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Poet, Singer, and Activist

Singing All the Way, The Sikh Journey in America is on the Move now ; Gurpreet Singh Sarin, ” The Turbanator ” On American Idol

Posted by on Jan 24, 2013 in Discussion | 0 comments

I was very happy to see a young Sikh American named Gurpreet Singh Sarin nicknamed ‘ Turbanator ’ on American Idol. He has set out to spread Sikh Awareness in his own artistic way.  I had recently watched him on American Idol. Gurpreet appears to have decided to sing it all the way!  As I watched this video, I couldn’t help but think back to a few months ago when I attended the Western Scholars Conference 2012: Sikh journey in America, hosted at University of the Pacific, Stockton, California. In celebration of the centennial anniversary of Stockton Gurduara, founded in October 24, 1912, the conference was organized by the Sikh-American Research Center of the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society and Stockton Gurduara Centennial Committee. I had driven down to the conference with my wife and we were both very appreciative of the Sikh American youth volunteers from local schools, colleges and universities, who welcomed the guests at the registration front desk with a genuine smile, and conducted and moderated presentations in a timely and professional manner. It is very uplifting to my spirits to know that this generation is taking up the mantel and does not run everything with Indian Standard Time!

The conference understandably, revolved around the founding of the Stockton Sikh Temple and the formation of the Ghadar Party in 1912/13 in California.  We were delighted to see the conference hall packed and well attended with more than a dozen distinguished speakers, who made thought provoking power point presentations. Although I did not agree with some of the scholars who in their own dramatic way, tried to redefine the Ghadarites, their motives and thus rewrite the history as if it were. My attention was specifically drawn to the presentation by Dr. Harold A. Gould, of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Referring to the Oakcreek Sikh Temple tragedy, he said that no one could even pronounce the name of our religion properly when the news first came out that an unidentified gunman had murdered five members of the Sikh faith within the confines of their temple in a Milwaukie suburb in Wisconsin. He went on to say that most Americans, and even most members of the press, had no accurate idea of who and what the Sikhs are. Media reporters couldn’t pronounce the community’s name properly-calling them ‘Seeks’ or some variation of that. “At most,” he had said, “they probably knew that Sikhs are originally from some part of India, who came to this country, God knows how and when, as immigrants of some kind. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney more than once called them “Sheiks”(a Muslim term for an Arab leader) instead of “Sikhs”(the name of their cultural community)!” These words repeated in my head as I watched the Turbanator very funnily charm Nicky Minaj by telling her he had a turban the color of her hair!

Following a huge backlash of Oakcreek, where many condemned this heinous crime at Milwaukee with pouring in of sympathy and goodwill from all quarters –from marching down City Hall to the White House. There started to be a lot of talk about the Sikhs in America in the media, and an honest look at who we are. A significant legislation pertaining to Sikh Awareness and to include necessary information about Sikhi in the Public School Curriculum in California which had been kept at the back burner for years was swiftly passed by the legislature, largely because of this media attention. Equally swiftly it was signed in to law by the California Governor Jerry Brown last year in November 2012. There is a long way to getting it all right but at least, American press and general public now can finally pronounce the name right.

It takes a century, tragic and ironical as it is, the proverbial Duddu (frog) is finally out of the well and well into the main stream America. The Sikh journey in America and beyond is now on the move. But where did it all begin? As Sikhs living in the Diaspora especially in America, do we really appreciate it or are we really even fully aware of it? That has to go back to the Ghadrites era or even before, when the circumstances drove ordinary field and saw-mill Indian workers (called Hindoos) to become radicalized and began to turn to human right activists and Ghadrites. But that is the subject of a separate post.

While it may not seem like Gurpreet Singh Sarin, “The Turbanator,” is a cultural or religious ambassador for Sikhs or Sikh-Americans, I believe he is presenting a wonderful message to all Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. That we are all human and you should never judge a book by its cover. During the time of Guru Gobind Singh and during the struggle for Independence, it was time to take up arms. In the 21st century, today, may be it is time to pick up the ‘Rabab’ again and sing! Let us wish American Idol hopeful, Gurpreet Singh Sarin “The Turbanator,” the best of luck in his creative endeavour and for presenting a loving and wonderful image of Sikhs to the world! As always let me know your thoughts on my face book or on my website:

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Lohri Message 2013: Is Punjabi a Dying Language? It may well be!

Posted by on Jan 15, 2013 in Discussion | 0 comments

Lohri 4In view of the intense debate started about the future of one of the most ancient languages and associated cultures i.e. Punjabi and Punjabiat  and as a concerned citizen who watches this debate closely, I wrote an article titled, “Is Punjabi a Dying Language? and posted it on April 2, 2012. As usual I received some very interesting comments. One of the most recent comments that I received in the new year a few days ago was by Jehanzeb Mahar from Pakistan and I quote, “A few months ago, in Pakistan, parliamentarians from Sindh forwarded a bill calling for giving the status of national language to Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto and Balochi, to a parliamentary committee. Amazingly, the members from Punjab, alongwith Urdu members, came out to be the most vocal opponents of the bill. So, the bill was rejected and couldn’t even be presented in the parliament for voting.” Vow! You should read that again and ponder!!
The question arises if the goodwill is any better on the eastern border of the Indus Valley?

