A Tale of A Turban

I recently have taken a part in a movement called 1000 Speak For Compassion. It involves flooding the blogging community with stories of compassion. I think it’s important that we continue to see how compassion helps us rise past the struggles and keeps us moving in a positive direction.

This month’s theme is writing about Building From Bullying. I was lucky enough to not have to ever really deal with bullying but I have heard stories about what my husband went through as a child. I wanted to share one.

My husband moved to the US from Punjab in 1994. As a Sikh boy, he wore a turban. Now, we hear of stories today where children (and adults) who wear turbans are being bullied and harassed. And that’s today when we have so much access to information and knowledge to know that wearing a turban is just a part of their religion and culture. We know that wearing a turban shouldn’t have a negative connotation to it. And yet, as we see through social media and the news, it often still does.

So, in 1994, when we did not have this much access to information, of course, my husband was bullied for wearing a turban. He was the only Sikh male out of the 3 Indian people attending his school. The only reference that people had to Indian people was Apu from The Simpsons.

He would have to deal with name-calling with names such as “Towel Head” and “Diaper Head”. He would be asked if he rubbed his head, would a genie come out of it (he thought this point was pretty cool but was disappointed when it didn’t work)?

Kids would follow him around and talk to him in the “Apu” accent. They would tell him to go back where he came from. There was one kid in his Physical Education class that would sit behind him and constantly try to take off his turban from the bottom. This kid would steal his clothes from his gym locker and block him from going somewhere.

The teacher would notice and apologize but it didn’t always stop the harassment.

And it’s not that my husband wouldn’t want to defend himself. He thought about punching the kid that was bothering him. In the end, it wasn’t worth it to him because he reminded himself that his end goal was getting an education. His parents had worked really hard to move to America from India for him to get a good education and have success in life. Getting into a fight would only be a distraction.

It got so bad that when lunch periods happened, he decided he would rather go stand in a quiet, empty area of the school for 30 minutes rather than be in the cafeteria with the other kids. It turned out that this empty quiet area existed because there was a computer lab in that hallway. And even though my husband wasn’t a part of that particular class, the teacher let him come in during his lunch period and play around on the computers.

My husband used the opportunities and developed his interest in computers. Today, he is a software engineer with his own successful business.

He didn’t let the bullying become bigger than he was. He was also lucky that the bullying wasn’t to the point of being seriously physically and emotionally abused.

Eventually, the bullying did stop. Once the children realized that he was smart and they needed his help, they stopped being disrespectful based on his looks. Even the kid that would bother him in his physical education class came to him for help with a computer project.

The compassion that the computer teacher showed him by letting him just be a part of the computer lab helped drive him on his path to success. During those 30 minutes each day, he found something that he really loved to do. It kept his focus on the good and kept him moving towards his ultimate goal.

We can only hope that others who face bullies today know how to focus inward and find something that gives them confidence. We hope that they have the courage to move past it and have the support to thrive beyond the bullies. We hope that there is someone to show them compassion when they need it.

We Indians Need To Learn How To Be More Compassionate

I had a hard time writing about this topic: compassion. I just wasn’t sure what I could write about. I wasn’t even sure if I knew anything about this topic at all. I even looked up what compassion means so I could figure out what to write about. The problem is I tend to be more empathetic and can see that more clearly. But Webster’s said that empathy was not the same as compassion.

So, 3 days after the deadline, I finally realized what I could write about.

I’m a South Asian Indian born and raised in America. I come from a background where we tend to judge each other quicker than we show compassion. If something doesn’t go right or something bad happens, it somehow had to be that person’s fault. They did something that caused that bad thing to happen. I had a friend once tell me that when she told her mother about her miscarriage, her mother’s first words to her were “What did you do?”.

We, as a community, also don’t speak about so much that is happening around us. Things that require compassion are being hidden and causing emotional havoc in our lives, things like broken engagements, broken marriages, emotional abuse, physical abuse, miscarriages, infertility, depression, suicidal thoughts.

It upsets me that these are things that so many of us have gone through but yet, we still worry about telling the person next to us in fear that they will judge us. We aren’t able to share what we have really been through.

I have personally been through a few of these things. When I had, I completely disappeared from our community’s social scene. The only time I felt I deserved to be back in it is when I had done something indisputably good to make up for a few of the “bad” things I had done or been through. I couldn’t hold my head up around them until I had finally achieved something that our community could be proud of and say “Yes, I know that woman”.

Why should I feel ashamed for my circumstances in life? Why should I feel like everyone is talking about me behind my back? Why should I have to worry about being judged for making decisions to make my life better?

So my call is to the South Asian Indian community today. Be compassionate. Stop letting others feel like they will be judged for going through hard times in life. Not a single one of us is better than another. We will be stronger as a community if we help each other instead of tearing each other down. Share what you personally have gone through because I can guarantee you that the person next to you has gone through something that’s been life changing and difficult as well.

I was inspired to write this by #1000Speak. Compassion is something that I believe in but don’t see often enough.

Check out the other stories of compassion.