Puran Singh hasn’t had a haircut for 48 years – in fact he’s never had a haircut.
“Never, never, never in my life” insists this elder and president of the Tauranga Sikh community.
This morning, as he does every morning, Puran tucked his waist length locks up into an elegant cream coloured turban. He cuts a dash, he is ready to face the day, ready to satisfy the punters at his novelty Indian food shop in Cameron Road.
Sikhs maintain five articles of faith, referred to as the five ‘Ks’ because they all start with K. The most distinctive one is kesh – keeping hair uncut and maintained in a turban.
But it’s what can’t be seen that fascinates The Weekend Sun – after nearly five decades growing wild, how long is that hair contained in the cream turban?
“It is not much, it is just like this,” says Puran Singh indicating to his middle, lower back. That requires Puran to put a myth to bed. “At a certain point the hair stops growing. Like height, people stop growing.” Which puts paid to the fairy tale about Rapunzel.
Why are blokes sitting around sharing grooming points, intimate behind-the-closed-bathroom-door personal stuff. Because Puran and a couple of other Sikhs are kindly educating an unenlightened, non-turban wearing Pakeha reporter with some insights into arguably the most recognisable cultural accoutrement anywhere in the world - the turban.
All this ahead of Tauranga’s Turban Day on Saturday, August 24, between 11am and 2pm. The Sikh community invites us to “come and try the crown yourself”, instilling The Strand with a faint but exotic flavor of the Sihks holy city of Amritsar in the northwestern state of Punjab.
“We just want to share our culture,” says 17-year-old music studies student at Otumoetai College Inderpreet Kaur. “We just want to show people who we are and what we stand for, that we are a bit different but are part of your community, and to share our culture.” And a little knowledge, she hopes, will bring understanding and appreciation.
Langar will help the process, and langar will be served. There’s another lesson for the uninitiated. Langar is the Sikh community kitchen where a free meal is served to all without distinction of religion, caste, gender, economic status or ethnicity.
Now turbans – Puran has twenty. And probably his major wardrobe decision each day is which colour to wear. “Yeah. I have every colour.” Sikh’s are drawn to orange but there are other specific colours - black, white, yellow and blue.
Black is Inderpreet’s choice, as was her decision to wear a turban.
“I was seven and my mum used to wear a turban and I looked up to her. It was also a really good thing to do in India – people would go: ‘oh my God, she’s really cultural’, and seeing my Dad is a priest it was the best thing I could do.”
It’s also an equality thing for Inderpreet. “Women are stepping up, we are equal to men, we can wear a turban too.” And after all, it was, apparently, a Sikh woman who first wore a turban.
But wouldn’t this vibrant, talented and free-thinking young woman like her long tresses flowing around in the wind looking beautiful and cool. “Well, this is cool. This is the new cool.” And the turban gives her individuality, sets her apart, identifies her. And she finds that empowering.
When Puran Singh came to Tauranga in 2002 he was a taxi driver. “People would confuse me for a Muslim.” It was the bushy beard that confused his passengers. “I would have to tell them we were different people, there’s a religious difference.”
And therein are the roots of Turban Day. “After 9/11 a lot of people started accusing Indian and Sikh people” says Puran.
“So in New York they decided if they celebrated a turban day, then people would appreciate the difference.”
And these Tauranga Sikhs are quick to point out that it’s a matter of difference, not a matter of disrespect. There’s a chorus of “no, no, nos”. Anoop Singh is a 21-year-old civil engineering student –a strikingly handsome and entrepreneurial young man, with a blacker-than-ebony bushy beard.
“We do not want to say we are different because some bad things have happened. We are just different – we are proud Sikhs and they are proud Muslims.” And Tauranga Muslims will be very welcome to Langar on Turban Day.
When the Sun reporter, who wears a closely groomed facial growth, offers to trim up a few Sikh beards right here and now, there is a lot of laughter and a little rebuke. “We do not touch any natural things.”
Instead Puran achieves a cunning coiffure of his salt and pepper whiskers. He uses gel to tuck it very tidily and tight under his jaw line. But there’s still the impressively fearsome moustache. “You grow up with it and you get used to looking after it,” says an understanding Inderpreet.
So when does a turban come off? “When your day is finished, when you want to go to sleep, you take it off. But you can wear a little one if you wish.”
Probably not, but thanks. See you on Turban day for a fitting. Might even let the paddock on the face go untended as a show of support. And by then I will be hankering for a good langar.