Sunday, 15 November 2009


In the evening, a choice: either I go to Shree Sanatan Mandir for the last of the Diwali celebrations, or to Secular Hall, to hear Resham Singh Sandhu speak on "Sikhs in British Society". This isn't an official part of the programme for National Inter Faith Week, but it's an auspicious day for it. I imagine that most members of the Council of Faiths will be going to Shree Sanatan Mandir - and there's no denying the obvious attraction of that. I opt for supporting Resham, since I reckon he'll probably be at Secular Hall on his own. This isn't an official part of the programme for National Inter Faith Week, but it's obviously a good day to have this talk. I arrive at Secular Hall a few minutes late and Resham's already speaking, to an audience of 20 or so. He gives an eloquent and wide-ranging presentation on Sikhs' relations with British society, its people and institutions, past, present and future. He has to leave promptly, before Q&A. On the way out, he pauses to ask me, "Aren't you coming to Hindu temple?" but he doesn't wait for my answer.

I decide to stay for Q&A, in case my meagre knowledge of Sikhism might help. Noel Singh is sitting beside me and responds to questions from the perspective of being a Sikh by birth, culture and upbringing but having chosen not to follow the religion himself. A Sikh mother and daughter also speak there, mostly about gurdwaras in Leicester and a little bit about Sikh funeral practices. It's all conducted in an amiable atmosphere and several of the members of the Secular Society tell their own tales about acts of kindness and generosity shown to them personally by Sikhs at one time or another. They seem to conclude that the only trouble with Sikhism is that it's a religion and not a social movement - that they'd find it perfectly acceptable if it weren't for the fact that Sikhs believe in God. I tell them that that's their problem, rather than the Sikhs'! I leave the meeting (after tea and biscuits and the customary convivial chat with their President, Allan Hayes) with a distinctly warm feeling about this evening.

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