On Monday I was doing one of my favorite gigs of the year. An address to Melbourne High’s Political Interest Group. As usual the boys and I had lunch before hand and I met Aman, who told me the story about losing the turnban and cutting his hair when he was 15. He’s 17 now. I suggested he write the story and offered to publish it. In less than 24 hours he had. It’s a beautiful story, he’s an extraordinary boy and a gifted writer and I am honoured to host it here on my site. Enjoy! Dev x
I was born a Sikh, which means technically I’m not meant to cut my hair, and, as a male, I should have my hair tied in a bun on top of my head, covered with a turban. Growing up wearing a turban, looking different to everyone, it wasn’t easy. When you look different, you are always remembered, if not by name than by your image. You can’t just blend in with society; you are always being watched and judged by “normal” people. Everything you do is noticed and analysed more than the person next to you. For someone who hasn’t experienced it, it’s very difficult to explain the feeling of everyone’s eyes on you when you walk through a shopping centre. I think that Australia is an incredibly accepting society; I don’t really remember a time when I was actually abused directly because I looked different. The effect was far more subtle, but still very much there. It could be that, while walking in a shopping centre, someone avoids walking directly towards you, clutches their handbag a little tighter, takes a second and even third look, before continuing on. I don’t blame people for this; whenever anyone sees something new or different, we change our behaviours. I am as guilty as anyone is of fearing the different and unfamiliar.
The tradition of keeping hair dates back to 1699, but no amount of googling gave me a definitive reason as to why it was so important. The two most common reasons I came across were, firstly, it was to stand out against the Muslims invading India at the time, to make a statement of boldness. Secondly, because ‘God’ gave us our body in the way we need it, and therefore it should not be altered.
With both these reasons, I had serious concerns. With the statement of boldness, the obvious counter argument is that, well 300 odd years on, it’s kind of irrelevant. The second is slightly more complex, however in a world of 7 billion people, I highly doubt that only the 15 million or so hair-keeping Sikhs are the only ones that have got it right, especially considering how new Sikhism is relative to other religions (I doubt everyone went to hell before Sikhism…) But what stood out most to me was that I couldn’t find an argument that actually explains how, by keeping my hair, I was becoming a better person, contributing more to the world or in any way benefitting. I highly doubt that, if there is a ‘God’, he would care whether a person cuts their hair or not. In the grand scheme of things, surely he would have bigger issues to worry about?
My mum always regretted deciding not to cut my hair and my younger brother’s hair as children, she didn’t want us to miss out on any opportunities or feel held back in any way because of our hair. Both my parents were raised in England during the 60’s and 70s, when racism there was still quite prevalent, and so they experienced firsthand what growing up as “different” is like. She told us that if we wanted to cut our hair, then we could do it, and any social issues it caused we would go through together, as a family. My brother decided to do so about 6 months before I did. He was a lot more uncomfortable I think, with wearing a turban than I was. To be completely honest, until he got his hair cut, the idea that I would do the same was simply that, an idea. I had never actually considered it a reality. But seeing how much freedom it gave him, how he changed as a person, I realised that I needed to do the same.
It was about 2 ½ years ago that I decided to cut my hair and stop wearing a turban. They say that you can feel when you are being watched; the day that stopped for me, I actually felt a difference. I still remember walking through my local shopping centre later that day, and I could actually notice the difference in behaviour that people showed toward me; although subtle, the change was very clear. No one took a second glance or avoided walking towards me, for the first time I was just another person. It was quite easily the best feeling I’ve ever had. These days I walk around, just another teenage boy, blending into society. I find it interesting that so many spend their lives trying to stand out in some way, and yet I simply wanted to blend in. They do say the grass is always greener on the other side.
At this point, I simply have to thank my parents for how amazing they were when dealing with this issue. As different as wearing a turban made me in society in general, it made me completely normal in our community. Allowing us to make such a decision but my parents in the path of possible abuse and disconnection from our own people, and they were willing to take that risk for us. Thankfully, the community backlash was far less than I expected, and I think that is a sign of how times are changing.
2 years down the track – now the novelty has worn off – I feel I can fairly reflect on my decision. There is no doubting that being raised wearing a turban had its benefits. It taught me to be confident within myself, because when you are always being watched and judged, you have to be. With that confidence came the ability to simply be me and not care what anyone else thought. I also think that being so recognisable gives you a certain amount of power. People are always watching you, therefore when you say or do something, they know about it. Sometimes this can be a very useful tool as it gives you more of an audience than the average person, and people are likely to remember you and what you said because you looked different.
But when it comes down to it, I think that the benefits of life without a turban far outweigh any benefits that wearing a turban may have brought. If I could go back in time, I would make the same choice without a doubt.
At the end of the day, I don’t really know if I believe in ‘God’, but I think that if there is a ‘God’ then religion can corrupt his true message and purpose. I like to think that if we aim to live a life of kindness, love and generosity, and try to make the world a better place for having had us in it, then if I’m wrong about everything ’God’ might forgive me for something like cutting my hair.
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