I needed to pick up some prescriptions at our local WalMart. As it is unsafe for me to drive since my stroke, my husband drove me and was to wait in the car until I came out. Then he would drive up and get me and we'd happily tootle off home, stopping at Taco Bell to get a seven-layer burrito. (Yes, lactovegetarian, if you leave off the sour cream, which contains gelatin.) If that had happened in its usual manner, you would not now be reading this post.
I got my prescriptions and, holding the pharmacy bag, waited. And waited. After about 15 minutes, I began to survey the parking lot, and eventually found our car. I walked to it and just as I unlocked the door, a voice behind me said, 'Gimme your drugs! I gotta knife!'
'So do I.' I'm not sure quite how I dropped my medicine, reached my arm across my body and under my shirt, and turned toward him, my kirpan at his throat. (Actually, I do know. Guru's Kirpaa, eh? And a conditioned reflex.)
The startled criminal had dropped his rusty little knife and was petrified. As this was in a crowded public place, it was only seconds before security appeared, followed closely by the police. Although, I was the one holding a 'weapon,' I guess I didn't much look like the aggressor and the situation was quickly sorted out. The miscreant, by the looks of his teeth and his scrawny self, a crystal meth addict, was whining and crying to me, 'Ma'am, ma'am, please don't press charges! Please, please...I have two strikes!.'
(For those of you who may not know, many US states, including Washington, where I currently live, have 'Three Strike Laws.' Three strikes is a baseball term: 'Three strikes and you're out!' How these laws operate differ from state to state, but the idea is that on a third conviction for a serious crime, the guilty party automatically goes to prison for a long, long time, usually life. Attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon are considered serious crimes. I, personally disapprove of all automatic, mandatory sentencing, as there should sometimes be exceptions, but that is the law here.)
I could not consider letting this miserable excuse of a human being (Mai, dear, he also contains the jot of God, remember? I know, but he's still a miserable excuse of a human being.) go free to injure or kill someone else. He was taken away in handcuffs and I was left to have a long conversation with a policeman who insisted on staying with me until my husband returned. I'll call him Officer John.
He was most interested in my kirpan.
'I should confiscate it as evidence,' he told me.
'If you try to do that, I'll end up in jail; it never leaves my body. You'd have to take it by force.' I replied.
He gave me a loo and I continued. 'But if you really need this one, I have another at home, we could go there together and I suppose then you could use this one for your evidence.'
'It's a pretty knife, but why is it so important to you? You'd really be willing to fight me for it?'
'Oh, yes, if I had to, but I'd rather not. I am an Amritdhari Sikh, a Khalsa. The kirpan - by the way, it's called a kirpan, please quit calling it a knife - is one of five article of faith, kakkars, that we always keep on our bodies.'
Surprisingly, he was interested and asked about the other four. I explained about them - the unshorn hair, covered by a turban by men and a scarf or turban by women (OK, I have a confession. Although I don't go out with my hair open, I don't always keep it properly covered, but this particular day, as good luck(?) would have it, I was quite 'decent.' I'll tie a dastaar as soon as I learn some way to either do it with one hand or to get my left hand working again), kesh, the comb, kangha, the bangle, kara and the breeches, kechera. I was sure that he would have something embarrassing to ask about the kechera, but his mind was going in a different direction.
And what he said next is the real reason for this post.
'I have a friend who says he is a Sikh and he has that kara-thing, but he cuts his hair and shaves. Is he a real Sikh?'
How does one answer such a question from someone who really knows little or nothing about us and our beliefs? Here is what I told him:
'That is a topic much debated among us. Some would say yes, some would say no. We have a code of conduct, the Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM), that says that a Sikh is a human being who believes certain things and isn't a member of any other religion. It doesn't specifically mention the hair, but some people say that if you believe those things, you can't possibly cut your hair. Some say that's an outdated attitude and should be dropped. Still others say that only Amritdhari, initiated Sikhs are really real Sikhs.'
'In another part of the SRM, it does say to keep one's kesh and some other behaviours that a Sikh should or shouldn't do, but in the definition, it doesn't say.'
'What do you say?'
Talk about being put on the spot! 'Personally, I'll accept anybody as a Sikh who says they are, unless I have a good reason not to. (I'm thinking here specifically of KP Gill and his ilk.) But a Khalsa needs to look like a Khalsa. And I feel really good when I see a brother or sister that looks like a Sikh, what we call a visible Sikh. The other kind make me feel sad.'
The conversation went on for quite some time, until my husband finally showed up; he had been using the public facilities in WalMart, he said. (For a whole hour?)
That is the meat of our conversation. I put to you the question: What do you say?
(An afterward that I just cannot resist. If my criminal had actually gotten my 'drugs,' he would have gotten the surprise of his life. You see, they are preps for a colonoscopy, designed to clean out every bit of fecal matter from the intestine. He would not have gotten high, but he would have, as we say, dropped an elephant, probably with considerable pain, if he hadn't drunk a whole lot of water.)
Thanks again to professional photographer, Charles Mecham for the generous gift of his photos of visible Sikhs.. Please visit his website to see more. Blogger is misbehaving and refusing to add pictures right now. I'll go ahead and post this and add Mr. Meacham's great pictures later. It is later and the pictureshave been added, all from Charles Meacham's Being Sikh collection, except, of course, my forget-me-not signature picture.