“It's a miracle. I never thought it would happen in my lifetime," says 68 years old Gurmeet Singh, who worships at Sikh Cultural Society Gurdwara in Richmond Hills, New York.
“It’s beautiful to have this passage opened up – belief and religion should always lie above politics”, says Rajiv Singh, a sales executive at a Fortune 500 technology firm in New York.
They were, of course, talking about the historic opening of Kartarpur Corridor.
A recent visit to the Gurdwara validated my viewpoint that grass-root diplomacy is far more powerful, and a good deed, no matter who initiates, is recognized by the people despite contemptuous media. I was greeted almost like a VIP when folks learned of my Pakistani origin. The Gurdwara is actively supporting Sikhs of Indian origin to fulfill their deep-rooted wish to be able to visit the last resting place of Guru Nanak Dev.
"The historic Kartarpur Corridor connecting Dera Baba Nanak’s shrine in India's Punjab with Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan has been opened on November 12, 2019. Indian citizens and OCI Card holders who want to visit Kartarpur Sahib can now register online. Most of people (Sangat) are not aware that online registration is mandatory. Without registration nobody can go to Kartarpur Sahib, Pakistan,"
The Gurdwara not only provides a link for online registration but is also assisting those who need help arranging the visit.
I was eager to learn about the significance of Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, and my gracious hosts gave me a primer over the delicious langar. What follows is what I learned without taking notes. I want to add another caveat that my understanding of Punjabi is limited.
Guru Nanak was born on November 29, 1469 at Rai Bhoi Ki Talwandi (present-day Nankana Sahib, Pakistan) near Lahore to Shri Kalyan Chand Das Bedi (Mehta Kalu in short) and Mata Tripta. His father was a Patwari in the village of Talwandi. Both of his parents were Hindu Khatris.
At that time, Indian society was in a state of exploitation and darkness. The caste divide was rampantly practiced. Elite Brahmins/Pundits openly looted innocent farmers and poor people in the name of rituals and religion.
Besides the exploitative rulers, three categories were holding social power: Pundits who proclaimed to be guardians of Dharma and exploited people with their hypocrisy; Jogis, the distorted version of sanyasi Yogi, who looted innocent population in the name of tantra and mantra; and Qazis, the Muslim judges, who were corrupt and decided court cases based on bribes given to them.
Guru Nanak's followers believe that he condemned the religious elite and the ruling class and "brought in a fresh air of spiritual enlightenment that freed people from the bondage of bigotry, and introduced them to integrated humanity having no discrimination based on religion, caste, gender or any other basis."
Revolting against Hinduism, Guru Nanak proposed a monotheistic approach to morality; Ek Onkar (God is One) and Ajooni Saibhang (God is self-existent – beyond birth and death). Most Sikh prayers end with Guru Nanak's key message: "Bandya toon banda ban," (O' human behave like a human being).
I was told that Guru Nanak's teaching emphasizes that the world we see and experience is a reflection of God.
Guru Nanak challenged the Hindu tenets of Pravritti and Nivritti (worldly life and spiritual life) and preached that one can simultaneously live a pious and devoted life by performing worldly duties honestly, dedicated to the Almighty by following simple principles: Nam Japo (recite Lord's name all the time); Kirt Karo (earn your living with honest work); and Wand Chhako (share your food with others – the needy).
Guru Nanak challenged not only the caste system but also gender bias present in Hindu mythology. "So kyon manda aakhiye, jit jammerajan" (Why consider woman as inferior when she gives birth to the Kings?).
My guests and I both avoided political questions, but they were vocal in expressing displeasure at the absence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor.
"The opening of the Kartarpur Corridor is the most positive development, and we are grateful to Pakistan for taking the first step," said Ruchi Kaur, a school teacher in Queens, New York.
Ms. Kaur claimed that Modi faced the "prisoner's dilemma" – a reference to the Game Theory. "Modi couldn't say no to Pakistan's offer. He would have had a Sikh revolt on his hand," she argues.
The world comity has welcomed the Pakistani initiative, including the U.S. State Department's statement underlining the importance of the Kartarpur Corridor.
The writer is a technologist, digital anthropologist, and a writer. He has held several media, communications, and technology positions for organizations. He blogs at www.ibrahimsajidmalick.com
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