Red turban in the subway


To the editor:

Being a native New Yorker makes riding the subway a frequent occurrence for me. As a turbaned Sikh, it usually happens without incident. In fact, I haven’t had a serious incident since my employer, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, tried to fire me for wearing my turban while working as a train operator in 2005.

I ride the train to and from the West Bronx, where my family and I have lived for almost 30 years. I’m aware that having a long white beard often makes the young kids riding the subway think I’m Santa Claus. It’s a step up from their parents, who often think I’m bin Laden or one of his minions.

After every terrorist incident, the stares often become harder, so in certain ways, the Christmas season is a relief.

One day last year — about two weeks from Christmas — a young boy about 4 or 5 was traveling with his mother, and they were standing by the door where I was seated. The boy says to the mother, “Look, mommy! Santa Claus!” His mother reactively pulls him back and tells him that’s not “Santa Claus.” The boy pulls back insisting I am.

The train becomes more crowded and the boy is now standing in front of me with his young mother. He keeps telling her that I’m Santa Claus. “Look, he has a red hat” (my red turban), “white beard, he’s fat” (I am), “has blue eyes, and a red nose” (rosacea).

His mother, with an impatient look, tells him again I’m not Santa Claus. The boy has made up his mind.

He then tells me he has been a good boy, behaved in school, helps his mom and doesn’t fight with his cousins. His mom has a smiling face of resignation, and as I’m going with it, she consents and lets her son continue.

The boy then begins to tell me what he wants for Christmas, naming toys I’m not familiar with, but nodding my head to let him know I’m listening. He then lists alternatives. The kid has a very definite idea about what he wants for Christmas.

I tell him he should tell the list to his mom or dad, and they will approve it for Santa Claus. His mom smiles.

So I just said to him to be good, and it will all be good. His stop comes up and he gets off, saying, “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus!”

Well I guess being mistaken for Santa Claus can’t always be a bad thing. Young children often think I’m Santa Claus, while adults think I’m a terrorist.

Being Santa Claus is much more preferable. Santa Claus is a giver, a positive figure more in keeping with the Sikh teachings, where God is called the “Great Giver.”

It was pleasant to make this little boy’s day. He was amazingly articulate and determined.

It was not the first time a subway kid thought I was Santa Claus, but surely one of the most pleasant.

Being Santa Claus is not such a bad thing.

Sat Hari Singh Khalsa

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