Monday, November 18, 2013

Day 5 Vismaad Studios

On Day 5 I visited Vismaad Studios in Chandigarh Punjab.  It is a full functioning animation/web/ and app development studio, as far as I know it is the only one dedicated to Sikh educational material in the world.

My first introduction to Vismaad was because I purchased a DVD called Sahibzadey for my children.  Being a Sikh parent, I often realize there is limited resources for educating children about our religion and culture.  Sure there are the same books I grew up with, same style of writing and teaching but the new generation always uses current technology.  In this regard our community is a bit behind, when I saw a cartoon version of the Sahibzadey I was so happy and excited.  My children watched it eagerly at home maybe because it was something different (Punjabi in a cartoon) or the fact that they related to the images on the screen but what followed were questions and discussions, which was exactly the thoughts I wanted them to have.  I quickly went online and tried to find out more about Vismaad, on their site I noticed they already had two more DVDs out, Rise of the Khalsa, and Sundari.  I quickly ordered a few sets of each of these.  These were met with equal interest from my children.  Some of the songs were catchy, and the animation was improved, with each new release.

There obviously is a challenge when you are trying to narrate historical events into something entertaining or message driven, but I found Vismaad had a good balance of both.  My children had some scenes memorized and just being able to watch Sikh history in action was something I was never able to do as a child. 
The best way to teach children is when they do not even know they are learning.  This keeps their attention span longer and they absorb information at a rapid rate while they think they are having fun.  The western education system has used this tactic very well in shows like Seasme Street, and variety of cartoons which assist kids in learning while the child thinks they are having fun watching a show.
With some good luck I was able to meet the man behind Vismaad, Sukhwinder Singh,  a few years ago when he came to do a screening in Virginia.  My first interactions/observations with him online were only reinforced when we met in person.  He is a simple, humble and motivated Sikh with lots of Chardi kala (positive outlook).  After meeting Sukhwinder Singh I felt that he was a genuine person who cared about the state of young Sikhs.  He has a passion to create media that is relevant to today’s youth. 

After many successful animated movies, he told me Vismaad is trying to launch Sikhville, an online portal where Sikh kids would have a variety of learning tools.  Also many mobile phone apps were in development.  Being cutting edge in a seva institution is very difficult, it requires dedication and beyond that motivation to tread on even if funds/outlook may look bleak.
Our community is not the best at recognizing such talented organizations/individuals.  We have set our priority backwards; I have seen this first hand.  When organizing screenings it is painstaking to get people to show up for these animated movies.  We make announcements, offer deep discounts in tickets, even offering free at times and still we are unable to fill halls.  There should be some thought given, if a film, documentary, or animated feature is made for a Sikh cause, how do we expect those artists to survive?  We are unwilling to pay a ticket, we are unwilling to buy a DVD we are unwilling to provide any financial assistance, and then we expect a product that is beyond our expectations.  This formula is so flawed, I know some of these film makers first hand Vismad- Sukhwinder Singh, Sach Productions- Harpreet Kaur, and I can tell you none of them is driving around in a limousine, but WHY NOT?
 If Yo yo Honey Singh, or Babbu Mann, or any other actor/singer/artist who we go to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars for is able to profit make a decent living off what they ‘contribute’ to our culture, then why do we treat our artists as they should be living in poverty?  How can we expect anyone to WANT to do this type of seva with our attitude?

Instead these folks are forced to put majority of their time into fundraising, which I know is going to people with hands out, and ASK for help.  We reduce their work, and their invaluable seva to begging.  This is the true state of our community.  You do something wonderful and you are met with criticism, you are met with skeptics your motivations are questioned and god forbid if you make a profit you will be hung out to dry.

This went off on a tanget, but it needs to be said.  We allow all others to profit, we do not criticize anyone, we go and dance at the concerts.  We get in lines to take pictures with these celebrities, and when it comes to our panthic heros, when it comes to those who are doing seva, we reduce them to mere servants.  We make sure that they are down, they are below us, we do not treat them with admiration we only treat them with suspicion.  The only saving grace is these people are made out a different material and even through all of this, they continue on.
I made it a point to visit Vismaad Studios while I was in Chandigarh, not only was I curious, I wanted to show that there was work being done at a high level even with our neglect.  Imagine if our Gurudwara’s and institutions understood the need for this type of educational material, for these types of movies, what if each gurughar said 1% of all of its earnings would go toward, education and Sikhi development.  Where could we be?  Where would we be?

