Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Going native in Little India

September 3, 2009 · No Comments

I was very excited about today because I knew I would love visiting a Sikh temple and walking in an almost entirely South Asian residential district. To me, the whole experience was fascinating because of many reasons. (The main one though is that I love playing “the anthropologist girl” who does participan observation and tries to go native at a Sikh temple!)  

I adore the movie “Bend It Like Beckham”, which tells the story about a girl who is not allowed to play football because she is daughter of orthodox Sikh. Southall was in fact very much like the neighborhood they show in the movie, Hounslow, also in West London, right next to Heathrow Airport. I always enjoy movies that show how a minority lives within a globalized city. I think “Bend It Like Beckham” does a great job in reflecting a typical Sikh family living in London, in that it is, like everything else, very conflictive and with different meanings to each member of the family.

Second, I always enjoy visiting places of worship that are not from my religion, because it is then when I realize how alike human beings are. The experience of visiting a Sikh temple was both exotic yet familiar at the same time. While I was walking I was in my head comparing the synagogue I go to in Argentina, St. Paul’s cathedral, and the Sikh temple we were visiting. Temples are very similar no matter what religion; they are located in a central area, they have big wide spaces, an altar, people inside them behave in a similar way, etc.  It was easier for me to find similarities than differences between Sikhism and Judaism. I am not going to point at the similarities because monotheistic religions are very similar per se, but I do want to concentrate in the temple itself and the experiences we had today. For example, as soon as we came in, we had to wash our hands, which is just what religious Jewish people do. Then I observed a man writing the daily prayer. Again, this in Judaism would be the parasha, or the Bible story of the week. Also, I saw a very interesting brochure of a Sikh school that is opening soon, which will teach its students both the British curricula and basic foundations of the Sikh religion as well as Punjabi. Is this very different from the Jewish school I went to, in which I learnt both the history of Israel and Argentina? The Sikh commemorate a terrible fire attack to a temple that happened a few years back, while the Jews in Argentina still remember the terrorist attack to AMIA (Argentine Mutual Israelite Association) fifteen years ago. London can have orthodox people and Salman Rushdie. Same thing in Argentina, where some very prominent Jews are liberal and very left wing, wile others (a worryingly increasing number) are orthodox Lubavitch. It is amazing how minorities act the exact same way all over the world.

I am Jewish but could not be more atheist and that is why is is extremely difficult for me to listen to someone who I consider to be orthodox. The man who received us in the temple was extremely nice, but I just cannot and I don’t think will ever understand how he can believe in the things he preaches. Listening to him just made me think: is he actually listening to the things he is saying? How many dogmas can a person say in one sentence? I do not mean to offend anyone by what I am writing, but it’s just that I am so close minded about these things due to my over rationalist and Western upbringing, that I find it hard to listen about how chanting can bring internal peace and truth. Still, I listen, because that is when I think that yes, all people are the same, yet at the same time, they are very different.

Categories: Azul
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