06 June 2009

6 June 1984-2009 If Ye Break Faith...

Another sleepless night. I had not intended to write a special post for 6 June this year, as there are so many others. Last night, however, as I lay awake, some thoughts came to me that I feel the need to share.

Again I saw the billowing clouds of smoke rising from Akaal Takht, choked on the acrid air, gagged at the smell of blood and decomposing bodies.

After Sohila, as I was logging off, this very famous picture flashed for a moment on my monitor:

and a poem that I learned in elementary school came into my mind:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses [and Khandas!], row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

— Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

[For the story of the poem and its historical context, click on the title]

I saw the saffron turbans of the shaheeds as those poppies growing "in Flanders fields" and thought about the meaning of those turbans and the kes they protected. I considered the meaning of our kes.

I know this is a topic that has been beaten to death, and you may well be sick and tired of it. Please indulge me and read on. My husband and son and other family members achieved their shaheedi protecting and honouring that kes; I am left alive to speak for them.

"If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep."

Those are haunting words, aren't they?

Is not dishonouring your kes breaking faith with these brothers who lie dead a mere 25 years ago? Please think about this, think very deeply. Does their sacrifice not serve as an inspiration to honour them by keeping your hairs unshorn? Is it really such a big sacrifice for you to keep your hairs, for my brothers to refrain from cutting and shaving, to tie a turban and walk proudly in the shadow of our Gurus? Is it really such a big sacrifice for you to keep your hairs, for my sisters to refrain from plucking and threading your eyebrows, for refusing to shave the hairs of your legs and underarms and "bikini line." We are all familiar with the picture of the scalping of Bhai Taru Singh, blood pouring over his body from his bleeding head. (If you aren't, here it is:)

Our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers, our daughters and sons, have willingly become sacrifices for this part of our bodies we Sikhs hold sacred. If it really is a sacrifice, is it not a sacrifice worth making?

"If ye break faith with us who die..."

Please, if you have kept kes and are considering shearing it, on this Day of Remembrance, think of this great sacrifice of our beloved shaheeds and make your own much smaller sacrifice.

"If ye break faith with us who die..."

And, if you have kept kes in the past and have stopped, today is a good day to reconsider. Words such as mona and patit are easily thrown around, I know, and I have found few Sikhs who want these words applied to them. These words can be left behind. Our hairs are very forgiving. Cut them or shave them, they grow back. Pluck them - it takes a bit longer, and they still grow back. Shearing is a deed that can, to a great extent, be undone.

If ye break faith with us who die..."

If you have never kept kes, today would be a good day to start. Yes, I know your friends, colleagues, co-workers might think you eccentric, strange, even silly, you might face ridicule and lack of understanding, it won't be easy. What in life that is worth accomplishing is easy? And who ever said being a Sikh is easy?

So...please consider the meaning of kes and start today becoming a "visible Sikh" in the tradition and footsteps of our Gurus, our sants and our shaheeds. Tie a turban today. You do not have to wait until your hair are long to do so. If you don't know how, go to your nearest gurudwara; I guarantee that there are those who will be delighted, overjoyed to teach you. And, yes, this applies to girls/women as well as boys/men.

If you are still not inspired - or even if you are - take about ten minutes and watch this:


From Raj Karega Khalsa

This Shabad is by Guru Nanak Dev Ji in Raag Raamkalee on Ang 941 of Dhan Dhan Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj:

The Gurmukh lives in Fear of the True Lord.
The Guru's Bani refines the unrefined of the Gurmukh.
The Gurmukh sings the Lord's Immaculate Praises.
The Gurmukh attains the pure, supreme status.
The Gurmukh meditates on the Lord with every hair of his body.
O Nanak, the Gurmukh merges in Truth. The Gurmukh is pleasing to the True Guru; this is contemplation on the Vedas.
Pleasing the True Guru, the Gurmukh is carried across.
Pleasing the True Guru, the Gurmukh receives the spiritual wisdom of the Shabad.
Pleasing the True Guru, the Gurmukh comes to know the path within.
The Gurmukh attains the unseen and infinite Lord.
O Nanak, the Gurmukh finds the door of liberation.

And while we are at it, think of the blood of our shaheeds that was spilled on this day, the blood that turned the water of our sacred sarovar red, the blood that the army soldiers told our sisters and daughters to drink to quench their thirst, think of their blood, then go to the gurudwara sahib and give some of yours so that others can live.