Strictly speaking, it’s not about the city, but it did happen in this city. Twice. The first time, was at the guest house where I was temporarily put up by my employers and the second, most recent, a couple of days back during the course of fulfilling some professional commitments. Which is why it’s been twirling in my head, for had it been only once, would have dismissed it as inconsequential. Twice in two months does indeed make it fodder for thought.
“You’re the first Behl I’ve met who’s a Sikh.” – that sort of made me realise what an ‘oddity’ I was!! I mean, I am still am, excuse the past tense! That did set me thinking – no doubt an unsual activity for me, but still, I decided to indulge myself. Well, to be sure, have not come across many people sharing my surname and sporting a turban – most are non-Sikhs.
Even my forefathers, probably backwards in history from my great-great grandfather, were all non-Sikhs. The story goes, as a family elder recounts, the British, when raising an army comprising Indian soldiers, enabled easier entry for the Sikh soldiers who were largely posted along the Afghan border. Many Punjabi non-Sikhs, who wished to join the army, were indirectly ‘guided’ by the British to convert to Sikhism in order to be recruited, and so, my four of my forefathers converted to Sikhism, earning plaudits in the battlefield, remnants of which sadly, were lost in transition during the 1947 partition of India.
The British rationale for this unusual condition to recruit soldiers was rather bemusing – apparently, considering the history of Sikh and Afghan wars (well, let’s face it, we are the only ones to have driven the fear of god into the Pathan’s heart!), they thought that a Sikh regiment would be handy in quelling any trouble from the fiercely independent Afghans. And they weren’t too off the mark – the Battle of Saragarhi stands testimony to that, when 21 Sikhs thwarted an invasion of 10,000 Afghans and Pathans. Sounds incredulous? Go check the military records and history books.
Anyways, to get back to the present, have not been very conscious of my identity, except on a couple of occasions when it was pointed out by someone I least expected to – people whom I was close to at some point of my life. Religion has never been a very emotive issue with me – not that I am atheist. It’s a personal matter between me and my maker.
So it did amuse me when twice I was reminded in recent days of the mismatch between my surname and my physical appearance – in fact, one of them being from a coreligionist!! So what was I supposed to do? Return to my ‘roots’? Much as I am a self-professed liberal, being coerced just automatically raises my hackles and the martial ghost haunts my spirit! Besides, I feel pretty comfortable the way I look, even if it’s not exactly a sight for sore eyes!!
Maybe the future generations may not be as fastidious – already, some of my cousins have shorn off their tresses and it’s a matter of personal choice, I believe. And no, am not judging them, or anyone else for that matter. How my son grows up, is something I don’t know yet – what I want seems irrelevant to some. In any case, once he attains the legal adult age, I and my opinions would probably not matter to him.
It’s not about being dogmatic about religion – its founders never intended it to be a millstone around anyone’s neck. The freedom to join, or not join, was left to the individual – with the passing of time, as with everything else, dogma crept in.
It does have it advantages though, not least of them monetary! Money spent on personal grooming products such as shaving kits is saved, the ears are well protected in the cold and the hair gets less soiled as it’s covered, which means less frequent shampooing – another cost saver!!
So if you ask me personally, it’s not too bad being an ‘oddity’!