A few weeks ago in New York City, I hopped in a taxi near the NYT corporate apartment in midtown to meet Jim for dinner in Greenwich Village. As I settled in for the ride, I noticed that my driver was wearing a Sikh turban. I asked him if he was from Punjab, an area in north India where many Sikhs live. His eyes stared at me for a long second in the rear view mirror before they softened. He was clearly unaccustomed to such a question. “Yes!” he answered with a smile.
I told him that I live in Delhi and that my husband and I know several Sikh drivers. One of them, Jaswinder, drives Jim home from work everyday. Sikh taxi drivers in Delhi are friendlier and less likely to gawk at my non-sari clad figure or to steal lascivious stares. Sikhs aren’t bound by caste or gender differences – they consider women equal to men and worthy of participating in all realms of society.
We chatted about India and life as an immigrant in New York. He told me that Americans don’t understand his culture – most people think his turban is a sign of Islam and that he is muslim. He said this misunderstanding was tough to navigate.
He wasn’t my only Indian taxi driver in New York. I had many – all Sikh. Again, I surprised one female driver with the Punjab question. I could tell right away that she was Sikh: her telling long hair and beautiful smile and gentle demeanor were all familiar to me. She moved to New York five years ago and every day she prays to a live picture of the Golden Temple broadcast on cable TV. The temple in Amritsar, an Indian city on the Pakistan border is the most sacred Sikh building and it rivals the Taj Mahal in the number of annual visitors. While talking to her, my brain leapt to a faded memory of the word “golden” and to this famous last line:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We are back in Delhi, toasted brown by the seaside sun, exhausted from six weeks on the road, and sated with the company of family and friends. Thank you Rosie for taking care of my kids while I stole a few days to myself. Mom, thanks for going out of your way to fly to us. Here’s a taste of our travels:
Fishing on the Gambler, Point Pleasant, New Jersey:
My brother, Alec… Uncle Extraordinaire:
With Grandmom, Barbara and Vlad:
Sauciness in New York:
An old friend with new puppies:
And Jimmy, going to work on his first day back: