Being a turbaned Sikh one has to face some pleasant and some not so pleasant experiences in life due to one's distinct identity.
In 1984, I had gone to Lahore to appear in the United States entrance examination for foreign medical graduates (FMGEMS) along with a few of my friends. Though we were a mix of Hindus and Sikhs but I was the only one wearing a turban. Several hundred doctors from India had gone there as it was the nearest centre available. However, our group was easily identified as having come from Punjab because of my turban.
There was a lot of interest among Pakistanis about Indian Punjab in those days because of the prevalent situation. Everybody tried to stop us and ask us about the conditions back home. At times, we felt like VIPs. We were not charged in buses and restaurants. However, some friends were envious as I was getting more attention. One of them borrowed my turban for a day so that he could feel important too!
Whenever I travel abroad, I am used to being stared at for my headgear. People come hesitantly close and sometimes even ask a few questions about the turban.
Earlier this year, I was invited to attend a United Nations session on the status of women. I was to represent India. Representatives from more than 200 countries had come there. All of them were dressed in their national dresses. Attires of African delegates were interesting but I was the only one wearing a turban. Again, I became the centre of attraction.
A group of students from Mexico was on a trip to New York. They were going around the UN headquarters. On seeing me, they asked me if they could get a photograph clicked with me.
During a lunch hosted by UNICEF, a gentleman approached me. He said that he was a Sikh, originally from Punjab and now settled in the US. He was representing some American social organisations. He was pleased to see another Sikh at such an international gathering. Minutes later, a smart girl in western clothes greeted me. She introduced herself as Anantpreet Kaur and said she had done her graduation in India. She was posted at World Bank at that time. I felt proud to see fellow Sikhs occupying prestigious positions.
It was my first trip to the US. Before I left, friends had warned me that I would be on the watchlist of the US home department because of my identity and hence I may have to face some unpleasant situations. Instead, I gathered only respect and adulation because of my identity.
At San Fransisco airport, the security officer gently asked me if he could touch my turban for a check. He did so with so much respect that I was overwhelmed.
I admit I was a little apprehensive about directions to reach places, the food I would get or the mode of transport so I emailed these queries to the hotel where I was booked. I got a detailed reply sent by one Jatin. I thought this name sounded Indian. So when I reached the reception, I asked for Jatin. A youth stepped forward and said, "Sir, I am Jatinder Singh from Ludhiana, Jatin in short. What can I do for you?"
Jatin guided me through the stay. He gave me a map of places I had to visit and the trains I needed to take. With his help, I had a trouble-free stay.
I met only two turbaned Sikhs during my week-long stay in New York. One was a fellow traveller on a train. He was an engineer. The other one was a security officer at the United Nations. In his dress and white turban, he stood out among his colleagues.
My turban also gave me a distinct identity and made me stand out.