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Inni Kaur Interviewed by Harijot Singh

An entrancing interview with Inni Kaur from SikhNet

Awakening to Light

Inni Kaur’s Path to Elevating Sikh Education
Path Toward Sikhi

If there ever was a screenplay written on the most inspiring path toward Sikhi, it might have as well been based on the life of Inni Kaur. Born in Kuwait to a Sikh family, and occasionally travelling to India, Inni felt like a total foreigner in the country of her own heritage.

Moving from Kuwait to New Zealand, Australia, and Greece, Inni has finally settled in the United States in 1982. Two years later, her life made a U-turn. Upon reading about the events that took place in India, she felt a deep, intense pain and, at the same time, a strong connection to her roots. Never having identified as a Sikh before, she gradually decided to commit. A year later, she started wearing a Kara. Her faith was blossoming in small but monumental steps.

Sabad Radiance

Although Inni understood Panjabi, she couldn’t read, write, or speak it. Her thoughts about Sikhi remained in the state of turmoil, until one day something she later referred to as “grace” happened — she connected with Sabad.

Inni admits that Sabad embraced her, gave her knowledge, and continues to influence her to this day. When asked about the nature of its influence, Inni replied, “Sabad has chiseled me and changed me inside-out. Sabad for me is Guru, and it’s to the Sabad I bow.”

“Sabad for me is Guru.”

For every Sikh, a relationship with Sabad is deeply personal. In the case of Inni, it felt like a direct connection, a conversation and an inner dialog, from which answers can be derived and understanding gained.

Harijot Singh of SikhNet had an entrancing interview with Inni Kaur. Read all about it here below:

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Can you tell us about your background?
I was born in Kuwait, and after my wedding in Bombay went to live in New Zealand. From New Zealand we moved to Australia, and then Greece, finally settling down in the United States in 1982.

I want to ask you about being a female executive in a Sikh organization, but before that I want to get your perspective about women in the Sikh community in general. Can you say something about that?
In my opinion, women are the bed-rocks of the community. They have an uncanny ability to know what needs to be done and they go about doing it without much fan-fare. However, I feel their contributions are rarely highlighted.


What are your experiences as a Sikh female executive in a non-profit organization?
In the public arena it has been a bit of a challenge. There is a reluctance from the men to speak about financial aspects with me. Or, it could be my very own hesitation. I honor their respect and support, hoping that the comfort level will happen. Maybe I need to work harder to gain their trust.

Within the organization, it has been a positive experience. Even though, I have a male dominated board. Jokingly, I say, "It is because they have strong wives." Maybe this is something that we women, need to look into carefully before joining boards or organizations.

But there is something I do want to share. My path as a female executive in a Sikh organization has been unusual. The position of the CEO was handed to me on a silver platter. I accepted it with grace and humility.

I know that you are passionate about your work with SikhRI, how did you get involved in the organization in the first place?
I had led somewhat of recluse lifestyle. It was a self-imposed discipline. However somewhere around 2007 or 08, a friend told me about the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI). I was intrigued and began listening to their monthly webinars. I made a mental note to myself that if they came to the tri-state area, I would attend their workshops. Lo and behold, they do come - a mere 100 miles from me at the Bridgewater Gurduara in New Jersey. I vividly remember that morning. I left home at 6.30 am. Those were the days before GPS, so I have to allow time for getting lost. Not to say, that I don't still get lost in spite of the GPS.

I remember how unsure I felt that morning as I sat waiting for the session to begin. "What am I doing here? Is it going to be worth it?" While also apprehensive of my drive back home.

BhaiVirSinghJi-ProfPuranSingh (85K)The first slide was a quote of Prof. Puran Singh. I calmed... Puran Singh and I go way back. He is the first man that I allowed to enter my consciousness. His writings have shaped my thoughts. Mid-way, through the presentation, Bhai Vir Singh's name came up. At that moment, the deal was sealed. The two men who were in my consciousness, were being highlighted by this organization. So, I became a volunteer and organized a couple of programs for them in CT. In 2010, I was invited to be a part of the Advisory Council, which led to joining the Board and then being appointed as the Chair in March 2015.

In December 2015, Harinder Singh, SikhRI's co-founder and CEO resigned.

I know that you then became the next CEO...

Seeing a co-founder leave, I knew that the organization would never be the same, that there would be tough times ahead. With the support from the Board I worked closely with SikhRI's branding agency Skyrocket, to reframe our brand story.

