Ravinder Singh, Ph.D., Director of the Mayo Clinic Endocrine Laboratory, in Rochester, Minnesota, shares his story about growing up in India and practicing Sikhism.
Dr. Singh was born and raised in Ludhiana, Punjab, India. Located in the northern part of India, the state of Punjab is the birthplace of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion founded in the sixteenth century by Guru Nanak.
Dr. Singh smiles as he recalls some of his favorite memories from childhood. As a young boy, he grew up in a bustling, loud, and warm household filled with his extended family members. Typical weekends included cooking meals with his parents and helping around the house. Laundry was done by manually beating the clothes, sheets, or other items before hanging them outside to dry.
“Growing up, we spoke Punjabi at home, but now I speak Punjabi, Hindu, English, and, of course, the ‘Mayo language,’” laughs Dr. Singh.
He was an active child, as most are, and played cricket, badminton, and ground hockey. In elementary school, he can remember sitting on a tarp using black ink to write on a wood plate. He also enjoyed attending gurdwaras, or Sikh temples.
Dr. Singh is a practicing Sikh and recognizable by his distinctive turban. Although it’s the fifth largest religion in the world, it is still relatively unknown. Sikhs believe in one God, the importance of service to others, sharing, and hard work. Dr. Singh has always tried to implement these principles in his life and regularly volunteers at the temple and other organizations. A communal meal after each service is important and helps bonds the community together. “In Sikh culture, the turban plays a special role in our faith,” says Dr. Singh. “Head coverings are a sign of respect before God, who is everywhere.”
Practicing in a New Country
Dr. Singh obtained his Ph.D. at Guru Nanak Dev University located in Amritsar, India, famous for the Golden Temple, the most important Sikh Gurdwara. In the 1980s, the state of Punjab experienced widespread strife and bloodshed, leading many to leave. Dr. Singh traveled to the U.S. and eventually settled in Rochester, Minnesota, drawn to Mayo Clinic. In 1998, there were only a handful of Sikh families in Rochester. “Continuing the traditions that I grew up with in America was initially challenging due to lack of a gurdwara, or temple, and an understanding of the religion,” says Dr. Singh.
Celebrating and Connecting with Others
While there are still less than twenty practicing families here in Rochester now, the Indian community has grown substantially and is culturally vibrant, affording more opportunities for connecting with others. The Sikh Society of Rochester organizes religious and cultural activities and brings close to one hundred people together at a time for services, sharing food, and telling stories.
Giving back is an important aspect of Sikhism. Dr. Singh and his family spend much of their free time volunteering in the community at homeless shelters and at the local food bank. When they aren’t volunteering or working, they also spend time connecting and celebrating with others, and Dr. Singh’s favorite holiday to celebrate is Guru Nanak’s birthday, the founder of the Sikhism religion.
“By far, my favorite ‘celebration food’ is paneer, paneer, paneer,” laughs Dr. Singh when asked about his favorite foods. Paneer is a homemade cheese found in traditional Indian recipes. “That is then followed by my other favorite foods of mango and guava.”