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Guest Column: My seven yards of pride

ByCol H P Singh (retd)
Apr 14, 2024 08:26 AM IST

I feel a sense of camaraderie whenever another turban comes into sight, especially in alien lands far away from Punjab, the epicentre of ‘pagri’

“He looks so distinguished. This is what ambassadors should look like,” President Joe Biden said when he met the turbaned Indian ambassador. Hearing these words, I felt proud belonging to the “turbaned gentry”, reputed for staying in “Charh-di-Kala”, a mental state of optimism and joy.

Adorning a turban, one becomes the ambassador of their community, faith and even country when abroad. (HT File)

“Dastaar” (turban), derived from “Dast-e-Yaar”, is a Persian word which means “The hand of God”. In mediaeval India, only the royal entourage or a person of nobility or upper caste could wear a “dastaar”.

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With passage of time and social reforms, it became the headwear of a larger population in the sub-continent.

With the influence of western culture, wearing of turban, once a pinnacle of social status, was gradually relegated to special occasions, leaving largely the Sikhs maintaining this tradition deeply embedded in their religious and cultural identity.

This distinct identity has had its benefits as well as challenges for me. I feel a sense of camaraderie whenever another turban comes into sight, especially in alien lands far away from Punjab, the epicentre of “pagri”.

On numerous occasions, random unknown turbaned beings have wished me “Sat Sri Akal” with folded hands. Titles like “Sardarji”, “Surdy”, by the anglicised lot and Khalsa in military circles, have often eclipsed the relevance of my name.

Easily spotted in a multitude, a turbaned man invariably becomes a landmark in a gathering. During my training days in National Defence Academy, where all cadets with crew cut hairstyles appeared identical, singling them out was often with reference to the nearest turban in vicinity.

While on a United Nations mission, soldiers of other countries, visibly intrigued by my headgear, would request me for a selfie.

In my turban is wrapped my pride and self respect. Adorning it, I become the ambassador of my community, faith and even country when abroad. Just as the uniform of a soldier restrains him from an unbecoming conduct, similarly, my turban prevents me from indulging in acts that could bring disrepute to it.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. While a king wears his crown on ceremonial occasions, a “Singh” is crowned every morning constantly reminding him to maintain his dignity.

Unfortunately, in today’s fast paced world of globalisation, the relevance of turban is being questioned. Don’t you get tired wearing that weight on your head all the time?

Doesn’t it restrict you from activities that others enjoy and you cannot?

I have become adept in explaining why I use seven yards of cloth just to cover my head when a “sari” of same length covers an entire body. It may not be a distant reality to see the end of yet another custom of India’s glorious heritage. tradition

My son has decided to continue with this fast disappearing tradition. Sometimes the intensity of emotions overcomes the desire for fashion or convenience. Perhaps, there will always be some “turbanators” who will keep the ritual alive, invoking the spirit of “Pagri Sambahal Jutta”, a century old song associated with Bhagat Singh. Tradition after all is not the worship of ashes; it is preservation of the fire instead.


(The writer is a Mohali-based freelance contributor.)

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