"Illuminating every path"

Experience (120K)

SikhRI's new mission is to become the oasis of Sikh learning. To spread the fragrance of the Guru Granth Sahib through online courses, webinars, in-person presentations, trans-creations, exhibitions and position papers. We are astounded with the results. The traffic on our website has increased by 400% in just one year.

How has being involved in this work personally affected you?
Guru has incredible way of making sure that I don't wander off, so therefore, I have been put in a place, where I have no choice but to be immersed in Sabad. What flows from me, what I am thinking about ninety percent of the day is Guru-related. I feel the shawl of Gurbani wrapped around me. The winds are fierce, the fire is intense and yet I feel totally protected. If this is not Grace, I don't know what it is.

Do you have any stories, or testimonials, of people benefiting from the work of your organization?
We have received numerous emails of gratitude from families and camps globally on the curriculum that we designed for students on the Guru Granth Sahib. The focus on this offering was to provide a greater understanding of the Bani. The lesson plans have been thoughtfully designed so that they can be implemented with ease. Most of these emails are from places where there is not a large Sikh population.

I was at a gathering and met a couple who said that I was part of their dinner conversation most nights. Of course, I was taken aback and probed further. Apparently, their daughter is part of a group that follows the Sabad of the week series, listens to the podcasts and then discusses it.

A woman in BC tells me that her daughters who had strayed from Sikhi, listen to the podcasts regularly and then discuss them.

Some comments that we have received…

Just listened to the final shabad of the week podcast today. Wow!... This has been a beautiful gentle thread for me through this year. Thank you so much. Xx
Of the Sikh Cast! One thing which I think is really special about Sikhri is the way you give so much time and space for women's voices, your own and others, I was delighted to hear the shabad from last week sung by a woman. Will look forward to listening to this week's podcast later.
I'm still loving the weekly podcasts from Sikhri. I especially enjoy the way you unpack the symbolism.

On another subject I did want to talk with you about your childrens books 'Journey with the Gurus'. What inspired you to write childrens books?
Journey-with-the-Gurus-Book-cover (142K)At my husband's birthday dinner celebration, our girls were teasing him and reciting the poems and stories that he read to them every night. At the moment, I realized what a mistake I had made…if he had read them stories of the Gurus, it would have been embedded in them. But that time, the books that were being printed were not of the same quality as their Disney and Angelina the Ballerina books. So, the Voice within me spoke, "You need to write these books." I had never written a children's story but I had no choice but to begin… and that was my inspiration.

InniWthSimran (232K)

Do you feel more connected with children in the process of making these books?
The way the children have connected with these stories has been gratifying. At the book readings, it is sheer joy to listen as the children relay the story in their own words… they seem to be walking with the Guru… they want to know where Guru is now? What is happening? And when can I show an image of Guru Nanak Sahib on a horse? The girls are wanting their mothers and grandmothers to make them outfits like Bebe Nanaki's. The book was never designed to make a fashion statement, but what that tells me is that the children see themselves in the book. And that is quite a feat!

InniWthChildren (231K)

The children have been very kind when I shared with them that I am having difficulty completing Volume 4 of Journey with the Gurus. They have advised me as to how I need to write that chapter and you know I have taken their advice to heart and am following it. The wisdom that flows from them, never ceases to amaze me.

What have you heard from children about these books?
There are numerous inspirational stories that I hear from the children, but the one that I learnt the most from was when a young mum shared an incident that took place with her six-year old twins, a boy and a girl. Her daughter was invited to a birthday party and refused to go, she said it was discrimination, as her brother was not invited. Now, discrimination is a big word for a six-year old, but then the mother informed me she is a lawyer, so I understand. I asked the mother where did her daughter get that understanding. And the mother replied, "From the second chapter of your Journey with the Gurus book - the janeu story." I was stunned.

JaneuStory (169K)

That chapter is the longest in the book and the one that I struggled the most with. I wanted to make it shorter, thinking that it would not hold the children's attention - but I have never been more wrong. Wherever I go, I hear children reciting passages from that chapter. Something in that story has captured them. It has taught me not to underestimate what the children can absorb. It has allowed me the freedom to write without worrying about the length of the stories.

You may want to hear this podcast as well.
http://sikhcast.podbean.com/e/the-sikh-cast-ep3-the-truly-inspirational-story-of-inni-kaur/

Thank you so much Inni Kaur ji. Your grace and humor are inspiring. 

It is my blessing!

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