My story of keeping Kesh
This is my story of keeping Kesh (unshorn hair). I used to be a mona (cut my hair), who became keshdhari (stopped cutting my hair) and kept Guru's Rehat (Sikh discipline). The story dates from May/April time to August 2000. I have recorded and added my experiences from prior this time as well and how I struggled to keep Kesh. My story isn't anything special, however I thought it might help inspire those who might be in similar situation as I was in before. Guru Raka.
Waheguroo Ji Ka Khalsa
I have recently kept my Kesh. Thanks to my parents, I feel I have been brought up with Sikh values and beliefs. I am able to do Keertan and read Gurbani and have an interest in Sikh philosophy and history. I am not saying that I am a saint or anything, but as I grew older I realised more about the things I had done or was doing were wrong. So my 'Manmat' actions were becoming aware to me.
However I had always felt one thing missing in my life. Like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces missing. One of those pieces missing was my KESH! I had always wanted to have Kesh from when I was a child. As I grew up I learnt more and more things, and started realising more about Sikhi. I looked at other Keshdhari Sikhs and children and thought, 'why am I not like them', 'why am I not a Sikh, but I call myself Sikh!' I wished and wanted to look like them, with a 'guttee' (hair knot), 'patka' and 'dastaar' (turban).
I enjoyed going to the Gurdwara and sitting in Saadh Sangat and listening to what the person on the stage was saying. Sometimes when I was really young, my dad used to tie a pagh on me when we would go to the Gurdwara. I liked wearing the 'dastaar'. When I was about twelve to fourteen years old I used to tie a pagh by myself with a little help from my dad. I would tie a pagh on Gurpurbs to the Gurdwara. My Taya Ji (uncle) used to like me wearing the pagh to the Gurdwara. He used to always tell rishtedaar (relatives) about how good I am, and how I wear a pagh to the Gurdwara. He was happy and all excited when he used to tell people. However sometimes I used to feel awkward and annoyed. I felt a fool, as if I was tricking myself. Wearing pagh on Gurpurbs and then cutting my hair. So it felt a little embarrassing when my Taya Ji or someone else would say how good I am, how I can I sing shabads, do Keertan, read Paat and wear a pagh and look smart. I used to think that people must think what a fool I am. Doing all of this and thinking I am a Sikh, when I cut my hair. However now I realise why my Taya Ji and others were happy, and I remain grateful to them, for their support and guidance they gave me, which I later realised.
The town where I live is mostly full of gore and a strong minority of Pakistanis. There is only a small community of Sikhs, like 50 homes. However there are not any Kesdhari youngsters. In the whole town the only people I know who have Kesh are one or two old people and one or two very young children, but no teenagers or young adults have Kesh. I always dreamt and pictured myself in the future as being Keshdhari. I would say that one day I would have kesh. At night sometimes I would dream of being in full Sikhi Saroop. I never saw myself as a mona (cut haired), instead I used dream that as an adult I would have a pagh (turban) and an uncut beard, looking smart and proud.
I never liked having a hair cut! I remember as a child sometimes my dad would cut my hair with a trimming machine. Looking back now it reminds me of pictures and scenes when a Hindu child gets his head shaved by an elder family member in the Hindu initiation ceremony for babies. I wanted to keep Kesh but couldn't. Like a hungry kid who wants Roti but can't make it. I felt guilty and ashamed that as a Sikh, I was cutting my hair when Great Sikhs like Shaheed Bhai Taru Singh Ji refused to have his Kesh cut and instead he said that he would rather have his scalp removed. That is how much pyaar (love) Bhai Taru Singh Ji had for the Kesh, the identity, the image that the Guru had bestowed upon him.
I couldn't bring myself around to saying that I am a Singh and that I am proud to be Sikh (even though I was proud). Instead I felt I was a disgrace to my religion because I had my hair cut and still had the nerve to call myself Sikh. Even though I had religious views I wasn't practising what I believed; so I felt awkward.
