A vignette of emotions, centered on a perverse ritual being practiced in a 350-year old Sikh seminary. How a search for the origins of “Chauthey Paurey Wale”, a spiritually sanctioned cussword for the low-caste Sikhs, also unearthed the true story of a folk hero, Bidhi Chand Chhina, in a village so old that it’s said to be the birthplace of Shiva. The mutiny of a renouncer that was Bidhi Chand and the lingering doubts it left about the politics of the Gurus.
THE SUN WAS BARELY OVER the yardarm, but my shopkeeper friends from Guru Bazaar had already bantered away for nearly an hour. The billowing clay oven, from the rundown corner shop across the street, spitted out Ambarsari kulche at a frantic pace, as the passers-by stopped for a quick brunch. Vendors and wayfarers from the nearby villages scouted for early trades, while the market was still waking up to the clanking of steel utensils, being rearranged on the pavements of two prominent stores.
My jaunts and jamborees in the city of Tarn Taran generally began by afternoon, but on an unusually crisp morning of December, we had gathered early at the behest of “Pardhaan” Balbir Singh. Though the slight readjustment of schedules had left everyone anxious and even imparted them with a certain sense of purpose, that group of shopkeepers couldn’t let go the customary tea, stretching the chitchat for so long—as if serious trysting would have taken away all the fun.
Pardhaan glanced at the watch and rose to fetch his bicycle.
“Pukhraj ‘Sian’! Ajj tainu kujj kamm de bandeya naal milauna ai, naale o kitaab vi davauni aa!”
(We are meeting some important people today, Pukhraj “Sian”, and I have to get that book for you!)
Careening over the pedals, he addressed me affectionately in a melodic tenor exuding rural rusticity and religiosity. As every muscle on his face contorted to deliver that perfect ‘Duchenne smile’, I couldn’t help but think how Pardhaan ji had always reminded me of the popular folk singer, Pammi Bai. I was quite fond of the old man—a local milk distributor, the elected head of a small city gurdwara and, most importantly, a liberated Sikh who had time-and-again chaperoned me on the social suavities of Punjab’s countryside.
Continue reading “God Just Left the Gurdwara – Newslaundry”