Like many young Sikhs, he found the turban a bother. It got in the way when he took judo classes. Washing his long hair was time-consuming, as was the morning ritual of winding seven yards of cloth around his head. It was hot and uncomfortable.
“In the end,” he said, “it was a question of fashion. I felt smarter without it.”
Sikh spiritual leaders express dismay at the rapidity with which a new generation of young men are trimming their hair and abandoning the turban, the most conspicuous emblem of the Sikh faith. While there are no hard data, Jaswinder Singh, a lawyer and leader of a “turban pride” movement, estimates that half of India’s Sikh men now forgo the turban, compared with just 10 percent a couple of decades ago.
“The problem is very severe,” he said from the basement headquarters of his organization, Akaal Purkh Ki Fauj, or Army of God, here in Amritsar, in Punjab, the northern state where most of India’s 18 million Sikhs are based. “We are going to have to battle hard to turn back the tide. Otherwise, another 20 years will pass and India won’t have any more Sikhs in turbans.”
My God, it's like looking into a hairy mirror. I can almost hear the kiruv anthem in the background: "We are fighting the silent Holocaust of assimilation!"
He puts the start of rapid decline at the mid-1990s, as India began liberalizing its economy, more people began traveling abroad and satellite television arrived in the villages of Punjab. Working mothers are too rushed to help their sons master the skill of wrapping a turban, he said, and increasingly they just shrug and let them cut their hair.
“Everyone is working harder to buy themselves bigger cars,” he said. “They don’t have time to teach their children about the Sikh heroes. Boys take film stars as their idols instead.”...“There is this terrible, misplaced urge to merge with the rest of the world,” said Patwant Singh, a historian and the author of “The Sikhs” (John Murray, 1999)
....Outside the Army of God offices, there is a turban clinic offering free classes for boys — one of a series of Sikh revival programs. Standing before full-length mirrors, an instructor shows teenage boys in baggy jeans and sports shoes how to twist the cloth into neatly layered folds on one side and smooth the pleats into sharp lines with a hooked silver pin, which is then concealed beneath the hair at the back.
A “Smart Turban 1.0” CD-ROM offers step-by-step instructions to create fashionable looks and guides new turban wearers on how to choose the most flattering style according to face shape.
To promote the turban as a fashion item, Sikh leaders have also started holding Mr. Singh International pageants. Contestants are judged by looks, moral character, personality, knowledge of Sikh history and principles, and turban tying skills. The sixth World Turban Day will be celebrated on April 13 with a march through Amritsar by thousands of turban-wearing Sikhs.
Hey, there's an idea we could borrow. I really want to see what Mr. Frum International looks like. Presumably his peyot would be a thing of wonder.
Cutting the hair renders a Sikh apostate, or “pati”, but many boys are now copying the hairstyles of Bollywood stars.
Alarmed by the trend, Sikhism’s leading religious group, the SGPC, has declared the April 13 harvest festival of Baisakhi as International Sikh Turban Day.
In addition, two turban-tying schools have been founded in Sikhism’s holiest city of Amritsar, and a competition to select “Mr Singh International”, is expected to attract widespread participation.
Every region in Punjab has its own distinct style of tying a turban, with each claiming theirs to be the best, and Mr Singh contestants are to be judged on how stylishly their headgear is tied.
I wonder what the Jewish equivalent of this would be. Maybe a cholent cook-off, or a contest to see "whose hat looks coolest." Say, wasn't that what caused the Vishnitz split?
Now that we know about the Sikh equivalent of Reform Jews, it's time we were introduced to their version of Mea Shearim's Modesty Squads:
Within days of the the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh describing Sikhs as part of the Hindu samaj [society], Delhi's top Sikh administration has announced strict enforcement of the wear-turban rule at its schools, saying pupils found defying their religious traditions risk expulsion.
"These directions will strictly apply to Sikh students. It is our duty to ensure our traditions remain intact. Otherwise, forces like the RSS will succeed in their malicious campaign against our faith," Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee chief Paramjit Singh Sarna said.
The notice by the DSGMC, which administers a number of schools and colleges, is also prompted by concerns over rapid vanishing of turbans in Punjab, the heartland of the Sikh faith and home to the Golden Temple, the SGPC and the Akal Takht, the community's highest temporal authority.
A growing number of young Sikh men are now unfurling their turbans, wearing caps, shaving their beards and trimming their locks into crew cuts, mullets, spikes and other more exotic coiffures in a phenomenon seen as a cultural crisis at the heart of the community.
"This is sacrilege. If we cannot protect our identity, which makes us stand out distinctly, what good are we for? We will have to explain to our young men and women the significance of culture and tradition," Sarna said.
What's the Punjabi word for "tradition! (Bitty bum-bum)"?
And last, Sikhs are so close to Jews that they've even progressed to faking assaults against themselves in order to justify abandoning their identities.
NRI Sikh community in British Columbia want to see charges laid against a 17-year-old Sikh youth who said five white men jumped him, ripped off his turban and cut off his hair two weeks ago.
They say hate crimes are a serious matter, and incidents such as this could diminish the response to real hate crimes against Sikhs.
...On Saturday, police said the youth admitted he made up the story to account for the fact that he had cut his own hair, even injuring himself to lend credibility to his story of five men punching and robbing him. For religious reasons, the boy's hair had never been cut.
Wait a minute, wracked with guilt at compromising your traditions? We totally came up with that! That's like, old school Al Jolson stuff.
You know what, forget all this "Jews and Blacks are the same" crap. What we need to do is get a couple of good ethnic comedy movies about Jewish and Sikh college roommates. Maybe "The Amazing Adventures of Shlomo and Singh," or "Chaim and Joginder go to a park and eat apples so they don't violate anyone's dietary laws," or maybe just, "There's Hair in the Bathtub Again."
It's nice to see that there are other cultures in the world struggling with the same existential crises as us. Because let's face it, everything isn't all about us, and sometimes problems we consider to be uniquely our own are actually incredibly universal.