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The Turban & My Sartorial Adventures

JOGISHWAR SINGH

 

 

 


Being a Sikh who believes that wearing a turban constitutes an essential part of his visual identity, I am a good client of shops selling turbans, be they in India, Canada or the UK.

I make the effort of renewing my stock of colourful turbans at least once a year, preferring bright colours as a mark of vibrant chardi kala.

My choice of colours has led to interesting situations in my professional life un various parts of the diaspora.

I had already noticed that my wife, a Swiss lady, was quite fascinated by the panoply of colours stacked roof high on shelves in shops selling turbans in Chandigarh and Mohali in Punjab.

Having decided to make my life outside India, we settled down in Switzerland where I restarted from scratch. By Waheguru’s grace, I have had the good fortune to build a new professional career. And all this, by sporting brightly coloured turbans, and always trying to match my shirts, socks, neckties and suits with the colour of my turbans to the extent possible.

In fact, many colleagues have asked me whether I match the colour of my clothing to that of my turban or vice versa. This matching has entailed not wearing ready-made clothing but only custom-tailored suits in order to widen the choice of available colours, stripes and designs.

I would like to share with sikhchic.com readers some of my experiences arising out of my turban colour choices. I’m sure I am not the only Sikh who has been asked whether the turban colours have a particular symbolism. To such a question I explain the significance of saffron colour or navy blue colour in our history. I do clarify that these days the choice of colour of turban for a Sikh is linked to his or her personal preferences. That some prefer darker colours, others prefer lighter colours, some wear only white, others wear only black.

I am unable to say whether my not being chosen for some of the professional ositions during my earliest years in Switzerland was due to my visual identity as a Sikh or not, since my professional experience as an IPS or IAS officer in India
corresponded to nothing comparable that a Swiss organisation could identify with.

India had and has a completely colonial administrative structure while Switzerland has a completely delegated administrative system, based on more than 700 years of existence as a sovereign, independent nation.

A major Swiss bank told me that they would be interested in hiring me but vaguely hinted that my appearance might be a problem. However, this point was never really clarified.

Being maybe oversensitive, this had a direct bearing in my subsequent job search.

I was headhunted by a major international bank in Geneva. My interviews with the human resources department and the head of the team to which I might be eventually assigned went off quite well. The final stage was a lunch with the CEO.

He invited me to a posh restaurant. We discussed many details of my future employment with his organisation. When we had finalised most contractual details, I asked him about the elephant in the room: my visual appearance. His reaction was genuine surprise. He asked me, “Why, do you have a problem with your physical appearance? I would prefer darker colours.”

That is when I realised that I was just being hypersensitive about my turban.

Since then, I have found that lady colleagues are much more sensitive to and expressive about colour choices than male colleagues. I am frequently complimented by lady colleagues about the choice of colour of my turbans. One of them told me that her colleagues in the central file department used to bet every evening about which colour turban I would be wearing the next morning at work. If I did not go down to central file for some work, they would make some excuse or the other to come up to my office to see for themselves and determine who had won the bet for that day.

As a joke, I suggested to her that if she agreed to share her winnings with me, I would tip her off every evening about which colour I would wear the subsequent morning. We both had a good laugh about it.

I am not aware whether this betting contest is still going on or not since my office has been shifted to a neighbouring building.

The Chairman of our Board of Directors invites all the staff of the Rothschild Group -- where I work -- to an evening in July every year at his chateau near Geneva. I could not participate in this event the past three years, having been away either on vacation or business trips.

Three lady colleagues asked me whether I would be participating this year. I said I would be. All of them requested me to wear a royal blue coloured turban because they would be wearing dresses of the same colour. Luckily, I do have a turban of royal blue colour which I was able to match with my suit and necktie as well.

Other colleagues told me it was quite a sight, watching a royal blue ensemble of a turban wearing Sikh and three ladies from different departments! Quite a few pictures were taken of this quartet.

One of the ladies is the personal assistant of one of the top bosses of the group. This has enormously facilitated the flow of communication with him as well.

In every organisation there is a system and there are personal relations. The colours of my turban are proving to be a bonding element to lady colleagues placed in crucial positions.

Recently something very interesting happened in this context. We have a very competent lady portfolio manager attached to our team. She surveys the investment portfolios of our clients. She also presents market analysis and data at our weekly team meetings, as well as investment suggestions based on her research.

We were together at a morning investment meeting when she requested me to wear a turquoise turban for our next meeting. I did so, finding her also dressed in turquoise coloured shawl and shoes. A photograph was taken showing our matching colours.

