' Sardarji ke 12 baj gaye' . This caption suddenly caught my attention while scrolling down my Facebook page today. It was pasted on a photo which showed a Sardarji standing on a railway track, with a train in the background. The photo also contained a small paragraph narrating few details and sentiments about Sikhism , Sardarji jokes and the origin of the above mentioned famous sentence. In the comments section there were responses from all corners in the shape of views, praises, theories, counter theories, criticism and some counter criticism translating into nasty personal remarks.
I went through the story and all the responses with a mixed bag of emotions. There was an occasional smile, a sense of pride and gratitude. Some pain also seeped in due to few hollow remarks which were made in bad taste . All through these there was a sense of nostalgia too which was clouding all the emotions.
My birth place is Lucknow . My jobs in various companies took me to many parts in India and presently I am in Hyderabad for the last 4 years. Other than being a multi-region I am a multi religion too. My Mother belongs to a Sikh family and my Father belongs to a Hindu Brahmin family thus making me a Sikh and a Hindu both. I have studied in a Christian missionary school and being from Lucknow have many Muslim friends. This way I got the opportunity to observe and experience many religions and customs.
Sikh-Hindu marriages were very common in the times when my parents got married. They never forced me and my brother into their respective religion. I used to visit temples and Gurudwaras together with my both parents . I have never considered or called myself only a half Hindu or a half Sikh. Thanks to both of them I have learnt both ‘Hindi’ & ‘Gurumukhi’ and can recite right from Hindu shlokas, Mantras to a Shabad or a Pehli Pauri da path‘ ek omkaar satnaam’ with an equal ease. My Mother in due course mastered the nuances of Hindu religion to an extent that she was later regarded as an expert on the Hindu rituals, customs , Puja process , aartis by other members of my Father’s clan.
Like others, I used to crack Sardarji jokes (which I still do) especially to my Mother, sometimes as fun and sometimes to have a laugh at her expense. She would listen to the jokes patiently with a childlike innocence on her face. There are numerous hilarious episodes of her shocking us with an ultra-funny question at the end of a joke. I remember narrating a joke about one Sardarji who slept under the bed in order to deceive mosquitos. Sardarji felt that the mosquitos will search for him on the bed while he would peacefully sleep under it. My Mother at the end of it asked “oh the mosquitos must be really confused then “. I and my brother rolled out laughing hearing this.
Some of the Santa Banta jokes in my kitty is courtesy my Sikh friends and Maternal uncles. In all these years observing my Mother and my other maternal side relatives, I experienced a lot of strengths that are common tn Sikh community. The first one is the ability to have a hearty laugh at oneself. you may agree that it takes a hell of a courage to laugh at a nasty joke made on oneself and just smile at insensitive general humour and remarks made on one’s religion or community.
Some time back after my Mother passed away, our family decided that after completing the final rituals at Haridwar we should visit the Golden Temple and offer our prayers. I will not go into details of the horrifying experiences I had with the Pandaas of Haridwar. The most painful of course was an obscene dakshina negotiation moment which I had with a Panda while holding Mother's remains in my hand. In the midst of all these, I saw a Sikh family doing all the rituals on their own. No panda flocked around or bothered them and the family was equally not bothered by the activities around them. Later ,I was told that Sikhs have discarded long back this process of getting this ritual done through pandaas and they do it on their own.
After reaching the Golden temple at Amritsar I realized that a visitor is neither asked nor expected to offer money at the temple. One can go empty handed ,pray ,come out holding Kadaah Parshaad in their hand and a hearty meal in the tummy from the ‘Langar’. There is a separate donation chamber where you can choose to donate either cash or an item for the temple or the langars.
Till date I have not come across any instance of discrimination at Gurudwaras. Once I met my old CEO who is a Sikh, doing a Kar Seva at the Langar of Sees gunj Gurudwara . He was serving food to the people and cleaning utensils.. People from all castes and religions are welcomed there and there are no ‘special ‘or ‘VIP ‘darshans available to any. People of different segments and status work as one in cleaning of Gurudwaras and serving at ‘Langars’.
Last but not the least, this is one religion which proudly proclaims that there are no original thoughts in their Holy book . All the thoughts in Guru Granth Sahib are from Gita, Koran and other Holy books of the world. All these books speak about Humanity and being human and this is the essence of Sikhism . True to the word ‘Sikh’ which means ‘Shishya’ or the ‘one who is learning’ they all see themselves as disciples to the Guru and the noble thoughts of Guru Granth Sahib. This is beyond just respecting all religions . This is articulating and imbibing their goodness.
This article is not about Sikhism or any one religion per se . We all at times have false notions about ourselves and often get binded to just what we posses and follow . This we do blindly while having pre conceived and rigid notions about others. In my short life so far, I have read, heard and experienced enough episodes of humanity, sacrifices, and selfless deeds from people of all religions. Experiencing these , observing my parents and my friends from other religion, I realized that actually there are no religions. All the so called religions were originally great thoughts and messages of great souls and were spread as a ‘Way of Living’. With time, instead of imbibing them in our lives we became possessive of the respective messiahs, the Holy books, the language, the names, the demography , groups and in the bargain have lost the essence.
Many rituals and customs in the respective religions were time and demography specific. There was a shelf life to it. Their should be a continuous process of revisiting them , analyse,questioning the relevance ,discard or modify them if required but it is not being done .We are at times stuck and blinded only to our Yagyopavits, beards, Shikhaa, turbans, holy symbols, place of worships and forgetting in the process the message behind and their essence ‘ Humanity’ which is above all .
I too at times was blinded, flawed and have faltered in my approach to religion and life. Still, I know that like others, I am also evolving every day as a human being and hope the progress will continue. I will surely keep on cracking those Santa Banta jokes and sharing them with my friends and relatives. Certain emotions though will flow along with them and so will the tremendous respect, which I have for the Sikh religion, like all religions.
So the joke goes like this , Once Santa................................
- Yogesh Sharma
- Yogesh Sharma