Harsohena Kaur is a Sikh by birth, belief and practice. She grew up in India, living in many different cities thanks to her military father’s job. Despite not living in Punjab, she learned to read the Guru Granth Sahib due to her mother’s hard work. She moved to the United States in her twenties when she married her husband, Jasjit Singh Ahluwalia. She has a 15-year-old son, Ikbal and a 13-year-old daughter Jaitsiri, whom she is raising as Sikhs. Harsohena is a pediatrician and loves to get silly with her patients. Harsohena has been writing poems and essays off and on since she was in her teens. She also loves to read and garden. She is currently working on becoming more fluent in reading Punjabi and is working on understanding gurbani, one shabad at a time.
Where do you get your courage from as a Sikh, doctor, wife, and mother?
Courage or Himmat is something to seek within and from faith in Waheguruji. That is the lesson I was taught by my parents and grandparents. Starting very young, when dark rooms held demons, I was told to call upon the power of Satgurji that would always keep me safe. I believed that, tested that and found that it was true for me. And it was added to by expectations of having courage. When it was just my younger sister and me, I could not be scared of the dark room for she was much more so. I had to be brave to lead her in. That too helped to hone courage. I think courage is, like most other qualities, strengthened by practice. Throughout life, when curveballs have come my way, I have sought courage from my faith and from my belief that I had to live up to the expectations that Guruji had placed on me as a Sikh.
Why did you choose to become a doctor?
I think I always wanted to be a doctor from as far back as I can remember. I liked to take care of people and was always in the forefront when someone was hurt. Blood did not turn me off! Later in middle school I became fascinated by the human body. I marveled at the intricate machine it was, the way it functioned autonomously and then completely ceased when someone passed away. I still am in awe of this creation. I enjoy being a doctor because I like connecting with people and helping to ease their pain and suffering and making them better. That is a gift of being a pediatrician- most kids do get better and come back in smiling.
What goals – that are especially important to you – have you achieved or wish to achieve as your life and career progress? And why are they important?
My goals have evolved and changed along life. More recently, I have been working on my understanding of gurbani and on how to apply it to my daily life. Gurbani is like an ocean and I have just taken a few sips. Life is an endless struggle. We fight each day with our own demons and they can all be reduced down to the five “enemies” gurbani warns us about — Kaam (desire), Krodh (anger), Lobh (greed), Moh (attachment) and Ahankar (arrogance). I think simran is being constantly mindful of the presence of Waheguruji and using that mindfulness to be intentional about our life choices and behaviors. But it is incredibly hard work! On a less esoteric level, my goal is to work on learning Punjabi better and then finding ways to make Punjabi more accessible to my kids and other kids here in the US who are distant from immersion in the language.
How has Sikhi translated into your career as a doctor?
For me, Sikhi is sidak (faith) and seva (service). I like to think that I approach my work with those principles. I like to be present for my patients and listen for the underlying unspoken story. I also like to spread optimism that comes from believing in chardi kala. Interestingly, sometimes when I am facing a patient who is very sad or hopeless or stuck, I end up talking to them about Sikhi principles in a secular language — asking them to seek out ways to help others, or to have faith in themselves or to start their day with gratefulness for what is positive in their lives.
What was the experience behind writing a story for Her Name Is Kaur?
I was preparing for the charni lagna (Begin reading the Guru Granth Sahib) ceremony for my kids along with the Dastar Sajauni (Turban ceremony) for my son. During that time, I kept thinking about all the moments in my life that had been meaningful to me in my path as a Sikh and helped to develop my faith. At the same time Meeta asked me to write an essay for the book “Her Name is Kaur” and I ended up writing about these moments. It was tough to talk about some of them and to be honest and open up myself to the world. I am a very private person. But I have to thank Meeta for her editorial persistence in making me really get to the heart of the matter. I am grateful to have this collection- not just my story but all the stories in the book. We have so little recorded voice for Sikh women and endless stories that have disappeared in the mists of time.