Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh
It’s been a while since I’ve written here. My apologies. I am preparing for a very important, very exciting trip. I will be spending the next 5+ months in India! I am really excited to do lots of seva, learn more Punjabi, pray at the gurdwaras and spend time with an amazing family and friends who have kindly offered to host my visit.
For my friends who have asked, I will be blogging from there and I promise lots and lots of posts, so that you can follow along with me as I spend time in the heart of the Sikh faith – the Punjab, as well as Kashmir.
On to today’s topic.
I wear a couple of different types of turban and, at home, I cover my head with a chunni or scarf. I love my turbans, all of them, because they remind me of my connection to Waheguru. They remind me, like my kara and the other Ks, to try my best every day to be a good human being and a good Sikh. My turbans are my Crowns, an expression of my identity as a Sikh woman and a gift handed down to me by our Gurus. They are very personal to me and I feel rather naked and uncomfortable without one on.
The style of turban I wear depends on a lot of things. Sometimes the style depends on what I have going on that day. If I know that I will be in court that day, I usually wear a dark blue or black turban that suits the solemnity of the courtroom and doesn’t in any way distract from the serious business of the courts. Of all of the turban styles that I wear, this (I am told by my non-Sikh friends) is the most traditional looking turban. They don’t seem to notice that I wrap these in three different styles. Yeap, three. But to my friends, colleagues and strangers – the three styles morph into only one. These turbans involves 4 pieces of material of varying lengths and sizes and are more or less complicated depending on the actual style that I wrap. Since I don’t generally have pictures taken, the picture on the left is from back in the time when I was still learning to wrap it. This is the simplest of the three styles that I use for this material. It’s imperfect but I love it anyway.
Some styles and materials are limited by my own anatomy. I have a super-square, very Germanic head. It is square people. Square. Much like the picture on the right. Not round, even a little bit. So I go with turban styles that have an inverted V shape in the centre. Otherwise, my turban tends to migrate until it sits across both eyebrows and has lots of loose spots where it refuses to lay flat. The materials that I choose must be amenable to wrapping in that V shape. The rounder shapes just don’t work on my head. Why? Because, as very basic geometry will teach you, you cannot fit a square peg into a round hole.
There are other days, when I am not working in court, when I might choose a simpler but more colourful style of turban, like the example on the left. This particular turban involves only three pieces of material – a piece of voile to protect the lengths of my kesh (hair), before it gets wrapped in a Rishi knot; a second, wider piece of voile that wraps around my head and is tied in the back like a cap, to give some grip, protect the remaining kesh and prevent the finished turban from slipping; and then, finally a viscose or cotton blend scarf with a lot of stretch to finish the turban. These turbans are smaller, simpler and easier to wrap than the more complicated ones above. This is the most non-traditional look (again, according to my non-Sikh friends). What they mean by that is really, sadly, that this sort of turban which incorporates a patterned scarf, is the least “Sikh” or “Punjabi” looking. Again, there are multiple styles that I use to wrap this – a house turban and a royal turban for example but people here seem to have no idea. For them, this is simply style number 2.
Other days, I’m in a more playful mood and my turban gets really colourful and really complicated at the same time. Or, I might be practicing different styles or experimenting with different materials to wrap my turbans. These ‘experiments’ rarely leave the house but occasionally they appear on my personal Facebook page, on Twitter, or like the one on the left, on Huffington Post’s ‘What A Sikh Looks Like’ article. The one on the right involves six separate pieces of material, is wrapped in the dastar style but with a variety of materials so that the right and left sides of the turban are very different. It also uses a silk scarf that a friend brought back for me from Thailand. Trust me, this type of silk is not easy to wrap, is very hot to wear and is not at all practical. Though I like the result, I will not be wearing this regularly.
This is where the “People Who Say the Funniest Things” part of this post comes in… regular readers will remember Kate, who tried her best to ‘normalize’ my turban to fit her views of race and culture thus thrusting me into a bizarre twilight zone of racism. If you are not familiar with Kate, you can read all about her here http://bornasikh.blogspot.ca/2014/05/dear-kate-enough-with-brooch-how-about.html and here http://bornasikh.blogspot.ca/2014/05/i-dont-want-to-look-like-princess-grace.html. I have learned that this ‘normalizing’ behaviour is not exclusive to Kate and people have no idea how racist it really is.
Let’s examine some of the weird, funny, odd but well-meaning things that people say:
“Wow, you are really learning to tie your turban well.”
I was in Court yesterday when one of the lovely women who works there said that to me. Can you guess, without more context, which turban I was wearing when she said it? Most people will have guessed that I was wearing the more colourful, patterned turban. In fact, that is right. I was wearing the turban that you see above, in the second picture.
I don’t normally wear this style in court, as I said, but yesterday I was very ill and decided to go with the simpler to wrap turban despite the fact that this one is more colourful than I would normally wear for work. This means that the people who work in the courthouse don’t normally see this style.
Can you also guess that the person who said it was white? What was she really saying? “I like the turban that you are wearing today. I’m more familiar with the pattern and colour, so it is more appealing to me.” She could not have actually meant that, of all my turbans, this one was wrapped best. I was sick, it was too loose and tended to slide upward, and was just a bit crooked yesterday. It was not as well done as usual by any means.
