Home Essays by IJ Singh SIKHI: Think Globally Act Locally

SIKHI: Think Globally Act Locally

by nishaan@magazine

This Editorial owes its birth to some of the last brief conversations and contacts with the late Pushpinder Singh, the illustrious Founder of Nishaan-Nagaara.  Even though he lived in India and I was on the other end of the globe, I always thought that his base was not India but the greater globe itself.  We enjoyed our many exchanges, though sometimes quite brief.

But I learned rapidly that for a good imaginative writer the location is not important, ideas and events are the core of interest and the whole wide world is the territory.

I come from a lifetime in academia. Note that academics habitually need 50 minutes to make a point.  I hope, pray and try to be otherwise. Hence global Sikhi is the theme and “Sikhi Anew” comes as a reminder

Pushpindar Singh, the Founder giant of Nishaan We had known each other for a long time, though our contacts were sporadic during the past few years.  I have been late in taking stock of matters and thinking of steps to initiate corrective action. Pushpindar was a memorable partner.   Over the years I have worked with many movers and shakers in our community with often mixed results; yet, I am grateful for the opportunities; the journey continues to teach me.

Many of us who came as young and ambitious recognized early that the message of Sikhism is inclusive and egalitarian. It recognizes that “Stone walls do not prison make nor iron bars a cage, minds innocent and quite take that for a hermitage. If I have freedom in my love and in my soul am free, Angels alone that soar above enjoy such liberty. Sikhi indeed comes to us with a message that uniquely recognizes its promises, and unfailingly points to our place and duty..

Of course, we now accommodate at least two realities in us – Sikhs, young and old, who live in sometimes contradictory worlds of culture, cuisine, language, ideas, art, philosophy, morals, edicts and ethics.  In our frustrated contradictory reactions sometimes, we think of “East is East and West is West; Never the twain shall meet.” But the twain does meet and gifts us a life that is richer than either alone.

If, as we do, we want an equal place at the table of this or any society, we have to create that space and earn and it. Failing that, look carefully, and we will likely be found listed on the menu – a place that our dignity will and should reject as soon as we see it.

In a successful genetic mix of different cultures, the successful admirable model values the host culture as well as the new arrivals.  The two cultures can and will learn from each other enriching both. Luckily, this kind of thinking has shaped us.

As far as I know your readers, my understanding of our life and theirs resonate to similar values.

This might seem like a longish ‘Introduction.  We need to enhance communication such that we find friends and create relationships amongst strangers in the world.  In some communities we will enter as stranger to soon become treasured and welcomed friends.  In other places the newness might last a lifetime.

I hope that Nishaan/Nagaara comes to a more direct purpose and process.

We have in mind interesting exchanges on new immigrants and how new immigrants see themselves less immigrants and more natives. How long does the process take – less than a generation? Do race, religion, the color of your skin and accent of speech matter? I will deliberately not explore this further today.  But believe me these matters are important Unfortunately, such discussions have been few and far between. Nishaaan/Nagarra comes to accelerate the process.

Sikhs have been in North America since the First World War and construction of the Panama Canal. These were some of the early settlers from India.

We need to parse the relationships of the many kinds of Americans that make up the rich mix that constitutes our neighbors in America.

The first Sikhs came to America as laborers on the Panama Canal in 1901-1904. Now in the evening of my life I often think: My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night.  But oh, my foes and ah my friends, it casts a lovely light.” We have had a colorful and eventful past here.

The persistent issue has been that our neighbors know so little of us.  But I ask how well do we know them Good neighbors need to know each other even though “Good fences make good neighbors”.  When we interact with others, both learn, the world becomes smaller. History speaks of peoples sharing music, culture, language, cuisine –things that make them what they are. Just look at Sikh tradition in such matters. When we share these traits with neighbors, both cultures expand their horizons in the new fusion reality.

Yet, we deserve and need an equal place at the table of this society, so we have to explore the common ground between us.  If we do not define that equal place, mind you then we are at best listed on the menu, never mind how big the marketplace — in fact, not a place you ever want to be.

Be not afraid of sharing the ground with others.  Look at language, music and cuisine.  The richness in it is a contribution from others from other cultures over time – non-Punjabis and non-Indians. Look at the spirit of Sikhi that speaks of the worldly life Meeri and the spiritual — Peeri. Diminish neither. Remember that the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts, for good and equally as well as for evil, sometimes.

As long as we live, we should never stop tinkering with our ideas and how they define their place in our lives. The institutions that we design are not necessarily to battle or challenge the existing ones but to provide new ways to look at these matters and create ways to expand our horizon in the new world.  But when the moment calls for action on such matter it often asks us to make the best workable choices.  But keep in mind that much depends on opportunity and what possibility of choices are available since they are often limited. And yet, we will continue to slip and make mistakes, as also we will enjoy triumphant moments. 

I would ask that in the process we always continue to “Think globally but act locally. Thus, we will keep in our mind the larger picture of what we do and how we impact our existence.”

I.J. Singh

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