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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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Caruthers, Callifornia Makes History!

Posted by on Nov 29, 2011 in Discussion, Radio Show, Sikh Council of Central California | 0 comments

Caruthers, California Makes History

Caruthers, California Makes History

I first started working for the Fresno County Department of Agriculture in 1994 and still remember my supervisor, Paul Cook, telling me about Caruthers after he had described the satellite towns around Fresno which would fall under my jurisdiction. He looked at me jokingly and said, “Now don’t ask me where the hell is Caruthers. You have to go there to see it!”

When people talk about the Central Valley of California, they immediately think of Bakersfield, Tulare, Selma, Fresno, Madera or Modesto etc.. Not many people are aware of this sleepy, tiny town tucked away 30 miles southwest of Fresno en-route Hwy 41 South. Caruther  lies right in the middle of miles and miles of almond groves and vineyards, many farmed by Sikh American farmers, producing some of the best almonds and raisins in the world. Caruthers is also a base for the well-known Gill Insurance Company of Gill brothers and of course is the home for the Sikh American farmer who is considered to be the  largest Raisin Grower of the world, Charanjit Singh Batth, affectionately  nick named the “Raisin King.”

But Caruthers made a history of a different kind on November 19, 2011 when Randy Mehrten of  Fresno County Education Department presented the Sikh Council of Central California (SCCC) at the 542nd Guru Nanak Prakaash Utsav, its proclamation designating November 2011 as California Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month.  And the Assembly member Thirty First District Henry Perea persuasively spoke of working with other legislators in the Assembly to make it permanent.

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Punjabi Poem: Dheeaan

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

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Jakara Youth Movement and My Poem “Umber Di Shehzadi” : The 21st Century, Age of the Word

Posted by on Jun 25, 2009 in Discussion | 0 comments

I was invited to share “Umber Di Shehzaiye,” a poem I wrote at the closing banquet of Jakara Movement. Jakara began in 2000 with a mission to call the next generation of Sikhs from all places, backgrounds and points of view to reflect on their past and prepare for the future. In 2009, they came together as the next generation of Sikhs to continue the process of empowering, engaging , and educating the Sikh community.

They came together to commemorate the 1984 government attack on the Golden Temple Complex, and the “riots” in Delhi. At the same time and in another country, there were a series of seminars and papers being presented by other Sikh scholars at the University of Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada.

Without its meaningful closure, where a deliberate genocide of the Sikhs by another community was portrayed and allowed to be passed as a simple riot, this is how painful its legacy still is even after 25 years of its happening. A well known Psychologist Sudhir Kakkar described the 1984 attack on the Golden Temple Complex as a ‘Great Shock’ to the Sikh psyche. A Great Shock as he describes it may be summarized as a major happening which reminds one section of people the helplessness against the atrocities committed in a selective way by another. The psychological impact of this Great Shock impinges on the collective identity of that section and that Great Shock comes alive again and again. In spite of all these atrocities and excesses, the memories of preserving and reasserting itself in such difficult times, fosters kinship and makes that section stronger. This is what I saw that day in Jakara at Fresno and also as being reported from Canada and elsewhere, wherever the Sikhs reside in the new global community.

I thought that 9/11 and its aftermath was telling humanity that big or small, a sword alone cannot protect you in this day and age. September 11, 2001 took place in New York, and 10,000 miles away Operation Blue Star happened in Amritsar, 1984. These tragedies are not restricted to any specific nation, religion, or ethnicity. Although in different countries, in different contexts and at different times, at their core, these are human rights issues. These are common issues.

Kanwar Anit Singh Saini (Sikh Knowledge) and Kanwer Singh (Humble the Poet), two Canadian rappers and participants of 2009’s Jakara said it best. “1984 is all around us. It is happening in Rwanda. It is happening in Palestine. We should try to find connections with people who are also victims because then the minority becomes the majority.”

But I was not there to repeat what had already been reported or was going to be reported on this subject. As a poet I wanted to invite them to a different plane, whereby they not only take the message of what happened to the Sikhs 25 years ago but also what is happening all around the world today and how it relates to us all. A big picture where these compounded atrocities and excesses not only of humans on humans that are happening everyday but also collectively of humans on this planet Earth, which threatens its very survival. The victim of human’s inhumanity the Earth pleads with the princess of the Skies whose domain the fugitive from Earth is now so impatient to intrude. Without further adieu, here is “Umber Di Shehzadi De Naa: To the Princess of the Skies” :

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