At school gore would ask me what my religion was. When I said I was 'Sikh' they would say, 'yeah but why is your haircut then, aren't Sikhs supposed to have uncut hair and wear a turban'. WHAT ANSWER COULD I GIVE THEM! What that it is common for (BLIND FOOLISH) Sikhs to cut their hair? All I could say is that I am not religious, HOWEVER I was and was Proud to be Sikh! But again I had put myself to shame. Shaheeds (martyrs) like the two young Sahibzaade, sons of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, were bricked alive for refusing to give up their Sikhi. When faced with the challenge of death or converting to another faith they chose death. They were confident and kept their faith, however hard it was, they roared "BOLE SO NIHAL, SAT SRI AKAAL". And there I was sitting in England, with an easy life, no one to asking me to convert or die; yet I was being forced to say that I am not Sikh when I really was.
Muslims in my Art class would say that I am a Hindu. However I would say I am a Sikh but not religious that's why I have my hair cut. They would say is it in your religion to drink alcohol because most Sikhs do, and they would sing Gurdas Maan's song: 'APNA PANJAB HOVAI, GHAR DI SHARAAB HOVAI', saying that Sikhs drink alcohol. I would say "NO! Those Sikhs who drink alcohol are not religious." That gave Sikhs a good image or what? It made Sikhs look like fools, cowards and ungrateful, something which we aren't, nor have been nor will be. Where is the image of Sikhs as saint soldiers who are honourable, proud and respectful to their Guru? Who was to blame for their misunderstanding of Sikhs? It is us, the Sikhs, who have made people think of ourselves like this.
Finishing year 10 at secondary school, I went to India in the Summer Holidays. Before I went my brother and my dad said have a haircut, but I didn't want to because I wanted to have Kesh in the back of my mind. I couldn't tell them straight up that I wanted to keep Kesh. I knew they would mock me and make me sound like I was being unrealistic. I say, 'IF YOU WANT SOMETHING YOU HAVE TO MAKE A START'. But everyone thought it was one big joke and that I was just being a nuisance. I went to India and was offered a haircut but I said no, not giving a reason. The reason I refused was because I FELT GUILTY TO HAVE MY HAIR CUT ON THE LAND OF THE GURUS AND OF THE MARTYRS WHO SACRIFICED THEIR FAMILIES AND LIVES FOR SIKHI. How could I sit in the Barber's shop and have a barber's scissors cut my hair, when our Gurus and shaheeds spilt their blood for us.
Coming back home to England, I thought what should I do. I couldn't imagine the gore at school appreciating Sikhi. Because of lack of encouragement and self-confidence I cut my hair (for the last time). From that time on I didn't cut my hair. It was weird, on several occasions I got out of going to the barbers by making up excuses. At that time the barber was a Muslim man, which was even more humiliating for me that I as a Sikh was sacrificing my Guru's identity with the scissors of a Muslim barber. Once I made an excuse to delay having a hair cut. I was wearing a T-Shirt, which said 'Proud to be Sikh' and had a Khanda on it. My dad and brother said have a haircut today. They kept on persisting (most likely because my hair was looking long and unmanageable). I told them that how rude or bad it is to wear a T-Shirt with a Khanda and then go to have a haircut. My dad just got annoyed with the excuses. I tried to avoid the subject of going to the barber for long as I could. But my lack of confidence and lack of support made me get my hair cut.
During the Christmas Holidays I started wearing an orange 'saafa' (casual style turban) and kept my Kesh. On purpose I started off wearing a 'saafa', wanting to keep the idea of me keeping kesh subtle. I now wasn't going to turn back! My dad got annoyed why I had a saafa wrapped around my head and said either take it off or tie a proper pagh.
