Friday, January 23, 2015

Finding the Light

sabh mehi joth joth hai soe || this dhai chaanan sabh mehi chaanan hoe ||
Amongst all is the Light-You are that Light. By this Illumination, that Light is radiant within all.

As a child, I would listen to my mother recite these lines at night, drifting into sleep to the soothing sound of Sohila. These words didn’t mean much to me then, but the older I got, and the more I tried to understand and implement the Guru’s bani in my life, the more these lines became imprinted in my mind. I found them so profound—profound in a way that I was unable to reach them. I had grown up embracing the concepts of love and equality that Sikhi embodied, but at many times in my life, I could not make sense of the belief that Waheguru was in everyone. When my city, my home, was shaken to the core by the horrific tragedy of 9/11, I could not see how God was in the people who were responsible. In all the hate crimes that followed, I could not see God in the perpetrators. When I worked with survivors of domestic violence, trying to help them piece their lives back together, I was convinced that God could never be in their abusers. I put up a wall to protect them, and I used the same wall to divide those that I encountered in my life into “good” and “bad.” And then one day, I went on an interview that changed everything.

My supervisor looked at my resume and back up at me. “All the work you’ve done is with victims.” Because they were the ones who deserved it most, I thought to myself. “If you get into this clinic, you’re going to have to represent criminal defendants, people with criminal convictions. Are you ok with that?” It was a simple question. At the moment, I responded with an “of course,” but later that day, I kept thinking about whether I would be able to handle venturing out to the other side of my wall. I ended up being offered a position in the clinic, and I took it, and today, I can say that I’ve never been more grateful for an opportunity in my life. 

After working with clients with criminal convictions, I’ve come to break down the wall I had built up. I’ve come to the very important realization that people are not inherently bad. Yes, sometimes people do horrible things, but that doesn’t make them horrible people. And I’ve been fortunate to be able to see that divine light in my clients, who have been defined in our society’s vision by the bad things they’ve done, rather than the progress they’ve made since; their goodness has been overshadowed by their mistakes. But at the end of the day, they are just as human as the rest of us. And being able to be the one person who they can turn to and trust with their livelihood, to be the one person who will not look upon them with disappointment, fear, or hatred, as the rest of the world does, and to be the one person that will help them – to me, this has been the most humbling experience ever.

This experience is only one of many that have reminded me of what it means to be a Sikh – to forever be learning. And so entering this new year, my resolution is to find the good in everyone around me, to learn to see Waheguru’s divine light in all of humanity, and to question myself every time I pass judgment on someone. As humans, we are all flawed; our flaws are the very essence of what makes us human, and as victims of human nature, we are all equally capable of bad judgments and mistakes. But these mistakes are not the summation of who we are as people. And we should hope that the rest of the world looks upon us the way we should look upon them – through Waheguru’s loving eyes.

Here’s to another wonderful year of learning.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lost touch

I’m scared I’ve lost my touch.

Lately, my life has been a flip-book,
still frames moving at inexplicable speeds,
with a few accidental delays (thank God for those).                                       

I am a living, breathing body
but my mind is floating somewhere above
unattached but  overwhelmed
with to-do lists and deadlines and trying to get enough sleep,
often a sponge soaked in coffee, awake but not focused.

Sometimes I’m really tired of always having something to do.

Crossing items off lists used to be therapeutic,
but lately it seems like it just makes the tasks multiply;

a constant state of pressure.

I haven’t written a word since March and that scares me.

They say when you go to law school,
they will undo everything you ever learned about writing and rebuild it,
brick by brick,
And that terrified me.

But I was fine until a few months ago
when finals rolled around,
and then work,
and I realized that it wasn’t the writing that changed,
it was that I had no time left to think,
and now I’m sitting here desperately trying to put a pen to paper
and the words are hidden behind thoughts that will not go away,
like what time do I need to set my alarm for?
and how I should really back up everything on my laptop
and how many days I have left to submit note proposals
and do I need to be at court tomorrow?
and I need to answer so many emails
and I need to call the landlord

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Labels (Video)

One of my very good friends, Maneetpaul Singh, is incredibly talented with video work so he and I teamed up to create a "Labels" video project :)

Here is the video: 

Labels from Maneetpaul Singh on Vimeo.

Hope you all enjoy it! We'd love for you to spread the love and share the video!

And here is the poem that I wrote for the bookends of the video:

Do not define me by my clothes or the color of my skin
Do not define me by the many shapes that I’ve been in
I am not my weakness or my flaws
I am not the person that I was

Do not condense me to a word
The rest of me will go unheard
And when you see me unconfined
You’ll see that I am not defined

So take this label that I wear
Let it burn into the air
I am not the words that you assign
There’s so much more than meets the eye

Monday, March 10, 2014

Your beautiful mind

I do not care
about the thread count
of the suit you wear
or how much dough you make,
I’m not fascinated
by your imported silk pocket squares
or your fancy steaks

Your stocks and bonds?
I could care less
So you’re a V.I.P.?
I’m not impressed

Don’t tell me about the interiors
of the many cars you own
or how much you paid
for your cologne

I could care less
if you were made of gold
Tell me, how rich is your soul?

I care only for the colors
of the thoughts you paint,
each brushstroke
of what you create

I only want to know
what makes you feel,
your morality, conscience,
and your ideals

I want to know the depths
of your tremendous spirit,
what drives you,
and what you hold dearest

I will define you only by that
which resides in your heart
because that is all that is left
if your world falls apart

I do not care 
for the riches you find
I will only fall

for your beautiful mind

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Genocide

Bullets pouring like rain
upon holy gold
fire upon scripture
five rivers of blood

a mother weeps
a child screams
a father vanishes

villages set ablaze
wiped clean of life
scattered bones and debris
stain cold gray patches
amidst vivid green earth

sisters raped
brothers mangled

of bodies
upon bodies
upon bodies
thrown into canals
flooded by death

corruption trickling down
from the top rung
hiding behind shades of lies
perpetrating a genocide

yet we will forever challenge
the raging darkness
we will not let it settle

ashes, ashes
we won’t fall down

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Wiping the tears from my face
I rolled my carry-on suitcase
into line
glancing back one last time

my parents blew kisses in the distance
I waved back
my heart, terrified
leaving the sanctuary of my home
for the first time
to travel to a foreign land

and as if emotions weren’t running high enough
I was “randomly selected” for additional screening
yet again

I stepped aside as a female officer
took her hands
and ran them along my caramel body
as if I had consented to the humiliation
as if I had a choice

her touch was aggressive
as she patted me down
I looked into her pale face and wondered
if my brown face had set off alarms inside her head
as if the color of my skin meant
that there were explosives hidden in my jeans
or the college sweatshirt I wore

I wanted to tell her
that the weapons of mass destruction
were inside of her mind
and they were destroying my people
with their explosions of ignorance

I wanted to tell her that
I did not consent to be profiled
and neither did the 5-year-old child
that I saw her pull over and search
because her father was wearing a turban

I wanted to tell her that the way she looked at me
was dangerous
because I was sure that not every actual threat
was hiding behind brown skin

I wanted to tell her that though my body felt violated
it was my soul that felt more violated

But she was in a position of power
and I had to catch my flight
so I silenced the rage that boiled inside of me
and let myself become another hushed victim

of a security checkpoint