Tradition has it that all Punjabis celebrate Lohri as a festival in their own ways, families get together and exchange good wishes. Not intending to water down the jubilations, I wonder how many of us really know the sober history behind it all. Reflecting on this and to bring it to the forefront of all concerned Punjabis living at home or in the Diaspora, I thought it appropriate to publish again the article as well as my Punjabi poem, ” Ma Boli Punjabie Tera Kon Vichara”, which I had written and posted on the website. Celebrating this ‘Lohri’ will not be complete unless it rekindles the spirit of ‘Dulla Bhatti’ of yesteryears who laid down his life saving the honor of a daughter of Punjab. From the ongoing it appears now the honor of Punjabi Ma is at stake!

On this note I leave you with the links to read my article as well as my poem and ponder :


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Heer Forever Stands Tall (ਗੁੱਝੀ ਰਹੇ ਨਾ ਹੀਰ ਹਜ਼ਾਰ ਵਿਚੋਂ ): A Post on Punjab

Posted by on Feb 7, 2011 in Discussion | 1 comment

Free Audio Download of me singing “Heer: Ranjha Leaves Takht Hazara” (a-capella)

“Heer forever stands Tall” is something I, and I’m sure many Punjabis take for granted. That Waris Shah’s tragic love story, “Heer” would be counted amongst the most poignant love stories of the world.

But this is not so. Not according to the many lists my son, Navdeep Singh Dhillon, who teaches English literature at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, sent me.

A few weeks ago, I was preparing a radio talk on folklore literature for the Punjab News and Views Program Radio Talk Show, presented on KBIF900AM,  in Fresno California. It is a discussion program in Punjabi for our central valley family of Punjabi listeners, which I co-host each Sunday between 3.00- 4.00PM. I asked Navdeep if there was a list of famous love stories in literature and folklore revered worldwide. He immediately sent me several lists. And surprisingly, while some of them mentioned some Indian love stories, none of them even mentioned Heer-Ranjha, or any other Punjabi love story. But William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was at the top of most of these lists.

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Punjabi Poem: Dheeaan

Posted by on Sep 20, 2010 in Gurmukhi Poems, Punjabi Poetry | 0 comments

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Fourth of July Interfaith Picnic, 2009

Posted by on Jul 4, 2009 in Discussion, Sikh Council of Central California | 0 comments

Guru Nanak Dev Ji: First Guru of the Sikhs and Bhai Mardana

Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Bhai Mardana

As a member of the Sikh Council of Central California Fresno, I along with other members of the Sikh Community, attended the 12th Annual Interfaith Alliance of Central California Celebration on Saturday July 4, 2009. The venue was O’Neill Park near California State University, Fresno. The Sikh Council of Central California Fresno (SCCC) is one of the founder members of the Interfaith Alliance of Central California (IACC) in Fresno which came into being 12 years ago. It is a mere coincidence that the SCCC was also formed in this area almost the same time.

Having lived half round the world earning my livelihood starting in India to Europe to Africa to Middle East and now in the United States of America, this is one of the most enriching experiences for me and my family. These kind of celebrations of the racial and religious freedoms are some of the things that makes America a great if not the greatest country to live in. As an American Sikh, it assures me our diversity of mankind.

We have diligently attended this celebration each year on 4th of July, since its inception. It affirms religious pluralism, celebrates our differences, and promotes the healing and constructive force of our joining together in public life in this country. Being a part of it one feels enriched by the beauty and diversity of all of the cultures in the Central valley. In the IACC, one learns as well as one knows, we cannot be casual about protecting this diversity and therefore should dedicate ourselves to safeguard all religions. Maintaining the separation of Church and State helps Americans do that. Protecting minority rights and civility in political debate ensures these freedoms.

The core religious values of the Interfaith Alliance are worth repeating here which include:
Affirming religious pluralism and celebrating differences, Protecting minority rights, Separation of Church and State, and Civility in political debate. As it seeks to bring a genuine interfaith voice grounded in compassion, justice, and civility to public debate, I wish there were more functions like this than just once a year. And more young people take notice of what is going on and actively partake such celebrations.

Someone called America a melting pot. It may be more appropriate to call it a landscape garden where numerous flowers and plants of different color, size and fragrance can coexist, thrive and make this garden uniqe and ever more richer and beautiful. I would like to see all critical languages including Punjabi to be freely available to all students in schools, colleges and universities, who wish to learn more in addition to English. More languages learnt, more understanding, respect and power as an American in the global community. A local Radio host said it best, “English is the language of the country and must be learnt but your mother tongue is the language of love.”
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