Twist & Braid by S.J. KAUR Twist, braid. Twist, braid. My hands automatically fall into rhythm. I am doing Biba's hair. With every twist I recite a line, at every braid I proffer thanks. Twist, braid. Twist, braid. I can feel the tug of my mother's efficient hands. She is doing my hair. She is also teaching me the Japji. We start as soon as I sit cross-legged, my back facing her. She undoes my braids, removes my tangles from the previous day and starts a fresh braid. Meanwhile I am reciting all the Japji I know. By the time we are finished I will be pretty, my hair immaculate and most importantly I will have learnt two new lines of Japji Sahib. Biba loves her braids. She will cry if I try to leave her hair in a ponytail. This is one of those oddities of life for which I have no explanation and I demur looking for one. Twist, braid. Twist, braid. "Ik Onkar," I say. "Satnam," Biba answers. "Karta Purakh." "Nirbhao," she replies ... pretty much all the way to the 10th pauri she is currently learning. Twist, braid. Twist, braid. It's not always like that. Sometimes Biba likes to get ‘musical' or as she puts it, "Paath has to be musical, Mama." I suppose I would be an idiot not to agree. So she'll fish her xylophone out of her princess toy basket and drag it all the way to me, and the "chhan-chhans" (for lack of the correct word.) And we happily sing all the ten pauris grossly out of tune. It reminds me of the times my Dad would pull out the harmonium; I would get the tanpura, my brother, the tabla and the youngest, the tambourine and the privilege of sleeping in Mom's lap. Those were exciting mornings. We would sing the Japji, Jaap, Suvaiyee and Chaupai Sahib. We sang in turns. Dad led with the first pauri and our chorus rejoined with the second. The love, the enthusiasm, the joy! It was all magic! Pure magic! O, I don't know how it all sounded to a seasoned musical ear and pardon my Americanism, but like I care. When he finished Chaupai Sahib, Dad would give the harmonium a rest. Mom and he would recite the entire Anand Sahib by rote and then Dad would pick up the harmonium again, singing soft and gentle, smooth and creamy: "Aad Waheguru / jugaad Waheguru / haibhi Waheguru / ho-si Waheguru," followed by the robust and sweet strains of "Sri Har Kishen dhiyaaeye / jis dithe sabh dukh jaaye," and then hit the crescendo with, "Sri Tegh Bahadur simari-ye" (I can just hear Dad's voice booming to hit the high notes), "ghar nau nidh aave tha-ye." It was our weekend or holiday treat. And it was all a kid could ever ask for. It's not always like that either. Sometimes getting around to my nitnem is a real challenge. I will procrastinate, avoiding the inevitable, sometimes right till bedtime, deferring it to the following day. Those are not happy days. My struggle spills over in everything I do. At one point for a few years I had abandoned my daily routine. When discussing this with my grandaunt, she expressed it just right: "Once you are in the habit of doing your nitnem, when you don't do it, a person is left feeling a certain heaviness." My husband is a bit of a spiritual freewheeler who remains unconvinced of God's or Guru's need for any daily ritual. He believes that you do your best and leave the rest. No point beating yourself over it. True. Now only if I could get myself to agree. My struggle is reflected in my daughter. Sometimes getting paatth done means bribing, cajoling and scolding. And, if she pushes my button long enough by bursting into a newly-learnt Christmas carol in the middle of paatth and persisting; desisting hints, looks, ignoring the paatth, she will earn a punishment or forgo a privilege. This usually ends in tears and some frustration (on my part). I wonder if I am doing the ‘right thing,' if I was too harsh, etc. This morning I simply walked away and let my husband step in. That didn't go down too well with Biba and she walked right up to me with her "chhan-chhan" proclaiming, "I want to do paatth with Mama." After we complete our paatth, we do ardaas. Shukar - a measure of gratitude! - to have earned the privilege, a prayer to be an effortless daily routine at amritvela. And if you are Biba, you cannot forget to "Thank Babaji for the instruments." I feel Guru Gobind Singh ji gave us nitnem with Amrit because, more than anything else, being a Khalsa is about strengthening your character, your basic inner self. For every measure of strength I proffer thanks. Twist, braid, twist, braid, three parts of self - mind, heart, soul to the tune of Ik Oankar, Satnam, Karta Purakh, Nirbhao, Nirvair, Akal Moorat, Ajaoni Saibhang, Gur Parsad ... With Guru's grace, I hope to braid a strong spirit and join the ranks of The Pure.