In the holidays I felt nervous wearing the pagh. I felt uncomfortable that what if someone from school saw me in town or what would the rishtedaar (relatives) say. The first day back to school, as I tied my 'dastaar' (turban) my stomach churned, it felt as if someone was squeezing my stomach and chest. I felt nervous of thinking what Gore (white people) would say and what they would do to me seeing me with a 'pagh' tied around my head. I was so nervous that the day before I went to school, I got my mum to write a letter to my school tutor telling her why I was wearing a pagh and asking her to ensure that everyone was tolerant and understanding. I prayed Waheguru Ji to help me. Looking in the mirror I tied my pagh. Unconsciously I questioned myself, and asked myself what I would face in my life if I kept Kesh. Looking in the mirror I wanted to see the true me - a Sikh boy who is proud to be a Sikh, and not a Sikh boy who says he is Sikh, but cuts his hair trying to hide his true self, and Sikhi.
I felt emotional and came into a bairaag (emotion of feeling moved) looking in the mirror and tying my pagh. However I knew what I was doing was right, no fundamentalist Muslim, no racist white person, no relative or my family member could stop me. I knew Nanak Guru Gobind Singh would bless me and that Akaal Purkh (the Almighty Lord) was watching me and would help me all the way.
When deciding to keep Kesh, my dad said to me that if I kept Kesh that I wouldn't get married (and I felt and sensed that he also implied getting a job would become difficult because of discrimination in the workplace). He said he was worried as Singhs don't get married and no one wants to marry them. In the matrimonial section of the newspaper, you always find 'clean shaven Sikh boy wanted'. He said Kurian (girls) nowadays do nakre (excuses and be picky) with monai (cut haired people), so where does that leave Singhs. Instead he said I should grow Kesh after marriage. I told him, why should I keep Kesh after marriage You marry someone for who they are. I thought, is me growing Kesh after marriage going to change the girls mind about marrying a 'Gurmukh'. How do I know that after marriage if I grow my Kesh, and if my wife is against the idea of wearing a pagh and keeping kesh, then maybe she will divorce me or separate or give me a choice between her or religion. A Singh wants to marry a Sikh who is proud to be Sikh and not ashamed to be known or seen as a Sikh. A Singh will get a good job, if not that, a better one. A Singh will get married to a girl, if not a better and more beautiful girl. Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh will help and bless those who try to follow their teachings and path - not put them down! I told my father, 'That Guru's path who I have chosen, will look after me and all my affairs. You don't need worry.' Instead I said you should be worried about the boys who cut their hair, drink alcohol and drift away from Sikhi. They are the ones who need the help and worry.
I remember my brother and me used to have pity childish arguments. He used to say that Singhs don't get good jobs because of discrimination. Instead he thought only people with short hair would or do get good jobs, become high flyers and marry the best girls. I would argue that I don't care. He would argue would you rather be working in central London, in a really good status job and with a really high pay or be a factory worker Singh. I said I would rather be a factory worker Singh, who is a proud Sikh. The Gurus died for Sikhi, the martyred Sikh men, women and children were willing to give up their lives rather than their Sikhi. My brother and me always used to have childish pathetic arguments about Sikhi. My brother respected Sikhi, but he would say, "When I retire, then I will start tying a pagh and keep kesh." Why? The reason is because others might question why you have chosen to keep the Sikh appearance and what it means.
A person says I will keep Kesh when I retire but then when they retire, they say I have free time, let me live a little more then I will keep Kesh and follow Sikhi. The time comes again for keeping Kesh and following the Guru's path, by then the person says, I am now waiting to die, it is too late, may Waheguru forgive me and that now there is no time or point in dedicating my life to the Guru.
On the first day I wore a pagh to school, I was nervous, my hands trembled and I felt hot thinking of my day at school. As I walked to school I thought about the Kurbanis (sacrifices) of the Gurus and of the Sikhs, this helped to comfort me. I decided that if I was sworn at or if someone hit me or spat at me then it okay. I would still hold me head high, irrespective of what anything thought or did.
