I Can't Stop CryingGURMEET KAUR
I can’t stop crying.
I just called India to wish my aunt a happy birthday. She was not home. She had gone to the gurdwara to seek blessings.
Talked to my uncle. My aunt and uncle are not too much older than I, consequently their son and mine are about the same age.
He asked about mine.
I told him that he will be going to college soon. Before starting in fall, he is in Punjab volunteering his time, teaching high school students and college girls in rural areas on organizing against the social evils grappling Punjab today. Thus, trying to give back to the community that has given so much to him.
I asked about his.
He told me that their son was coming back soon from his summer internship of three months. His voice was full of pride.
“From where?” I asked with enthusiasm. It was exciting to know that they are placing value on his education.
“He was in Banaglore.”
“Technology, IT ?” I got inquisitive.
“Brewery”. He replied. “He is completing his placement as a brewer. That’s where the future is.“
My jaw dropped. My heart sank. My voice became heavy. Words chocked as they somehow managed to squeeze out of my aching chest.
My cousin is only 19 years old. A saabat soorat sardar. My uncle already owns many liquor contracts in town. Money flows in their presence … well, just like alcohol!
“Chacha, there are many other trades in the world. Why this? You have made enough money for several generations. Why are you setting a stage for your son in this area? We have talked about how unsikh this is.“
My questions were rhetorical. I have been asking this question of my extended family for years.
I know the answer. But I always hope that my saying something will one day make them think. I have tried the Sikh aspect from all angles.
They are addicted to easy money and nothing I have said in the past has made a difference. I fear nothing ever will.
Yes, this is my family.
And that makes me cry.
My son is in Punjab telling the youth how to fight this monster that has ruined us.
My uncles and cousins are helping make this monster bigger everyday.
We spend our daswandh in projects that empower our youth to think for themselves.
My relatives are making money off the youth by getting them to not think at all.
My son is awake till 2 am every day preparing workshops on empowering women who will potentially become victims of violence because of this monster.
Shops owned by my loved ones are open all night long selling more of it to men who will go home and make many more victims of their own loved ones.
And this is not just one family member.
I am single-handedly up against dozens of them. Each of my father’s siblings (and some of my mother’s) and their families have invested in this business.
While I’m talking to my uncle, his other phone rings. I can hear him answer it: “Gurmeet is on the phone on the other line, lecturing! ... Let me call you back.”
They laugh at me. They probably laugh at my son, wasting his time. They often ask me what is he going to study? What will he become? How much money will he make?
Or will he be like me? Driving an old car. Living in a small house which has not been fixed in many years.
The last time my uncle was here, he found so many issues with my house and pointed out that I didn’t achieve anything in the USA while my Indian counterparts have many times more.
Last year one of my cousins (a daughter of another liquor king) decided she was going to do something other than make a living in alcohol. So she opened a business as an agent trying to send youth from Punjab to colleges in the West. I flipped out again. I explained to her the ground reality. Precious rural farm land was being sold to afford education that yielded no jobs.
“United Sikhs” (an NGO I volunteer with) helps sends many young people that are stranded in the gurdwaras in Europe without money, jobs and valid visas –- back home.
She de-friended me on Face book … and in real life.
I was at a gathering at my family’s this past weekend. They tried and tried for the nth time to get me to drink. My brother said, “Look around you. How many people will you make happy?” Every eye was waiting for me to accept that one sip.
One of my cousins commented on a sweet home-made dessert liquor: “It is so good; it should replace kacchi lassi in chhabeels on Gurpurab Day”.
I was stunned. This is my family.
My talks haven’t worked. My life as an example hasn’t worked. My young son’s dedication hasn’t worked.
I guess the only person one can influence is oneself and their children. And sometimes not even that. I am thankful for the grace my son and I have received and will to not turn our faces away from our Guru for the glitter that shines and sparkles all around us, luring us to be one of them, to chill out, to ‘enjoy’ life, to be a ‘part of the family‘.
I can’t stop crying.
July 18, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: S.J.H. Singh (India), July 18, 2012, 9:37 AM.
Bhain ji: You are a grand success, I bow at your feet and I pray that i too am blessed with what you've been blessed with - Sikhi, Grace and Naam. "kahey kabir nirdhan hai soyee jaakey hirday naam na hoyee." Sooner or later your uncles and their families will learn that one's karam lives long after the pleasure is gone. The Guru is with you ... and that's all that matters.
