Lo! He Enters Manhoodby GURMEET KAUR Today, he turns 16. They say it's special. He is entering from boyhood to manhood. It's supposed to be a big birthday celebration. But between his film work, working with youth as a peace activist, and keeping up with his homework, his simple boyhood pleasures had to be sacrificed ... that also included his Dastaar Bandhi (The First Turban Adornment - a coming-of-age ceremony). As a mother, I want to give him all ... an elaborate birthday party, a formal dastaar bandhi with sangat from the world family to shower their love and blessings on him; but I have my limitations. Being Angad Singh's mother is a no ordinary job. I have to tell myself that his dastaar bandhi took place when he first spoke about Guru Nanak and His monumental task of bringing millions of war-stricken, religiously-divided people together, to a thousand high school students and motivated them to take one little step forward in this direction. Over the last three years, he has almost entirely forgone his play time with his childhood buddies, including his elaborate all day long birthday parties I used to throw in the parks when they ran around chasing clues to find treasures. It's a different kind of treasure he chases after now ... When I asked him what he wanted for his 16th birthday; he only asked for a sleepover with his close childhood friends and some time off his schedule so he could try fencing. So, I am right now sitting watching him take time for himself, trying a new sport, standing tall in his dastaar ... my little boy ... no, my big Sardar. And while he does that, my thoughts race through stories of his childhood that I want never to be forgotten. So, here I am, penning them down. These stories reflect his coming of age, step by step; the human relationships he is forming and social responsibility that he brings into the lives of those he touches. This is his transition from boy to man. This may not be a 16th birthday gift he cherishes now; but hopefully one day when he reads this, he will recall that alongside expectations, my heart is equally full of gratitude for who he is and what he does with such love and care. My child: You have carried my fragile heart In your hands Since they were so tiny; Honored the trust and responsibility I have placed on your shoulders Since they were so slender; I hope you know that, Like a rock, I'll be there For you to stand on. Till there is breath And with each breath will be My eternal prayer: "The Guru be with you" Always and forever... Happy 16th birthday! * * * * * 1 THE NEW BOY IN SCHOOL He was 14 and his first documentary, ‘One Light', had premiered at a film festival in Los Angeles. In the audience was a teacher who taught at a difficult school in a drug and gang-ridden community in the northern L.A. area. After Angad spoke at the screening, they got together for a chat. A few days later, he got an invitation to screen the movie and speak at that teacher's high school. He would do a workshop for their leadership academy program to empower the kids into social responsibility and action for a better future. Since the school was not in a safe neighborhood and Angad himself was an 8th grader - younger than the high school kids he would work with - I was not sure if it were a good idea. Besides, due to my work schedule and expenses that were lined up for his upcoming tours, I would not be able to accompany him. On the other hand, the cause was a compelling one. The school was full of ‘underprivileged' kids of Latin American immigrants with all sorts of challenges, and they direly needed hope and empowerment. He decided to go. Going alone turned out to be a powerful thing. A California ‘Teacher of the Year' hosted him at her place; another teacher made vegetarian meals for him. He got to be an independent traveler flying across the country as an invited guest speaker, working with grown-ups - city council persons and social workers - and deliberating meaningful workshops. The letter that we got back from the school highlighted the impact he had had by mobilizing kids into meaningful projects such as making a movie about teenage pregnancy, reading to the younger kids to encourage them to stay in schools. He was rated the most influencing speaker at the academy by over 80% kids! But what made me cry was a phone call from the academy organizer right after Angad's last engagement had been completed. "He is a leader in the making ... I am thankful for he made this day really powerful ... kids related to him, being a visible minority himself, and someone making a difference at a young age ... there was this one new kid from India - the only one in our school and he doesn't speak English well ... he was sad, lost and depressed ... but it has now changed. After Angad's workshop, his eyes lit up and his face beamed all day ... I could see that he had found his ray of hope ... that he too can excel in this country ... be someone some day ...Thank you for sending him". Two tears of joy trickled down my cheeks. All day long, I had waited for a call. It came and it delivered to me more than what I had asked for. If he could bring change in even one life, that was reward enough. But that was not it ... when I spoke to Angad later, he told me that the kid was a lone turban-wearing Sikh recently immigrated from Punjab. They got to talk ... Seeing Guru Nanak on the screen and another Sikh boy motivating their school ... the boy was over the moon. He would come to the school with his head held high from now on. The Dastaar Bandhi had taken place, and I was not even there! The two drops of tears turned into rivers and I sat in the lap of Guru Nanak, thanking him for the blessings. * * * * * 2 THE BASKETBALL SHOES We were winding up, getting ready to drive out of Akal Academy, Baru Sahib (Punjab) - the largest Sikh school in India located in an ethereal Himalayan valley - this past summer. Angad had been invited to speak to the students. He spoke at three academies and to the international summer campers and had meaningful dialogues around the commonality between all Sikh youth whether they were in India or somewhere in the diaspora - of the challenges they face being a minority and how to covert them into opportunities. As usual, I was