Kids Corner

                             Stephen Hawking





Simran with the Seagulls



When I saw the picture of a Burqini in an article in Time magazine recently, a number of thoughts swam through the mental ocean.

Laura Fitzpatrick writes:

"Since the full-coverage swimsuit dubbed the Burqini (as in burqa plus bikini) hit the international market in January, devout Muslim women have been snapping them up. The polyester suits were designed to accord with Islamic laws that require women to dress modestly and to eliminate the risk of drowning when the yards of fabric used in traditional burqas get soaked. Now, however, non-Muslim beachgoers are getting into the full-covered swim. Whether women are worried about health, weight or the tolls of age, the Burqini offers a comfortable alternative to a skimpy two-piece or clingy maillot".

With the freestyle stroke, Burkini became SwimBana  -  the perfect swimwear for Sikh women of all ages. One more stumbling block turned into a stepping stone.

We have borrowed a lot from the Muslim culture. The best examples are the dome architecture of our gurdwaras, salvaar kameez, and many other things which are used interchangeably in both cultures. Hence, no cultural clashes here. Just the sangam -  the perfect blend of the two - once again.

The sight of my daughter, Jaskeerat, who is a senior in high school, with her first SwimBana on, swimming in the ocean with dad, floating on the salt water, looking at the blue sky, watching the soaring seagulls doing simran in unison in their own language, gave the aura of the perfect Sadh Sangat between Jaskeerat, myself and the birds of a feather.

The relationship between the daughter and the father is unique. I was there when she was in a hurry to come out of her mom's womb into this new world. It took her ten hours to complete this journey. A few moments before, she was floating in the ocean rapids of the  womb. Now, she was on the solid ground of her mom's arms and feeling the warmth of her bosom for the first time.

She experienced this metamorphosis like any other newborn. We adults are alien to that. We slap the baby's bottom and hear her scream while she is gulping in her first breath of oxygen. Her cry becomes our joy. The umbilical cord is cut off.

Nature  -  the forces and processes that collectively control the phenomena of the physical world independently of human volition or intervention, sometimes personified as a woman called "Mother Nature"   -  and Nurture ballet together, when mom puts the little girl on her chest and offers her the first succulent little gulp of breast milk.

Thus restarts the everlasting bond between the two, which had taken root at conception.

The first cry also morphs into an invisible umbilical cord attached between daughter and dad, through which both get nurtured for the rest of their lives. It is interesting to notice how we adults and the newborn acknowledge this from the two opposite ends of the same spectrum.

"Hello World!" cries the newborn and then hides herself for some more nurturing.

Happiness is difficult to express.

It is like gungei ki mithiai -  the expression of joy on a mute person's face when she is savoring her favorite candy.

What a perfect metaphor!

Gungei ki mithiai: the look on Stephen Hawking's face when he got rid of his wheelchair for the first time after four decades, for a few moments, to experience the freedom of zero gravity. A picture is worth a thousand words. Hawking called the experience "amazing", exclaiming: "I could have gone on and on - space, here I come".

It is the same joy that I, as a dad, experienced at the moment of Jaskeerat's birth. It felt as if she had nurtured me with love through our invisible cord during the very first moments of her existence. Love to last me a lifetime. The aftertaste is even better. It has eternity stamped on it.

SwimBana is a dream come true for many Sikh women. They can feel free from the moral judges that also act like "fashion police", who are trying to shackle Sikhi with Abrahamic and Vedantic chains, while sitting cross-legged on their high chairs.

Jaskeerat loves to swim. She swims as often as possible in the summer in our little family pool. She feels comfy wearing a swimsuit and shorts. The problem is that no swimming cap is big enough for her hair, which is frustrating when she wants to swim laps. SwimBana would be the perfect fit for her hair. She would be able to swim more often.

Now, any Sikh dad can imagine his daughter's dream of being a lifeguard at some crowded beach coming true. After all, seva to help others in trouble in the ocean is also the Sikhi way.

