I adore the look of turbans that are worn by Sikhs and other cultural communities for various religious and practical reasons. I also love them as a fashion item, a pinnacle of refinement. Elizabeth Taylor comes to mind, who donned them often in the 1960s-70s. Those sparkling violet eyes, a sea of gemstones glimmering on her tanned chest, and a bejeweled turban to top off the dramatic look.
I saw men and boys wear them in India, where I lived while doing research for my Ph.D. in anthropology. Like so many of the clothes worn in that vast, colourful country, including those among the poor, they are worn with grace and purpose. In all my months and in all the towns and cities I travelled to, I never saw a woman wearing the same saree. That is something I often think about with wonder and awe.
I’m a devotee of Facebook Marketplace, which I only discovered during Covid. It’s been indispensable in the redesign of my newly purchased home and is one of the few places that is always open. It’s also a space where I scroll when I’m bored, lonely, can’t concentrate or don’t want to do my ‘work’ work. Sharing the weird and ridiculous items with friends has become a favourite pastime.
You can imagine my glee when I came across a “FREE” listing for turbans. “Heavenly day, here we go” I thought to myself as I pressed the pre-written question in the oval messenger space: “Is this still available?” The seller responded right away: “YES.” I professed to my ignorance about how the purchasing process works with items that are free, and she said they’re not free. OOOPS, but it says…
A few voicemail exchanges later and I’ve checked out, and followed, her Instagram site and sent an image of the turban style I like best. I’m then instructed to pick a colour and size, to which I say pink and Small. She replies with a thumbs up emoticon and I’m super excited, even telling a few friends. The first one is $25.00 and a bit less if your order more, a funny but cool Covid purchase I think to myself.
It’s a few days later and still no request for my address or any indication that my turban is ready. Hmm. I reach out and she has no clue about my order. Gulp. I politely (?) tell her to scroll up so that she can see my order and when I placed it. After a bit more mutual confusion, it seems that things are on track for a 4pm drop off that Friday. She asks if I want dark or light pink, and I select dark and provide my address.
I share the news of my impending turban with several friends and wait eagerly for Friday to come. The woman messages me Friday afternoon and asks if tomorrow morning is ok for a drop-off instead. Sure, what am I doing anyways! She arrives Saturday around 11 am and I excitedly greet her at the front door. She places the gift bag in my outstretched hands and thanks me for my purchase.
I rush inside and take pictures of the bag and the turban, which is somehow disappointing. Is it the geriatric pink, which reminds me of the 1970s pantsuits worn by elderly female relatives? I’m not sure. My stomach drops as I put it on my head because it looks awful. Then I reel over, laughing. The disappointment soon returns, however, and I’m puzzled at how baggy it seems on the right side. How can I EVER wear this?
I seize my phone and leave her a voicemail asking her if she sells them in XS and how I might remedy the perceived bagginess. Orientalism, anyone? I then detect a combination of smells that make my nose crinkle a bit, rosewater and food. I feel stupid for being turned off by the scents, and then sit on my living room floor to take in the smells on purpose. They are the scents of home, of culture, of a person’s life.
The woman sends me a voicemail saying she’ll provide a video about how to properly wear the turban, adding that when she asked for the size I wanted, she meant the actual size of my head, like measured properly. What an idiot I am. It’s all fun and turban games until…I sit there, basting in my discomfort while waiting for the video that will help me unlearn my foolishness.
She sends me a few pictures about how to measure my head and a detailed video about how to wear the turban, including tips for an inside cap and different ways to fold it. I begin crying because she’s so nice to me, this stranger, this woman who is taking the time to educate me so that I know better. Tears of shame and gratitude flow as I type this because I realize how much this exchange meant to me.
I also realize how much I need someone to care for me and how fucking beautiful it is when she does. It’s not like I don’t have caring, super supportive friends, I do. But this feels different because she wasn’t only caring, she was teaching me. I’m used to providing guidance to people. Yet, she was teaching me and doing so in a way that felt nurturing, which is unique among the emotions and human purposes.
As I share these events with a friend, she knows exactly what I am talking about. She said that as women who take care of others all the time, we crave to be cared for in this way. It is rare, that’s why I feel it so deep. Although I put the turban away, for now, I cherish it and will find a little cap to wear inside the pink garment. I will follow her kind instructions. I need to.