‘No charge for pagri’

I became a public spectacle

The Golden Temple is Sikhism’s most holy place. All those entering the temple must out of respect and acknowledgement for tradition cover their heads.

This has given rise to a whole industry of people selling scarves, kerchiefs and other headgear in the bylanes leading to the Golden Temple complex. The temple itself also offers free head coverings in the form of simple scarves.

Since I often wear a long stole with my kurta-pyjama, I have learned to tie myself a makeshift turban, or pagri, on festive or religious occasions. That had been my intention again, when I visited the temple complex on holiday in March.

As soon as we stepped from our oversized rickshaw, my four gora (fair or foreign) friends were mobbed by the usual hawkers of goods. In this case, many people trying to sell them many things to cover their many heads. The girls had scarves of their own, but Greg needed a kerchief and selected a fine, bright orange specimen, worthy of an Indian motorcycle gang.

I stepped to a nearby mirrored window and began to tie my stole (dupatta) into a turban using the reflection even as people stopped to stare. This time my efforts resulted in a spectacular pagri fail; I blame the pressure of so many people watching.

Self-inflicted turban fail

A kindly older Sikh man, himself turbaned in light blue and selling head wear, beckoned me close and took my dupatta and began to work magic. Sikh men are learned in the mystic arts of turban tying, as it is a tradition of their faith to not cut their hair, binding it instead in a turban.

All this, of course, took place on a public street in full view of a laughing crowd who took gawker pictures with their cell phone cameras. This was also, probably, the only time during their visit to India that my gora friends drew less attention than I.

After a few minutes of work, my stole — which is about eight feet long, a little short actually for a proper Sikh pagri — was tightly wound into a stellar turban. During the day I would receive more than one half-compliment, half-question about what a pukka pagri was doing on my head.


After a bit of applause and general laughter, I went to pay my savior-turbanwallah for his services. He refused and waved us on our way.

“No charge for pagri,” he said with laugh.

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