Come on, Sikh dads, gather your daughters, let's go and do simran with the seagulls.


March 13, 2008

Conversation about this article

1: Sikhs4WaterPolo (Palo Alto, CA, U.S.A.), March 13, 2008, 7:25 PM.

Does wearing a swim-suit or a bikini make a Sikh woman any less Sikh? I think not. Sikh women are renowned for their beauty - why should men dictate what they should wear? However, it's different if they themselves feel uncomfortable in a regular woman's swimsuit or a bikini. But this whole concept of swimbana? In high school we had two practicing Sikh males on the swim team and a Sikh girl on it too. They all did extremely well. The Sikh girl would swim in a regular swim-suit, and she would wear a swim-cap over her hair. Those of us who choose to practice Sikhism are already a visible minority in the West - we don't need anything else that impedes our unique identity. We are not extremists like the Taliban. Having said that, it's imperative that Sikh parents instill modesty and good values in their children. From that point on, it's up to the kids to make the right/wrong choice.

2: Savraj Singh (Pennington, New Jersey, U.S.A.), March 14, 2008, 1:16 AM.

Yes! Sikhs and swimming! I've shared a technique for creating a Sikh-friendly swimming cap on my blog, sikhswim.

3: Tejpreet Kaur (Cambridge, MA, U.S.A.), March 15, 2008, 1:17 PM.

In response to the first comment: To suggest that Sikhbana diminishes the Sikh identity or a woman's beauty is a great disservice to all practicing Sikh women who continually wrestle with the pressures of maintaining a "westernized" outward appearance. The idea of Sikhbana is not to enforce women to cover themselves; rather it allows women who practice Sikhi to keep all of their kesh and swim with confidence. The community should celebrate the beauty of our women by brainstorming more ideas similar to Sikhbana or the nifty swimming cap described above. It would be great if young girls and women had these empowering options to choose from rather than hair removal products that are spiritually and physically destructive, harmful and painful.

4: SikhsKeepTheirKesh (Mountain View, CA), March 15, 2008, 2:08 PM.

Re comment #1, there's nothing in Sikhi against wearing a bikini. Sikhi does prohibit shaving, however, the common practice that goes almost hand in hand with wearing a swimsuit. That's why Tejwant and Jaskeerat are excited about the swimbana. It allows Jaskeerat to go swimming without violating the tenets of her faith.

5: DK (Palo Alto, CA, U.S.A.), March 17, 2008, 2:04 PM.

How do our Sikh women have such a stellar reputation for being among the most beautiful on the subcontinent, when their legs are hairy and they have uni-brows? The fact is that many Sikh women (even those that have raised a "tabbar" of practicing Sikh children with baana and baani) have unshorn hair, but do shave their legs and pluck their eye-brows. Are these women bad Sikhs? In addition, as a Sikh male, I keep my kesh, but do not want to marry someone with hairy legs and a uni-brow. Am I a bad Sikh? I think we have a tendency to be too extreme about our women. Don't get me wrong: it's important to maintain and preserve the Sikh identity, i.e. Sikh mothers have an obligation to ensure their children are brought up in Sikhi. But I feel that we have a tendency to adopt extremist attitutes towards our women. Going back to the original example, a Sikh mother who raises her children as practicing Sikhs, and imparts Sikh values to them is NOT a bad Sikh becuase she shaves her legs or gets electolysis done to prevent a uni-brow. It's a gallant and arduous task in maintaining our spiritual identity, as it is, without nit-picking and demandiung that women must have hairy legs, etc. Come on, people: there are greater issues our panth is facing than this.

6: Bhupinder Singh Ghai (New Delhi, India), March 18, 2008, 7:48 AM.

I think the surfer's body suit which covers the body completely is an alternative; there would be no need to shave/wax and it will also be much more attractive than the burqini.

7: Manjyot Kaur (New York City, U.S.A.), March 18, 2008, 4:51 PM.

