By: Jesse Ellison
AMRITSAR, INDIA — Here, in the spiritual center of the Sikh faith, one man stands out. He appears to be a walking contradiction: he is both taller and fairer, but also much more visibly "Sikh" than almost everyone around him, even the Punjabis who have practiced the faith for generations. He is Sada Sat Simran Singh Khalsa and he is over six feet tall, with pale skin, a towering turban, ruddy beard, and floor-sweeping blue robes. As he walks the perimeter of the Golden Temple, he attracts stares from Punjabis and Westerners alike—all trying to classify him, all coming up short. India is rife with Westerners who adopt an Eastern philosophy and begin dressing and practicing like their Indian counterparts, but few are like Khalsa.
He was born and raised outside of Washington D.C, in a decidedly American community, but also in the Sikh tradition, albeit the particularly American variety of the Indian faith. At age eight, he was sent to Miri Piri Academy to study and now, on a warm spring evening some 18 years later, Khalsa can be found in the school’s music room, giving lessons to a group of young devotees.
At the Miri Piri Academy in Chhertha Sahib, outside Amritsar, India, the students faces look American, they speak in American English, and many of them have all the trappings of American youth: iPods, cell phones and reggaeton ringtones, but nobody could mistake these kids for the average American student. Neither could they be mistaken for the Indians among whom they live, pray and serve. Their white turbans are tied more elaborately, their robes are longer and their symbolic swords, kirpans, are bigger and less, well, symbolic.