Monday, May 15, 2006

Sikh links up and running

the "Links" page on the site is now active with over 70 links related to Sikhism, from religious overviews to community activist sites to places where you can shop for Sikh paraphernalia to downloadable music . I've tried to categorize them as best I could, though many sites fill multiple functions. Many thanks to Meher Kaur for helping to collect these links. It's definitely still a work in progress -- I'm still collecting sites. I don't intend to link to every single Sikh site out there,, but just serve as a reliable hub for relevant resources. If anyone wants to share their feedback, recommendations or insights on links, you are more than welcome to do so.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Recollections and corrections

11 days since the last update. I've kind of taken a mini-vacation from all my video projects to focus on a couple of things. One is an article on Korean actress Bae Doo-Na (whom I think is the most talented young actress in the world), which I hope I can get published in one of the major film journals like Film Comment or Cinema-scope. The article has taken much more time to write than I had counted on. It makes me wonder if I can really pull off a career being a filmmaker and film critic/writer or anything else -- it's just a lot to juggle. But I'm letting myself follow my instincts and as long as I feel good about whatever it is I'm doing, I think I'll come out just fine.

The other development of the past few days has been increased instances of socializing, which has done wonders on my state of mind and mood! Starting with last weekend's camping trip/ co-ed sendoff for a Sikh friend of mine who is getting hitched later this month. About 30 of us went to White Haven, PA for grilling and white water rafting. The guest list read like this: Singh, Singh, Singh, Singh Lee, Singh, Singh... In fact at one point I was called "The Token White Guy" which was pretty funny since I've done that with my white friends sometimes. I was treated to some beautiful renditions of Punjabi songs and poetry while we ate smores around the campfire. Then someone looked at me and said "Okay now it's time for you to sing a song that we can't understand!" So I did a Chinese love duet by myself and got a lot of applause -- it was great because I admit I was a little apprehensive about not quite fitting in, but everyone made me feel welcome. And as the days passed I came to realize that even among such a uniform-looking group of young Sikh Americans, there were significant cultural differences. When it came to group singalongs, some people insisted on the traditional Punjabi songs around the campfire, while others felt that the best they could offer were the old school rap hits they knew by heart in high school. Hearing them back to back, I couldn't help but wonder what Guru Nanak would have thought, and my guess is that he would have appreciated the beauty of human creation to be found in each, as well as in all manifestations of God on earth.

So in the midst of all the food and fun I had an embarrassing moment (and I'm not talking about when I called someone by someone else's name, which earned the response "That's okay, I know, we all look the same!"). Some of us were talking about Sikh books, and I, fresh of my last blog posting, mentioned W.H. McLeod. They looked at me like I was crazy. "McLeod? Most Sikhs wouldn't touch him with a 12 foot pole." I then said that Arvind Mandair at Hofstra taught him, which prompted them to wonder why Prof. Mandair would do such a thing. "McLeod, he was 'first to market' in that he was the first Westerner to do significant research on Sikhism, but that doesn't mean his scholarship is reputable." They said he took an Orientalist approach to the subject matter, among other objectionable issues.

It then occurred to me that this was the very scholar whose work Prof. Mandair had criticized in the lectures I attended last year! So how could I have been so horribly mistaken? Perhaps because McLeod was the only Western author who showed up in my library's catalog on Sikh books, and somehow I assumed he was the one to read.

An instance like this makes me feel really foolish and unqualified to explore the topic much less share my thoughts on it. To set the record straight, the Western scholar whom I was really thinking of in my last post, the one that Professor Mandair studied with and approves of, is Christopher Shackle. I am going to write to Prof. Mandair and ask him to state for the record what the objections are to McLeod's research. What's doubly embarrassing for me in all of this is that McLeod's research is a sore topic among many Sikh scholars, as evidenced by this intensely critical article on McLeod that goes so far to psychoanalyze McLeod's authobiography to undermine him as a human being as well as a scholar!

Reading something like that linked article, I actually feel compelled to finish reading my copy of McLeod's book so I can judge for myself what the problem is. And of course I will supplement that with materials that others find more commendable. In fact when I go to the Sikh Coalition offices today, I'll ask them for the recommended reading materials that they've drafted to present to schools across the country to properly educate people about Sikhism. Slowly (and surely with some forgiveable missteps here and there) the pieces will come together.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Books on Sikhism - recommendations given and sought

All right, only 4 days since my last post! I'm getting better at this.

I wanted to mention that I've been reading a most excellent book on Sikhism. It is "Sikhism" by Hew MacLeod, an Australian scholar who has published extensively on Sikh religion and culture. He first came to my attention in Professor Arvind Mandair's class at Hofstra. I think the Professor studied with MacLeod and has a similar approach, one I would describe as having a greater socio-historical emphasis than past research on the subject. They don't take a lot of handed down knowledge for granted as historical fact -- if something that has been commonly accepted as history does not have significant documentation to back it up, they'll say as much, however much that might raise the ire of more dogmatic practicioners of the faith. In this sense their work is kind of comparable to the Historical Jesus movement that raised a lot of questions about traditional beliefs towards Christianity.

To follow MacLeod's and Mandair's lead, I really should give some examples from MacLeod's book to illustrate what I'm talking about. The one that stands out in my mind is MacLeod's speculation that 1699 may not have been the actual year that the Order of the Khalsa was created. For whatever reason the year has been institutionalized as historical fact. Sikhism has such a long and legendary history, perhaps it's inevitable that facts get obfuscated here and there, or events get exaggerated. I wonder how many Sikhs really believe that Baba Dip Singh was able to fight off hundreds of Muslim invaders while holding his own severed head in one hand? Still, an image like that certainly fires up the imagination, which I think is ultimately the point, and why there's always going to be a volatile relationship between the history that actually happened and the myth that we carry in our hearts. It's no different that what I am doing as a filmmaker, trying to distill all my experiences and encounters into a story that will work with people.

I was also reading about the emergence of the Tat Khalsa from the Singh Sabha in the 19th century to become the dominant voice in Sikhism and firmly establish the concept that to be a Sikh requires joining the Khalsa, an idea that seems to be taken for granted today but a century ago wasn't so firm. This is the complicated history that I'm still getting my head around,and may not end up being discussed in my film, but it helps to enrich my understanding of the faith and how it evolved through many circumstances. It's important not to take what I understand about Sikhism for granted.

I'm going to try to make it more of a daily habit to write reflections as I keep reading through MacLeod. In the meantime if anyone reading this has any suggestions as to great books on Sikhism, please send them this way.

Also I want to post some pictures from last Saturday's Sikhism parade, but I think I need to free up some drive space first. Too much good stuff to be done!