Well-meaning, she meant to normalize my turban into something more familiar to her, rather than to give me a compliment on my skill.
“I like that, it is ‘almost’ colourful and it’s ‘matchy'”
Almost colourful? Can anything be almost colourful? Something is either colourful or it is not, I think. Maybe it’s just the lawyer in me, seeking precision in language but first, something is colourful or it is not, and only then if it is colourful, there are a variety of gradations that you can then use to describe colourful. Anyhow… off the tangent and back to the topic.
Can you guess which turban I was wearing when this well-meaning gem was thrown out there? Some of you might guess that I was wearing one of the more colourful, simpler turbans or, as my non-Sikh friends would say, “style number 2”. Nope. I was wearing one of the simply coloured but complicated, more traditional styled turbans, a dumalla. The only difference between the turban I was wearing that day and the blue and black turbans that I wear for court is that this one used a dark purple (almost black) material.
Matchy, I assume, was used because the shirt I was wearing was also purple but a very bright purple. I find it amusing however, that this woman (who works in my office) doesn’t comment on how well my clothes match when I am wearing a black suit and a black turban.
Again, this was a well-meaning comment, meant to give me a compliment on my attire. The woman who said it is one of the nicest human beings I have ever met. Is this a ‘normalizing’ comment? No, it’s just funny and sweet and a little weird. And since it could not have been said if I weren’t wearing a turban, it fits in this post.
“Why is that ragtop still speaking?”
This one is more complicated so I’ll provide some comments first. The man who said this was very, very ill with schizoprenia. He was having a severe episode and was in court as a result of some behaviour that he had while very ill. I have nothing but sympathy for this fellow, who is genuinely kind, shy and sweet when he is well. He cannot be faulted for his illness. I am not condemning him in any way. But the comment was said and in context, it fits this part of the post. Why? Because it is funny.
First, get your slurs right people. A ragtop is a convertible vehicle, like the one on the right. This little Volkswagen Beetle convertible is a ragtop. Even though my skin is white, like this little VW Bettle, I am not a ragtop. The correct slur, which should never, ever be used against another human being, is rag head or towel head. The slurs rag head and towel head are applied by ignorant, hateful people to all people who wear some form of turban on their head – including Sikhs, Muslims and the variety of others who wear them. Not all people who wear turbans are Sikh. They are also applied to people who wear other head coverings. Does it need to be said? Know what slurs are and don’t say them. Slurs of any kind, used against any people, are wrong.
Second, everyone else in the Courtroom that day appeared very concerned and stared at me, awaiting a reaction. Some gave him a look of disgust. I appreciate the support people. I really do, but there is no need for concern. His illness means I won’t hold him responsible for the slur (in fact, once he became better, he apologized for having said it and we had a pleasant conversation where he asked considerate questions about my turban). Also, I can take care of myself and I am really not that easy to offend. Slurs say way more about the people who sling them that their targets. So there really is no need for me to let go of chardi kala and respond in an emotional way.
If you like it, then you should have put a broach on it
Oh Kate… every time I think of Kate now, that parody of Beyonce runs through my head. The parody verse amuses me very, very much.
Another tangent but now it is on to a more concerning comment:
On Facebook from a random, ignorant stranger. I had posted a picture of the pink, blue and black turban above on Facebook and I did not notice that the post’s privacy setting was set to public. (The picture and it’s comments have since been set to private).
A friend commented on the picture with “Beauty.” This friend, who I have known and loved since I was only six years old and she welcomed me with her big, open heart halfway through the grade one year, has a tendency to make really supportive, sugar-sweet comments on my pictures. She is amazing that way and is a truly beautiful person inside and out.
However, once she commented on the picture all of her Facebook friends could see it on their walls. And that is when a man, who will remain nameless, posted “wtf???” in response.
WTF??? What does that mean? Not the literal translation of WTF (I know what that means), but what did he actually mean by the comment? Here’s my translation, I hope you enjoy it:
“WTF is that white chick doing wearing that thing on her head? Only brown people do that and I’m an ignorant, racist fool in case that wasn’t already obvious. Also, I’m just a little bit impotent.”
He probably wasn’t thinking as extremely as that but WTF in this case is the equivalent of “I’m not a racist but…” Nothing good is going to happen from there and hate is hate. Hate is wrong period and not subject to gradation.
I guess the point in this whole post is that there are some comments that are just out right hateful and ignorant. Those, I think, should be addressed and shut down directly. They should not just be tolerated because those ideas, without challenge, go on to infect other people.
Then there are the well-meaning, normalizing type of comment that, though not hateful, still need to be addressed as part of educating the world about ourselves, about building tolerance and acceptance and breaking down the barriers that stand between us. My crowns do not need to be normalized. They are perfectly normal all ready. Sikhs and our turbans are a normal and still unique part of the human mosaic.
When we come to the day when we no longer hear the hateful comments, we have come a very long way. However, when we come to day day when we no longer hear the normalizing comments, we will have come so very much further.
Peace and love all.