DK: Whenever I read comments like yours ("as a Sikh male, I keep my kesh, but do not want to marry someone with hairy legs and a uni-brow"), I honestly never know whether to laugh or cry. For sure, these types of statements make me feel less sympathetic to Keshadhari men who complain about Sikh women who only want "clean-shaven" husbands. Do you truly believe in following the Rehat Maryada and feel blessed to carry the spirit of Guru Gobind Singh within you, or do you keep Kesh only because it's a mere habit or something your parents told you to do? Sikhi makes no gender distinctions between what practices men and women are called upon to uphold. In my opinion, if your decision to keep Kesh is a genuinely heartfelt conviction, you would feel immensely fortunate to find a woman who felt the same desire to personally follow Sikh teachings regarding the pre-eminent Kakkar. Also, have you ever stopped to consider how a Sikh woman who does not totally respect and value every part of her own body just as the Guru gave it to her could ever totally respect and value every part of yours?

8: Bhupinder Singh Ghai (New Delhi, India), March 19, 2008, 2:08 AM.

In response to DK's post: If given a choice, I would choose a girl who is healthy and fit and takes care of herself in other ways. If she has a good figure, who cares if she keeps her kesh unshorn on all parts of her body?

9: DK (Palo Alto, CA, U.S.A.), March 19, 2008, 1:57 PM.

"Sikhi makes no gender distinctions between what practices men and women are called upon to uphold." I have a confession to make regarding Manjyot Kaur's comments. Becoming entrenched in one's daily routine (i.e. work everyday, come home, spend time with family, and then attend parties and social get-togethers on the weekends) can often make one overlook the greater purpose of our human existence. Being able to share my opinion on this site (which I love and learn so much from), and interact with the experience and wisdom of fellow Sikhs such as Manjyot Kaur, often serves as a "wake-up call". I am grateful that Manjyot chose to engage in this discussion, because her comments ring true in my head. It's easy to get stuck in one's daily routine of work, family, friends and neglect the concepts of sangat and gyaan. For me, it's feedback from Manjyot Kaur and articles like Ravinder Singh's "Metamorphosis" that provide this needed inner sustenance and tune me back to the real meaning of what it means to live as a Sikh. Thanks, folks.

10: Pritam Kaur (Singapore), October 19, 2008, 8:52 PM.

I learnt swimming a few years ago with non-Sikhs and my swimming instructor was a male. I wore a swimming costume which is the same as a "diver's" gear, but it covers upto the knee. I didn't wear a cap; instead I bunned my hair and secured it with a hairband. It didn't bother my instuctor nor any other lady in my group that I had "hairy" legs. I learnt the skill and I have been swimming since then. So, Sikh and Punjabi girls should be encouraged to take up swimming. As for the bikini and other types of swimming costume which are too revealing, they are designs created by persons who feel females body are show pieces that can be beautiful only if more flesh is exposed. It is a western idea of a body which is beautiful only if more flesh is revealed. Why would anyone wear a bikini or a very revealing swimming costume when alternatives are available? Well, if females choose to wear a bikini or a revealing swimming costume, so be it, but there is a choice we can surely make intelligently! Be smart and know the difference!

11: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), March 21, 2010, 1:23 PM.

It is interesting that none of the readers noticed what the author is really trying to say. His relationship with his daughter; his expression of love for her from the time she was born to her finding her place with nature; his feeling blessed to be a part of it all - such beautifully expressed - went unnoticed. Burquini/ swim bana, which was only a tool to start the conversation, took the front seat.

12: Harpreet (India), October 29, 2011, 2:02 PM.

I disagree with DK's approach completely.

13: Manpreet Singh Khalsa (Anandpur Sahib, Punjab), July 03, 2013, 12:32 AM.

Pritam Kaur bhen ji, well said! Lovely. I also want to swim. We can adapt what we already do with the kirpan ... wear a small one, or tie it up on the forehead. Men wear a patka -- surely, an adapted version of it is an option for girls too.

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