‘Montreal 1962’ by Shauna Singh Baldwin

The premise is very simple: it is 1962, and a Sikh woman and her husband (to whom the text is addressed) have recently moved to Canada where his turban is proving to be a drawback, as no one will hire him because of it. Most of the story is taken up by her loving descriptions of delicately handwashing the colourful turbans in the bathtub, “working each one in a rhythm bone-deep, as [her] mother and hers must have done before [her]” before hanging them to dry on the curtain rod in their small flat. The turban is imbued with more symbolism than I can convey in this short summary – the link between past and present, ancestors and younger generations, there and here, wife and husband, etc. As the wife carefully and lovingly performs the chore of washing, she makes the promise that she will never let her husband “cut [his] strong rope of hair and go without a turban into this land of strangers”, in what is, ultimately, a love letter.

First published in English Lessons and Other Stories, Goose Lane Editions, 1996. Available to read on Commonlit.org

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