Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: A Sikh’s Journey From Wearing a Turban to Disowning One
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The article below is written by resident writer, Raund Anand. Raund shares about the existence of Sikh jokes and why these jokes made him take of his hair and culture.
Every time I bother myself with the gimmick of making new friends, I’ll have to go through the painstaking task of explaining my name and my culture. I’ve conducted an interview with myself (yes, you can do that) in aim to bury this ridiculously annoying hatchet for once and for all.
Question: How’s it going? You ready? Answer: It’s going great, my friend, hit me with your best shot.
Question: So, you’re a Sikh, and got rid of your turban fairly recently? Answer: Indeed, about 4 years ago. 19 years worth of uncut hair, reaching my knees. And I’m 184cm tall. 185 on a good day.
Question: Why’d you do it? Answer: Discrimination. Everywhere. From neighbours in my block’s elevators, to random strangers on the street. I struggled to keep a job as well; I signed up as a part-time waiter at [Undisclosed] Hotel, and I was let go 2 minutes after the start of my first shift. They casually blamed it on their dress code. I had a stint at [Undisclosed] Hotel too when I was laughed at by their managers.
Question: You want to share the other ‘jokes’ you’ve heard? Answer: Rapunzel was my nickname in secondary school, and to be fair, I still think that was clever and original. Others would be “Singh what colour?” (in Hokkien), “Char Siew Pau” and the ever eloquent “Babu Singh”.
Question: How did all of that affect you mentally? Answer: I was dead inside, to be honest. I’d constantly be staring at the ground, where I’d find all of my self-esteem, as I trudge around the streets trying to avoid any form of visual contact with people. I see people laughing and I automatically thought they were laughing at me. Friends and family would ask me how I was doing and I’d reply solemnly, “I’m fine,” lying straight through my teeth.
Question: That’s changed, obviously. How much? Answer: People ask me how I’m doing and I’m honest now, for a change. And loud. “I’m fantastic, how are YOU!” My chest is out and my chin is up and I’m flashing my best smile when I’m out and about.
Question: And how’s it changed for you job-wise? Answer: Where I’d struggle making it 5 minutes as a waiter without bursting into tears, I have now interviewed some of the biggest personalities in the world. OneRepublic, Boyce Avenue, several bands from Laneway Festival, local celebrities… I could continue bragging.
Question: Do you even like OneRepublic? Answer: No.
Question: Is it just in Singapore or did you face fierce discrimination elsewhere around the globe? Answer: See, there’s idiocy, there’s bigotry,and then there’s racism. You might find the feintest of links between the three but they’re three different things altogether. Idiocy would be thinking the Sikhs are the same as the people responsible for September 11 just because we wear turbans. Bigotry would mean to be brought up or moulded into a culture thinking people wearing turbans are inferior or evil. Racism, however, is the strong belief that Sikhs are supremely inferior and you do all you can to point it out to them; be it hurling insults or not employing them.
Question: Your point is? Answer: It’s unfair to compare Singapore to other pindrops on the world map. I couldn’t speak for the Americans or Europeans; that is not my home. Singapore is now my home and I was reminded everyday that I was scum in my own backyard. Regardless of what the foreigners thought when I was in their countries, they made it a point NOT to publicly abuse me racially, because it’s actually a crime over there.
Question: Is it not a crime here in Singapore to racially abuse someone? Answer: I will never know. I’ve filed many police reports against my classmates and people of the general public without action being taken. What was that joke? The difference between a pizza delivery boy and a policeman? The pizza delivery boy will be punished if he doesn’t perform his job right.
Question: Any regrets, 4 years on? Answer: I thought I did for a while, because my relatives who are situated all around the world, and some of them are still devoted Sikhs with full beards and turbans, still aren’t aware that I’ve cut my hair. It’s almost taboo to have your hair cut as a Sikh, so I’ve been avoiding them for all these years. But I’ve come so far; I’m alive again, I’m brimming with confidence, so much so that I’d almost call it arrogance, I have a job worth bragging about, and I’m good at it! Worthy trade for me. No regrets, not anymore.