Today was supposed to be an in and out trip. Came into Amritsar at about 10 am, did three major presentations and two journalist interviews, and I was supposed to be out on the 8:45 pm flight.

Only it got cancelled, so I’m stuck here, and my flight leaves at 3 am, back to Delhi where I need to pack up my stuff, and head back to the airport at 6 am.

Wow! It’s going to be hard!

I’m just going to pray Maghrib and Isha, take a shower, put on the same clothes I wore all day, have no choice! And then try to get some sleep before the taxi guy comes to get me at 1:30 am to head to the airport.

It was a fascinating day though! Amritsar is only 30 miles from the border and just on the other side is Lahore, the city I was born in!

Haven’t seen it for more than 20 years. And somehow I feel keenly how close I am and yet so far.

Don’t have a visa to go to Pakistan so even if I wanted to, I couldn’t.

The biggest attraction in Amritsar is the Golden Temple.

My cab driver and other people in Bangalore all said I should go there!

And it worked out that I did indeed get a chance to go there.

I wish I’d known more about Sikhism. I am woefully ignorant!

All I know is that it arose as a sort of protest to Muslim rule.

And of course I knew that their holiest site is the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

It’s part of protocol to not only take off your shoes when you go in there, but to take off your socks too.

Everybody walks up this tiled area in bare feet, to this kind of a shallow ditch that’s laid across the pathway, and lined with a rough kind of a rubber mat at the bottom in which you wash your feet.

Then you go up the marble stairs and enter the enclosure.

I saw people knealing and gesticulating (kissing their fingers and touching them to the ground) at various points.

Inside they were mopping the marble tile floor, and it was VERY wet, and very slippery. I had to tread carefully.

The driver had come in with me and stopped at a place to pick up a golden coloured kerchief type of material that he tied on his head to cover his hair.

Then we went towards the golden covered bridge that leads across the square pond to the golden temple itself.

We went in batches. There were so many people in line ahead of us that they couldn’t let us all in at once, I guess. And we went forward a bit, and then stopped and waited, then went forward again till we got nearer and nearer and all the while from loudspeakers came the sound of singing and the people around me, the tall men with their turbans and the ladies with their heads covered with dupattas and many clutching babies, often sang along.

I was taking pictures, and people were giving me curious looks, and I hope they realized that I was respectful, but it was a little frightening at the same time.

When we first came in to the enclosure, there was some kind of sermon going on and I heard the guy saying that “We should not give the Musilmaan even one rupee…” That’s all I caught in my understanding of Punjabi or was it Urdu he was speaking, I’m not sure. I often get them mixed up.

And I thought to myself, wow, there’s a lot of hostility there towards us Muslims, and yet I never did anything to them at all.

Now here I was surrounded by Sikhs and they surely must know that I’m a Muslim, I sure don’t want to do anything to offend them.

Not just because I’m scared of getting harmed but because really I mean no disrespect.

As we got closer, I asked the driver who’d escorted me if I could take picturs inside the temple and he nodded, “Yeah, yeah.”

But a gentleman behind me, wearing a turban said quite gently, “No. Not inside.”

And boy was I glad I had asked!

The temple is beautifully made. Some of the outside part, the bottom part looks a lot like the designs of inlaid marble in the Taj Mahal, and then the top part looks like it’s made of solid gold.

Inside there were all kinds of people sitting in nooks and crannies, it really is a small little place inside, there was a golden bannister that encircled the central part of the temple and up above there were other floors and people were sitting up there, men and women, I’m sure, singing along to the men in the middle who had the kind of accordian instrument the folks at the Nizamuddin event had.

In fact it was very reminiscent of the Nizamuddin night.

The guy did have a beautiful voice, and I realized he was the one singing on the loud speakers as we’d been creeping along, stop and go, on that golden canopied bridge to the temple.

Many people were prostrating to the middle area, where apparently there is a copy of their holy scripture.

And many people were tossing rupee bills in to the area and they were being put into a box with a lock.

We were ushered out the side of the building and then down back from where we’d come and that was it.

What I really wanted to do was just sit by the square pond for a little while. That’s what people had told me to do. They said it was so serene, but I had to follow the driver and time was going. It had taken an awfully long time just getting into the temple.

What an interesting experience.

I think the biggest thought I took away from it is that I guess it’s always the same. When it comes to the holy relics people of all faiths feel pretty much the same.

Going into the temple area reminded me an awful lot of going to the Rowdah, the area right beside the Prophet (peace be upon him)’s grave, where he would deliver his sermons. There was the same feeling of reverence, and anxiousness to get closer.


Oh, one more thing.

Had an interesting moment during one of the presentations! This gentleman came up to me and said his wife was awfully mad at me. I said why?

He said because last night he had started reading Wanting Mor, and he’d spent many hours reading it in bed and the beside lamp had disturbed his wife, because he couldn’t put my book down!

Oooh, it makes me feel SO good when I get that kind of feedback!

And so much for the conservativeness of Indian audiences.

There were young kids in the presentation, and I went ahead and talked about the stuff I needed to talk about, including the suicide, and no problem, none of them left on that regard.

So ha!

Oh, and they all laughed at the racism and bullying parts! But I must admit, asking this one twelve year old boy which part he’d enjoyed the most he said the part about Wanting Mor.


And one lady who teaches literature asked me the same question many kids ask me, “Why don’t I write my autobiography?”

I don’t have a good reason for that except that I’ve always just used my story as back story in the presentations I do. Never thought I should make it an autobiography.

Over and out from Amritsar.