By Amrita Kaur Bhasin
I breathed in the scent of red pepper and melted cheese. It was a scent I had smelled many times before, but somehow in New York, it was different. The bell above the door rang, and another customer entered the pizza place in search of a slice. I smiled at my family, our mouths full of the delectable pizza. A girl and her mother dined next to us, laughing together.
A man entered the restaurant, scanned the room and ambled over to my dad. He was a tall African American. Judging from his ragged clothes, the man appeared to be homeless. A bottle of alcohol peeked out of his sweatshirt pocket.
He glared at us, and when he opened his mouth, the words coming out were crude and insulting. He had seen the turbans my brother and my dad wore.
“You Arabs,” He spat in disgust. “My people have been here for hundreds of years.”
The man was screaming now, and the words were spewing out of his mouth, a whirlwind of hate and animosity.
“We were beaten and enslaved. You Muslims take our jobs and earn enough money to travel, while we are poor and suffering.” The man’s hands shook as he gripped the bottle tightly.
The words he said made me feel horrible, and I could feel the tears slipping down my cheeks. The whole restaurant was silent, and everyone was staring awkwardly.
In that moment, all I wanted to do was go home. I didn’t want to be a Sikh. It was not the first time that something like this had occurred. I felt like all of America was against us. People were just watching the altercation, and nobody was doing anything. They were probably glad they weren’t in our position.
The blond girl close to us was crying by now. She looked to be in her early twenties, and she was sobbing hysterically. “I support black lives matter,” she whimpered. I instantly felt annoyed. The girl had probably never experienced hate before because of her religion or ethnicity, yet she was distressed. I didn’t know why I felt upset with the girl, but something inside me burned with a deep and unexplainable emotion.
I didn’t realize, until the police burst in, that the owner had called for help. In a matter of seconds, the man was escorted out. But, the damage had been done.
As my anger ebbed, I felt a surprising sense of sympathy for the man. I thought about how he probably hadn’t had the same opportunities growing up as I did. I thought about how Sikhi taught us to treat everyone with compassion. I remembered everything our Gurus had sacrificed for people like us to practice our religion, hundreds of years later. Lines from Guru Granth Sahib flowed through my mind.
braham giaaanee kee sabh uoopar miaa ||
The God-conscious being shows kindness to all.
braham giaaanee tay kachh buraa n bhiaa ||
No evil comes from the God-conscious being.
jeea dhiaa miaa sarabatr ramanna(n) param ha(n)seh reet ||7||
Show kindness and mercy to all beings, and realize that the Lord is pervading everywhere; this is the way of life of the enlightened soul, the supreme swan. ||7||
I felt a tug in my chest and realized that no matter how deeply I was hurting and how angry and disappointed I felt, I had to take the higher road. Although the man was gone by this point, and patrons in the restaurant had resumed eating, I knew I had to forgive the man if I was to move on. The compassion was not merely for him. It was for me as well.
As I glanced around the restaurant, I saw a sense a relief on the faces of the diners. An unpleasant moment had passed and normal life could resume. But unsettled questions still hung in the air. Was there fairness? Was there justice? Could we all see each other in the light of compassion?
As Kaurs, we will encounter hate. It’s a fundamental part of our history, and ultimately, it shapes who we are. It is easy to feel anger at the world for sometimes not accepting us, but the more difficult thing is to learn how to overcome these emotions.
har kaa naam man vasai haumai karodh nivaar ||
The Name of the Lord dwells within the mind; egotism and anger are wiped away.
man niramal naam dhiaaieeaai taa paae mokh dhuaaar ||2||
Meditating on the Naam with a pure mind, the Door of Liberation is found. ||2||
Inevitably, I have found myself on the receiving end of hate multiple times, forced to examine my own reactions to the hate, and I am not the only one. What we need to learn as a community is how to channel these deep emotions into something meaningful. There is a lot to be said for the passion anger evokes, and I urge you to use this passion to combat hate in a purposeful and productive way. This story is based on a real event that happened to my family, and something about the moment has endured because it made me truly realize how important it is to fight hate with love. When I think of the future, I remember how Jagmeet Singh, a Canadian politician, taught a racist woman a lesson in love and responded to her hate with love. We may have to look harder to find these role models, but I strongly believe that this is the future we should be paving. Sikhi teaches us about compassion and kindness, and we must practice this, even in moments when we ourselves may feel like victims.
17 year old Amrita Kaur Bhasin is very passionate about writing and filmmaking. She has interned for the Sikh Foundation, and has won first place in the Sikhnet Youth Film Festival the past two years. She has also been published in anthologies and magazines like Aerie International, Creative Kids and TeenInk.