I don't know why, but that day I thought that if someone swears at me, let them. If someone laughs at me, let them. If someone wants to be racist let them. In my mind, I knew Waheguru is with me and that He was watching, in my mind I knew that the people who would say anything to me would one day be confronted with the consequences of their actions in the court of Waheguru and reap the rewards of their actions. That day I stuck by that. Gradually I realised that some people do not understand through friendship or love, instead they will not stop harassing you or learn anything until you fight back. Thinking through all of this I was walking on the main road, which would lead on to road leading to school. I said a jaikaara, 'Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri AKAAL', to boost my strength and confidence.
Well as I got near my School Rd. (Springfield avenue) my hands went a bit shaky and my stomach churned. Holding my head high, I walked towards school! Everyone STARED at me even people in the buses were looking out of the window. As I walked past the shops EVERYONE LOOKED at me not knowing whether to gossip or laugh at me. I didn't know how to approach people.
I had told my friends about my wanting to become a Sardar. So I was glad to see my friend near the School building. I ran towards him to catch up with him. He smiled and said to me, 'Nice one Manvir'. EVERYONE STARED GOB SMACKED!
I felt nervous and not knowing what to do. I walked down the corridors and the Pakistani boys said, ' KIDDAA, Singh Saab, Sat Sri Akaal'. I felt good and comforted by their positive response.
For one whole week everyone STARED INTENSIVELY AT ME as I entered the classroom, and talked about me behind my back. However I held my head high knowing that I was a SIKH! NOW I DIDNT NEED TO TELL PEOPLE THAT I WAS SIKH, NOW PEOPLE KNEW THAT I WAS A SIKH!
I was laughed at by some and mocked by others who thought the pagh was a joke. However I challenged them. I asked them what their problem was, I swore back at them; I got in physical confrontation and got in punch-ups. I DIDN'T FEAR ANYONE AND KEPT MY HEAD HELD HIGH.
I GOT IN A PUNCH UP. I was in my science class. Everyone was throwing pieces of clay and stones. I was in my final year of GCSEs and I wanted to get on with my work. I was doing my work while a large group of Gore boys were throwing stuff. On one occasion it hit my 'dastaar' (turban) and I felt annoyed but I let it pass. Then the same boy threw something, which again hit my 'dastaar'. Then I got really angry. I picked up my stool and went over to the kid and I was going to throw my stool at him, he ran around the class, dodging me. I sat down. The gore obviously knew that I was sensitive towards my Pagh, which was a religious article. Then it happened again and again, clay being thrown at my pagh in the cross fire of groups of boys messing around. One of the people who threw something at my pagh pushed into me. It wasn't a normal "sorry mate" I got pushed into you. It was a push, showing how much 'akar', ego, the boy had. The boy was actually strong and a bit of a psycho. I pushed him back. Who did he think he was throwing clay and bits and bobs at my pagh and then pushing me like if he was in the right? How dare he push a Singh in ego and think he could bully me. He pushed me back. I then hit him with my right hand, in his face. He hit me twice and hit him twice, he hit me and then I hit him. Tables where pushed to sides, and stools fell to the ground. The class cheered, "FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT". I had the last punch. I felt fine, for some strange reason I had not felt any pain but the boy who was stronger than me had his forehead bleeding and was sent outside the class for getting first aid. The boy and I were sent out of Science class and were given detention and a verbal warning. We eventually stopped the hard feelings, however I still could sense tension when gore boys came up and said, 'WELL DONE MANVIR' (referring to the fight), the boy who I beat up would feel a little angry.
I wear a Kirpan to school to give me spirit as the Kirpan symbolises Self Defence, Dignity, Sardari, Respect and Soldierhood. I FEEL PROUD TO WALK DOWN TOWN AND IN THE STREETS. PEOPLE MAY STARE BUT MOST PEOPLE SMILE AT ME, WHILE OTHERS LOOK AT ME AS IF I AM ASYLUM SEEKER OR SOMETHING!
