Obama’s handkerchief and my blue nailpolish

When US President Barack Obama visits India next month, he will skip a visit to Amritsar’s Golden Temple, “on the thorny question of how Mr Obama would cover his head, as Sikh tradition requires, while visiting the temple”. Mr Obama cannot cover his head with a handkerchief.

Who would have thought that a piece of cloth could be the cause of a (potential) furore? Rather like the blue nail polish I applied the other day. I did expect some extreme reactions, some even insulting, but none like this one: “Eeeeks, that’s the ugliest nail colour ever!”

A ‘kerchief and a nail paint—the similarity begins here. That blue nailpolish was part of my identity, it conveyed a message about me: not just about what colours I liked, but also about what I wanted to be: fun, daring, cool, young(er)…

With every piece of clothing, with every accessory, with every subtle aspect of our appearance, we reveal our identity, a bit of who we are. A sari, a mini skirt, pink hair, a mangalsutra, an amulet, a cross, a headscarf. We usually wear our identities on our sleeve, and we hesitate to wear some of them.

I wouldn’t want to be caught dead wearing a kurta in a nightclub, or jeans to a traditional wedding. And Mr Obama wouldn’t want to be seen with a cloth on his head. He doesn’t want to be perceived as someone he’s not. It would damage his standing, his reputation, stir yet another controversy about his religious beliefs. He’s human, but not all-powerful; he’s powerful, he’s weak.

So while putting a ‘kerchief on your head should mean just following a harmless tradition (or an institutional rule), to a misinformed and misled public, it would mean something they intensely dislike and mistrust. And so he makes the decision to skip the temple, so no question of following any rule, avoiding any kind of speculation—in a moment of weakness.

What you wear speaks about who you are. Mr Obama covering his head out of respect for the rules of the Golden Temple would convey: “I don’t care what misinformed Americans think about me.”

Are you brave enough to wear and DO what you want? What are you wearing today? I’m getting myself a manicure, and re-applying the blue nail paint.

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