How & Why We Did It: TANVEER KAUR
Calgary's Canada Day - The Turban Way
After the success of the Sikh Student Association’s “Turban Day” event at the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) a while ago, the lead organizer, Anterjot Singh, decided to seize the opportunity and take this event to the next level.
With Canada Day celebrations just around the corner, he contacted the lead city organizer in Calgary, Alberta and suggested that the Sikh community set up a stall where visitors could have red and white turbans tied by volunteers. She was very
enthusiastic, mentioning this is the type of activity she was looking for, and accommodated all our requests.
With all the negative media surrounding the turban and the misconceptions that are associated with the Sikh faith, we wanted to make a positive impact in our city, build a lasting relationship based on understanding and acceptance within the community at large, and celebrate our diversity as Canadians.
From this point on it was full steam ahead with our planning, estimating that even if 1% of the park visitors participated in our event, we would still have a thousand people come our way!
And so began our quest to find yards upon yards of red and white turban material, asking shop owners for discounted prices and the local Sikh community for donations; countless trips to stores to buy mirrors and other materials; and of course many meetings among organizers to discuss the best strategies to make this event a success.
When all was said and done, we had purchased 2000 meters of turban material, $600 worth of printed posters and pictures, 115 t-shirts for volunteers, etc., coming to a grand total of $5400 spent.
All of this was covered in only three days after donations were collected from the Dashmesh Culture Centre community. With
God’s grace, everything had fallen into place.
Saturday evening - the night before the event - we did an ardaas and asked that all the honest work from the organizers and volunteers be put towards a righteous cause and that we help spread awareness about the Sikh culture and identity throughout the City of Calgary.
After all the hard work and late nights, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How successful will this be?”, “Will people actually want to have a turban tied?”, “Will they be welcoming to our idea, or will they dismiss it, thinking it’s much too foreign? “
In any case, we carried on with spirits high and our attitude in full chardi kalaa.
On Sunday, July 1, we began our set up at 7:30 in the morning, planning to begin the turban tying by the schedule time of 11 o’clock. However, before we could put on the final touches, our first visitors, a father and son, arrived at 10 o’clock. This duo was followed by a steady stream of faces glowing with excitement to have their own turbans tied for the very first time.
We were beyond ecstatic to see such a forthcoming attitude from the crowd. The type of reception we experienced that day was something beyond our wildest dreams! We could have never imagined the enthusiasm that engulfed the never-ending line of participants who came our way.
Our 30x30 foot tent set up in the park was surrounded by volunteers, participants, and curious onlookers for 10 hours straight. With a minimum of 50 volunteers at a time, we were still swamped, and each turban tying volunteer was taking person after person with mere minutes for break for lunch and dinner.
Between all the volunteers, 10 turbans were tied every 3 minutes, translating into 200 turbans tied every hour, and a total of 2069 turbans tied by the end of the day!
As these numbers were beyond our initial estimates, we were constantly running out of material to tie the turbans, and had to send volunteers on an emergency turban run to buy more material. At this point we had completely run out of our red material and started to tie all the different shades we could get our hands on.
What an amazing sight it was to take a walk around the park. I could not take a couple steps without seeing entire families adorned with turbans, young teenagers, old grandmothers and the tiniest of babies.
It was truly a blessing to experience this day, as it changed my perception entirely. I believe things are changing for the better and that the negatives no longer outweigh the positive.
We are not experiencing now is not mere ‘tolerance’ of each other and our uniqueness, but the wholehearted welcoming of our diversity as a human race. A comment on a participant’s flickr account reads, “Celebrating some hard won identity there. I know the Sikh-Canadian population was proud, but I have never seen anything equal to that! Do you think in 1983 Mr Trudeau could have foreseen all that has come of the Charter?”
Although the forecast for the day predicted thundershowers, the weather remained absolutely gorgeous.
Due to the number of people wanting turbans tied, we extended our set up outside the tent for most of the day. However, as our cloth supply became short, we began to taper off the set up and brought the tables inside. I believe it was no coincidence that as soon as we made this decision, the rain came pouring down as we moved under the cover of our tent.
As the day came to an end (as well as our turban material!) we began to pack up, despite the number of people who still gathered around for a chance to have a turban wrapped on them.
Unfortunately, we had to turn people away, because all that was left were the turbans on our own heads! Although that didn’t deter one man from asking that I remove my own and tie it on him!
We are so thankful for being blessed with this opportunity and to be allowed to do this seva for the Calgary community. I cannot imagine what a difference this has made in the minds of the people who came to us having no idea what a turban is, who ties it, and what significance it hold in the life of a Sikh. These people are walking away with a greater understanding of the fabric that ties us together as a neighbourhood, community, city and country.
One participant, after wearing the turban around the park and surrounding area, came back to us and shared his experience. He explained that as he walked away from our tent, he experienced firsthand what it feels like to have another judge you for what you look like, and to receive that awful stare from across the street. He took the time to return and share this with the volunteer who tied his turban, expressing that he now has a new found respect for the Sikhs that choose to walk with their Guru’s crown upon their heads.
This is our experience. An experience in which we intended one thing, but were returned with results ten-fold of what we expected. I believe that there are amazing implications to this event and what could follow. We are excited to hear your ideas of how you can take this idea and apply it in your area.
If you would like assistance in setting up a similar event in your area, please contact Anterjot Singh at email@example.com
[The author is a kindergarten teacher at the Khalsa School in Calgary.]
July 6, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Kanwal Nain Singh (Lindsay, Ontario, Canada), July 06, 2012, 1:42 PM.
Congratulations are in order to Anterjot Singh. It was a great idea to demonstarate wearing of turbans and thus spreading more awareness of Sikh culture. During my teaching career in a high school for 25 years, many a time I had done turban wearing demonstration on Canadian students who proudly photographed themselves with this adornment. It became a popular topic and spread to elementary school where my wife was a teacher too. Once a year she would have a day on study of the subcontinent, when I used to go and tie turbans on children. I have been retired for two decades now, and I am the only person wearing a turban in town, and easily recognized. I am 84 years old now, and proud to be a Sikh.
2: Anterjot Singh (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), July 06, 2012, 2:49 PM.
S. Kanwal Singh ji: It was purely a collective effort with every volunteer throwing all his/her energy into the event. Some had come straight from a Raensbhayee (all-night kirtan) but their sleep ran away seeing the love given by Calgarians! May Guru Sahib bless all with more seva!
3: Sukhminder Singh Hansra (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), July 16, 2012, 11:46 PM.
A unique way of explaining the turban. Thank you.