Kurbani kaur peered into the mirror, a tear slid down her cheek, smudging the make-up a bit in the corner of her eye. Another threatened to follow. She blinked it back and swallowed hard. She mixed up a little more of the bleaching powder into the bleaching creme, ‘extra strength for dark or heavy hair’ it read on the package.
It burned as she applied it over her lip and just under her chin. She fought the urge to pick up the tweezers and shape her brows. She felt like she was turning into some sort of hideous monster. Carefully she walked to the edge of her bed, and picked up the translation of Anand Sahib… She had a 10-15 minute wait for the bleach to do its work.
ਅਨੰਦੁ ਭਇਆ ਮੇਰੀ ਮਾਏ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੂ ਮੈ ਪਾਇਆ ॥
Anand bhe-eiaa meree maa-e satguroo mai paa-i-aa
I am in ecstasy o my mother, for i have found my True Guru.
ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਤ ਪਾਇਆ ਸਹਜ ਸੇਤੀ ਮਨਿ ਵਜੀਆ ਵਾਧਾਈਆ ॥
Satgur ta paa-i-aa sahj saytee man vajee-aa vaaddhaa-ee-aa.
I have found the True Guru with such natural ease, and my mind resound with the Music of Divine bliss.
ਰਾਗ ਰਤਨ ਪਰਵਾਰ ਪਰੀਆ ਸਬਦ ਗਾਵਣ ਆਈਆ ॥
Raag ratan parvaar paree-aa shabad gaavan aa-ee-aa.
The jeweled melodies and celestial harmonies have come to sing the Shabad, the Word of God.
ਸਬਦੋ ਤ ਗਾਵਹੁ ਹਰੀ ਕੇਰਾ ਮਨਿ ਜਿਨੀ ਵਸਾਇਆ ॥
Sabdo ta gaavhu haree keraa man jinee vasaa-i-aa.
The Lord dwells within the minds of those who sing the Shabad.
ਕਹੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਅਨੰਦੁ ਹੋਆ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੂ ਮੈ ਪਾਇਆ ॥੧॥
Kehai naanak anand ho-aa satguroo mai paa-i-aa. ||1||
Says Nanak, I am in bliss, for I have found my True Guru. ||1|| (SGGS Ang 917)
She fell back on the bed in transports of ecstatic bliss, was there anything more beautiful. She lay there for many minutes washed in waves of inner dimension, until she heard the alarm on her watch sound. It brought her back to the present.
As she washed the bleach away, a pale, light, burned stubble remained. It felt sharp and dry and looked unnatural against the dark of her brows and hair. She sighed deeply. It had taken so many years for her to be able to find the courage to receive Amrit. When ever she would hear that Amrit was to be given, she would head away from the camp, or Gurdwara. She didn’t want to make a commitment she couldn’t keep. Still she tied a white turban, when ever she went to the Gurdwara dressed in her tight white knit dresses and leggings. One day as she told herself how devoted she was to Guru and how much love she had, a voice replied,
“Yes devoted, but not enough to take Amrit, or learn to read Nitnem (daily prayers), or get up early in the morning for sadhana.”
Finally, a Singh asked her point blank at camp one night while she was tucking in her sons. “Have you been initiated?”
When she said “No”, it was as though no one would believe her.
When she returned home, she went to her Siri Guru Granth Sahib, with English, Romanization and Gurmukhi all in one. She wept and agonized. Should she take Amrit. Was she worthy? Could she keep the commitments? At the next camp, a Singh came to her and asked if her younger son could take Amrit, the older son asked if he could too. She asked a lot of questions about the commitments. She was given a set of Kachhere (specially tailored undergarments, which is one of the five articles of faith) and told to take a bath and wash her hair. She put on the Kachhera. It felt so strange, she was overwhelmed. She felt like weeping, she lay down on her bedroll, and closed her eyes and went to sleep. She wasn’t ready; the children’s father came late from work. During the ceremony, while they were waiting sitting on the stage with other campers singing Keertan, the youngest came running out from a trip to the bathroom, his face was wet and his eyes glowing.
“They put water in my eyes,” he whispered excitedly. And then ran back to where the others were taking Amrit.
The next week they had driven a long way to reach another camp to be on time to be included among those receiving Amrit. Something profound had happened and her life had begun to change.
But she made mistakes. Right away she couldn’t stop removing hair from her face. Little by little in stages she had first let her eyebrows grow in. Then hairs came in under her chin. Surely there were many more than had ever been there before. Lastly she got the courage to let the hair above her lip grow. It wasn’t easy. The morning after Keertan Smaagam, she had pulled out every one with her fingers. While driving home from the Rainsabayee, something had happened there as they sang the last Shabad. Something like when she took Amrit, yet still, she pulled out every hair.
She wept into the rumaalas (the draperies covering Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji), begging Guru ji to forgive her and help her have courage. She sat with her fists clenched into tight balls, sitting on her hands, while something like a cactus patch, sprouted on her face. Then she went before Guru-Roop Panj Pyaare once more and confessed her mistakes.
Still she wasn’t happy, she looked so disfigured, and the bleach didn’t help, instead it just made her appear more bizarre. How could she try to hide something from the world, and yet show that she was a Sikh at the same time? She felt so ugly, how could anyone love her, how could she love herself?
Her best friend told her “You look good! You look like a Singhni,” and that helped a little. But it wasn’t anything she could talk about to any one, only Guru ji, and to Guru ji she wept copiously, wetting the rumaalas with her tears.
