Pag and play
Summer holidays meant night-spends at their house
After the Partition, my father's family, Hindu Punjabis from Lahore, came to live in Darya Ganj. Nearby was a Sikh family that had come from Sargoda. One of their sons, took to sending roses via his kid brother to my aunt as she waited at the bus stop. So it happened, that I grew up with Sikh cousins, accompanying them to kirtan in the cool, quiet whiteness of the gurudwara, chasing second helpings of khada prasad accepting that my female cousin would not cut her hair while we brandished bangs, noting my male cousins graduating from patkas to pags, as from short pants to long.
Summer holidays meant night-spends at their house. In the morning I would watch fascinated, my aunt help my uncle tie his pagdi, or as they called it, 'pag'. Two people across a room coming closer, as they folded the long muslin cloth sharp and tight, layering pleats like the delicate demarcations of a pateesa, into a geometrically elegant turban. I learned to identify that people wore their turbans differently, perhaps revealing their personalities: some precise and firm, others sloppy and lumpy, some in muted colours, others in flamboyant prints. I laughed along to jokes about this.
In these ways, time whiled away in the houses of neighbours and friends, ignoring the rising threat in parents' instructions to come home for lunch, preferring their home food to one's own home food ("What could I do Papa, aunty insisted I eat there."), we develop an affection, a familiar warmth, for the practices and ways of others, without feeling our own ways might be drowned out.
Perhaps because of these memories, I felt doubly surprised and sad, that a book about pags has been withdrawn after protests from parts of the Sikh community, yaniki, banned. The Art of Tying A Pug, is about a little Sikh boy practicing pag tying on his, well, pug. The drawings by Priya Kuriyan, the little boy in his patka had made me laugh in happy recognition. I imagined that my uncle, now passed on, would have gotten a kick out of the book and its pun, which has been written by Natasha Sharma, a practicing Sikh herself, as a way to explain the tenets of Sikhism to children. Sometimes we receive the opportunity to understand others' ways with affection and respect, in real life. Other times we get it from books, films and art, which help us to mature into grown-ups not threatened by difference.
We cannot decide for others if they should or not take offence. But when we see insult where there is affection, what loneliness that implies I wonder. All intimacies hold the risk of wounding, but without intimacy, there is only suspicion, a lonely anger, and a slow corrosion of self-acceptance into postures of identity.
An internet video from the anchors of Sudarshan TV showed us what that looks like. Posed in pre-tied turbans, brandishing swords, they chanted slogans of triumph at disrupting a JNU student conference. Talk about low self-esteem. Yes, it was a disturbing image of petty power and bloodlust. But more disturbing was its infantilised banality, the sight of people allowing themselves to be stripped of cultural warmth and selfhood and reduced to lonely back up dancers in a dance of deep estrangement, not only from each other, but themselves too.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at email@example.com
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