Monday, April 14, 2008

There IS Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, when Western hippies poured into India in search of holiness and hash (probably in the reverse order of importance), Sikh temples in popular areas were obliged to close their doors to freeloaders who took advantage of the Sikh tradition of hospitality. The Sikhs believe there should always be sleeping space in the temple — albeit on the floor — and free (vegetarian) food for anyone who asks.

Today, I once again enjoyed the Sikh tradition of the free lunch or langgar at Kota Kinabalu’s charming and architecturally idiosyncratic temple. The occasion was Vesahki, the celebration of the founder of Sikhism’s birthday, with special prayers followed by the usual communal lunch.

I had been invited by my good friend Balvinder, who married her English boyfriend at the temple 5 months ago; her family took their turn to host the meal, and in the usual manner, women from the community got together early this morning to make giant pots of dal, mixed vegies, chapati, Basmati rice, salad and rice pudding (yes, Mary Jane, but it was flavoured with cardamom).

As is traditional, men waited on the tables — regardless of their wealth or status. How democratic! It almost persuades one that a religion of such egalitarian ideals is worth joining. However, when it came to washing up afterwards, it was a women’s-only affair. Ah well, I guess nothing’s perfect!

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