By: Riya Mahanta and Harneet Kaur
He is a writer, playwright, podcaster, and commentator. He is the bestselling author of The Camel Merchant of Philadelphia, published by Westland Publications. His new book, Night of the Restless Spirits, a collection of short stories, has just been published by Penguin.
Q: How did your journey with Gurmat Sangeet start?
After finishing Grad School in New York, I moved to Milwaukee for work. There I met a wonderful Bhai Sahib, Bhai Nazar SIngh who taught me my first shabad. I also made friends with other young Sikhs in the sangat who introduced me to wonderful kirtaniye.
Q: What inspired you to create “The Story of The Sikhs” podcast?
The Story of the Sikhs podcast was created to help a new generation of young Sikhs in the diaspora engage with their history and heritage. As opposed to history textbooks, which take a pedantic approach, I tried to focus on storytelling in order to draw in my listeners. I also wanted to introduce young Sikhs to our rich medieval literature, written in Braj Bhasha and other languages, which is largely lost to them.
Q: What is your involvement with Khalsa school and how long have you been teaching? What is your favorite part about teaching in Khalsa School?
I teach a single Gurmat Sangeet class. I love hearing little kids, who I have never taught myself, singing shabads that were taught to me by my first Ustad, Bhai Nazar Singh Ji, which have been transmitted to them through their TAs and teachers.
Q: What projects/books are you currently working on?
The Story of the Sikhs is being published in book form by Penguin later this year. I am currently writing and recording Season 3 of the podcast, which begins with the story of Banda Singh Bahadur. I have also recently started The Gurmat Sangeet Podcast and will soon be launching the Punjabi Sufi Poetry Podcast as well.
Q: What adventures did your different books take you on and how have those adventures/journeys enriched your experience?
I had an extensive book tour in India after The Camel Merchant of Philadelphia, set in the court of Maharaja Ranjit SIngh, was published. I traveled to various cities, was interviewed by several newspapers and addressed college students at many universities. Later, I was invited to Pakistan to talk about my book at a conference in Lahore. I was able to visit Nanakana Sahib, Dera Sahib, The Lahore Fort and the shrines of Miyan Mir, Baba Bulleh Shah and Hazrat Shah Hussain. Singing the bani of Guru Nanak Sahib at Nankana Sahib was one of the highlights of the visit. The Dawn, a leading Pakistani newspaper, published this brief account of my visit.
Because of COVID, I was unable to travel to India for the launch of my recent collection of short fiction about 1984, Night of the Restless Spirits. However, I have had many digital events and have been interviewed by several journalists. Later this month I will be appearing at the Jaipur Literary Festival virtually.
Q: What advice do you have to the kids who are passionate/immersed in the arts and would want to possibly pursue it as a career?
This is a time of great opportunity. The world is more open to embracing diverse storytellers than it has ever been. Seize the moment. Follow your passion and live your dreams!
Q: Tell us something that people do not know about you.
I enjoy playing tennis. If people want to know more, here are some links:
The Story of the Sikhs Podcast
The Gurmat Sangeet Podcast
Articles about Night of the Restless Spirits
Articles about The Camel Merchant of Philadelphia