While I’d like to think I chose Sikhi, I believe the truth is Sikhi chose me. The two strongest female influences in my life were my beautiful Mother and my strong-willed Dadima (paternal grandmother). My mother was a liberal Hindu who was extremely kind, loving, and inclusive of all cultures and walks of life. She embodied compassion and empathy in her every action. In conjunction with my mother’s love, my biggest influence of Sikhi was my very educated and independent Dadima. She coupled her religious influence on us with relaying a strong sense of pride in being a direct descendant of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa, a lead Sikh Army general in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s empire. Due to my mother’s and dadima’s enduring love and guidance, I take immense pride in my heritage and the strength from which we emanate. Today, I am a Sikh mother unconditionally loving and raising two little Singhs (lions). My husband and I are in the throes of parenting in this modern age where we constantly strive to transmit knowledge of our religious and cultural heritage to our sons. It is difficult to define where I am in my own spiritual journey. I have made many mistakes, learned a great deal, have been certain at times, other times felt lost and questioned everyone from elders to relatives to doormen about spiritual issues I struggle with but – this much i know is true – there is an inextricable link between my soul and Sikhi.
In sharing our stories, we are able to be more intimately connected through our shared experiences. I fell in love with Her Name is Kaur, these love stories illustrated 25 Sikh women exploring their personal roots and their varied experiences surrounding their Sikh identity. The entire collection completely captured me from the first to the last story, all equally valuable and meaningful, all with admirable core messages. Reading these stories had me smiling, laughing, nodding, sighing, weeping, aching and left wanting more. After reading a story, I was left fulfilled, as if I had devoured a fresh home-cooked Punjabi meal.
In reading this collection, you will be changed – you will come out feeling humbled, stronger, closer to our Sikh sisters and more compassionate.
I am now much more aware of how my own story is being written. As a reader, there is the role of relating to each story as well as the role of an active listener. Each story allowed me to reflect upon my own story, engaging both my heart and mind and motivated me to be more open with myself about the challenging questions each writer posed. I then imagined what I’d do in the writer’s situation and ultimately realize what I took away from her story. Reading these different perspectives assists me in imagining new solutions for my own challenges: our stories merge to facilitate a very personal process of self-awareness and growth as a woman, a professional and a mother. In this process, we become responsible for one another and for thoughtful future and collective action, the way sisters have to be.
As a Sikh woman myself, hearing the diversity of experience among Sikh women makes me realize our similarities, appreciate our differences, learn more about our varied experiences and I am inspired by a new collective understanding. It supports the idea that there is no cookie cutter experience or mold to follow. We all have our answers in our hearts; we just have to get quiet enough to hear them.
These stories have unleashed the power of learning from one another and the potential for communal growth encouraged through the power of dialogue. They have taught me that it is imperative to have the courage to affirm my own truth and continue to walk an individual path proudly. After reading their stories, I do not feel so alone in having my own unique story for we all still belong to one another.
When I read another Sikh woman’s story, I feel a sense of pride and connection. Throughout several stories, the authors consistently evoke the senses of being a Sikh American through the use of Punjabi words, inspirational lines from Gurbani and detailed descriptions of rooms, poets, clothing and cars from India as well idiosyncrasies of our elders. While reading, I found myself smiling out of recognition and being utterly moved by feeling the words on the page clearly and intensely come to life.
Sharing in this way takes absolute strength and courage to express life experiences with such grace and humility. Even in the toughest of circumstances and tragedies, these women never portrayed themselves as victims. Rather, they remained fiercely connected to Sikhi and summoned their strength as Sikh women the way history has asked of us time and again. It was beautiful to see that even through questions and challenges life posed, they persisted in owning their Sikhi and stayed close to their truth.
A theme that stands out as a critical one for the women in our community today is that of sisterhood. Now, more than ever is a time that the women of our community need to exhibit kindness towards one another and inclusion of each other so our children, who are watching and hearing everything, can model similar behavior. When we model how to provide nonjudgmental support for one another and lift each other in times of difficulty, the next generation of Singhs and Kaurs will embrace another with the same spirit. Once there is an internal structure of understood support, we can focus on larger goals of fostering the strength of a positive Sikh identity in our children.
Her Name is Kaur is not geared to any one particular audience. The collection gives a very realistic, emotional account of the challenges Sikh women encounter along their journey. I highly recommend this collection to men and women alike as well as for friends outside of our community who are interested in learning about an evolving American Sikh identity from the female perspective. Ultimately, this is a book about women and their unique personal experiences in navigating waters of identity and retaining religious values, which gives the collection universal importance to all readers. One need not even be “religious” to empathize with and understand the female voices expressed. Finishing the collection left me wanting more. I want to hear more Kaur voices and experiences and learn more from them. These women may never realize the impact this collection will have on others. Providing our community with this book is the ultimate act of seva (selfless service).
Bhavna K. Bhandari Mahal was born in New Delhi, raised in New Jersey and now lives in Connecticut with her family. She loves to spend her free time playing with her sons, reading, traveling when they can and spending time with family.