This post is dedicated, unsurprisingly, to the truly captivating and one-of-a-kind Singh family, who opened my eyes in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, and forever ruined take out Indian food for me.
I didn’t truly understand the depth of the word “family” until I walked into the Singh household for the first time in the fall of 2009.
It was my sophomore year of high school, and my soon-to-be best friend Gurpratap Singh and I decided to rehearse lines for our upcoming show of Bye, Bye Birdie at his house. At first glance, the Singh home felt remarkably familiar. Just like my own, the front alcove was littered with bunches of coats and shoes. I could hear the lively chatter of siblings Jasmine and Saarang Singh as they rehashed their days to each other, just like my own brother and I would. The familiar sizzle of dinner being cooked was floating through the air as Mama Singh (Kawan Singh) prepared a Buffalo, NY staple – chicken wings – with an Indian-spiced twist. I was overwhelmed with how at home I already felt, and how natural it felt to be there.
As Gurp and I procrastinated and waited for dinner at the kitchen table, I got the opportunity to talk with Kawan Singh for the very first time. The first thing that struck me about her was how free-flowing her love was. Though she had only heard stories of me at this point, she talked with me and welcomed me as if I had been a family friend for years. She told me how proud of Gurp and me she was, she cared about what my dreams were, she showed me how much she believed that I could succeed in anything that I aspired to. Kawan Singh is one of those people who make you feel as if they are just grateful to have gotten the opportunity to meet and know you and her selflessness basically poured out of her. To me, it was almost unfathomable that this woman’s body hadn’t been swallowed whole by the sheer size of her heart – giving me just the first glimpse of what I would come to find is what makes the Singh family truly unique.
My first exposure to the Partap brothers was soon afterwards. Gurp and I settled into the true heart of the Singh home after dinner – the living room. There I found Davinder Partap Singh, Mohinder Partap Singh, and Ravinder Partap Singh. The brothers were in full force – laughing and talking about everything from their days, to music, to politics, to stories from their past, and any topic in between. Their voices and their energy added an almost palpable amount of joy to the room, mingling easily with the lingering and comforting scent of a home-cooked meal.
Though I was gladly added into the conversation, I mostly concentrated on just listening. I had this overwhelming feeling that the words that were being said around me were important in ways that were different from what I had ever been exposed to before. Each story had a lesson, each point underlined a concept I hadn’t thought of before, and each debate filled in a piece of a puzzle that I didn’t even know was incomplete. I could already tell that these wonderful people were filling a void in my understanding of the world and those around me – and I wasn’t going to waste a single second doing anything but absorbing as much of the experience as I could.
As the hours passed like minutes, I was struck with my one millionth gift of the day – an audience with Grandpa – Sant Partap Singh. I say “audience” because to describe him as the King of the Singh family would be a misguided understatement. There was an almost unworldly reverence as he came down the stairs for the first time that evening. Dressed all in white – there was an immediate and almost inherent change in the mood of the room when we saw him. I can tell you for a fact that I have never seen such an immediate reverence and respect for one’s elders in my 15 years living in the United States. It was a truly awe-inspiring experience.
After the family sufficiently begged Gurp to sing them a little something now that Grandpa was downstairs, I was lucky enough to learn about their family faith for the first time. With grandpa as a clear source of ultimate family synergy, the Partap brothers and Gurp took turns explaining what their faith meant to them. They described the principles of unwavering strength, of unconditional love, and of social justice. They explained that they and all of their Sikh brothers and sisters stood for true equality for all people, as well as their responsibility in securing that equality. Each brother spoke with such unparallelled fervor and reverence that I can tell you, without hesitation, that this was the first time I had ever met a group of people truly, wholly, and boldly embodied the principles of their faith. In a world where even the mention of the word “religion” can be divisive, Sikhism was a glimpse into what I have always thought religion should be – a genuine care for one’s fellow man regardless of how they care for you.
And that is when my world changed.
I don’t think that we realize how truly rare unconditional love given freely to strangers is, and I believe the reason that we don’t see more of it is because it is not easy. It’s not easy to take time out of our lives to prioritize someone else (especially those you may never see again). It’s not easy to stand up for someone who is being oppressed if it means potentially sacrificing some of your own privileges. It’s not easy to see someone who, for whatever reason, reminds you of some pain in your life and remember that one will never represent all. It’s not easy to look at a person who is different than you and truly believe that their experience matters just as much as your own.
Yet, that is why the Singhs represent the absolute very best of humanity - they always find a way, even when it’s not easy. That is why, despite what seem like incredibly dark times that our country and our world is experiencing, I will forever maintain hope that love and compassion will prevail. That is why I will always be able to believe in the family of humanity in a way I never would have been able to before the Singhs showed me how.
It is my belief that the richest way to grow as a human being is to share in someone else’s world with them. There is no doubt in my mind that the music shared by the Partap Brothers will transcend and engulf each and every listener’s soul in the same way that the brothers themselves do - and what a beautiful world we must live in knowing that is true.
With absolutely all of my love, Kate.