We were sitting side by side on chairs so I leaned over so that both our heads could be captured in the photo frame. However, when the photo was printed, it seemed that I had my right arm wrapped firmly around my lady colleague’s shoulder.

That evening, I showed the picture to my wife at home. She blew a gasket. She felt that I had indulged in inappropriate behaviour. I mentioned that my co-conspirator did not look exactly unhappy! This flippant remark added fuel to the fire. My wife requested me not to put my arm around my lady colleagues since this constituted inappropriate behaviour for her (my wife). I felt she was being oversensitive but kept quiet for the sake of domestic peace.

The choice of colour thereafter became a daily ritual since my portfolio manager colleague told me she wanted to continue matching our colour choices till she ran out of colour selections in her wardrobe. While getting photographed with her the next day, wearing a different colour, I kept both my hands joined firmly in front of my midriff.

I told her about the views expressed by my wife about my seemingly inappropriate behaviour. My lady colleague laughed. She said she fully understood my wife’s reaction. However, she declared, I might not be free to put my arm around her waist or shoulders, but there was no stricture for her to do so around me.

I silently thanked Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and other women who launched the women’s lib movement!

Since then, she puts her arm around my shoulder for our photographs while I stand like a good boy with both my hands safely in front, showing the picture every evening to my wife.

The ultimate dénouement in this episode was rather amusing. I printed out the first photograph for being put in our family album. Examining the printed photograph closely, I realised that the arm encircling my lady colleague’s shoulders, the arm that had caused so much discussion at home, was not mine at all but my lady colleague’s.

The proof of this was the ring on the index finger of the hand at the end of the arm. I have never worn and do not wear any ring on any finger. I triumphantly showed this to my wife who had a good laugh with me once she realised that it had not been my arm at all. I had just leaned across the chair towards my lady colleague for the photograph and had partially covered her arm by her side. This gave the impression that my arm had encircled her.

I mentioned this fact also to the concerned colleague the next morning and we had a good laugh about it.

The continuation of this colour matching between the colour of my turban at work and the colour which different lady colleagues wear is however becoming limited by the number of colours available on either side, by the increasing distaste of my wife and younger son for what they consider as a spectacle and my getting slightly bored with what seems to be becoming a daily routine.

On a serious note, it has broken down barriers in social interaction at work with a lot of lady colleagues from so many different departments who I may never have got to know otherwise.

Thanks to the identity gifted by Guru Gobind Singh, I am the most visible participant at meetings which keep taking place within the Rothschild Group.

At a meeting with the CFO of the Hermès luxury group, I suggested to him that Hermès should start marketing a turban for Sikhs in the signature company orange colour. I assured him that there were more than enough affluent Sikhs all over the world to make this endeavour a success.

I gave him the example of the Swiss company Victorinox which had come out with a limited edition of a Sikh kirpan on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the investiture of the Adi Granth in Darbar Sahib, Amritsar. The entire stock had been sold out much faster than the company had anticipated, despite the price.

Some years ago, Swiss television had made a telecast about my wife and I: of how we had met, what our story had been. The Swiss TV crew had come to our house and actually filmed me tying my turban. My wife and I had gone on a live Swiss telecast, wearing perfectly matching colours, she in a blue salwaar kameez and I with a matching turban.

Audience reactions had been very positive. Many people had made observations about the harmony between the colours that my wife and I had been wearing.

This topic also reminds me of another experience in Heidelberg (Germany) while doing my Ph D at Heidelberg University in 1985.

As a resident foreigner, I had to go frequently to the Foreigners’ Registration Office (FRO) to obtain official documents for all kinds of formalities. I was the only Sikh living near the city centre. One day when I was at the FRO, the policeman there told me that ever since my arrival, there was a profusion of Sikhs in Heidelberg.

I was quite surprised by this since I had not known of any Sikhs other in that area. When I mentioned this to my interlocutor, he told me, “No, there are many now. One with a red turban, one with a blue turban, one with a green turban, one with a yellow turban, one with a violet turban”.

I understood that each time he had seen me wearing a different coloured turban, he had imagined that it was another Sikh walking around. I told him to look very carefully next time since it was only I wearing different coloured turbans.

We shared a hearty laugh.

All these experiences motivate me to widen my search for finding newer and newer bright colours for my turbans. My coloured turbans have become my signature at work, a means of helping me bond with colleagues from other departments, cut through occasional inter-departmental red tape.

Even at my golf club, the Director told me that he had a long list of lady members who had requested him to put them in my flight during competitions. He said they told him, “We want to play with that person wearing such brightly coloured headgear”.