What if we APPRECIATED those who did this work, what if they came in limo’s and red carpets were laid out to show that this work is invaluable, its needed and its something we appreciate, how many more Harpreet Kaur’s , Sukhwinder Singh’s, Satdeep Singh’s, would we have?
A change of attitude is required here, the Vismad Studios is a living example how things can come to fruition, on my visit they showed me how a film is taken from conception to completion.  What efforts are put in, and how easily we take it for granted.  I encourage everyone to look at our Sikh institutions and where they are donating their money.  What is your gurudwara doing with the money you donate?  What is that or this institution doing?  Its not difficult, most of these organizations would love for you to visit.  We were treated not only to  a tour but offered coffee (which I am told is special blend) at Vismad Studios.   All I had to do was ask to see it, and my part is to share with you this experience.  The work being done there is for YOUR children, for my children, for the children of OUR community.  There is no larger investment you can make in the future.

Not a lot is required, just a small shift in attitude.  So many organizations are doing good work they just need visibility, they need support, they need a pat on the back.  Let us become a community which appreciates talent, which allows those who are pursuing seva as a dream to profit, to benefit just as much as those who are doing it for fame.  Our good Ragi’s, animators, film makers, and other artists should feel that the community is behind them, that if they fall, we will help them up, they should not be worrying about how to put food on the table so they can focus on creating better content.  They should not have to spend the majority of their time ‘funding’ a project rather than making it happen.  They should not have to constantly prove their worth to us, we should realize and provide them the respect, admiration, support, and gratitude they deserve.

Next time you are buying a ticket for a concert, movie or event, remember these folks.  Remember how difficult it was for them to get your attention, attendance, donation and how easily you open it up for others.  Make sure when you see someone doing something wonderfully special for the panth, that your hand opens just as easily, and just as much as you do to get some entertainment.  We should have many more doing such work, and the only way to get there is if we begin to realize their worth to our community.

Visit and Support :

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Day 2 - Bala Sahib, Damdama Sahib, Rakab Ganj and Sis Ganj, Delhi

To simplify blogging in my travels I've chosen to document this in summaries.  Due to time and technical constraints, cohesive and detail thoughts/experiences will have to come later. 
Summary of sites visited: 
Bala Sahib 
Bala Sahib is located at the place where Guru Harkirshan was taken near the end of his life, he was cremated at this location and also uttered the famous words ‘Babba Bakale ‘ which pointed the Sikhs towards the location of the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur.  Interestingly this is also the cremation location of Guru Gobind Singh’s wives Mata Sahib Kaur and Mata Sundar Kaur.  Mata Sahib Kaur’s cremation samad memory is located inside of the Bala Sahib Gurudwara and Mata Sundar Kaur’s is located in  separate building constructed right adjacent to the Gurudwara.  
Damdama Sahib 
Gurudwara Damdama Sahib is located near a very famous Dehli landmark and tourist attraction Humunyu’s tomb.  It commemorates the meeting between the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh and Bahadur Shah, who had captured Dehli.  The Guru made him aware of the atrocities committed by the government, army, and Kings against the Sikhs.   He made him aware of how he was forced from Anandpur Sahib only to be ambushed and to have his Sahibzadas lost.  Bahadur Shah vowed to provide justice to the perpetrators of atrocities agains the Sikhs, he is said to be very impressed by the martial display of the Khalsa.  It is also said that Bahadur Shah wanted to see a match between martial elephants, but the Guru sent in a martial buffalo instead.  The Guru’s martial buffalo was able to chase off the martial elephant of Bahadur Shah.  This made him even more impressed of the martial training and prowess of the Khalsa.
Rakab Ganj/Sikh Genocide Memorial 
Gurudwara Rakab Ganj is a sprawling complex right next to the Parliament and government sector area in Delhi, another note that this will also be the location of the memorial to the 1984 Genocide of Sikhs in India.  Currently there is only a board but I believe eventually this will turn into something of historical reference for what transpired in the state sponsored massacre of Sikhs in 1984. 
Rakab Ganj is the location where Lakhi Shah one of the devotees of the Guru, managed to steal his body on horse after the beheading of the Guru.  Since the atmosphere would not allow a proper cremation last rites, Lakhi Shah placed the body of the Guru and set fire to his home to be able to cremate the body.  Amazing story of scrafice and courage by Lakhi Shah who is one of the heros for Sikhs rising his life and setting his own home on fire just to be able to provide proper last rights to the body. 
Sis Ganj
Gurudwara Sis Ganj stands to commemorate the site of martyrdom of the Guru Tegh Bahadur.  After refusing to convert to Islam and upholding religious freedom for the Kashmiri Hindu pandit’s Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded on Nov. 11th 1675.  The Gurudwara is situated at the very busy and robust Chandi Chowk bazar. 
Summary of  Thoughts:
Guru Tegh Bahadur became the first (maybe only)religious profitr to sacrifice his life not for his own religion but another.  Today in contrast I have seen Sikhs be close minded not only to other beliefs but even other Sikhs.  Guru Tegh Bahadur taught in action how tolerant we should be, how much we should uphold the freedom of choice and dignity for others.  Sikhs who have closed minds should reference this great action in history,  a true example on how to love unconditionally, Guru Tegh Bahadur should be a beacon for all Sikhs to defend those who society may not agree with, or who may not be able to defend themselves.
Sikhs should strive to have such a heart that another’s problem becomes their own, not because they have anything to gain, but because if even one in humanity loses, humanity is lost.  This universal message of love is echoed many times in Sikh history but unless we see the love our Guru’s had for a universal, tolerant and free society we constantly miss the point.  Fighting against each other, trying to make others fit into what we ‘believe’ maybe right, is in stark contrast to the message Guru Tegh Bahadur provided with his extreme sacrifice.


