Solitude, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is "the state or quality of being alone or remote from others". The former best fits Trimaan Singh, who turned twelve the other day. And also any other Sikh kid trying to grow up as part of a minute minority anywhere in the diaspora. The lone rangers of the Khalsa cavalry! The walking and talking sava lakhs! The age difference between him and his sister is about four years and ten months, which turns into five for the older one - his sister - and four for him, a perennial sibling tug-of-war between the distance and closeness, as far as chronological age is concerned. The younger one wants to narrow the gap, not because he wants to be the same age as his sister, but due to his desire to be considered mentally as capable. He's upped her in one thing already. He is two and half inches taller than she is, his face grinning as he makes her stand next to him with a sense of authority, just to check if one more fraction of an inch has been added to his mighty frame. He inflates his chest, proclaiming himself to be the one-eyed king in the kingdom of two. A proud Goliath for a few moments. It is all in the mind games. Sibling rivalry has been part of family life across cultures, from time immemorial. It takes the most out of parents, as far as refereeing these battles is concerned. Taking sides is the usual accusation directed towards us. And, juggling to find the Gurmat fulcrum is a daunting task, constantly and repeatedly. We, as a family, had new beginnings in 1998, when Trimaan was three. We moved to a town where we were, and still are, the only "visible" Sikh family. This was of obvious concern for the parents of a three-year-old patka-wearing lone ranger in a town where, for the majority, he is an alien from some strange, unknown land. For the first year, he went to a day care which he detested. Every time his mother or I dropped him to this school of hard knocks, we left with a lump in our throats, our ears reverberating with his pleas not to leave him there. No sooner than I was out of sight, the first reaction was to close the car window, but I could still see his teary cries, albeit without the sound effects. What the ears do not hear, can be easier sweeping under the rug. We were sure we were doing the right thing for him. Little did we know that he thought the day care was just like a caged animal-corral, where free expression was taboo. He seemed to have more maturity than his mates of the same age, and hence found it difficult to follow them, like one more sheep in the flock. Time passed by, but his pleas were the daily reminder of our guilt of lacking parenting skills. Finally, the year came to an end and he was sent to a Montessori school, which he mercifully found a bit more to his taste. His mom met the principal and explained the basic tenets of Sikhi and the reasons for his wearing the patka. Trimaan looked very cute in his American flag top and sports shorts, with a matching patka, doing his martial arts show with his fellow classmates, for the parents gaga and open-mouthed, as if watching some Olympic event. One more school year is over. Time to go to the first grade in a new school. The concern of him being the only visible Sikh kid in town, and hence in the school as well, at the tender age of five, was never absent. We, as parents, often questioned ourselves if we had enough tools to share with him to face the coming odds. And we worried whether our encouragement to be a brave Khalsa was sufficient for him to cope with a world to which this American face of his did not jibe with their experience. Jaskeerat, his sister, has been in a magnet school program since her second grade, about twenty-five miles from home. We decided to put Trimaan in the zone school, which is only three away from home. It gave us some comfort that we could rush to him in case of any emergency our fertile minds could concoct. A couple of days after he was in school, I asked him if anyone had questioned him about his patka, or tried to touch it in an insulting way. His response to the former was yes, and no to the latter. But, he also added that he did not know how to answer the queries the kids asked him. After our casual chit-chat, Harsimran - his mom - and I decided to do something about it. The next day, she went to the principal and told her about Sikhi and asked her if it would be okay for her, Harsimran, to tell his class about it. Mrs. Goodman, the great teacher that she is, not only agreed, but also seemed to be excited by the idea, for her own sake: because it was also the first time she had heard about Sikhism. The following day, at the appointed hour, Harsimran arrived in Trimaan's classroom and was surprised to see Mrs. Goodman and her class eagerly waiting for her! Harsimran took Trimaan's patka off, right in front of the class, opened his joorah, let his hair down, and invited all the kids to come and touch his hair. It fell majestically all the way to his hips. The mayhem that followed was tantalizing, to say the least. Everyone got the chance to touch his soft hair, al naturale. The ice had been broken. Trimaan became an American, this time from the outside, as far as the co-inhabitants of his little world were concerned. Mrs.Goodman had another bright idea. She invited me to talk about Sikhi to the rest of the school, during the recess the next day. So, the following day, I was in the big room crowded with tables and kids from second to fifth grades. I had brought two dastaars with me, a six-yarder, and its understudy, measuring three. I handed one end to a volunteer and asked him to help me stretch it all the way. The goggle-eyed kids were taken aback to see the length, and looked at mine on my head, and were puzzled to see how this piece of cloth turned into a marvelous headdress that, at one time, only the nobles were allowed to wear, that is, before the defiance shown by our Gurus. Needless to say, it was a blast. The world became one for all. No strangers here. No melting-pot either. But a beautiful salad bowl where all co-exist as individuals, in unison. Ten days after the above episode, 9-11 happened. By now, Trimaan was not a stranger anymore, either by luck or by fate, but more likely by grace. He had prepared the world not to see him with jaundiced eyes. He was an American like them. * * * * * That was seven years ago. Now Trimaan is in middle school - still the lone ranger Sikh. He entered the Magnet program last year. The school is about twenty miles away. No more concoction of imagined fears by the parents. The episode in his first grade gave Trimaan the tools, the confidence and courage to express his way of life to others. That is the reason we did not have to repeat the same in his sixth grade, when he moved up to middle school, as we had to do in his first, although we did explain to the new principal about our religious beliefs. Some kids are going to make fun anyway. But we like to think that we've taught him how to react. Now, kids ask him questions and he responds quite gallantly, I might add. His Black classmates have already declared that his "du-rag" (patka) is cool! As I have mentioned before, I am just a blessed Dad.