2: Parvinder Singh (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), July 18, 2012, 9:43 AM.
"Choo kitte paani nahi pinda koi" - "You can only take the horse to the river, you cannot force it to drink." You'll have to leave them on their own.
3: Tavleen Singh (Ludhiana, Punjab), July 18, 2012, 9:52 AM.
May Waheguru bless you and your son with courage to be even more strong against it and may Waheguru bless them with wisdom.
4: Tarunpreet Kaur (India), July 18, 2012, 12:08 PM.
I am mesmerised with your thinking. Let your family be what they are. Waheguru is there to oversee everything. Each one's karam is being taken into account.
5: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), July 18, 2012, 12:54 PM.
Showing oneself to be a Sikh and doing things which are totally contrary to the teaching of gurbani is sheer hypocrisy. The community should take a very clear stand on such issues. Our Guru very certainly does not want us to become drunkards and drug addicts. Priority should be to save the youth of Punjab from drug abuse and all kinds of addictions.
6: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), July 18, 2012, 1:25 PM.
We are not here to judge or be judged. We are here to - smile - to be in love with all of life, if you can.
7: I. Singh (Chelmsford, MA, USA), July 18, 2012, 1:44 PM.
Gurmeet Kaur ji - our worldly relatives are plenty, some we connect with and some we don't. You and your son are connecting mighty fine with the divine family that the Rider of the Blue Steed blessed us with. "Fear not, frighten not!" which I interpret as despair not, and remain in Chardi Kalaa!
8: Harvind Kaur (Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.), July 18, 2012, 3:17 PM.
Gurmeet Bhain ji - I'm not sure if you're a fan of Hemingway, but he had a poignant line from his own life: "Families are vicious".
9: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), July 18, 2012, 6:11 PM.
My relatives are not vicious, nor I am in the business of judging them on their personal lifestyles (or proving myself holier). But it is hard to smile when a young man I saw growing up like my own son is being christened into dedicating his life's energy and enormous wealth to fortify a business that will cause destruction of lives, detriment of character and let us as down as Sikhs. I cry because they are lovely people who just refuse to see what we as children of Nanak are supposed to make of our lives. I cry because if each family has a story like this, what is the future of Sikhs and of Punjab?
10: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), July 18, 2012, 7:03 PM.
Just listen to, and serve the Guru. Turn your eyes away from such souls.
11: Devinder Pal Singh (Delhi, India), July 19, 2012, 3:16 AM.
Gurmeet Kaur ji: your effort in keeping your wards away form the forsaken path is commendable. I too have experienced the straying away of many Sikhs towards these vices willingly, citing social and business pressures (or should we say, excuses). We can only alert them and perhaps cajole them to refrain from such practices. It's the glitter and glamour and artificial socializing that falsely attracts them; once in that grip they get addicted and constantly battle to outdo each other. Often the women of the house support this behavior in parties and therefore in public with matching excuses. The assumption is that the West leads in this but today the native Indian prides in copying and then outdoing the West. In the midst of this chaos it's indeed an achievement and a proud act to stay aloof and consciously happy, associated with the Almighty.
12: Gurpreet Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 19, 2012, 12:48 PM.
Don't we all have the same sort of relatives in one form or the other? I am stunned that they offered you a drink knowing you are amritdhari and I am sure this is a common practice for people in Punjab. Since our religious and political leaders use religion for their benefit, no wonder so do these business people.
13: Zorawar Singh (Fremont, California, USA ), July 19, 2012, 10:45 PM.
Nice article, but if I may add my two cents to this topic: First and foremost, I know many Sikhs who are running business which are contradictory to Sikhism, such as running a brewery, owning a liquor shop, running a beauty parlor shops, etc., but unfortunately many people within our community are willing to do anything not only for money but they too have to pay their bills like you and me. Secondly you had mentioned that your relative is working as travel agent and you were shocked but, the reality is the unemployment in Punjab is quite rampant and the people of Punjab are migrating out of Punjab for better paying jobs, a higher standard of living. Let me ask you a personal question: you are living in a western country, America, which means that you yourself migrated out of Punjab at one point in your life for the same reason. So would you be willing to migrate back to Punjab and settle down in Punjab permanently?
14: Jasdeep (New Jersey, USA), July 20, 2012, 3:22 PM.
