A Gift of a Lifetime

As a kid I used to take great pleasure and enthusiasm in doing sewa during Gurpurabs. The langar i.e the community meal  is cooked by sangat (members of congregation) through sewa or voluntary service at a place allocated in each gurdwara on the Gurpurab day. Right from pre-cooking to post serving the langar, sewa is done delightfully and devoutly by people of all age groups.

I started doing sewa at the age of ten. It involved cutting and peeling of vegetables, peeling pea-pods, cutting salad an evening before the Gurpurab day, and on the day of Gurupurab, the women folk could be seen fervently kneading the dough, making the dough balls, flattening the bread and cooking it on large hot iron pans by turning the sides and applying desi ghee on one side of the chapatis. As they did so, their lips constantly moved in prayer and they devotedly repeated the refrain of the hymns being sung by the Kirtankars in the darbar hall or  chanted  Satnam Waheguru.

All the young girls like me competed for space in between the squatting women.

The moment I took a portion of the dough to roll into a ball, I was checked by a middle aged lady, “Hey girl, watch out. This is too small for rolling the chapati. Take some more dough otherwise the parshada (chapati) will be gone in  just two morsels.”

Then I attempted to take a bigger portion this time, and pat came the reaction “You are too young for sewa. See this is too big a dough ball since the parshada (chapati) rolled out of this would be fit to be given to an oxen.”

I felt so embarrassed and disheartened but very soon the same lady while softening the tone taught me through demonstration the exact amount of the dough to be taken and the technique of rolling it between palms that would make an appropriate ball. Later with kind looks in her eyes, she supervised my efforts.

After 2-3 failed attempts, I was finally familiar with the required proportions and skill. She patted me lovingly on my head, “You are quick at learning. You would do the rest of the steps also easily.” Then she taught me how to roll the ball and make a uniformly thin round chapatti without letting it stick by dusting it with flour often.  I gained perfection in the thinness but the roundness of bread has since been a struggle for me, as the chapatis I make are only close to being round.

That’s how and that’s where I learnt the art of making and baking chapatis. The enthusiasm and love for sewa grew so deep in me  that I remained unmindful  of the  6-7 hours that went by contributing my small bit in the langar preparation. The mixed fragrance of the cooking area – the boiling Kaali daal in huge cauldrons, the aroma of the baking parshadas, the cut salad and the soul soothing embalming Gurbani recital in the backdrop, all are indelibly marked in my memory and fill me with not only heart-warming nostalgia but a feeling of purity, gratitude and devotion towards the altruistic tradition of langar and the instinct of sewa with simran  (remembering God with gratitude) that is instilled among children from a young age through inclusion and encouragement by the older members in the sangat, which proves to be an invaluable gift of a lifetime for the young ones.

Harpreet Kaur Baweja