The first time Gordon Campbell, British Columbia’s Premier, handled the hot
at a gurdwara in Vancouver, the Sikh gentleman sitting beside him couldn’t stop laughing. To save himself from further embarrassment, he gulped it down and nearly choked. It was during this visit to the gurdwara that he asked why men and women sat separately. When he went to the langar, he sat on a chair and ate chapattis and dal.
By the time he visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar, he ate prasad sitting on the floor. No longer did issues like gender segregation bother him. “I was pushed and pulled in different directions with several people trying to show me the way. But when I got a moment to stand alone, I felt it was a holy place. It was an experience which words can’t describe,” says Campbell. It was here that he learnt to chant ‘Wahe Guruji da khalsa,wahe Guruji di fateh’.
This is not the only Punjabi Campbell claims to know. Apart from “Sat sri akal”, it was during Baisakhi that he begun to greet the Punjabi way: “Lakh, lakh vadhaiyan”.
When he was the Mayor of Vancouver, Campbell designated the Main and 49th area of the city as a Punjabi market, complete with street signs in Punjabi. As the Premier, he proclaimed the installation of the Guru Granth Sahib in the Legislature and recognised Sikhism. His government passed a motion in the legislature recognising the five symbols of the Sikh faith. Apart from funding the renovation of the Abbotsford Heritage Gurdwara, the oldest gurdwara, he also officially designated it as a Canadian Heritage site in April.
Campbell’s Punjabi connection began during his student days at the university and was strengthened during his tenureship as the Mayor of Vancouver. Politics apart, Campbell is struck by the generosity of Punjabis and their ‘never-say-die’ attitude. “They are everywhere: in business, academics, medicine, education… They were among the first people to come to British Columbia and even though they were not welcomed, they stayed on. I often reflect on this and sense how difficult it must have been. What they encounter today is nothing in comparison to the isolation they faced then. But they did not give up. This spirit perhaps comes from their religion and its all-encompassing nature,” says Campbell.
Campbell’s life is scarred by two incidents: being charged for drunken driving and his father’s death, when he was not even 13. Being the eldest, he helped his mother bring up his siblings. “My mother earned a pittance, $215 per month. Yet she never let us feel that we were unfortunate,” he recalls, saying that every moment in his life is “blessed”.