On a rainy March morning in Amritsar, I made my way into Harmandar Sahib.
For the first time, I watched a group of people go through a familiar morning routine - the pre-dawn inaugural recitation of Guru Granth Sahib, and the singing of Asa di Vaar ("The Psalm of Hope").
Surrounded by lights twinkling on the water, I stood to one side, closed my eyes, folded my hands, and silently repeated "Waheguru, Waheguru" until I heard the clarion call of "Bole So Nihaal ..."
Lost in my thoughts, I nearly forgot that I hadn't come alone. While I was immersed in the sheer joy of being at our "holiest of holies", fifteen of my classmates from Columbia's School of Journalism stood by, silently bearing witness to the goings-on.
A group of them wove through the throng of believers surrounding the Guru Granth Sahib, their cameras clicking. As we made our way into the inner sanctum, I sat down while they marveled at the intricate artwork on the walls and the crowded balconies.
When it was all over, we walked outside in our bare feet, cold and wet. Some of the students walked off to find their shoes. But Karla, a slim girl with papery-white skin, spotted someone holding a cup of tea. Shivering, she grabbed a few rupees from her bag and set off to buy some for herself. She wasn't prepared, though, to have it handed to her for free, along with a seemingly bottomless bowl of pilaf rice.
Though I'd explained the concept of parshad to them in preparation for our trip to Amritsar, none of my classmates, it seemed, really believed it. That we could eat entire meals for free, and that they would be handed to us with so much genuine love and devotion, was a completely foreign concept to these students of religion.