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Many Sikh parents are well aware of the challenges their boys face in maintaining a distinct Sikh identity in the West. Every day at school, their children ride a roller coaster of experiences, mainly because of their appearance and identity essentials like a turban or patka. In an environment filled with peer pressure to conform and blend in, these parents had hoped that having more Sikh boys in the school would provide some comfort. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case. Despite the increased presence of Sikh boys, the struggle to preserve their unique identity persists.

Issues faced by children 

Usually, children are naturally sensitive to emotional trauma caused by negative comments from their peers. This sensitivity is even more pronounced when they have a unique appearance that sets them apart from the majority. Often, Sikh children are not adequately exposed to the true principles of their faith by their parents or religious institutions. As a result, they often face a daily dilemma regarding their Sikh identity. Many parents choose the path of least resistance and passively watch as their children's Guru-given Sikh identity begins to fade away.

Nevertheless, amidst this discouraging trend, occasionally a glimmer of hope emerges. These rays of hope strive to dispel the darkness by actively resisting the erosion of Sikh identity. Jessi Kaur, a devoted Sikh woman and co-founder of the International Institute of Gurmat Studies (IGGS), has dedicated her life to teaching Gurmat. Since 1972, she has organized World Wide Sikh Youth Camps, providing valuable experiences for young Sikhs. Recently, Kaur embarked on a unique endeavour called 'Dear Takuya.' This awe-inspiring book takes the form of letters written by an eight-year-old Sikh boy from California, Simar, to his Japanese pen-pal, Takuya.

In 'Dear Takuya,' Kaur tackles the challenge of bridging the gap between cultures. Simar, through his letters, introduces the Sikh faith to his uninitiated friend on a different continent. Using a child's language, filled with innocent humour and spontaneous wit, Simar effectively explains the key concepts of Sikhism. His heartfelt letters reach out to young hearts in their formative years, instilling a true understanding of the Sikh faith.

Within each letter, Simar's curiosity shines through as he explores Takuya's culture. He eagerly asks about Japanese traditions such as the tea ceremony and admires his friend's skills in origami and Kanji script. This exchange of cultural knowledge and appreciation fosters a deep connection between Simar and Takuya, showcasing the power of friendship and understanding across borders.

An Introduction to Sikh Culture 

The author begins by providing a concise introduction to the Sikh faith within a single page, effectively condensing a vast amount of relevant information into a compact form. Following this introduction, the book consists of 16 brief letters, each spanning no more than two pages.

In many Western countries, it is a common misconception to mistake long-haired Sikh boys for girls, and Simar is no exception to this stereotype. The author recounts a painful incident at Simar's school where he is bullied by a classmate due to his Patka, a religious head covering, and highlights the unexpected support he receives from an empathetic and caring classmate named Patty, who happens to be chubby. This incident poignantly exposes the emotional wounds experienced by parents who have witnessed their children endure similar struggles.

Addressing the concerns of Sikh parents, the author proposes a solution. They suggest providing assistance in educating teachers and students about the Sikh faith and the significance of Sikh identity. By promoting understanding and awareness, the aim is to foster an inclusive environment in schools where Sikh children can be respected and accepted for who they are.

Gurdwara: The place of worship for the Sikh community 

Simar's visit to the Gurdwara with his classmates Andrew and Patty provides a lighthearted and humorous introduction to the Sikh place of worship, Gurdwara services, and etiquette, as well as the concept of the langar. During their first-ever visit to the Gurdwara, Andrew becomes enamoured with the delicious Karah Prasad, a sweet offering. Simar jokingly concludes that Andrew must have more than just one sweet tooth, as he not only eats his own portion but also requests a third helping. While waiting in line for the langar, Andrew takes out money to pay for the meal, not being aware of the Sikh tradition. Simar explains that the Guru ka langar is a Sikh practice of offering free food to everyone, regardless of their religious background, encapsulating the core principles of the Sikh faith in a casual and relatable manner.

Simar's stay at the Sikh youth camp served as an opportunity to explain the Sikh faith to Takuya in a manner suitable for children. Simar shared that one interesting thing about God is that we can refer to God as 'She' because God is beyond gender, neither male nor female. She recalled that her mother had told her that God encompasses the qualities of both a mother and a father. It was remarkable how such a simple approach could unravel the complexities of this profound mystery.

In discussing God, Simar proceeded to explain the three fundamental principles of the Sikh faith: Naam Japna (Remembrance of God), Kirt Karna (Earning an honest living), and Vand Chhakna (Sharing with the needy). Simar reasoned that these principles must be as valuable as gold, earning them the title of golden rules.

Explaining Sikh culture step-by-step 

Waking up early in the morning is part of the daily routine at the camp for all the Sikhs. However, poor little Simar is not fond of this routine. He complains to his pen-pal about how when the whistle wakes everyone up in the morning, he wishes he could be at home. At home, he could ask his mom to let him sleep for ten more minutes. Simar's sentiment is relatable to many of us!

The book provides a clear and concise explanation of Naam Simran (meditation on the divine name) and the significance of 'Baanis of Nitnem' (daily prayers). It also highlights the importance of helping those in need, drawing on the story of child Nanak's Sachaa Sauda (true business) and Guru Ka Langar (community kitchen). Simar takes the time to explain to his friend Takuya how Sikh names are chosen and goes on to elaborate on the meanings of Singh (lion) and Kaur (princess).

To complement the letters in the book, Canadian artist Brian Johnston has created beautiful paintings that add depth and visual appeal. The quality of Johnston's work is exceptional and captivating. One particularly noteworthy painting is the depiction of the Golden Gate Bridge, deliberately chosen to symbolize the idea of building bridges in a multicultural and diverse world, as intended by the writer. The book itself consists of 50 pages, larger in size than the average book, with expensive glossy paper. The title painting featuring Simar is exquisite and truly brings the character to life.

Introducing children to Sikhism 

It is of utmost importance to explain Sikh culture to the younger generation and children, particularly through art, literature, and books. Sikhism is a rich and vibrant religion with a distinct set of beliefs, values, and traditions that deserve to be passed onto future generations. By introducing Sikh culture to young minds through various artistic mediums, we not only foster cultural understanding and appreciation but also encourage diversity and inclusivity. 

Art, literature, and books provide a wonderful platform to showcase the beauty and essence of Sikhism, its history, and its teachings. They enable children to explore the Sikh way of life, understand the significance of the Sikh articles of faith, such as the turban, the kara (steel bracelet), and the kirpan (ceremonial dagger), and learn about the principles of equality, service, and compassion that lie at the core of Sikh philosophy. Through these creative outlets, we can create a bridge between generations, ensuring that the values and traditions of Sikh culture continue to thrive and enrich the lives of future generations.

 

*Based on an article by Jessi Kaur, published on 15th October 2008 

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