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Students get a taste of Sikh tradition

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    For a few serene moments, Sammy Baah was a certified chickpea magnet.

    Sitting on a cold floor, he scarfed down the stuff at a ferocious pace yesterday, while young women in scarves wended their way through the room doling out seconds.

    Wearing a Yankees cap and a not-entirely-sure-of-anything-but-the-food expression, the 20-year-old student didn't seem the type to get caught in a Sikh temple. "I don't believe in inner peace until you're dead," he said, between forkfuls.

    So the Sikh Students Association brought the temple to him — and about 300 other Ryerson University students — for its annual Langar lunch, held in a nondescript campus room, adorned only by white sheets covering the floor.

    Traditionally, the Langar is the part of a Sikh temple, or gurdwara, where meals are served. Originating in India around the 15th century, it was a reflection of the religion's principles of equality and sharing of possessions.

    The Langar broke free of the country's rigid caste system and offered food to the hungry regardless of social class.

    But in this case, the students association took the Langar directly to a horde of hungry students — and its centuries-old mission still rang true.

    "We're promoting unity," said Mandeep Wasson of the students association. "There's no caste. No creed. Nobody's inferior. Nobody's superior. We're all equal. It's based on humanity."

    Although the event was a departure from the gurdwara, it held fast to the most essential elements of the faith. Langar is in keeping with one of the Three Pillars of Sikhism — to feed the hungry, regardless of creed. It was also timed to mark the birth of the faith's founder, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, who was born on Nov. 15, 1469.

    "I was always fascinated by Sikhism, so I was very excited to come today," said Nora Loreto, indulging in the cuisine of the cross-legged. Even sitting on the floor emphasizes the sense of equality for all.

    "That's why we brought the whole concept into schools," said Isha Pall, another association member. "So people from different backgrounds and cultures can get together."

    The event, now in its second year, came together under one simple mantra: If you cook it, they will come.

    "I have no idea what this is," said student Corinne Alstrom. "I heard there was free food, so I came down."

    And so curried chickpeas, spicy pickles, flatbreads and peas with cheese were doled out for student after student, from noon to 4 p.m. Visitors had only to don some sort of head garb — a Yankees cap would do the trick — and remove their shoes.

    "They got me with the free food," added Brent Joseph, 17. "Now they have to tell me what's going on."

    While the Sikh students weren't asking visitors to swallow a little doctrine with their free meals, they did project messages from Sikh gurus on a giant screen while filling the room with peaceful song.

    "We wanted to promote some of the things we do so that people who don't go to temples — students — can get free food and learn a little bit about the Sikh religion," said Vic Aulakh, the association's president.

    Sammy Baah may not have left lunch with a bellyful of faith, but he managed to sop up at least a sense of calm amid the maelstrom of student life.

    "It's cool," he concluded. "You just get to sit and relax for a minute. Most of the time, you're always worried about school."

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