The youth of Punjab are in a very disturbing place, and sadly my extended family is involved in the same business. I considered starting an NGO to work on this issue. It seems that the author and her son are already trying to combat the problem. Does anyone know how I too can get involved? Please let me know, this is the type of seva I would love to get involved in. To paraphrase Mother Teresa's quote, If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one, if we can't change the mentality of a particular society, at least we can try to keep the youth from falling into the cycle of alcohol and drug abuse.
15: Tejinder Singh (Australia), July 23, 2012, 11:20 AM.
Many questions remain to be answered and I have found only dubious answers to date. Why were alcohol and drugs suddenly made so easily available in Punjab at such a large scale in the last 25 years? Are we blind to the long term objectives of this game? Alcohol and drugs have been tried and tested the world over to destroy communities very successfully, bit by bit. There are examples galore in the socio-cultural history from a diverse range of countries and cultures. Alcohol and drugs destroy a person and community from the inside out so while its happening nobody gives it a blink until suddenly a point of no return is reached and it's too late. Can we stop the destruction of the Punjabi spirit, enthusiasm, entrepreneurship, energy and innocence? I will be labelled pessimistic if I say I doubt it.
16: Ram Singh (California, USA), July 23, 2012, 2:29 PM.
The situation is indeed very serious and incidents like this, although heart rending, yet are very common. So what can one do? All you can do is try your best. You have done a commendable job as a committed Gursikh. We are proud of Sikh sisters and mothers like you who understand the real meaning of Sikhi. Just because some people do not listen, that does not mean that we should stop doing the right thing. Let us pray to Waheguru to give these people the sense to do the right thing and come back to the righteous path.
17: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), July 23, 2012, 11:56 PM.
Gurmeet ji, you exhibited courage to say the things most others hesitate to say. My wife Amrita and I always conspicuously decline a drink when offered. When asked why a pharmacologist would not approve of social drinking, my answer is that it was our commitment to our Guru. Then starts a barrage of jokes and un-called for remarks. Drinking did not spare even our sacred institutions. Let me explain. When I was new in USA I sought to meet a gurdwara leader in the West. There I had the first shock of my life in the West. I could not find the address I was looking for to meet the gentleman who had invited me to that address. I asked a policeman for help. He simply pointed out the store in front of me. Why did I miss that address? It was a liquor store that escaped to register in my mind as a place to meet a leader of the local Sikh sangat. Later I come across many liquor store owners who were also the elected officials of their gurdwaras. Even some raagis and granthis do not hesitate to sell liquor and tobacco products. If you are not shocked already, you must know that we failed to spare even our sacred monuments such as Guru Gobind Singh Marg built in Punjab some years ago. The area was carved out to awaken inspiration among our populations towards the teachings of our Guru. A pilgrimage of the Marg and all of the holy places situated on this route is there to retell us of the ideals that our Guru promoted as guideposts for us. Instead, per a published survey conducted soon after its completion, there sprang up 550 liquor stores on the Guru Gobind Singh Marg. The Marg travels from Anandpur Sahib to Talwandi Sabo. The liquor store number has surpassed 300 historic gurdwaras on this route scattered among 400 villages and thirteen cities or towns. Even then, our sangat does not speak out; our leaders do not speak out. I am pleased that some youth like Gurmeet ji took the courage and showed the astuteness to spill tears on this deplorable sacrilege of the Sikh Rehat Maryada. That is not to guzzle substances of abuse and mind altering chemicals.
18: Aryeh Leib (Israel), July 24, 2012, 4:18 AM.
While not causing physical addiction in the same way as drugs and alcohol, the desire for material wealth and social status is no less mentally and emotionally addicting. Maya provides innumerable ways to numb our senses and distract us from our true purpose here. The trouble is that, while Waheguru promises us so much more than the greatest bliss imaginable, that bliss requires our own investment of time and effort; it's like an invitation to a great banquet sometime in the distant future. Maya, on the other hand, gives you a bag of chips and a coke - right now. It tastes good, it will fill you, but a steady diet of it will cause death from malnutrition. Gurmeet ji, you are doing the best you can, under the circumstances. It's truly unfortunate, but such people rarely learn their lesson until someone precious to them succumbs to alcohol or drug addiction; only then do their eyes open. May your words and example have a good effect before something like that happens.