Locks And Shackles

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I was paralyzed. The rusty scissors fell out of my limp hand onto the wooden floor. A myriad of thoughts ran amuck within my mind; my conscience screamed from somewhere within the abyss. Had I really just committed a sin?

My earliest childhood memories consist of my mother drilling the achievements of the Ten Gurus of Sikhism into my impressionable mind – tales of strong men forsaking Muslim customs in order to promulgate their religious values and the selfless sacrifices they had made so I could be free to be a Sikh. Her favorite story was that of Bhai Taru Singh, the first generation Punjabi Sikh who chose to be scalped instead of allowing an Islamic ruler to cut his hair, clearly hoping to instill stout Punjabi values within me that would never be forgotten, no matter where I called home. But it was never that easy.
I am Indian. I am American. I am Sikh. As a first generation Indian-American, this identity sometimes caused a conflict within me, particularly with regards to issues such as hair. Hair, according to my religious tradition, is considered to be sacred and a source of power for the human body. To remove this gift from God is nothing short of a dire sin. By the age of twelve, my hair nearly brushed my feet and had never been cut. Further complicating my early adolescence, my greatest interest at that time was to emulate Britney Spears. Her ever-changing blonde locks were the envy of my impressionable circle of friends and I. We would spend hours performing “Oops I Did It Again” while tousling our hair and attempting to mimic Britney’s oversexualized moves. How I longed to pile my dark, below-the-knee-length hair up into fashionable up-do’s or even be allowed the privilege of wearing it down without curious glances and the mountains of questions that came with this seemingly simple feat. As I had such yearnings, a tug of guilt continued to sober me: I was forsaking my religion and risking my Indian Punjabi Sikh identity -- an identity my parents worked so diligently to bestow upon me.
After sixteen years of having long waves of hair flowing from my head, masking my knees, I grabbed a pair of safety scissors, and I did the unthinkable – I cut my hair. And all it took was a silly argument over a driver’s license.
“Mom, you have to let me drive someday, I can’t always be sheltered from the world,” was the simple retort I shot back at my mother after a heated dispute over allowing me driving privileges. In a fit of frustration, I took the scissors and ferociously cut off my locks in front of my mother. She fainted. It was not just a fall-on-the-couch-and-lie-peacefully-down kind of fainting, but the full out scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs-and-cover-your-face-with-your-arm, obnoxious, kind of fainting that ended with a loud thump as she fell limp on to the leather couch. I immediately crumpled into a nearby loveseat as thoughts whirled around my brain. Sitting on the cold, hard chair, I tried to comprehend what had just occurred. Had I just gone against everything I believed in?
No. I had forsaken my parents' beliefs, not mine. I had not gone crazy and shaved my head like Britney, nor had I kept it as long as my mother’s; I had found a place in between. My dark hair still flowed down the curvature of my back, covering my belly-button in the front, continuing to differentiate me from most of my American peers. Although rebelling against my mother was by no means easy, I, at last, had found a peace within myself. A balance. My hair reflected who I was. A girl caught in the middle of two vastly different worlds, attempting to create her own.
By breaking tradition and making my hair my own, I came to realize the importance of doing what I want according to what I believe rather than attempting to be what others want me to be. Ignoring the remarks of, “Wow, you have really long hair’” from people at school and the, “Oh my goodness, your hair is really short,” from fellow temple goers, has allowed me to stop trying to do the impossible task of pleasing everyone around me, and instead focus on becoming who I want to be: a girl who has not forgotten her roots but still knows how to adapt to a non-Sikh world.





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