Around March time there was an Akhand Paat Sahib at our Gurdwara in Banbury. I went there late on Friday night. I walked to the Gurdwara. Down town, I met up with someone I knew from school. He asked me whether I was coming to town for a night out. I explained I was going to the Gurdwara. The weather was mixed that day so I was expected rain so I carried an umbrella. My friend said if anyone says anything to me because of my pagh that I should get my umbrella and gauge their eyes out and beat them up. I laughed. I got to the Gurdwara listened to paat, did sewa and had langar. Afterwards I spoke to the Paati Singhs, because they were interested when they saw a keshdhari child. We spoke about Sikhi, Panjab and todays Sikh Youth. It got late, about 10.30pm. I made a move and started walking, I had to walk through town, and it was a Friday night. When I got near the end of town, I saw people from my school including a boy, who thought he was tough and macha. That day he was drunk and he usually thinks he's hard and can bully people. Well, he shouted to me, "what the f*ck u got a towel wrapped around your head". Walking along I realised that I shouldn't allow someone like that who is so disrespectful and arrogant to get away with what he had said. I had to stop this boy, because he could swear at an elderly Sikh gentleman or harass a Sikh lady. So I asked him, "What did you say". He repeated his racist remark and laughed liked an idiot. I got my umbrella and with anger and rage I went up to him with my umbrella and was going hit him and shove the umbrella in his eyes. My friends and classmates shouted, "leave him, he is drank, he's jus a pathetic racist." I told him that I was going to kill and my brothers where going to kick the hell out of him. I walked away and met my mum on the way home in the car.
Arriving home, I regretted what I had done and felt confused about how I had responded to the racist boy and whether it was a wise move or not. To be honest I didn't have any support or backup if I got in a fight. My brother and cousins were actually at university so I didn't really have anyone to help me out. Knowing what type of lafanga, loafer the boy was, I had to prepare myself for the worst. When I went to school that week I wore a small Kirpan underneath. This was not for show or us, but to raise my spirit, give me josh and inspiration to fight for righteousness and justice.
That same boy who used to be a loud mouth and pick fights with everyone, kept a low profile. When I saw him, he lowered his head and walked on. I thought ' Raj Karega Khalsa, Aki R'hai Naa Koye The Khalsa shall rule, and anyone who oppose them will fail miserably.' Waheguru Ji had guided and helped me and instead I had become more confident and brave. If you want something THEN MAKE A START! You will never achieve something like keeping Kesh if you don't make a start! Believe me I feel like a Sikh now I feel part of the Sikhs.
In the first week of going back to school with a pagh, I requested the Head of the Year to allow me to do an assembly about why I have chosen to keep a turban and what Sikhism is all about. After I had done 10 minute talk about the Sikh turban and what Sikhism is about, the whole assembly hall full of students and teachers clapped so loudly, that it was the loudest applause from an audience I have heard. Everyone congratulated me that the talk was good. Someone said that I must be proud to be Sikh, and brave to do a talk in front of about 300 students.
In March 18th, 2001 we had the end of year prom. I didn't really feel like going to be honest. I thought it would be all gore, and they would be drinking and smoking and not be my scene. But with persuasion and help I realised that I needed to represent the Sikhs, as I am the only Singh in the whole school, and make sure people will remember me with my turban, and Sikhi. When I arrived at the prom, I came in my dad's car (a normal Rover car). My other friends, and classmates came in stretched limos and hired cars. I felt embarrassed. But when I arrived and walked towards the year group. The year group and people around cheered. People hugged me and came close to get photos taken and to tell me how great I look. I felt like Daler Mehndi (perhaps a bad example, but you know what I mean) arriving at a concert. I felt great and top of the world. I danced and had fun, but did not drink, smoke or do any other bad things. At the end, people said they wanted photos with me. Girls and boys had photos taken with me, because I was wearing a pagh.
