Two Sikh Canadians talk about hair and identity

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Gurpreet Ahluwalia (left) and Rup Magon – Photo: Fashion Magazine by Renata Kaveh and Yvonne Stanley

By Wendy Kaur | Canada |

Two Canadians shed light on their daily connection with their growing hair. Wendy Kaur captures their stories for Fashion Magazine.

What she says:

Gurpreet Ahluwalia says that she can count on one hand the number of times she has gotten a trim in her 36 years. And it shows: The Sikh Toronto-based wife and mother’s hair falls all the way down to her knees. “I haven’t taken my Amrit yet, but I’m on that path,” she says.

Although she has yet to be baptized, leaving her strands in their natural state is a custom that Ahluwalia grew up with. “My parents kept my hair long and untouched,” she says. “I was kind of a tomboy growing up, so leaving it uncut didn’t really bother me.” Ahluwalia, who has a background in fashion marketing, didn’t realize how dramatic the length looked until she was in high school. “It wasn’t that I had to keep my hair uncut, but I was worried about disappointing my parents if I didn’t. I dabbled with trimming it, but it was always under the pretense that it would make my hair healthier,” says the Parsons The New School graduate, who has worked for both Holt Renfrew and Saks Fifth Avenue.

As she’s gotten older, Ahluwalia has not only come to appreciate the spiritual significance of leaving her locks uncut but also forged an emotional attachment to them through her commitment to her cultural identity. “I have a career in fashion, so I have a lot of vanities, but my hair isn’t one of them,” she says, laughing. “Hair isn’t just physical for me; my hair is my biggest confidante. We’re in it together, for everything.”

What he says:

Rup Magon finds himself talking about his turban all the time. “It’s the first thing people see even before they see me,” he says. The Toronto-based singer-songwriter wears his turban out of a sense of cultural identity. “I’m proud to be Sikh, but I can’t say that I’m particularly religious,” says the co-lead of Josh — a fusion band that has been on the South Asian music scene for 20 years. “It’s interesting how the turban automatically gets connected to religion. Many cultures have been wearing the turban for centuries. I wear mine as a way of preserving my own.”

While most first-generation Sikhs in Canada come from Punjab, India, Magon’s parents — both practising Sikhs — were born in Nairobi, Kenya, and immigrated to Saskatoon in the late ’60s. Magon himself was born in Montreal and grew up in the ’80s getting regular haircuts. “I was 10 years old and going to a French school when I decided to grow my hair long and wear a turban,” he says. “I have always been someone who likes to do things off the beaten path, and connecting to my family’s culture was, in a way, uncharted territory for me.”

Making the lifestyle change definitely turned out to be a bit of a culture shock. The singer, who became the first Sikh to be a lead on a Canadian comedy series — Decoys, on CBC Gem — says he went from having a typical haircut to going into Grade 5 with a patka (a bandana teenage Sikh boys usually wear in place of a turban). “You can imagine that wearing a patka in 1980s French Canada would be brutal,” he says. However, Magon says that while his cousins, who went to nearby schools, experienced having their patkas ripped off, he was fortunate that he didn’t encounter any overt racism despite being one of two visibly Sikh students in his school.

This is an abridged version of ‘Two Sikh Canadians on How Their Hair Connects Them With Their Identity’ by Wendy Kaur (Fashion Magazine, 22 April 2022). Click here for the full article.

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