For most of us religion begins not as a matter of belief, but from the accident of birth and subsequent upbringing. Some make positive decisions to be born again, or to convert. Others drift off to something vaguer or all the way to none-of-the-above.
If I could choose, starting from scratch, all cultural and racial baggage to one side, the Sikhs might be the boys for me.
Blame the various Sikhs I’ve lived with. They’ve all been good advertisements – cool or hip or eccentric – they’ve been without exception open-minded and good-hearted. And darned good-looking. (The women weren’t bad-looking either.)
I know, I know. I shouldn’t generalise. Nor gush. I may just have been lucky.
They’ve all been of the small slick turban or baseball cap variety too. I wouldn’t fancy having to sport a Hardeep Kohli-type blancmange on my head.
They’ve all liked a drink, though apparently that’s not the done thing, according to Exploring Sikhism. (In fact, I’ve never known a teetotal Sikh, male or female. See, I told you I was lucky.)
And speaking of rules, or doctrine. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but the thing Sikh doctrine appears to be missing is all the offensive small print you get elsewhere. So, as a (very patient) leading Sikh spokesperson told me at one of Britain’s major temples: “Yes, you could have a lesbian leading the ceremonies here. People might not like it, but there’s nothing in doctrine against having a woman in charge, whatever her sexuality.”
How refreshing. Catholics take note. I’m not suggesting all Sikhs are paragons of mellowness and tolerance, as thespians will know already. And the chances of this hypothetical lesbian running the show are slim to zero at the moment, but at least any obstacles of prejudice are not founded on religious rules.
So what’s holding me back from signing up? Two things.
Sikhism does seem a bit culturally specific. I appreciate that the turban is a sign of belonging. And I even like that it seems awkward and contrary to common sense at times. (Sometimes a helmet does seem the better option.) But, whereas Christians, Muslims and Buddhists come in all colours of the rainbow, Sikhs do tend to be Punjabi somewhere down the line. I suppose I could be the one to help Sikhism break out from that narrow pool, but I don’t think I have the energy.
The other thing is that Sikhism seems so straightforward. You should be self-reliant and work hard, but help others if they need it. Woman, as far as I’ve seen, are treated equally. They’re opposed to castes. You should respect the planet. All seems fairly normal and straightforward. Very Dutch. And that’s the other reason why I haven’t signed up – I don’t need to. It appears to be a sensible state of mind rather than a religion. (Maybe that’s why the arbitrary trappings are deemed so important. Quick! Chuck in some incense and beard rules or no-one will take us seriously.)
Which brings me to this post’s old Sikh joke. I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if all of the above was just a lead-in to the joke. Hey, what can I say? You could be right.
So here’s my mate Chen’s old Sikh joke:
George Bush was sitting in his office wondering whom to invade next when his telephone rang.
‘Hello, Mr. Bush!’ a heavily accented voice said, ‘This is Gurmukh Singh from Phagwara Village, Punjab .. I am ringing to inform you that we are officially declaring the war on you!’
‘Well, Gurmukh,’ Bush replied, ‘This is indeed important news! How big is your army’
‘Right now,’ said Gurmukh, after a moment’s calculation, ‘there is myself, my cousin Sukhdev, my next door neighbor Bhagat, and some of the hockey team from the temple. That makes eight’
Bush paused.. ‘I must tell you, Gurmukh that I have one million men in my army waiting to move on my command.’
‘Arrey O! Main kya..’ said Gurmukh. ‘I’ll have to ring you back!’
Sure enough, the next day, Gurmukh called again.
‘Mr. Bush, it is Gurmukh, I’m calling from Punjab, the war is still on! We have managed to acquire some infantry equipment!’
‘And what equipment would that be, Gurmukh’ Bush asked.
‘Well, we have two combines, a donkey and Amrik’s tractor.’
Bush sighed. ‘I must tell you, Gurmukh, that I have 16,000 tanks and 14,000 armored personnel carriers. Also, I’ve increased my army to 1-1/2 million since we last spoke.’
‘Oh teri…..’ said Gurmukh. ‘I’ll have to get back to you.’
Sure enough, Gurmukh rang again the next day.
‘Mr. Bush, the war is still on! We have managed to get ourselves airborne…. .. We’ve modified Amrik’s tractor by adding a couple of shotguns, sticking on some wings and the village’s generator. Four schoolboys from Malpur have joined us as well!’
Bush was silent for a minute and then cleared his throat.. ‘I must tell you, Gurmukh, that I have 10,000 bombers and 20,000 fighter planes. My military complex is surrounded by laser-guided, surface-to-air missile sites. And since we last spoke, I’ve increased my army to TWO MILLION!’
‘Hhmm….’ said Gurmuk, ‘I’ll have to ring you back.’
Sure enough, Gurmukh called again the next day.
‘Kiddan, Mr.Bush! I am sorry to tell you that we have had to call off the war..’
‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ said Bush. ‘Why the sudden change of heart’
‘Well,’ said Gurmukh, ‘we’ve all had a long chat over a couple of beers…
…and we decided there’s no way we can feed two million prisoners of wars!’
NOW THAT’S CALLED CONFIDENCE ..