“Mama, what’s that thing on his head?” by Preeti K. Bajwa

Preeti with her husband and daughters

Preeti with her husband and daughters

I’m a failure as a Sikh mom. No, not an overstatement. Here’s why:

We are watching last season of “American Idol” when Gurprit, the Sardar contestant who made it to the Las Vegas auditions, came on. My then 3 1/2 year old looks at him and then asks me, “Mama, what’s that thing on his head?”

Oh God…oh dear God.

Yes, I know I’m not supposed to take the Lord’s name in vain, but I did. Oh God. I looked at her innocent little face. I reached out, stroked her cheek and somehow tried to explain the turban.

“Honey, that’s a turban,” I said.

“A turban?” she asked. “What’s it for?”

“Well honey, Sikh men don’t cut their hair just like you don’t cut your hair, so they wear a turban. You know like Dhadaji wears a turban.”

“Oh,” she says.

And then she goes off to play.

My instant reaction when she asked what the turban was one of speechlessness, which as any mother, Sikh or other wise, would in and of itself cause shock.  My next reaction was sadness and despair.  I was surprise at how quickly that reaction reached me but I never voiced it until now.  I was sad because my little girl didn’t know the basic tenet of our faith, to recognize that a Sardarji is a Sikh.  I was in despair because I didn’t know how to answer her.  I was in despair because I didn’t know how to “fix it.”

I questioned my actions and statements repeatedly over the next few days.  Should I have said more, explained more? How could she not know what a turban is? True, her father is not Sardar, but her grandfather is. She has known him for so long, all her life actually. And we go to Gurdwara, the men there wear turbans. How could she NOT know?

As young mothers (or in my case, in her-30s-mother – can’t really classify it as young or middle-aged), we expect our kids to just know things.  Especially about Sikhi. I mean it’s in my head, I know what a turban is, I know who the Gurus are, I know what the Guru Granth Sahib is and why we matha-tekh to it. How can she not know?

We go to Gurdwara but I’ll be honest, we hardly go. We go when there is a special program or just sometimes when we have nothing going on a Sunday, which is hardly ever.

Okay, so it should be obvious, I have to teach her. Did I? No. I fretted and stressed about it with my husband. He told me its no big deal, she will learn.

But who is going to teach her?

On Mother’s Day this year, about three months after my daughter asked me about the turban, we did the langar and kirtan sewa for my younger daughter’s birthday. It just so happened that the kathavachik was doing katha on Mother’s Day.  Luckily for me, he spoke these words in English.

“It is the mother who has to teach her children about the Gurus, about Sikhi, about our way of life, no one else.”

There was more but I don’t remember it exactly, but you get the gist.

It’s hard, so hard to incorporate the Sikhi way of life when you haven’t been living it yourself.  So I did what was easiest – I enrolled my now 4-year old into Punjabi school. Because of her age, I sit with her during the entire class and work with her on her letters. It was not easy to sit with her during class the first few times.  Although, she was trying, my mind was thinking “I’d rather be downstairs, listening to kirtan.”

Then I make her do Punjabi practice at home at least four days a week.  That was also tough in the beginning to get a 4 year old to sit, hold a pencil, and trace a foreign letter.

But, she’s been at it for about three months now and she almost completely learned the entire Gurmukhi script.

And I admit, I’m happy and I’m proud of her and now I want her to do more.  Not just with Punjabi but with all things she does be it reading books in English, learning math, and her piano.

Perhaps, just perhaps, I will be able to teach her to fully read Gurmukhi and the Guru Granth Sahib as my mother taught me.

Perhaps, I won’t be a failure as a Sikh mother.


Preeti with her daughter

Preeti with her daughter

Preeti K. Bajwa is a wife, mother and lawyer, living and working in the Bay Area, California.  Preeti has been practicing law since 2005, first as a criminal defense attorney, and now practices constitutional law at the California Attorney General’s Office, where she defends correctional officials accused of violating inmates’ rights. In 2007, Preeti married the perfect man for her, Sanjeev.  Together, they raise their two daughters, Tejal (age 5)and Jeeya (age 3), working through the every day pleasures, treasures and headaches that accompany modern-day working parents.  Preeti believes she is truly lucky to have found her partner who is supportive in all that she does, i.e. meaning he is always willing to babysit so she can run off to various events and activities.  Preeti is active in the South Asian legal community, and presently co-chairs the Pro Bono Committee with the South Asian Bar Association.  Preeti’s other interests include running (half-marathons – haven’t yet committed to the full marathon), traveling to new places, cooking, baking, crocheting, Bollywood dance and reading anything.  She considers herself a wanna-be foodie and hopes to attend the Aspen Food-and-Wine festival in the next couple of years.

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