She Writes Press, The Sikh Love Stories Project publisher, asked their spring authors to write about the process of writing and publishing their books. I had a basic question around what fills up a person’s heart to act on a moment’s notice for another person in a world that constantly tells you to look out for yourself? What does that look like for a Sikh American and what is the life story behind that? The story collection, Her Name Is Kaur: Sikh American Women Write About Love, Courage, and Faith started with this seed of inspiration. The idea of inspiration evolved into questions and curiosity about what love is for a Sikh American and how love is an expression of our truest spiritual selves in the world. What keeps us in this suspended state of trusting ourselves and the world despite what the evidence shows.
Love is a very heavy and loaded word in our global culture. It can be tossed around without responsibility or care and is often intertwined with sex. While a romantic relationship can be filled with both love and sex, and in healthy relationships, sex is an expression of love, we have to parse out what love really is in today’s culture in a broader context. Within a Sikh context, we are asked to keep our attraction and attachment for others in check. I believe these boundaries are healthy and also require Sikh Americans to go deeper with understanding how love functions in our lives. I believe love is a verb that spans across all aspects of living including our romantic lives. It is what we wake up in the morning to do, what we inherently are, how we go about our affairs; love is a state of being.
This led to a new question: What does love mean to a Sikh living in the United States? Love is a powerful force that can unfold in a myriad of ways for us as human beings. The most basic sense of love comes from our families and how they nurture us to be in relationship with ourselves and with others. We then expand out to our local communities and then our broader community and then the world. The love we develop for the world circles back around to the relationship we have with ourselves and determining our purpose in the world: What are we set on Earth to do? Given the universal factors we share across communities, love can be a varied and uniquely distinct experience for a Sikh American given the location on her/his spiritual path, spiritual identity formation, and personal experiences in this emotional territory.
Given the history and legacy of sacrifice for human and civil rights in Sikh history, love is a much deeper and wider endeavor for Sikh Americans than the limited connotations it has taken on in the West. To fully claim who we are as Sikhs, Sikh Americans must go through the rigorous process of determining how they will become an instrument for love in the world through their time, efforts, and resources. Some may understand this at the age of seven while for other Sikh Americans, it can take a lifetime. The most successful state of love for Sikhs stems from joy, chardi kala, and confidence and asks ego to go take a permanent vacation.
These questions became the basis for the submission guidelines for the story collection, and we were thrilled to receive numerous stories that hit every category. It made me realize we cannot limit love to one singular romantic relationship. That kind of limitation puts to much pressure and expectation on our intimate relationship, and we expect that relationship to be the answer, the savior, the sole purpose for our existence. This story collection serves as a nice counter-balance to the unbalanced stereotypes the global media has created about what love is in relationships. As human beings, we need to be in love with ourselves and Wahe Guru, God, first and foremost. Our family, friends, community, a purpose in life, and a romantic partner who is also a life partner, are necessary as well. And the hope is that mutual trust and respect are fostered in these relationships. This is tough because it is asking ourselves to be vulnerable and reach back to that childlike state of trust and faith. This vulnerability is what the writers exhibited in their stories and this made for a beautiful collection. It is tough but so worth it. That purity of mind and that ability to see Wahe Guru or for the sake of terminology a sense of love in everyone. It is nothing short of living in heaven. The expanded lens on love for Sikh Americans became the frame for this collection.
The key component that surfaced with the content for this project was collaboration. It was very important for me as the editor to ensure that each writer had control over her own narrative and the content. It serves as a larger metaphor for women having agency and autonomy over their own voices and themselves in the world. I supported each writer’s ability to shape and write her own narrative to the best of her ability. I was happy to provide this kind of framework in which stories were built from the ground up. This is how we grew into operating as an editorial board as well. I rely on the board for input and guidance and to date the baseline of any input has been humane and compassionate navigation through community waters while also valuing ourselves and this sacred work. This process was repeated with our project artist, intern, and men’s collection editor as well.
There were some moments that required me to step back and learn from the relationships and the assignments that did not work. In some cases, when I was misaligned with an individual, I could not create a bridge to that particular writer despite my best efforts. I learned I can do my part and that is about it, and then it was time to move forward. It can become very easy to focus on everything that did not work, but there was so very much that did work, I encourage myself to stay focused on all that is working.
The wonderful surprise that came after we handed in all of the stories to She Writes Press was the same framework of collaboration was mirrored back in partnership with the She Writes Press team. Again, each member worked very much in collaboration with one another. We gave one other the space and the permission to have a voice in the final editing process.
I also believe that there was a much larger hand at work on behalf of this collection. I remember laying out all of the stories and the table of content categories on my kitchen island. I wondered about the best way to order the stories and then new categories emerged in my thinking, and the stories fell into place effortlessly. It literally felt as if a larger hand was guiding my own and the stories dropped into the perfect order and sections. This was a very satisfying last step to turning in the final manuscript.
When the work of writing, editing, and publishing is steeped in healthy and nourishing relationships, the work and the whole project ethos takes on a different hue, a different kind of light. This light is soft and inviting, can be seen from a mile away, but doesn’t scream for attention. Staying in the light with other women and men in their own glow is gratifying and rewarding. I have determined that is where I want to remain in all of my relationships: in the glow and light of mature, empathetic, and respectful collaboration.