money spent on the processions, but the goodwill it will create will be many times more.

    2. Other Hubs of Public Transportation – If our railway stations are dilapidated and are in pathetic condition, believe me the state of bus stations and airports is not much better either. Even they can benefit tremendously from the little sprucing up. It will just make the tremendous impact on them and for few days they will look like a beautiful haven and a safe sanctuary. But this can provide others with inspiration and ideas for continuing the legacy. Soon it could become a year around feature. It can really transform the mental image of these hubs of public transportation.

    3. Hospitals - The same approach could be applied to hospitals. Because our hospitals are overcrowded, infested with pests, rodents and germs and there is no place for family members who are caring for and attending on the patients in the hospital. The service, care and support for the patients or for the families of the patients are almost non-existent. Even if a single day in a year becomes a little better, more bearable and different it will be a step in the positive direction. We all have experienced apathy, neglect at the places of healing so even a single experience of caring, sharing empathy can act as catalyst for transformation. It may not just bring transformation it may set up a revolution if enough public momentum, enthusiasm could be generated. The goodwill that these little initiatives of being responsible citizens will create will be many times more than goodwill our present celebrations generate. I am confident that not just Guru Gobind Singh Ji, but all the Gurus from Guru Nanak Dev Ji on will approve such actions of their Sikhs and will bless them.

    4. Setting up public conveniences and cleaning existing ones – The toilets at present for a majority of less fortunate, under-privileged citizenry living in shanties and thatched roofs is non-existent. Since they do not have any place for taking care of the call of nature, or even have any place to take a bath or shower, the open spaces by roadsides have become their public conveniences. If a public convenience is build for taking care of the needs of these poor, who are struggling to make ends meet, we will not just have created a sanitary environment for these folks but will also have stopped the spread of disease and infection as well as created positive impact. It will not just improve the lifestyle of underprivileged, but its reverberations will be felt by entire cities and towns since it will improve the environment for everyone. The goodwill and appreciation of these small acts of being responsive and concerned Sikhs of the Guru Ji will make the beneficiaries of these acts want to explore Guru Ji’s teachings to enrich their own lives.

    We just talked about sanitation facilities for less privileged. Now, how about those who are privileged and affluent and who go to markets, malls, beaches, resorts or use public transportation and have to attend to the call of nature? The paucity of public conveniences, and the stinking small they emit wherever they do exist cannot be described. Vaisakhi celebrations can be an occasion to create new public conveniences where they don’t exist, as well as improving the lot of existing ones. The legacy of these acts will be lasting and positive and will make the places more livable, and healthy.

    5. Trash pick-up - In a similar way, trash pickup along with cleaning, repairing and fixing places of community trash dumps will make the places not just cleaner but will also make communities healthier places for living.

    6. Beautification of Parks – The condition of the public parks and the parks on the properties of Gurdwaras is pretty pathetic. Even the parks in the Golden Temple Complex in Amritsar, the holiest Sikh shrine, are in a state of neglect. We can use the occasion of Vaisakhi to make them really beautiful. By planting trees and flowers we will not just make them greener and more beautiful but also better for the environment. This will entice more public to avail themselves of the benefits of these parks which are in state of benign neglect.

    Here we have just explored some ideas to get a new thought process initiated and to set new revolutionary style of celebration in motion.

    The celebration of the creation of Khalsa on Vaisakhi day should not be something that disrupts life, but can become a focal point for creating healthier, more socially relevant and emotionally uplifting experiences.

    If Guru Gobind Singh Ji infused a new life in the nation, then let our celebration also provide better life, health and sanitation for all. By providing these things we will be continuing the legacy of Guru Ji by bringing a breath of fresh air where stench and filth has permeated before.

    - By Bhupinder Singh

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