“So where are we going exactly?” My husband was asking.
“To a Gurudwara.” I couldn’t explain further because it was my first time going there. Secondly I didn’t know what a Gurudwara really was but I also knew that it would be interesting to find out.
As a result of my son’s friendship with a boy in his school, and a subsequent play date, we had been invited to a Sikh temple for lunch. My husband, who I bet couldn’t comprehend why he had to come along, was curious but also knew better than to push the issue. It wouldn’t be the first time he had ended up somewhere he didn’t expect, thanks to my insistence that we always discover and appreciate new places.
The Sikh Gurudwara (temple) was nestled in an assuming street on 3214 E. Banner Street in Durham. Walking in, I was greeted enthusiastically by my son’s friend’s mom who was going to be preparing our lunch today. Hunger inducing aromas wafted from the communal kitchen but I was shuttled off to the temple which was where the sermon would be taking place. My son’s delighted eyes, confirmed that he too was looking forward to partaking of whatever it was that was cooking in the kitchen.
In the temple, I sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor of the temple on the women’s side and my husband was on the men’s side. Both groups sat at equal distance from the podium as a sign of equality between all. The sermon had a melodious tilt to it with intermittent responses from the audience guaranteed to keep the attention of the audience. Ignoring the dull ache of my knees that were not used to being bent for extensive periods, I concentrated on the sermon. The Grandhi (priest) sat on the podium reading from the Holy book which I now understand to be the Grandh (book of wisdom). It was the only thing in the room that seemed to command attention. There were no other symbols, or idols adorning the room.
At some point, at the end of the sermon, we ate some prashad , a sweet dessert that everyone shared. It became clear that community was a key part of the teachings of the Sikh. Not only did eat together but once the service was concluded and much to the delight of my son, we snaked our way to the langar which was the community kitchen. Sitting cross-legged on the mats, men ladled vegetarian delicacies for all to eat. My son was quickly wolfed down a chapati while a friend of his alternated between ice cream, rice and chick peas.Even though I knew that was a stomach ache waiting to happen, I let them enjoy their lunch because I was delighted that it was the men serving the women in the lunch room.
This too was part of the communal foundation of the Sikh practice. It was explained to me that being part of the community meant being of service to the community. The communal kitchen was open every Sunday as well as during the week to the homeless and to everyone of any background. All were equal here. Each family had a turn to make a meal from scratch for the community as a show of service to the community. I couldn’t help but imagine what the world would be like if everyone tried to be of service and regarded everyone as equals. Seva (Serving) is a big part of the Sikh belief. 10 percent of financial income is required to be donated and can take the form of serving the community. I shuddered as I imagined public reaction if this were mandatory for everyone in the world.
I also imagined the possibility of ending world hunger if we all had to give to the world as much as we took from it.
It was a little surreal to be sitting in the middle of Durham and discovering this world of dignity and love. Were it not for my son’s friendship and subsequent play date, I would have never discovered something special in Durham, North Carolina.