This helps me to improve my golf since, as any golfer can confirm, ladies play straight and consistent golf. Beating a lady golfer is not easy. It requires playing well which is what my turban colours lead me to do.

 

July 26, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Dr Pargat Singh (Nottingham, United Kingdom), July 26, 2013, 2:58 PM.

As we're off on a family holiday to Switzerland very soon, I have decided to pack but a mere three colours of turbans: navy, red and sky blue. You are absolutely correct though, Dr Jogishwar Singh ji: wearing a bright colour really makes the difference in highlighting the Sikh identity. Whilst in Geneva I will be on the lookout for my fellow, brightly-coloured turban-wearing Sikh!

2: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ), July 26, 2013, 5:10 PM.

A Sikh in a turban is an incomparable prince and compels respect. "khoob tayree pugree meethay tayray bol" [GGS:727.17] "O friend, how attractive is your turban and your appearance! And how sweet is your speech and your words."

3: Harinder Pal Singh (Patiala, Punjab), July 27, 2013, 5:53 AM.

Such a vibrant topic the turban is! In Punjab, you can guess the region people belong to by the style of the turban. The 'Nok', i.e., double turban of Malwa; the 'Pochvin' turban of Majha; the Nihang style; the Namdhari style and the Dhamala! Then, there are styles which are rural or urban. In terms of sheer vibrant colors, my city, Patiala, takes the cake. Another distinctive style of Patiala is its equally colorful under turbans or fifties. The color matching would be any dress designer's dream. Then, another trait of Patiala is wearing the same color turban and shirt. In fact once waiting at Schipol airport, I spotted a bright pink turban and equally striking shirt. My instinct told me it should be somebody from Patiala. I inched my way towards him and lo and behold, it was a man I recognized as a well known bureaucrat from Patiala. Attn., Jogishwar ji: my most colorful experience was in Interlaken, Switzerland. My daughter had gone para-gliding and was to land in the central park. I waited for her on the sidelines at Hooterz Beer, known for their skimpy waitresses. Suddenly one serving me noticed that her lilac bikini matched my turban and next I know she has plunked herself in my lap and asked somebody to take a picture. This started a riot of sorts with every tourist around vying to take a picture. Another noble soul asked her to take her bikini nearer to the turban - a discomfort I enjoyed to the hilt and secretly wishing somebody would be benevolent enough to prolong the photo-taking! If there was a fringe benefit, boy, this was it! Seriously, though, turbans when tied well do make Sikhs quite distinguished in their appearance.

4: C J Singh (Los Angeles, California, USA), July 27, 2013, 6:24 AM.

I'm proud of you. Will try to improve my stock of turbans and matching clothes. Not easy, but will do it.

5: Hardev Singh Virk (Canada / India), July 27, 2013, 6:20 PM.

During my stay in Paris University (1970-72), I too enjoyed some privileges as a turbanator. I wonder why the French government has put a ban on turbans in schools. Hope the Sikhs will win the battle there for their right to wear the turban.

6: Jogishwar Singh (Le Mont , Switzerland), July 28, 2013, 12:15 AM.

Harinder Pal Singh ji, I am absolutely delighted to read your comment. Let me know next time you are in Switzerland so that we can arrange for the waitress's matching bikini to stay closer to your turban for a longer time!

7: Kirpal Singh (Wellington, New Zealand), July 28, 2013, 1:51 AM.

During my stints at the University of Amsterdam in Holland, the Catholic University Louvain in Belgium, the University of Berne in Switzerland, Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria and the University of Papua New Guinea, I received a preferential treatment everywhere I went simply on account of my colourful and smartly-tied turban, which was magical.

8: Birinder Singh (London, United Kingdom), July 28, 2013, 10:14 AM.

Dear Dr Jogishwar Singh ji, I was delighted to see you in London during the World Sikh Awards in 2011. I take pride in telling my friends about your profile and your beautiful turban. I agree with the comments of Sardar Sangat Singh ji. Yes, regarding colours, I have not tried different colours. But your choice of colour is wonderful and you look very handsome. I belong to Chandigarh and at present am posted as CTO of the bank as well as heading the Corporate branch of Punjab National Bank (Int) Ltd in Central London. I was one of the judges for the 2012 World Sikh Awards. I am planning to visit Switzerland in September or October 2013, before leaving for India for my next posting. I would like to see you then. If you happen to visit London, please do see us.

9: Sarvjit Singh (Millis, Massachusetts, USA.), July 30, 2013, 11:15 AM.

