I am not religious. I don’t identify with Sikhism, the religion I was born into. My only connection to Sikhism was when I kept my hair long and wore a turban, a foremost belief of the religion and a time that I admittedly disregard. Although I only abided by this rule until I was eleven, the experience of doing so has shaped me into a sociable and self-confident person.
I don’t remember much from the first morning of kindergarten other than my mom giving me an important message: “Arjan, when you get on that school bus, people will look and stare at your turban and when they do that, look at them kindly in the eyes and say hello to them and speak to them so their eyes are drawn to you, not the top of your head.”
What my mom did not realize was that aside from preparing me for the fifth grade back–of–the–bus bully, her cautionary words made me to want to speak to everyone. I no longer approached people to establish my similarity; rather I wanted to meet and converse with new people. My mom’s words compelled me to become cognizant about those around me and to interact and engage with them—it didn’t matter who they were. I made meaningful relationships through small talk on the subway, I was offered jobs through chance encounters in clothing shops, I was invited to events by connecting with waiters at restaurants.
In retrospect, it makes sense why, as a seven–year–old, I was so insistent on speaking to the maitre d’ and asking for “a table of five.” Nor is it a surprise that when I was three, I lost my mom in the mall because I was striking up a conversation with a woman at Wendy’s. As I grew older, I embraced these random moments of small talk and I loved when they would evolve into something more.
The ability to easily engage in conversation with anyone became an obsession. Failing to approach someone became my biggest pet peeve. Because who knew what opportunity I would miss if I didn’t engage a stranger? What if I didn’t approach the two vaguely familiar–looking guys on my flight from London to Copenhagen for whom I now work? All I know is that I’d be kicking myself right now while pondering all the different paths it could’ve led to. And maybe, I know something else: the parts of my early life consisting of not cutting my hair, wearing a turban, and appearing like a Sikh—a time I least associate with my identity—were the building blocks for who I am all along.