Kamalla Rose Kaur
I heard about Sikhs for the first time from my Godfather when I was a child, age 9 or 10. My Godfather was a brilliant athropologist and the Dean of Graduate Studies at my hometown university. He was my father’s best friend and he and his family lived across the street from us, on the hill right below campus.
Uncle Herb, as I called him, had a very loud and distinctive laugh, which made eveyone else laugh, whether they understood his jokes or not. Uncle Herb was a military man as well as scholar. He was an exciting lecturer and a great host and he had a knack for lobbying at the state capital and coming back with money for the university. He had charisma and he always had time for me. I visited him at his office on campus often. Uncle Herb would look up from his desk, put his pen down, push his papers aside and smile. Then he would lean back in his chair, stretching this way and that, while growling like a bear. Soon he would sit up again to prepare and then light his pipe, and finally lean back again, with his feet up on his desk, and puff contentedly while he watched me.
That day I noticed a curved dagger on a shelf and my Godfather told me about the Sikhs from Northern India and how they are among the greatest warriors in the world, known for their amazing bravery.
“They are part of a Knighthood, rather like the Knights of the King Arthur’s Round Table except that they are defense-only warriors.” he explained. “They vow to never draw their daggers or swords except to defend the innocent against oppressors. They do not fear death. They have absolutely no fear of death.“
Before I left, Uncle Herb showed me a book with black and white pictures of Sikhs in their turbans with their beards.
I don’t recall that my Godfather spoke of Sikhs as belonging to a religion. It was the military prowess and the “Knighthood” of the Khalsa that had caught Uncle Herb’s imagination in his travels and readings.
So why did I even have a Godfather? And how old was I before I thought to ask that question?
My mother was raised Catholic. She converted to Western philosophy in college. She didn’t believe in God, but she still had both her babies baptized High Church of England (Anglican, Episcopalian) – just in case, just in case. Uncle Herb attended my baptism and was ritually installed as my Godfather.
And I didn’t figure any of that out until I was a teenager.
Thus my first contact with the notion of God, specifically God the Father, and my first awareness of Sikhs and Sikhi, came through Uncle Herb. I was born into a world where no one believed in God, yet I had a Godfather, and He, I mean “he”, introduced me to Sikhi.