When people see my turban and beard, they assume my origins to be from a country that I have never been to and culture/religion that I don’t subscribe to. As I open my mouth it becomes very apparent that I have an accent indigenous to Ohio. I say ya’ll, call any carbonated beverage ‘pop’ and the letter ‘Q’ sneaks its way into the word ‘coupon’. When I answer the question “Where are you from?” with Cincinnati, the look on their face is both priceless and concerning. They are surprised and unsatisfied because this answer doesn’t meet their predisposed expectation. The follow up questions of where I am ‘really from’ or where are my ‘parents from’ show me what they are actually asking, “What are you doing here?”
Studies from Sikh groups ‘The National Sikh Campaign’ and ‘SALDEF’ have shown that around 70% of Americans do not know who Sikhs are, and that a majority of people who wear turbans are Sikhs. Many associate my identity with what they have been shown in the media and, unfortunately, that breeds a sense of an ‘otherness’ and fear. I do not like the violence and segregation that has come from it, but being so misunderstood for most of my life has taught me a lot about myself. I must have compassion and patience for others, especially those who initially hate or misunderstand me.
It’s easy to focus on the negatives, but upholding this part of my identity has been one of the most influential aspects in forming my views as a human being. The reason why I love this piece of cloth wrapped around my hair is because of what it means. The history of this identity involves the struggle for freedom during a time of tyranny and inequality in India. The turban and uncut hair became a sign of devotion to equality for all humanity regardless of caste, creed, gender, religion or any other arbitrary line used to divide people; no exceptions.
When I see the familiar look of confusion or fear, I do not shy away from it. I approach it head on. I strike up conversations with random people and make sure they know that I am just a human being. A goofy human being with an unearthly draw to cookies, but a human being none-the less. Its tough to hate something you understand, and if given 5 minutes with someone who initially wants nothing to do with ‘my kind’ I guarantee to have them laughing and joking with me (living in Ohio I have been given many an opportunity to practice this art).
Even though this identity came out of a commitment to equality for all people, it is now associated with a level of malice. How often does one see someone with a turban and beard as a ‘normal human being’ in tv or film? It doesn’t happen very often and that is the importance of CBS Entertainment Diversity for me. It gives a voice and opens a dialogue for issues like this. Not only for representing a certain community well, but showing others the value that underrepresented communities can bring to great storytelling. Having a smattering of characters who are different enough to cause conflict, but similar enough to realize each other’s humanity. Audiences are smarter and more aware of storytelling devices as they are exposed to it more. One can see it from the advent of new diverse tv/films and the audience they attract. Before working here, I never knew about diversity departments and working here has shown me the importance. Not only from a socially conscious standpoint, but as a storytelling yearning for intriguing and complex characters. Creating characters that represent real life and that I can see myself in. These are values impressed upon me in the CBS Entertainment Diversity department, values that I will carry on for the rest of my career.
I am a Sikh, from Cincinnati Ohio, huge nerd, biomedical engineer turned film director, (much to my parents chagrin). I love the Bengals football team and the United States is my home. In the film and television industry people strive to stand out and get noticed, I walk onto a set or in a room and I am already noticed. My turban isn’t a detriment but has been fundamental to whom I have become and I see it as an asset to my path of becoming a film/tv director. Regardless of what anyone says, this is my identity. I will integrate it into my career as a director after working at the CBS Entertainment Diversity department.