Friday, September 14, 2012

Bullied boy finally smiles

Whenever I step into an elementary school memories come back. From the smells in the halls, the colorful walls and small chairs and desks.  I remember vividly the moments that I felt scared, embarrassed and ashamed for the way I looked.

I remember being called a girl for my top knot, being laughed at, being picked last, being made fun of, and most of all I remember the silence in which I took it.  I was afraid to tell anyone, my parents, my community members even my cousins.  Who wants to talk about the fact that they are an outcast in school?  Though my childhood had many wonderful memories, its hard to shake those which come to my mind of being tormented.  For all sense and purposes I was a small fearful child.  I didn't know that it was not normal, that it was not right for someone to disrespect you because you looked different.  I did not know that I could have (even should have) done something about it instead of taking the ignorance in silence.

Its not that the environment at home was the cause, I was lucky I had supportive parents, loving grandparents to lean on, yet somehow I got bullied.  That leads me to believe that this can happen to anyone, regardless of how smart or witty one may be, when you are broken on the inside it is difficult to pick yourself up.  Most of the time others around you won't even know what is going on.  Victims of bullying often suffer in silence, in most cases until it is too late.

There I was, a scared boy who sat in the back of the class so people would not throw things at him, who played alone in recess because the boys would not pick him because they said he was a ‘girl’. On the monkey bars he watched the boys playing wondering why?  Why this thing on his head caused so much misery?  Why didn't people know anything about it?  How could he explain in a way they would understand?  That 5 year old boy would have to wait years before he could have the courage and conviction to stand up and be proud of his heritage, of his unique identity and all it had offered him.

Whenever I walk into a school to do a presentation on Sikhism, in my mind I become that little boy again.  When I watch the face of the Sikh boy for whom I am doing the presentation, those 10-15 minutes where the whole class is learning about him, about his uniqueness and what it means I know somewhere a difference is being made for his confidence.  If it doesn't change him, at least it gives him the reinforcement that someone is willing to take out time, to come to his class to try to explain that he is the same as everyone else, just does not cut his hair and wears a small turban.

Today I did presentations to KG and 1st grade students. One of the presentations was for my son who entered the first grade, we told his classmates about his Patka, we did a small demonstration where my wife untied it and tied it back on, and as he was walking back to his seat, many of the boys in his class were high fiving him.  Several were clapping, he was totally the center of attention.  

Every child who is different, who is unique, especially Sikh boys, need that moment.
  They need that extra push of confidence that their identity is not a burden; it is exactly what makes them beautiful. .

Sometimes we as a community forget that our future is not in the politics of our Gurdwara’s, in our langars or in our great speeches.  Our future is right under our noses, its in the confidence of our children.  The way their mentality is shaped will directly impact the direction of the Sikh Diaspora in this country.  We need not wait for another Oak Creek, for another terrorist attack, we need to constantly build our community to integrate into the fabric of American society.

It is EXTREMELY uncomfortable for me to not only speak in public, but to speak to young kids 30, 40, 50, 100 of them at a time.  I am totally out of my comfort zone of sitting behind a computer and writing.  Sometimes I tell those around me before the presentation usually the parents of the kid, that I am nervous, I try to hide my hands shaking,  in that moment I remember the little boy who had such a hard time to explain such a simple thing to so many kids.  I tap into that feeling of being alienated and use that as motivation, to constantly be uncomfortable to remember that this is not just kids, these are the leaders of tomorrow not just for Sikhs but all of America as a whole, and if they are better educated, we of this generation,  would have done our small part to make this country a stronger and better place to live.  A job every citizen should feel responsibility for.

I’ve finally realized, if I had a chance to do it all over, every person who made fun of me, who disrespected me I would go back and thank.  I have no animosity towards them not only because they were children but more so because those moments when I was at my lowest, when I felt broken and helpless are still, 30 years later,  the fuel that drive me.  I still use those memories to talk to my own children, to talk to children in my community to shape my resolve to break ignorance.  I cherish those memories the most, they still continue to challenge me to get out of my comfort zone to ‘try’ to be fearless.  To any Sikh or non-Sikh child going through any challenge I say count your blessings, don't hide those memories in the closet in the back of your mind somewhere.  Take out each experience, take out each feeling you felt, and lay it out, re-live it and use that to motivate you.  

The weakest moment becomes your biggest strength, I really hope that going to Sikh children’s school makes their lives easier, but what I don't hope is it rids every adversity in front of them.  As eliminating all adversity would not make us stronger, but more complacent.
At the end of this presentation as I was playing the dhol (Indian drums) and the kids were dancing, I had a very special moment which was only a second in real life, but lasted an eternity in my mind.  I saw my son in the back of the room dancing and smiling, I saw many of his classmates dancing with him, and for that split second moment the little boy inside of me, the shy boy who was pushed around and always alone, he too after almost 30 years was in school dancing and smiling.


KanwaljitSingh said...

Great post veerji! Could you share the slides here? Would like to read how you presented!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. Baltej, Himmat, and Avtar are so lucky to have you and Meenu as parents. Thank you for sharing your memories. I'm so glad you had such a positive experience at Baltej's school. Things will be better for our kids through these types of outreach events.

Balbir Singh said...

Remarkable parenting and I applaud you for doing this not only for your bhuchanji but for many others that these kids will interact later in life.