Books: The joy of giving
In June 2020, The New York Times carried an article titled ‘How To Feed Crowds in a Protest or a Pandemic? The Sikhs Know’, highlighting the seva of American Sikhs during the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests.
From refugee camps in Iraq to the floods in Kerala to the earthquake in Nepal, people from this 30 million-strong community help absolute strangers in their darkest moments. In India, the community has been distributing free food to millions of people and setting up oxygen langars to save lives during the brutal second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Seva is a 500-year-old Sikh tradition that modern sardars and sardarnis adopt to bring meaningful happiness into their own lives. Five young Sikhs tell us how seva is a part of their lives.
Hasmeet Singh Chandok, 31, Nova Scotia, Canada
When Chandok moved to Nova Scotia for higher studies, he was often mistaken as a Muslim. To raise awareness about Sikh culture and also do seva, he produces melodious bhangra videos set against iconic Nova Scotia locations. These videos racked up as many as 50 million views in four days and raised significant sums for Canadian charities.
He’s also made a documentary film about his experience, titled Behind the Bhangra Boys, which has won awards at film festivals.
“We chose dance to represent our culture and as a means to do seva because it is positive, happy and attracts attention to our identity and culture,” he says.
Sandeep Singh Gill (Sartaj), 29, Goa, India
Gill is part of the Goa Sikh Youth (GSY) organisation. During the first wave, they fed up to 5,000 people a day. During the second wave, Gill organised oxygen cylinders to save people’s lives.
Despite not getting permissions, the GSY started serving langar outside a hospital. The first day they cooked for 400 people but soon crowds of 1,500-1,700 people arrived.
“Nobody was feeding the Covid-affected because people were afraid to go near them. Seva is our karambhoomi. We believe doing for others is doing for yourself,” he says.
Gurleen Kaur Batra, 22, Mumbai, India
When Batra was 16, she started teaching underprivileged children at a school in her neighbourhood. “It’s the purest feeling, the kids were so happy with the attention,” she says.
Afterwards, she initiated a ‘Basics of Sikhi’ course in Sher-e-Punjab gurdwara in Andheri East. The module motivates younger kids to do seva and teaches them Sikh history and fables. Now there are multiple branches of this course in Mumbai.
Jasdeep Singh Chhabra, 31, Sydney, Australia
For Chhabra, seva is a way of life. He grew up in Singapore where he was a founding member of the gurudwara’s youth wing.
“Seva is one of the main pillars of Sikhi. It means doing any selfless deed, including sharing experiences or guiding someone. Doing seva gives me satisfaction and happiness that is hard to come by elsewhere. It has enabled me to remain grounded as a person,” he says.
Based in Sydney, he regularly cleans the premises of his local gurdwara, mentors incoming migrant students in Australia and coaches teenagers at Peninsula Floorball.
Samiya Chatha, 29, Amritsar, India
Chatha’s grandfather started a charitable organisation in 2001, which is now named Kunwar Pratap Singh Charitable Trust in memory of her deceased brother. Volunteering is a tradition for her entire family.
The organisation includes a medical clinic with a dentist, a training centre for stitching and computer instruction and a school for underprivileged kids who are also given food.
“In Sikhism we say that only once you do seva can you be religious. Guru Nanak was given ₹20 by his father for a business deal. He spent the sum on feeding the hungry instead because he thought that was the best deal he could get. This guides my philosophy,” says Samiya.
Jasreen Mayal Khanna is the author of Seva: Sikh Secrets on How to be Good in the Real World. You can find her on @noortravels on Instagram
From HT Brunch, July 18, 2021
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