For some unknown reason my right fore-arm developed a rash. There was nothing particularly ugly or even obviously rash-like. All I knew and still know is that it itches, sometimes more than other times. I am pretty sure the recent heat waves and my walks in the sun have caused a heat rash on my otherwise dominant and fearless right arm.
A few weeks ago, during the beginning stage of the rash, the itch was persistent. In order to prevent more irritation and allow for some healing-time I took off my kara. A kara is worn on the dominant-hand of Sikhs.
Before wearing this particular kara, the one that my dad had brought back for me from India during high school, and made of a different material than the ones I had previously owned, I never wore any kara on a consistent basis.
The other karas I had owned before then were made of a material that caused my arm to swell up. As if to challenge myself, I would randomly put one of the many karas I owned, only to be caught and yelled at later.
When you think about it, self-inflicted allergic reactions deserve a good yelling.
Anyway, back to taking off my kara a few days ago.
For the first time I can honestly say that I felt something missing. I felt my kara missing, mostly because it represented for me, strength, a certain fearlessness, and the fact that I am a Sikh.
If you were to see me on the street, you would have never known it. There is nothing which identifies me as a Sikh besides my kara.
Taken from Post XXXIII (thirty posts prior):
“Aware of his presence, I looked at my kara, remembered that I was a Sikh kudi - Punjabi for “dudette”- and the dude had nothing on me, and so I looked up and flashed a threatening look right into his eyes as his hand hovered over my untouched Skinny Vanilla Latte.
He backed away and looked scared. Succ-ess -”
It is not that I want to be recognized as a Sikh by one of my fellow New Yorkers.
It is just that I do not want to be in a position where, by habit, I look upon my right wrist only to not find what I am looking for.
As I re-read what I just wrote I know this is all super abstract.
Truth is, I never feel really at ease writing about what Sikhism is in relation to myself.
I am not learned on every aspect of my religion - I don’t know all the texts or the writing system in which Sikh scripture is written, gurmukhi.
All I know is what I know.
Product of a mixed marriage, my parents always claimed that the religion we chose to affiliate ourselves with was up to us.
However, I came to learn that a conversation between my parents, prior to the birth of my brother and I, was concluded with, “Yes, we will raise them as Sikhs.”
We all went to gurudwara every Sunday for several years. It was a place of meditation and safe haven for my family and I, more than anything else I think.
Only later did I really parse out what the gurudwara meant to me.
And only after this academic year did I realize that other religions did not have a place of worship where the female worshipers could go, and then I felt a smile spread across my otherwise worried face. I think my professor took notice. I could not help it though. I felt so happy to know that gurudwaras, concentrated in a nearby geographic region to the one my professor was talking about, had men and women sitting together, albeit on their own sides of the same room, listening, contemplating, and taking part in the complex and ambiguous act of praying.
There are times when I think that I subconsciously try and link the non-tangible aspects of religion to the tangible going-ons of my life.
So I ignored the whole sentiment I that I had felt, about something missing, until this past weekend when this feeling again emerged, spontaneously.
This past weekend I was trying to play volleyball. I was playing very badly but if you were in my circumstances, the female kind, you wouldn’t be so quick to call me out.
In order to correctly volley the ball, with the lower forearms outstretched, facing upwards and met at the wrist, (as I was taught to do by my great NYC physical education classes), I had to take off my kara and put it in one of the pockets of my denim shorts.
After the sorry attempt at a match, mostly due to the uncivilized lack of character of one, I literally felt unlike myself. Who do you think you are?
About to look at my kara, as if to say, “Look! I am Reshmi, hear me roar”, it was not there. I quickly dug into my pocket, extracted the kara and placed it back onto my right wrist.
I was so enmeshed in the game and took off my kara without a care.
As if a scene change in a play, the game ended and the first thought that had occured to me was to put my kara on.
What drove me to write about this?
I think most of us feel uneasy about speaking about religion. It does not make us who we are, but it sort of does at the same time.
We practice religion on our own, but we don’t want to be compared to others. We don’t want to be quizzed. We admit to not knowing even half of all that our religions represent, but we know what it means to us. We do not want be criticized for maligning anything. “Why so serious?”, we want to ask.
Just let us all be. Let us be, we want to say.
Two days ago I wanted to explore the new Punjabi channel that my Satellite provider sometimes gives for free during a two-week period. Rehras Sahib, or the night-time prayer, was being broadcasted. The channel zapped on and I was face to face with the gurumukhi script and an accompanying English translation.
I knew a lot of the ideas already, but I was also presented with some I did not know.
There I was, face-to-face with religious text originating hundreds of years before, projected on a T.V. screen, in the comfort of an air-conditioned bedroom. The minutes kept passing and I just stood there.
Just let met be -