overwhelmed, packing for both of us, arranging the taxi ride, saying good-byes to the teachers, counsellors and campers; when I noticed him in the bathroom scrubbing and shining his basketball shoes. "Quit", I yelled, "and pack for yourself. You are 15; three more years and you won't have a personal assistant with you all the time!" And then he uttered something about having to go looking for a kid. He said he'd be back shortly and disappeared with his shoes in his hands. An hour passed. I did all I had to, and sat by the taxi waiting for him, wondering how will he able to find this kid in a school full of thousand uniformed turbaned kids. But, I kind of had an inkling of what he was up to. A day before, he had spoken to a group of high school boys and this tall handsome boy came up to me. "Your son is not like other foreigners. The campers from U.S.A. and U.K. come here year after year and we have basketball matches with them. They are snobs, they are mean and they are rude. They think we Punjabis don't know how to play the sport. So we rough them up". My face turned red. Only three nights ago, Angad was taken to the dispensary. Some local student had roughed him up real bad at a soccer match between "the foreigners" and the locals. His arms, elbows and back were all bruised up; he was covered in dust mixed with his blood all over. It took them some time to clean him up. "But your son - he is not like them. He came up to me after the match and even though we had lost; he complimented me on my skills. He showed me some moves and taught our team some plays". I spotted Angad busy talking to some kids, answering their questions even as we spoke. I glanced at the eyes of the boys around him. They reflected the same feeling of camaraderie. He was not a foreigner. He was one of them, solving their common problem with them. An hour turned into two as I saw him running towards me. Like a winner of a cross country race; his face was lit. No shoes in his hands. As we drove out of that enchanted valley and he had a chance to catch his breath, he told me the shoe story. "Gurleen is the captain of the school team. He has even played at the inter-state level. He does not have basketball shoes and not likely to get size 13 pro-shoes here. They fit him well". "He said he will always have them and wear them for special tournaments". "Where and how did you find him? Did the school guards let you run around and look for a kid ? " I asked. " He is 6-ft-5, Mom, the only one; and the guards couldn't tell that I am not from around here". I get chuckles imagining this American kid running with a pair of shoes in his hand trying to find a kid in the sprawling complex and get a cozy sense of warmth thinking about how easily he forms his one-on-one human relationships and his desire to do something beautiful, however small it may be. * * * * * 3 "YOU ARE GOING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, NOT ME!" This time it was in a gurdwara in Seattle this past spring. His audience was a 500+ sangat - students from the Sunday school and their parents. This was his second screening in a long jet-lagged day, both consisting of 2+ hours of Q& A sessions. It was getting close to midnight but the questions did not seem like they were going to end soon. I could see that he was getting tired. We had to catch the plane back the next morning. He had a school project to complete on the plane and catch up on sleep somewhere in between. I was talking to some mothers at the back of the hall. They were amused that while they had normal teenage issues with their young ones, this teenager was trying so hard to do something meaningful ... when his unusual tone and loudness of voice over the mike caught my attention. "It is not mine but YOUR responsibility. YOU are going to do something about it. I will tell you exactly what to do, I will give you the tools but YOU can't wait for someone else to solve this problem. That is why we have a situation we have today. The world does not know about us because we as individuals wait for our community or leaders to do our job. But who is the community, who are the leaders ? It is YOU and I." He was all riled up and he had our full attention by this time. Later, I found out about the question that evoked those emotions from my son, who is usually mono-toned and a calm speaker. A teenager had inquired: "I am taking world history class in my high school. There is a whole chapter about India. I was for once so excited that my fellow students will learn about Sikhs. But I was badly let down because there were only two things about us and they were both wrong. Sikhs were described as a sect of Hinduism and as terrorists who assassinated the Prime Minister of India in 1984. Can you do something about it?" "I will give you my movie and the name of the book you need", Angad Singh had replied. "Show the movie to your teacher and tell her that there is a big problem. Because of the lack of, or because of inaccurate information about Sikhs, Sikh youth face harassment and bullying, even hate crimes, in our country everyday. Also purchase two copies of the book, "The Sikhs" by Patwant Singh from Amazon.com. Give one to your teacher and send the other to the publisher of your history book. And with the help of your teacher write to the publisher and don't stop until he makes the changes in his next edition. This is your assignment. This is your responsibility. When Guru Gobind Singh said that each Sikh is ‘sava lakh‘, he didn't only mean power, he also meant the responsibility. This is your ‘sava lakh' task to do". Someone in the sangat raised a loud jaikara at this; I simply stood there, holding my breath. A vote of thanks from Sukhdev Singh, a taxi driver, who had personally been the victim of a gruesome hate crime not too long ago, was a touching end to that powerful evening. He said he was thankful that a kid from Atlanta was doing something to change the scene at the grassroots level in Seattle, all the way diagonally across the country. * * * * * Angad Singh has begun his journey into adulthood. He is bitten by the desire to empower his peers towards social action for a better world. He is learning the meaning of his dastaar and his sardaari, and how to carry it forward to others.