It was a little chilly but it was a beautiful day. For the most part, the sun was shining. Last Sunday, tens of thousands of members of the GTA’s Sikh community gathered in Nathan Phillip’s Square. A few outsiders like me joined them. I was delighted. When I first began attending the Khalsa Day festival about six years ago, one friend and I seemed to be the only non-Sikhs at the event. We were still only a couple of dozen but I hope our increasing numbers indicate a trend as more and more of us discover Sikh hospitality.
Following my own advice, I arrived early at 1pm – the time the parade was supposed to leave the CNE, bound for city hall. Even then, line-ups for food had already started at some of the booths. And there were a lot of people at the booths handing out free vegetarian food, rice, chapati pancakes, pakoras, burfi, chick peas, pink or blue cotton candy, rice pudding, and the best masala tea I’ve ever had. I’ve drunk a lot of masala tea, especially during my four years in India. I thought the food here was wonderful.
As usual, I spent most of my time, when I wasn’t eating, on the ramp leading up to our Council Chamber. It was an ideal place for taking pictures, for absorbing the colours, the different costumes and turbans – the many sub-cultures of Toronto. I loved the pride of the SimplySikh.ca tee-shirts that said: “Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out?” It was fun watching people. A little girl was holding her mother’s sari, trying not to lose her in the crowd.
Several volunteers, including this grey-bearded patriarch, were holding garbage bags for the used styrofoam plates. As always, I was amazed at how organized the Sikhs were. The square was continually trash-free. The whole operation in fact was run by efficient volunteers!
People lined up shoeless to worship, while many sat on a mat listening to the history of the Khalsa and the singing of prayers.
The balcony was actually a good place to chat with the people also standing there. Some were shy, but they were all friendly. They answered my many questions about Sikh customs cheerfully. Do they celebrate Mother’s Day? Christmas?
They pointed to Mayor Ford in the crowd below. Ford was responding to many requests to include him in their pictures. Following Sikh custom, he had his head covered.
Ford later gave greetings from the platform, but no one clapped when he finished. I don’t remember anyone clapping during the event, not even for the Punjabi anthem or the Canadian anthem. The crowd by then had been joined by thousands of people from the parade.
They were all busy eating, or chatting in family groups, fussing over the newest babies, reunions with friends. Children were running back and forth through the crowd. People were taking pictures of themselves in the square and of the square. It was more of a family picnic atmosphere, though most of the people were standing or walking while eating. Some families had even brought rugs to sit on. A group of children was playing the harmonium and singing on stage.
It’s been like this for all the years I’ve attended – massive crowds and a happy atmosphere much like Carabana, the Iranian Nowruz at Mel Lastman Square, and the wonderful Greek parade last month on the Danforth–people celebrating and sharing their unique cultures with the rest of us.
I’ve never been to the Khalsa day parade in Mississauga. It’s this coming Sunday. If you go, please let us hear about a good place to see it. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Keep up with us at www.twitter.com/torontomulticul. And I hope you can join us at Khalsa next year too.