Friday, November 01, 2013

Day 1 - Bangla Sahib, Delhi

I visited Bangla Sahib, where Guru Harkrishan (8th Guru of the Sikhs) provided fresh water during the small box epidemic.  The Gurudwara itself is stunning white marble with typical golden domes on top.  The well which was constructed by  Guru Harkrishan still provides water, and I noticed at the entrance a few shops selling empty plastic containers.  A sign that some believe in its healing power and take a collection of the well water back with them.   There is also a very large sarover (tank of water common in Sikh Gurudwara’s) to the right, and very large langar hall and accommodations towards the left of Bangla Sahib.

Inside the Gurudwara is a large hall, and the walls around Guru Granth Sahib are all gold plated.  I could not help but feel a little emotional as I bowed my head, realizing this was the first Gurughar of my visit.  As a Sikh these sites are bound to you and we can be as complex and scholarly about these locations, but mere faith overwhelms when you pay reverence.

Since economic divisions are so obvious here, there is a sense you feel when you sit in the langar hall that is different from the western experience.  Here when you sit down to eat langar you are literally sitting with at times the lowest economic level to those who are ultra rich/powerful.  It is truly an equalizer, in a way that humbles you.  I looked around and noticed homeless were there eating, along with tourists like myself.  We all were partaking in something as simple as breaking bread but as complicated as breaking our ego.  We are all the same, we are all one, a philosophy that is so ingrained in the tenants of Sikhism yet seldom do we feel it in our day to day life.  Here in India, at Bangla Sahib I felt it, I felt that sitting there with those who I would never cross paths with in real life, reminded me of that oneness. 

We can escape it in our real lives.  Most of our relatives and friends are from our community or same economic level, but in the langar hall that is not the case.  It is indeed an amazing concept, anyone who is hungry, thirsty, or needs rest can come to ANY Sikh Gurudwara.  I only ate langar for a few minutes but at least 300 people were eating at that time.  Statistically around 100,000  folks eat a meal at Bangla Sahib Gurudwara.  I did not see anyone shunned or denied, I only saw the sevadars serving everyone as equal, and then wondered why anyone would sleep hungry in India?

In the USA we eat langar mostly as a convenience its part of our Gurudwara ritual, somewhat of a social event.  Here it felt very different and it felt ‘right’.  It humbled me; we were sitting on the same level eating the same simple food, participating in one of the most basic human needs of nourishment of our bodies.  This feeling of equality reminded me of the purpose of my visit here, to feel something different, to feel Sikhi, and in that langar hall I felt one of the most powerful messages that the Guru’s taught, so simply yet so effectively.