Great story! While traveling in Germany and Austria, I saw so many Sikhs wearing kKsri, Red, Purple, and many other vibrant colors. I don't know why Sikhs in USA (generally speaking and including myself) do not wear vibrant colors. Most of us are stuck with Navy, Black, Steel Gray. Puggri tying is an art and there should be some kind of book on this subject. Perhaps, one day someone will rise and write a book on The Sikh Turban. There is so much history to it: length, style, domala, single patti, Patiala-shahi, turray-daar (now defunct in India), polka dots, satrangi ... My favorite is the silk-linen with horizontal stripes. India's Presidential Guard (legacy of Khalsa Army's leftover Hodgson's Horse) wears that the stiped puggri.

10: Amarindar Singh  (Chandigarh, Punjab), July 31, 2013, 11:25 PM.

Great story, and yes we should be proud of our turban. On a similar note, I had done my Hotel Management in Switzerland at a place called Le Bouveret just before the Avion border. Being fond of colourful turbans myself, one did draw a lot of attention which in turn led to breaking of ice with the locals and other students at the institute. Having had the chance to travel to many countries (wearing colourful turbans) it sets us apart from the crowd, and I personally love that. Nothing like seeing a Khalsa in a colourful turban in a foreign land.

11: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ), August 01, 2013, 7:09 AM.

In 1964, I was the Senior Assistant Manager when Guthrie & Co. had a new chairman in Sir Eric Griffith-Jones who was once the Attorney General in Malaya and had just retired as Governor of Kenya. We were ordered to meet him in Kuala Lumpur and the venue chosen was Le Coq D'Or - a fine-dining French restaurant. My manager then was one Jimmy Bulter-Madden who asked me to stand next to him so that he could introduce me to Sir Eric when he walked in. I said, "Jimmy, I won't be surprised if he walks up to me first to shake my hand." And this is what actually happened. He walked up to me and said, "Sangat, we are very proud to have you as the first Sikh in the Company." I thanked him and then blurted, "Sir Eric, meet my manager ,Jimmy Bulter-Madden." I was soon after transferred to another property. Year later, in 1996, I was in Tel Aviv attending an International Amateur Radio Conference (IARU). I was the only turbaned Sikh. At the opening ceremony the Foreign Minister of Israel was the chief guest and there were a couple of representatives from some African country in their native regalia. We were soon spotted and some press pictures were taken with the Foreign Minister and I shaking hands with him. The next day someone told me that I was on the front page of the newspaper. I walked up to the bookshop at the hotel and the man, without a word from me, handed me the newspaper with my picture with the two Africans, and said "That will be 2 Shekels." Ten days later I was to fly back and was told to be at the airport at least three hours before the departure time, for security check. I arrived as advised and queued up. The fellow behind me remarked, "Mr. Singh, be ready for at least a 30-minute thorough search." I said, "I think I will be there only a couple of minutes." His parting shot was, "You must be joking." All I did was to show the newspaper cutting with their Foreign Minister. All he asked was, "Did you pack the bag yourself?" "Yes, I did." And off I went in less than a minute. That was the turban at work for me.

12: Ushvinder (Canada), August 02, 2013, 7:10 AM.

Fantastic article! Thank you for sharing, Jogishwar ji. Very motivating - I need to expand my collection! I read the article about yourself and family in the Swiss newspaper - believe it was a couple of years back. My father-in-law (in the Lausanne area) collects and mails the interesting articles to us :) I have a Swiss wife and am a Swiss as well, living in Canada with our three boys. We visit Switzerland twice a year, including for the entire summers! I too have had the privilege of being the sole turbaned Khalsa in the Lausanne area for the past many years. Totally agree, love the attention in and out of work :) We visit the Langenthel Gurdwara whenever in Switzerland. Hope we can connect sometime - we are here until mid-August this year. My email is ushvinder@hotmail.com

13: Mohan Singh Bhangoo (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), August 15, 2013, 12:55 PM.

I am proud to be Sikh with the gift of my identity but feel disappointed over individuals who say the same but don't write their full name and don't wear turbans.

14: Dil Sodhi (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 18, 2016, 12:46 PM.

I've actually just stumbled upon this article and I wish I had done so earlier as I've just finished a two year private banking job in Geneva. My experience was also very similar to yours. I found the Genevois really fascinated by my turban and I would openly get complimented on the colours matching my tie or the handkerchief in my suit pocket. Although the French and Swiss Caucasian women found it an attractive style symbol, I was often surprised at the interest it received from the large French and Swiss Arab population and the comments from the women who wished that Arab men could manage to mix contemporary and traditional dress in order to keep their identity.

15: Amandeep Singh (Amritsar, Punjab), June 26, 2018, 6:05 PM.

Wow. God bless both of you.

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