Saturday 19 January 2019

Me and my family and the local langar

Sikhs tucking in at a langar... 'maybe next time we will have the chats'
Sikhs tucking in at a langar... 'maybe next time we will have the chats'
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

'Dad? What's going on?" the 10-year-old said to me. "I don't know," I was forced to admit, which is a real failure for a parent.

In that moment what was going on was that I wished I had had a pedicure and I was concerned that the headscarf I was wearing was not staying on.

Beyond that, we were just sitting there barefoot and heads covered, vaguely facing in the direction of a kind of altar to which we had bowed when we came in, as I slipped an offering into a box.

Most people had brought better offerings than me - bags of food, giant sacks of rice. Caught unawares, and without a sack of rice on me, I had slipped a fiver into the box.

The men were sitting on one side and the women were on the other side, but it was indicated that the daughter was allowed to sit with me. People didn't seem to be praying or meditating. They were just there, in the presence of whatever it was. But then again, they could have been meditating on the name of the Lord, Har, Har, with every breath.

Then my wife arrived with the younger one, who had a couple of direct questions for me too. "What are we doing here? What's happening?" I couldn't answer her questions, but of course I knew, deep down, why we were here. We were here for the food at the langar. My wife and I had both been slightly obsessed with the idea of the langar since we had read Sunjeev Sahota's The Year of the Runaways. We were very aware when reading the book that there was a gurdwara, a Sikh temple, in our neighbourhood, and we knew there was a langar there. A langar, for those of you who don't know, or are from Cork, is "the community kitchen in a gurdwara where a free meal is served to all the visitors, without distinction of religion, caste, gender, economic status or ethnicity". And in fairness to the Sikhs, whenever you meet any of them, they always encouraged you to come for food.

So recently, when the Sikhs had a New Year's parade around the area, we took the opportunity to pop down for cultural relations, and maybe a bite to eat.

This is probably a racist thing to say but I find I like the Sikhs. The limited number of them I meet in my life always seem like friendly, intelligent, thoughtful and open people. In fact, I'll be even more racist and say I find I tend to like Indians in general. I don't know enough of them to say this with authority, but they seem quite like the Irish, kind of a droll sense of humour about them. I suspect Indians like Irish people too. But again, I could be wrong.

I eventually made facial expressions at the wife roughly translating as, "Do you think we can go in and have the food now?" She politely asked the woman next to her, who kindly brought us to the langar and set us up. We sat on the floor cross-legged, not easy at my age, and tin trays with various compartments were put in front of us. And then they came around with big containers and gave us rice, dhal, curry, fruit salad and a weird kind of syrupy sweet.

I was having trouble accessing my food on the ground in front of me from the cross-legged position so I was getting curry all over me. Naturally I decided that this was probably disrespectful, but that it would be even more disrespectful to pick up the tray and put it on my lap. Then I saw another guy who was similarly flexibly challenged do it, so I went for it.

The girls, in fairness, ate the food and loved the syrupy sweet and were respectful, and I was vaguely proud of them. We didn't really chat much to anyone, because it didn't seem to be the done thing. But you know what? We sat down and ate together with our Sikh neighbours and what better way is there of making us all fellow humans? And maybe the next time we will have the chats.

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