Before every GCSE exam I did Ardaas, and prayed to Waheguru Ji that may He help and guide me as well as help me to remember what I have learnt and do best I can in the exam. I also said, 'May I accept Your Will humbly'. I said 'Vaheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Vaheguru Ji Ki Fateh' before I opened every exam paper and thanked Waheguru Ji before and after the exam. I did this for each exam. I didn't feel as nervous as others and I felt confident and ready because of this.
According to my predictions, my own personal thoughts and family thoughts, I predicted I was going to get a few A's, mostly B's, but C's and God forbid but I thought one D. When Walking down my school road I held my head high and thought of Guru Ji and about Sikhi. Then I started also thinking about what I was going to say to my dad when I get my C's and D's because all parents want their children to make them proud.
Arriving at school, I went to get my results, prayed and did Ardaas that obviously that I get good grades but also that whatever happens I will be grateful to Waheguru Ji. When I opened my packet I saw A's. Three A*'s, eight A's and one B. Also enclosed was a congratulations slip from the School Principal and a personal invitation to the Principal office. I went to her office and she congratulated me and said I came fourth in the year group (out of just less than 300 pupils). My photo would have come in the paper and I would have been offered tea and biscuits but I had come too late because I had to come in my lunch break from work. I felt on top of the world and felt that I had been bestowed with blessings from Guru Ji and that all I had was because of Waheguru Ji.
I now feel closer to Waheguru. I know Waheguru is in me, around me, and everywhere and that He is willing to guide me, help me and console me if I go to Him. I am embarrassed to admit that I was a little afraid of the dark, once I had to cross our school field at 9.30 pm on a winters day. As you can imagine how dark it would be, however I my path was lighted with the light of the moon and I knew Waheguru was with me, so I remembered Waheguru and felt safe.
My story isn't a really a big story. I am just ordinary person. Guru Nanak Ji says, 'Hum Nehee Changey, Buraa Nehee Koye I am not good, no one is bad (I see no-one higher or lower than me)'. Love everyone! It takes a bigger person to see over colour, caste and religion and see the soul of the person.
There is But One God, who dwells within all. 'Je Zulam Karna Paap Hai, Ta Zulam Sehna Vi Paap Hai If it is a sin to commit wrong, then it is a sin to put up with wrong.' If someone bullies you or harasses you then you must challenge the person through either asking them to stop, telling someone, or asking for help from school or family. As long as you are proud to be Sikh, everyone else will be forced to accept this and will also admire and respect you.
AM SURE THAT ANYONE WHO FEELS THAT THEY WANT TO KEEP KESH AND THEY FEEL PROUD TO BE SIKH, ONE DAY THEIR TIME WILL COME, HOPEFULLY SOON SO THEY START WILL ACHIEVE THEIR GOAL. WHEN THINKING OF THE GURU, READING BANI OR DOIN SEWA YOU WILL ONE DAY REALISE SOMETHING YOU ALREADY KNEW AND WAS HIDDEN AWAY IN YOU.
IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING, THEN YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN GET UP AND DO IT.
NOW I CAN PRACTISE SIKHI AND AIM TO TAKE AMRIT! I am not bothered whether my family thinks I should or shouldn't take Amrit. I know that they don't want me to take Amrit before marriage because then there wouldn't be sharaab, alcohol, and other things which relatives and guests expect from a Panjabi wedding. But I don't care. I am sure weddings which have the blessings of the Guru and the Sangat, the congregation, a wedding where everyone eats the Guru's Langar, listens to the Guru's hymns and feels the feeling of peace, harmony and 'anand' (joy) would be better wedding than drinking sharaab, getting drunk, being sick and making prats of yourself, as well as not remembering the wedding because you have a hang over.
This is my real life story. If I have said something wrong or offended anyone, please forgive me. I am still learning.
With the support of my family and friends, and with the Guru's grace, on July 2nd 2004, I went to India with my mum and I took Amrit from Sri Akaal Takht Sahib.