Children’s book on Sikh turban withdrawn
Publishing house gets calls that it is blasphemous and hurtful
A slim, illustrated children’s book called The Art of Tying a Pug by Natasha Sharma, released two weeks ago, has attracted huge controversy with several Sikhs calling for its immediate withdrawal.
The Chennai-based children’s publishing house, Karadi Tales, has received more than one legal notice, with petitioners calling the book blasphemous, insulting and hurtful.
“We have been bombarded with calls and mails, abuse and threats for the last few days,” said Karadi Tales co-founder and publishing director Shobha Viswanath.
After taking legal advice, the author and publisher have decided to withdraw the book. It has since been delisted from Amazon. A trailer created to market it has been withdrawn as well. Said Ms. Viswanath, “The author and her family are feeling frightened and harassed.”
Ms. Sharma, a practising Sikh herself, grew up in Amritsar helping her father tie his turban or pagdi each morning, and this sparked the idea for the book. She teamed up with award-winning illustrator Priya Kuriyan, sending her videos of her father so she would get the details right.
What didn’t work is the fact that Ms. Sharma chose to pun on the word ‘pug’, a well-known abbreviation for pagdi among Sikhs. The book used sketches of a boy helping his father tie the turban while a little pug keeps getting in the way, finally ending up with a sash tied around its head. Ms. Viswanath said the method was used to make a how-to book appealing for children. Many readers, including Sikhs, loved the book, she said.
Ms. Sharma was unavailable for comment, but her note on the book says she wanted to “introduce children from across the country to a different facet of culture”.
Sikhs took to social media to say the book was “in bad taste”; it presented Sikhs in a “negative” way; and it disrespected the turban. The Sikh religion mandates the 5 Ks, of which one is kesh or long hair, kept covered by the turban. Ms. Sharma’s book too explains the 5 Ks at the end.
Ms. Vishwanath said the fallout was unexpected. “Everything is seen as an affront today. One should understand the intent, which wasn’t to hurt. Even if inadvertently one misunderstands sentiments, people should discuss it without threats and abuse.”