She made up her mind to stop with the bleach. The make-up as well, as it just made her feel dirty and ashamed. She went to the store and tried on a bathing suit. The top looked really attractive, but her Kachhera come out from underneath the bottom part, and then she saw her face. It just didn’t match. She never wore that kind of suit for bathing again. Sometimes she felt proud when she secretly noticed other ladies sitting on the stage who looked like they had bleached their facial-hair. Then one day she had an attack of nerves and started pulling at her whiskers. Yes, that’s what they were, rough and coarse whiskers. In better moments, she remembered that kittens have whiskers, and that every one loves kittens. Even, she saw a lady horse once that had long whiskers, and everyone petted her affectionately. But this day, she couldn’t help herself and pulled out whisker after whisker. O there were plenty left. Just a few around the edges were missing, no one else would ever know. And they would grow back!!! No doubt about that, they had always grown back. She even went to doctor, and he told her they could only be removed surgically. They always would grow back otherwise. Sometimes they got wet when she drank, she shuddered. Just like a man’s. But she couldn’t complain because after all men had so many more, and much longer. Sometimes, every once in a while it made her feel like a smaller version of a Singh, but more often she looked at the smooth, beautiful, glowing, radiant faces of other women and wept inside with shame. When she looked in the mirror, sometimes she felt like she was looking at Guru Sahib’s face. So she could not protest, yet still she wept.
Then one day her beloved brother was in an industrial accident at work. His beard was caught in machinery, and nearly half was yanked out. He suffered, pain and shame. He sat behind Baba ji, and read from the new Siri Guru Granth Sahib, this one had just one line. She wanted to try to read it, but didn’t dare. As she watched her brother’s lips moving, while he recited Gurbaani, a glow lighted him.
Looking at his face with half his beard missing, suddenly she saw herself, how she looked when she pulled out half her whiskers. All this time she had thought she was disfigured when her hair grew, yet it dawned on her consciousness now that actually all these years she had been disfiguring herself by removing her hair and painting her face. Even some other ladies in the community had followed her mistakes. She went to her room and wept some more. She had tried so hard, and it had all ended in failure. She had taken off her tight white knits, and started wearing Salvaar Kameez over her Kachhera, wearing black to reserve her inner strength. Removing the white turban she had grown up in, in favour of a Keski (small under-turban), she tied a black one and had worn it day and night, despite many protests from the children’s father. She slept in her Kirpaan, and Kachhera, and kept all 5 of her Kakkaars (articles of faith), even during ishnaan (bathing), and had never ever removed her Karha since the first day she put it on, 20 years ago. And still she failed. She had struggled to learn her Nitnem, gotten up at 3:30am every morning for Amrit-vela, and done Naam Simran for at least an hour, for the past year or two. She carefully never ate outside and did all her cooking in her own utensils, yet still she failed miserably.
She failed because she hadn’t understood. But now she did understand, and she firmed her resolve never to make foolish mistakes again.
Vaisakhi day came and she went alone to the Guru-Roop Panj Pyaare weeping. They would not allow her without the children’s father. She wept harder, “He is fed up with me.” She wept so piteously that they accepted her but with restrictions until the children’s father came also before Panj Pyaare. She was so grateful.
They gave her some instructions to recite Baani (prayers) and told her “Do not touch your face, it is poison.”
She wore the Kesri Keski (saffron colour small turban) that she received in the Amrit Sanchaar for nearly a year after, day and night as her Chunni (scarf) and touched her face only with the Kesri Kapraa (cloth) covering her hands between it and face until her hands could be trusted to touch with love rather than remorse. The children’s father had been completely fed up with her and had threatened her security. But she knew that just as she had struggled with change; he also was going through incredible adjustments. Of course that didn’t really make it any easier to deal with the flares of anger, but it drove her closer to Guru Sahib, her shelter, her honor, as she frequently wet the rumaalas flooding them with her tears.
Something had happened, she changed. Everybody said so. It was true. She had changed. Now she was a Singhni for real. Maybe she wasn’t beautiful, or perhaps she didn’t even know what beauty was. Her daughter always told her she was beautiful, but that was just love wasn’t it? She knew now though that she was loved. Loved by Guru Sahib, and loved by Saadh Sangat (the Company of the Holy). She knew “Waahe” (amazement and awe) too… because inside she had “Guroo” (the Light, which dispels Darkness)… WaaheGuroo WaaheGuroo WaaheGuroo WaaheGuroo WaaheGuroo WaaheGuroo… Because rather then being apart from, she now was a part of ~ ONE body of Khalsa ~ ONE Waheguru ~
pri rang rang ratee naaraain naanak tis kurbaanee ||2||104||127||
She is imbued with the Love of her Loving Beloved Lord; Nanak is a sacrifice to her. ||2||104||127|| SGGS Ang 1228
The Lord’s Name permeates each and every hair of mine. gur kae charan kaes sang jhaarae ||1||
With my hair, I dust the feet of the Guru. ||1|| SGGS Ang 387
kaes sang daas pag jhaaro ihai manorath mor ||1||
With my hair, I wash the feet of Your slave; this is my life’s purpose. ||1||SGGS Ang 500
kaesaa kaa kar chavar dtulaavaa charan dhoorr mukh laa-ee ||1|| rehaao ||
I make my hair into a fan, and wave it over them; I apply the dust of their feet to my face. ||1||Pause| |SGGS Ang 749
rom rom raviaa har naam ||
The Lord’s Name permeates each and every hair of mine. SGGS Ang 1144
dhan dhan sae jan jinee kal meh har paaiaa jan naanak sad kurbaanee ||4||2||
Blessed, blessed are those humble beings, who, in this Dark Age of Kali Yuga, find the Lord. Nanak is forever a sacrifice to them. ||4||2||