By Gurleen Kaur
The messages of my immigrant parents are never muddled. They are clear in their contradiction. I remember mornings of childhood. I would pace the bathroom floor, eyes glued to the ground, mind concentrating on what questions I could ask Dad. This was our routine, our time for learning. A questioned popped in my head. “What does Mul Mantr talk about?” I asked.
The answer was always the same. “It talks about the qualities of God. How he has no fear and no hate. It reminds us about the qualities we should have. No fear and no hate.”
Spend any amount time in the Punjabi community and you’ll quickly learn hate is a perfected lifestyle, so well practiced we are in complete denial about it. Driving home with my Mama Ji one day, I asked, “What’s worse? If I marry a Black man or a Muslim man?” He laughed, “Well, if you marry a Black man, your mom will disown you. If you marry a Muslim man, your dad will disown you.” I am fortunate enough to know he was joking about my parents disowning me. This is not the case for everyone. He was not, however, joking about how upset my family would be if I did marry a Black or Muslim man. They would cry and scream not for the loss of culture and religion they feared. No, they would cry and scream because of the hate they hold for these specific types of people.
I’ll bring up my family’s prejudice from time to time, returning to Gurbani for common ground. “Nirvaer remember? Without hate?” Mom will be quick to jump in. “Musalmans killed the Chor Sahibzade! A black man beat up your father when we first moved to America!” I stop soon after realizing there’s no winning with them.
A Millennial child of diaspora, I am guided by rational thought. All language feels foreign until I am able to reconcile it with my worldview. While my parents resent this quality of mine, considering it an adverse tendency towards arguing, I appreciate it for allowing me to question the moments above in searching for Truth. The Mughal rulers of the 1700’s are not the same as the 1 billion diverse-in-practice-and-nationality Muslims alive today. A single black man’s actions should not allow an entire people to be deemed dangerous. That’s basically what America has done to turban-wearing men post 9/11. Obviously not cool.
Earlier this year, I quit my job to work on a set of 100 flashcards to give curious minds a tool to better understand JapJi Sahib. I worked with friends, families, mentors, and grandparents to come up with images that bring out the meaning of the text, hopefully allowing one to enjoy a more intimate experience with Gurbani. Each flashcard comes with an artistic depiction of a word or phrase. These depictions are carefully constructed in recognition of the power of representation in maintaining and erasing the power of particular peoples. In this project, I set out to visually depict the world I believed the Guru’s hoped we would embody. I included specific images to target anti-blackness and Islamophobia. I drew Sikh bodies that are typically erased from Sikh media and texts, those of ‘lower’ castes and with darker faces. I played with colors and the subtle positioning of bodies to question traditional gender roles and communal fear of queerness. Through such art and Gurbani Vichaar, I was able to imagine the world I want for myself and the community with hopes that we, as a Sangat, could continue to take small steps towards creating it. I see it in the distance, that world that Guru Nanak Dev Ji talked about. It feels closer as I continue to scrape away the hate.
For more information, or to purchase a box of flashcards, visit daalroti.co.
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