29 February 2008

I Wonder As I Wander

A couple weeks ago, when driving home from my routine blood tests, I saw a strange and troubling sight.
The drive from the clinic to our home passes through several heavily Sikh neighbourhoods. I always enjoy seeing the elderly Sikh men out on their daily constitutional walk. Of course it reminds me of my own, much adored Dad who, until a few short weeks before his death walked several kilometres a day! I love seeing these wonderful Babas walking down the street, backs straight, gait certain, turbaned heads held high, usually wearing their kurta pajama, often with gatra visible and kirpan hanging proudly by their left hand. I love the strength and dignity of these men. (I do wish I saw more elderly Sikh women walking either with the men or with each other, though. They are our lovely flowers in beautiful salwar kameez and (preferably) turbans or chunnis. This is a suggestion, ladies, if any of you read this!)
That said, the other day, I saw one such old gentleman striding down the street. But something was terribly wrong. I had never seen such a thing. He wore a gorgeous, perfectly tied, sky-blue turban, but over his dark coat, I could see his long, white hairs, not tied in his turban, hanging to his waist. Something was horribly wrong here. His beard was untrimmed and nicely groomed, his clothes were neat and clean and he was in a state in which no Sikh would ever appear in public.
I yelled at my husband, 'Stop! That man needs help!' But Simon just replied he was late and in a hurry. I fumed, but as it turned out, it worked out for the best.
I sulked all the way home and as soon as the car stopped, I leaped out and ran to our Sikh neighbour's house. She answered the door and, as soon as I explained the situation to her, she grabbed her car keys and we jumped into her car. (I suppose I should explain that I cannot drive as a result of the stroke. Eventually I hope to, but not quite yet.)
We drove to where he had been, but saw no sign of him. We kept looking and eventually found him sitting on a bus bench listening to kirtan on his iPod! He looked perfectly happy and contented, but that hair! We stopped and went to him. We both greeted him with loud Fatehs.
'Eh? Waheguru ji ka khalsa! Waheguru ji ki fateh!' removing the earbuds and looking at us quizzically.
'Are you OK?' I asked.
He looked at me without comprehension. I realised he didn't speak English. Good thing my companion was there, as my Punjabi was lost in the stroke.)
She spoke to him for a few minutes, then he raised his hand and felt the back of his neck, pulling at the exposed hairs. A look of horror came over his face; I thought he was going to cry. Shaking, he reached in a pocket and handed her his wallet. She started to take out her cell phone, when we heard a kirtan ringtone and she reached in his pocket and pulled out HIS cellphone and answered it. It was, of course, his frantic family trying to locate him. After a brief conversation, they disconnected, we gathered the gallant old Singh into her car and drove him home. It was some distance. He had walked over 10 kilometres (6 miles) from his home! He might be old and perhaps a sufferer of Alzheimer's Disease or some such affliction, but he was still strong. In the car, he replaced the earbuds and happily listened to his iPod all the way home.

When we arrived, the whole family came running out, overjoyed to have him returned safely. His wife was crying and tsk-tsking over his hair, while he continued listening to that iPod. We were invited in and treated to some of the best food I've had in a long time.

And, yes, my companion was the lady I had written about in an earlier post.

AFTERWARD: When I got home, my husband was truly annoyed at my refusal to mind my own business and pouted for several days. Suggestion: Marry a Sikh.