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In a New York Minute

By VISHAVJIT SINGH

"Are you a Muslim?"

"No!" was my knee-jerk response to an airport employee at New York's JFK international airport who approached me at the airline counter as I waited for my sister-in-law on the Monday night before Christmas. I get asked this question countless times and my response is always the same, "No! I am a Sikh".

The employee who approached me was a beautiful, olive-skinned African American woman who was obviously curious about my dastaar. She wanted to know why and how I tied it. "It is my Guru's gift and there are many different ways to tie it". She was dazzled to hear that I had long unshorn hair because practicing Sikhs do not cut their hair. She mentioned that even Jesus had long, unshorn hair and so did the other founding fathers of both Christianity and Judaism. She mentioned a Muslim co-worker who was in love with a Christian man, but her Egyptian father would not bless their union. He threatened to disown her even if the man converted to Islam. She could not understand why we humans with the same blood running in our veins could not follow our hearts' desire. She was from a Christian past but her oldest son was a Muslim. I got the sense that she was still looking for her spiritual calling.

But it was my blue dastaar that mesmerized her. And when I pointed to my sister-in-law, who too sports a beautiful dastaar, she was sold on it. She really wanted to wear one. If it had been the right time and place, I would have helped her tie one on her head. I could picture her with her beautiful North African features, with a radiant navy-blue dastaar leaning backwards from her forehead.

Two of her co-workers had joined us by now. One of them saw my kara and wanted to know if I wore a kirpan. So, I thought, there are people at the airport who do know something about Sikhs. They were curious why some Sikh men had a threaded and dressed-up beard, while some jelled it up. And then, some like me, had a flowing one. Well, mine doesn't really flow! It isn't like the long, bushy beards you can spot everywhere. It's more like a sparsely-populated samurai beard. "It is a personal grooming preference," I explained, but quickly added: "But I do think the long and open beard is the coolest."

She wanted to know more about Sikhi. She asked if she would be allowed into a Sikh place of worship. Would she be welcome? I re-assured her and pointed out to her that there were a number of gurdwaras in the vicinity of the airport, and that she could go and experience the kirtan and the langar as well. She wrote down on a piece of paper how 'Sikh' was spelled, and declared that she would soon visit a gurdwara.

The time for our chance meeting was up. I had to lead my sister-in-law to her flight. She asked for a quick tip on how to tie a turban. I told her how she could get a five-foot long cotton piece of cloth, tie her hair up in a knot and tie a dastaar around it, in the manner in which my sister-in-law did. Not unlike some African women, who indeed look so majestic in their turbans.

She beamed a huge smile. I made a beeline to the departure gate.

Conversation about this article

1: Jaspreet Kalra (New York, U.S.A.), February 23, 2007, 10:00 AM.

Well, it's a pretty cute article.

2: Rajesh B (Ghaziabad, India), October 01, 2007, 4:25 PM.

This is indeed cute!

3: Ramneek Singh (Delhi, India), May 25, 2009, 9:08 AM.

It's wonderful, dude!

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