I lived for ten years in RK Puram in South Delhi. A Sikh family lived in the house upstairs. When I occasionally went to their house, I was fascinated by the row of turbans in various colours. He was rather particular to match his turban with his clothes. And thus it was, that in a row were placed turbans of red, blue, yellow and assorted colours. Sort of like a rainbow of turbans.
Their Sunday ritual was a delight. It was the day when Sardarji washed his hair. (I am sure he washed his hair more frequently, but being a school going kid I missed the other instances.) The washing of his long, black and thick hair seemed to be the focal point of the day. Looking sleepy and delighted, he would stand over the balcony with his tresses to dry in the sun. Not for too long though, there’s a rule somewhere that says you shouldn’t appear in public without tying up your hair. But even better was the washing of the turban. The cloth used to tie the turban is rather long. and it was folded in triple to dry on the clothesline. But not before husband and wife went to the road and slapped the water out of the turban to rid of extra water. Oh, and nothing is cuter than little Sikh boys, with their hair tied into cute little buns on top of their head. As a child, I had frequent tonsures (what better way to celebrate summer vacations), and was sometimes mildly jealous of the little boy upstairs.
Not to mention the sonorous Gurbani. Old men with with white flowy hair reciting the Granth Sahib. I’ve never come across a community more willing to laugh at themselves. If anyone tells a good Sardar joke, it is a Sardar himself. In recent years though, it’s harder to spot Sikh men with turbans in Delhi.
But, across Punjab, and more so in the countryside, young members of the community are giving up the most visible religious symbol of Sikh identity—long hair and the turban. The trend, which has been growing in the last four to five years, has reached “epidemic” proportions and now has the Sikh religious leadership worried. So much so that desperate campaigns have been launched to revive the use of the turban.
When Outlook began examining this trend, Sikh organisations engaged in saving the turban estimated that about 80 per cent of the Sikh youth in rural Punjab have cut their hair and discarded their headgear. An exaggeration, one thought. But president of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), the highest decision-making body for the Sikhs, Avtar Singh Makkar, confirms this trend.
I think I spot more Sikh gentlemen here than I do in Delhi or Bombay these days. I was trying to hunt for some essays on Sikhism, Sikh identity and the contemporary world or Diaspora. Get references to books, but nothing substantial online. Though there seem to be plenty of sites devoted to discussing Sikh philosophy, theology etc. Must dig some more.