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MONTREAL 1962Shauna Singh Baldwin, 2012Shauna Singh Baldwin (born 1962) is a Canadian-American novelist of Indian descent. “Montreal1962” is from her book of short stories English Lessons and Other Stories. In this short story, a Sikhwoman who has recently come to Canada with her husband describes washing his turbans. In the Sikhreligion, men often wear turbans and grow their hair long.1In the dark at night you came close and your voice was a whisper though there is no one here to wake.“They said I could have the job if I take off my turban and cut my hair short.” You did not have to sayit. I saw it in your face as you took off your new coat and galoshes. I heard their voices in my head asI looked at the small white envelopes I have left in the drawer, each full of one more day’s preciousdollars — the last of your savings and my dowry1. Mentally, I converted dollars to rupees2and thoughthow many people in India each envelope in India could feed for a month.2This was not how they described emigrating to Canada. I still remember them saying to you, “You’rea well-qualified man. We need professional people.” And they talked about freedom and opportunityfor those lucky enough to already speak English. No one said then, “You must be reborn white-skinned — and clean-shaven to show it — to survive.” Just a few months ago, they called us exoticnew Canadians, new blood to build a new country.3Today I took one of my wedding saris3to the neighborhood dry-cleaner and a woman with noeyebrows held it like a dishrag and she asked me, “Is it a bed sheet?”4“No,” I said.5“Curtains?”6“No.”7I took the silk back to our basement apartment, tied my hair in a tight bun, washed the heavy folds inthe metal bathtub, and hung it, gold threads glinting, on a drip-dry hanger.8When I had finished, I spread a bed sheet on the floor of the bathroom, filled my arms with the turbansyou’d worn last week and knelt there surrounded by the empty soft hollows of scarlet, navy, earthbrown, copper, saffron, mauve, and bright parrot green. As I waited for the bathtub to fill with warmsoapy water, I unraveled each turban, each precise spiral you had wound round your head, and soon1Dowry-money brought by a bride to her husband when they’re married2Rupees-the basic unit of money in some Asian countries, including India3Saris-a garment that is elaborated draped around the body, traditionally worn by women of South Asia
the room was full of soft streams of muslin4

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Term
Fall
Professor
Travis Quinn
Tags
Sikh

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