Monday, May 31, 2010

'Salaam' - 'Sat Sri Akal'

"Salaam," the runner wished me as we crossed each other on the trail. The salaam caught me off-guard; I was expecting the customary exchange of a smile and wave I am used to on the trail. Like some others, this runner too, going by my turban, must have mistaken me for a Muslim. The moment was too short for me to articulate a response but the earnest and sincere manner of his greeting was not lost upon my subconscious, which, reflexively, had me smiling and waving back.
Being greeted with some version of "salaam" is not new to me. On these occasions when the busyness of those moments do not allow me time for a conversation, I smile and wave back. "You are simply reinforcing their beliefs that turbaned people are Muslims," a friend confronted me once. I refuse to buy that. May be he is right; but if I have to choose between being a friendly Muslim returning a Salaam or a non-friendly Sikh miffed at being Salaamed, I would prefer the former, especially if I perceive a sincerity in the greeting.
Once, though, I did get a chance for a conversation at Stop & Shop, the grocery store. Standing in line at the check out counter, the person next to me wished me "Salaam Alaikum."
"Walaikum Assalaam", I replied and then continued with a smile, "In our Sikh community, the greeting would be Sat Sri Akal".
I caught a puzzled look crossing her face.
"I am from the Sikh community," I explained. "Most people in the US who wear a turban are Sikhs, not Muslims. The two communities are very different from each other."
The lady was turning redder than the beets at the produce section. "Oh I am so sorry, I didn't mean to offend you."
'No no. You have not offended me at all," I hastened to reassure her. "It was a nice gesture on your part. You wished me peace and I wished you peace and we don't have to be Muslims to say Salaam." 
We chatted some more and I managed to slip in the Sikhs-India-Peace-Justice-Equality-Service sound bytes till it was my turn at the counter. I noticed her occasionally glancing through my cart, perhaps, to get a clue to the dietary habits of Sikhs? Nothing in my cart must have stood out except, perhaps, for the couple of bottles of Malta Goya that I use to bake bread with.
Should that give her ideas for a Puerto Rican "Como está?" next time we meet, I will have my Punjabi "Kiddaan?" ready.

1 comment:

  1. hahah im gursikh n i wear patka under my dupatta. im ften mistaken for a muslim, and have had ppl come up to me and say are u arab? r are u pakistani? and i say no im actually punjabi sikh. they feel bad fr ffending me, and i say nah ur fine. ur close enugh. the religins r different but at least u got the eastern culture correct. :) the only times that i get pissed r when i wear paghri n ppl think im a 3ho and i have to correct them that they r a cult n that kundalini yoga was brught to usa in the 60s frm a whackjob guy and that the teachings f it are against what our gurus taught us. other forms of yoga may not be but that is. (frankly i like swami ramdev)