Return of the turban

Written by Ravi Bajaj | Updated: Oct 26 2008, 06:08am hrs
There was a time not so long ago when a turban evoked and commanded respect almost naturally. The turban, which is a part of our history for centuries, and worn by almost all of India once, today is carried solely by the Sikhs in urban India and the Rajputs in rural India. The Sikhs made the turban popular all over the world (and believe me we do get around), creating waves first when they started migrating to England in the early 20th century. The mems in England could not resist these maharajas from India. Many of them ended up marrying the maharajas. From then on the turbaned Sikhs have travelled far and wide evoking inquisitive responses and awe! Remember Kip in The English Patient The young Sikh bomb disposal expert, with nerves of steel Well, that is what the Sikhs personified. The most vibrant contingent turn out at the Republic Day parades has always been of the Sikh regiment, with strapping sardars in their graceful turbans. In fact, I know that most women go weak kneed at the sight of a uniform and turban combination!

In India a Sikh gentleman would always be addressed as sardarji maharaj or gianni ji (learned one). No one would dare call out sardar! I know this well cause I wore a turban until I was 25 and have seen both sides of the fence! If I was involved in a road side skirmish (which I use to be quite often because of my hot head!), there was almost always the certainty of winning hands down. The minute the other guy saw a turban head walking towards him he would back down! A turban earned you a lot of brownie points!

Then came 1984, and the history of Sikhs changed forever. I dont think any one can forget those ghastly images! A lot many young Sikh boys gave up their turbans out of fear. Yes, fear a word which earlier did not figure in the Sikh dictionary was now there. Turbans began disappearing. Some out of fear and others just cause they did not look cool enough to wear. I gave up wearing one when I was about 25 as I could no longer find a reason to wear one. It did not seem practical to me. But thankfully there are still some who have a good enough reason to wear one which includes most of my family!

Whether you wish to wear a turban or not that is your choice but what irks me are the fence sitters! These are Sikhs who neither have the courage to wear the turban or give it up! They cant give it up for two reasons I suppose: stigma, family pressure or they feel they may look strange. These fence sitters can further be categorised into the following:

The pony tail variety must confess that once I did stay in this area! Here the thinking is that it is okay to be without a turban as long as one does not cut ones hair.

Sardars in the day and Yankees at night these are Sikhs who look quite normal sardars during the day time and then switch to being Yankee fans at night without even knowing it. They wear base ball hats with NY embroidered on them. You can find them in restaurants, bars and cinema halls. I wonder how they are even allowed into fine dine restaurants cause usually no head gear is allowed. The last category is of those who wear a turban but the cut of their hair and the beard is almost French. Something like Akshay Kumar in Singh is Kinng! The turban is more of a hat! I am not really sure if this movie is complimentary to the Sikhs or does it end up caricaturising them At the start of the film Akshay does look rather strapping but as the film progresses his turban becomes a hat and the beard reduces to just a stubble. In fact in one scene his beard matches the stubble on Katrinas arm pit!

The other characters are clean shaven men sporting turban look alikes. But having said all this, fact remains that Akshay Kumar does look extremely handsome and believable as a Sikh and the colours that the turbans bring to the screen are glorious! So may be wearing turban would become fashionable

The turban is more than a religious identity for the Sikhs. Its almost a way of life. Just tying a turban is almost a ritual every morning. And the turban also says a lot about your bearings. In Punjab the turbans are double the ones that we wear in Delhi. The Sikhs from Kenya have a distinct small turban much like the ones shown in Singh is Kinng. Then the namdhari Sikhs have them very different and always in white while the rest of us have them in myriad of colours and patterns.

The turban is a very essential part of the wardrobe and I used to have my turbans dyed to match my socks when I was in design school in London! The turban may or may not make a come back but I sure hope that those who continue to wear it, do it with dignity!

The writer is a fashion designer