Beware of Falling Rocks by I.J. SINGH An obituary in the news caught my eye. It noted the passing of Vladimir Igorevich Arnold, a celebrated Russian mathematician. He was the premier contributor to the KAM theory named after Andrei Nikolaevich Kolmogorov who was Arnold's teacher, Arnold himself, and his colleague Jurgen Moser - K-A-M! Arnold's major contribution is to the Singularity theory or Catastrophe theory; it predicts that small, slow smooth changes in a system can, under some circumstances, lead to an abrupt major event. For a non-mathematician, the idea is best illustrated by the way that slippage of a few small rocks can set off a major catastrophic avalanche. Surely, most readers have encountered the warning, "Watch out for Falling Rocks", while driving around mountain passes. Skiers know too well the life threatening dangers of snow avalanches. In an apparently stable system, a small singular tile gets off-balance; this sets off a movement of that piece which is transmitted to the next tile or stone in the series. This next piece then becomes unbalanced and so the process continues and rapidly accelerates until the result becomes mind-bogglingly large, complex and catastrophic. The whole structure comes crashing down like a house of cards. The event is cataclysmic. It is death in small increments. The fundamental idea of the theory is to delineate and define the boundary between stability and instability in dynamic systems. Mathematicians would describe and quantify the process with appropriate equations - this is not our concern here; it is certainly way beyond my means. I am not sure if historians and sociologists take note of this theory or what they make of it, but let's a take a leap of faith and into the world of faith. Mankind's faiths, too, are unquestionably dynamic systems. Since I am not a mathematician, it entitles me to take liberties with the theory and extend its applications into areas where theoretical mathematicians may cringe to step. When I look at our history from the Gurus on, there are many events - milestones in fact - that, like that first pebble, initiated a storm of change, and historians never tire of singling them out. As a few of the many examples that are available, I point to the martyrdom of Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadar; the concept of Miri/Piri; the initiation of the Khalsa in 1699, and the installation of the Guru Granth in 1708. (Believe me, there are many, many more that I leave untouched.) These became life-changing events; their aggregation produced the nation of Sikhi that thrives 500 years after the first hesitant steps. They gave structure to Sikhi - life in small but significant increments is how I would label them. Today, in keeping with the catastrophe theory of Arnold and his colleagues, I am looking for the slippage of one or a very few small stones that portends disaster. We are not looking for notable markers that singlehandedly can spell revolutionary change but for smaller events that seem insignificant at first flush and we may tend to dismiss them out of hand, but they may turn out to be critically significant in time. Let's count some that appear not to be of critical and negative import but many of them may carry a hidden blow. I look at Guru Nanak's frank and open writing where he speaks of God having no gender and of women deserving an equal place. Now, 500 years late,r we have written women out of our history and pretty much out of our religious institutions or service, while no one bats an eye at female infanticide and feticide in our culture. The world is increasingly embracing and finding common ground with the teachings of Nanak on this matter and we are running backwards and away from that core of Sikhi as fast as our little legs can carry us. Is this critically important? You tell me. Caste identity, which was banished from our existence by the Gurus, now occupies a place of pride. Even the presidents of our most revered Sikh institutions can't cast it aside in the dustbin where it belongs. Events of 1947 may have left Punjab with only 3 rivers but we have added one of alcohol. Man, does it run so freely that it has almost come to define us. Our worship service now is rarely an exercise in introspection and self-development, it has instead become an occasion for some show and glitter and plenty of rituals that no one understands. Contrary to their teachings, we have transformed the iconoclastic Gurus into superb icons of worship. We can and anxiously buy indulgences and our gianis/ granthis are more than willing to sell them to us. Cheerfully abetting this crime against Sikhi, they have become our partners in this unholy business. Will the likes of a Martin Luther arise in Sikhi, just as one arose in early 16th century Europe, to reject this Roman Catholic practice? Tons of gold adorns our gurdwaras and there is more marble in them than in any self-respecting mausoleum -- with neon lights glimmering as at a Las Vegas night. Bollywood, the new culture of free India, finds in Sikhs the new buffoons good for the easy laugh. Sikhs in the diaspora fret and fulminate about the continuing Hindu influence on Sikh lives, forgetting that outside the sub-continent, Judeo-Christian cultural and religious influences are much heavier and will change us. Now a loaded statement that I hope some readers will parse: The urbanization of Sikhs during the British period that has defined an almost unbridgeable barrier between jutts and non-jutts. The fault lies not in urbanization but in how we have allowed it to separate us from the core of Sikhi. And we have almost declared sehajdhari Sikhs to be persona non grata in our gurdwaras. The Sikh institutional bureaucracy, as it functions today, is surely not what the Gurus had in mind. Successful and innovative businesses and universities teach us that every institution, to stay alive and relevant, needs some creative destruction and rebirth from time to time. So be not afraid. Keep in mind what the Gurus' message and our history tell us: Sikhi is not as fragile as a carton of eggs. Instead remain true to the fundamentals and the bedrock principles of Sikhi; they are timeless, hence sacred. I could go on and on but what's the use; the list is not comprehensive, it will never end. And you know it as well as me. Nevertheless, many Sikh friends persuasively argue that our communities across the world are increasingly more educated and prosperous, and that these minor glitches that I point out will never hold Sikhi back. These are trivial matters with minimal potential of doing lasting damage to the rock that is Sikhi, they insist. The glitter, gold and marble in our gurdwaras indicate how deeply dedicated and committed Sikhs are to the Sikh way. Similarly for the purchased indulgences. I would like to believe them and some days I do. With them I, too, like to think that not one of the matters I have listed has the capacity to do lasting harm to Sikhi by itself. (The key words here are "by itself.") Not one of these may be the small pebble that sets off a rock slide. I, too, know that the Guru will look after his Sikhs and the garden of Sikhi. On the other hand, it is our garden to maintain - and our onus. It is for us to watch out for the falling rocks and reinforce the retaining structures. There indeed are organizing centers to dynamic systems, as there are qualitatively different bifurcation points of behaviors. The flip side of the coin then tells me to never underestimate the power of the smallest individual initiatives; if the lack of a small nail can bring down an empire, as a timeless fable by Aesop informs us, the tiniest tile may spawn a most magnificent structure. I am not arguing here that life and death of Sikhi can be reduced to a set of differential equations that will uncover and define the most degenerative singularity. Or am I mistaken about life and death in small increments? But I keep thinking of Vladimir Igorevich Arnold, his Singularity theory, and of the first pebble that, given the winds of time and neglect, can knock off a castle.