The several hours long rendering of Asa ki Vaar has come to a close.
I continue to sit with my eyes closed during the lull, holding on to the strong vibrations the Akhand Kirtani jatha has created with their energetic shabad kirtan. I sense some activity around me but am reluctant to open my eyes.
The silence is broken by a child’s voice reciting:
“Gun Gobind gayeo nahin janam akarth keen…”
SGGS p 1426
(Not chanting the praises of the Lord, life has been wasted).
The iteration is pure, melodic and crystal clear. I slowly open my eyes. A young girl, no more than 9 or ten years old is reciting the Ninth Guru’s saloks as she concludes a sehaj paath. I am utterly fascinated as the beautiful and flawless reading continues. The rhythm is perfect, as is the diction and the intonation of each line. For the next 20 minutes I hear the wisdom and deep insights of the verses of the Ninth Guru flow from a child’s innocent and endearing voice
I am unable to take my eyes off the young girl who I recognize as one of the participants of Sikh camps that we had held the last two years. I also remember her request to participate in the Art for Peace contest even though she was under the age limit. Her mom said that she did not care if her entry was not judged; she simply wanted to take part. I recall that her name is Japji. How charming, I smile to myself.
Japji is now reciting the raag mala. The complexity and unfamiliarity of musicology related words make raagmala a baani that is difficult to enunciate even for adults. Japji’s clear and mellifluent reading continues to amaze me. The chunni over her head does not slip, as it often does with many adult women. The focus remains intact, complete, and pure. There is palpable awe in the sangat, and smiling, adoring gazes are transfixed on Japji Kaur.
I find out that the family is celebrating Japji’s tenth birthday.
Many questions arise in my mind. What have the parents done to motivate Japji? What kind of an environment at home fosters the dedication and discipline needed to master the reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib at such an early age? What else is Japji interested in, and how does she balance her activities with her Gurbani reading expertise that must take a lot of practice?
What I learn from Japji’s parents, Jasleen Kaur Singh and Gurpreet Singh, is truly inspirational.
Japji is growing up in a joint family. Jasleen, Gurpreet, his brother and his family, as well as their parents live in a large house in an upscale neighborhood in San Jose. Japji is growing up with a younger sibling and two cousins. The four girls are close in age. Jasleen attributes Japji’s deep engagement with Gurbani to her grandparents.
The grandmother, a devoted Sikh matriarch plans and directs Sikhi related curriculum for all four grand children. The granddad, a gentle, persuasive individual with kid – friendly ways organizes the family’s participation in daily prayers. Every important Sikh day from the birth of Guru Nanak Sahib to the shaheedi of the younger sahibzadas is marked by the family gathering together and listening to stories that highlight Sikh history, values, and the core teachings of the Gurus.
Japji is like a sponge. She listens, observes and absorbs. She has a thirst for knowledge, and an innate ability to motivate her younger sister and cousins to follow her lead. The girls are growing up like siblings; Japji is a glowing role model. When she makes her family proud, the other three want to follow. A healthy competition amongst the children is benefitting all.
Japji’s early initiation into Sikhi started with weekly Gurmukhi lessons at the weekly Khalsa School, and regular home schooling in kirtan by Bhai Manmohan Singh, a raagi singh who has become a household name in the Bay Area. His love for Gurbani is matched by his zeal for imparting it to young children. Seeing Japji’s aptitude for music, Bhai sahib recommended an early training in classical music.
One day Japji heard someone playing the dilruba, a smaller version of the Taus, adopted by the tenth Guru for its portability. She fell in love with it. Now she has her own dilurba. I learn that earlier in the morning Japji has sung a shabad to the accompaniment of the dilruba.
Like other girls her age, Japji enjoys several activities. Instead of going to summer school she learns cooking and crocheting from grandma. At the end of the day Japji relaxes with a book. A voracious reader, she also loves to write and draw. On top of consistent scholarships for academic excellence, Japji has won Young Authors and Art Fairs awards at her school since she was in 1st grade.
I wonder once again at what are the elements that have converged to raise a balanced and happy overachiever like Japji? Nature or nurture? Her mother Jasleen tells me that they have exposed Japji to several different activities but have resisted the impulse to push things on her. She picked tennis and golf over hockey that most of her friends play; she favors English over Math; and equally enjoys Hollywood and Bollywood movies. They talk to her like a young adult offering choices, and detailing consequences. Being the oldest amongst the four sisters at home, Japji already has a sense of responsibility.
The presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib at home, the guidance and love of grandparents, frequent trips to India and historical Gurdwaras, regular visits of Bhai Manmohan Singh who consistently provides a sound moral compass; saadh-sangat at home, and at the Gurdwara have all nurtured, nourished and contributed in making Japji truly a child prodigy.
Our wish for Japji Kaur is that may she always remain filled with love, light and inspiration like the beautiful baani she has been named after.