December 6, 2020

Darbar

(c) J. Singh, 2016

The early morning dawn brought with it a pinkish hue as the darkness slowly cleared from the skies, giving way to the first wisps of daylight. The cool, crisp morning air was fresh and clean. It was quiet except for the occasional chirping of a few birds. It was several degrees cooler here than on Earth, but that was always the case, since this world was so much farther away from the Sun.

As was their custom, the Sikhs held a diwan in the presence of their great Guru, the Guru Granth Sahib. They all sat around the Guru and sang compositions from the Guru Granth Sahib, along with musical accompaniment. The musicians were delivering their performance with all the skill and talent they could muster, while those assembled sat with eyes closed and radiant smiles on their faces, their souls transported to the heavenly realms listening to the divine compositions.

As dawn broke, more sangat arrived, and after paying obeisance to the Guru by performing matha tek, they would take their seat among those already gathered. There was a small number of Sikhs who had made the arduous journey across the vast emptiness of space to reach this planet. The first visitors had arrived more than a decade earlier, and had begun the long process of terraforming so that the planet would be able to support human life. They planted trees and vegetation so that the atmosphere would become oxygen rich. They attempted to melt the frozen ice caps, so that there would be fresh water on the surface. They focused on the basic requirements - air and water. Once these were there, they knew that the rest — plant life and animal life — would naturally follow.

The first visitors to the planet saw only a desolate place with no signs of life. Later, small colonies began to be established, and heavy machinery was successfully transported to the planet. Then construction began in earnest. Dwellings were fabricated. Housing for the colonists. Small towns began forming. And as the humans started to adjust and adapt to life on this alien world, they began to thrive. What was once a small colony of engineers and scientists evolved into a community of artists, communicators, political leaders and strategists. Very soon, there were two towns, joined by a road which was a few miles long. The towns grew into cities. It wasn’t long before the small community of humans were celebrating the birth of the first “native” human son of the new land, the first child to be born on this soil.

This planet was the gateway to the galaxy. It put the humans on the threshold to launching into and exploring the rest of the vast Universe. They were finally growing up as a species.

As their technology advanced, so did their ability to manipulate the climate and atmospheric conditions on the planet. It was a much smaller planet than their native Earth, and that made it easier for the humans to colonize. They worked hard and relentlessly and eventually, gradually, little green oases began popping up here and there. These were garden paradises for the humans, full of lush green vegetation, streams of fresh clean water, and a local favorite — flowers. These were the first successful open-air gardens outside of the hydroponics pods or the carefully controlled greenhouses. And people thronged to them in droves. It reminded them of their home planet, and it gave them immense joy to spend a few hours in this environment, to forget that they were on a different planet. However, one look up at the pink sky was reminder enough of where they were.

As the atmosphere transformed, plant life slowly spread across the planet. And that brought with it insects and animal life. Most were intentionally introduced by the human settlers as part of a carefully calculated plan to propagate life on the planet and develop an ecosystem. But some of the animal species that sprang up were unique to the planet. A small rat with razor-sharp teeth and little red horns, for example, which was quite the surprise to the scientists when they discovered it. They surmised that mutations caused the rats to adapt and conform to the local environment. Still, some of them were more than a little concerned. If this was happening to the animal life, what might happen to human life? Their concerns were abated, however, after they monitored the birth of several babies and could not detect any signs of mutation.

And so the human population grew. More settlers arrived from Earth in large ships. There was now an immigration process in place. Various groups that opposed the constant influx of new immigrants began voicing their concerns. Their claim was that the already frail infrastructure was being strained. Instead of more settlers, they argued, the Earth government should be sending more supplies and equipment. But the opposing view argued that the local government should invest in developing factories and skilled labor to manufacture what was needed locally. So that they could become truly self-sufficient. And in order to do that, they needed labor. And that was what the immigrants provided.

Political parties began forming. Local governance was established. News and entertainment now ruled the local communication networks. A military was created and weapons manufacturing began. Many people from the environmentalist party began referring to this planet as “Earth 2.0” as a sort of dire warning that mankind was on the path to repeating the same mistakes they made on their home planet Earth.  But it had the unintended effect of catching on, and soon everyone in the political arena began using the term, so much so that it became the new nickname for the planet.

Religion was prominent among the inhabitants of Earth 2.0. The traditional, old-school religions like Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism had strong followings. And there were some new religions that were unique to Earth 2.0, like Redism, that were growing in popularity. Redism had it’s origins from the times of the earliest human visitors to the planet. At it’s foundation, it told an apocryphal story of a man wandering into the desolate wilderness without his space suit or oxygen, and eventually returning unscathed to the settlement after thirty days. Upon his return, this man was enlightened with the secrets of the Universe and came to be known as the “deliverer”. Students of Redism had an extensive library of literature, and were very eager to spread their message of hope and deliverance. As such, they sought out converts actively, and could be easily recognized from their red robes.

The small group of Sikhs who had settled on Earth 2.0 could also be recognized by their distinctive turbans and long beards. They mainly held jobs in security and farming, although many were also scientists and engineers. They largely remained out of the political arena. The ones who took on farming looked at it as a special and welcome challenge. “A lot of us were traditionally farmers, you know,” one Sikh explained in a local TV interview, “And when we came here, they told us, the soil is useless, there’s no nutrition in it, it won’t sustain any plant life, it’s all frozen. And so, we took it on as a special challenge. My family is from Punjab, and you see, we are farmers, so we said to them, we’ll make something grow here. Because we can make anything grow.” The interview concluded with proclamations of their success and his smiling face.

In addition to their farming prowess, the Sikhs brought their religious traditions with them. They stubbornly refused to let go of their religious practices. With their own hands, they constructed a Gurudwara and began holding religious services there. They opened their doors to everyone, and had many visitors, especially since they had a kitchen that was always open and served fresh, hot food to every visitor, completely free of charge. They called it langar, and it was open to all regardless of their belief or social standing.

Redists, among other groups, would frequent the Gurudwara, saying that they liked the teachings and that it agreed a lot with their own philosophy.

And so every morning, before dawn, the Sikhs would gather and sing the compositions from their Guru Granth Sahib. And as word spread, more and more people began attending their religious services.

On this morning, special visitors made a rare appearance among the human colonies. They had been coming to the morning diwans, very curious at first, and then very drawn to the teachings of the Guru. The visitors walked in one by one, their tall forms distinctive and unique. With their long, spindly legs, one step was the equivalent of four steps for a human. Their green and brown skin glistened with moisture, and their lean, lithe forms moved with effortless efficiency, as if they were gliding on air. As they blinked, their eyes did not close due to their transparent eyelids. Their presence amongst the human colonists usually elicited feelings of instant caution and wariness. These were the native, indigenous lifeforms. They were sentient, extremely intelligent, and ruthless when challenged. They were rarely seen in the human colonies, showing up when they did for trade and commerce and diplomatic relations. But they had become a regular feature at the Sikh gatherings. And when they walked in, covered in their silk-like clothing, nobody in the sangat so much as batted an eye. They performed matha tek, kneeling and bowing their heads before the Guru, and then taking a seat among the sangat, they listened with rapt attention to the musical compositions as they were being sung.

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