Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Sadda Punjab. All ours. All mine. Even though all I mostly do is make short trips for various weddings every few years, it's where I feel so much at home -- despite my Anglicised, Bend it Like Beckhamish Punjabi (a friend's words, not mine), despite my turned-up nose at all types of chaat that is non-UP, and very much despite the fact that my non-asexual name cannot be confused for one belonging to a boy. This trip, unlike most previous ones, was a result of having some time off after many years and because I felt the overwhelming need to get in touch with my inner Jatt...and meet as many cousins and rishtedaars as possible.
Every time I make a trip to the land to which I truly belong, I am reminded of the absolute generosity of both the soil and its people. Going back to where my antecedent generations put down roots and where my grandfather first walked, and then cycled, to school everyday -- along dusty tracks cutting through fields swollen with the fruits of his ancestors' labour -- my heart swells with a strange kind of pride. I have never lived in Punjab, having been born and brought up, first, in Delhi and then in the badlands of Ulta Pradesh. But it squats in a special corner of my heart...and refuses to leave. I am reminded of its dynamic energy everytime I hear a dhol; feel its warmth everytime I squint up at the sky on a Sunday morning at an outdoor wedding; and, on a more regular basis than I'd be willing to admit, it screams for attention everytime I nostalgically hit the 'Punjabi' folder on my iPod, quite often when I'm feeling low or lethargic; it even traipses into my consciousness if I so much as chance upon an episode of Krishi Darshan on DD, which I feel compelled to watch for a few seconds if ever it flashes on my TataSky menu while I'm looking for another channel.
For me it will always be this exotic land that embraces me in a giant bear hug everytime I go there. A place where no patch of land is left fallow... A green so true that it would send The Hulk into a sulk...A place where enthusiastic direction-givers cross the road to your car and go about explaining roads and routes with as much gusto as cheerleaders at a home game...where you can find burly boys on Enfield mobikes clutching dainty pink shagan ka lifafas (bright gift envelopes with money inside them - given on weddings to newly married couples)...where Lohri is not just another declared public holiday but a veritable volcano of celebration, which, for those watching from outer space, must seem like the earth itself was going up in a huge puff of smoke fuelled by tonnes and tonnes of popcorn, peanuts and rewri (sugary nuggets)...where the sudden sighting of a Verka milk bar on a busy highway leads to much squealing of tyres and hasty U-turns...where “biba” means so much more than a well-known brand of traditional ladies wear...where you cannot go for more than half a kilometre without spotting a well-lit, well-stocked liquor vend, most of which come fully loaded with a chicken tikka joint, to boot -- the two often joined at the hip like Siamese twins...It's the land of creativity beyond compare, where pictures of fat, juicy murgas (roosters, in preference over that other word!) lure you with slogans such as "See me anywhere, but eat me here"...and where traditional sweetmeats tracing their origins to the pre-World War I-era come packaged in happy, shiny boxes that exhort you to "Forget to eat, but not Dhoda sweet"...where you are plied with more food and more calories per social visit than can be found in any self-respecting American diner...
If the Times of India is to be taken seriously, then India might well be a state of Punjab, rather than the other way around, but the sad truth is that even as I bask in the warmth of old memories, I am continuously reminded that the generous land where my Dad spent his early childhood drinking lassi from mammoth glasses is not the same anymore. Stories of proud hope clash miserably with tales of broken dreams in faraway lands; of a youth so hooked onto drugs that the government is hiring popular singers-songwriters to write paens to a land besieged by a curse of plenty, in a desperate bid to wean a generation away from choosing the easy way out. Then there are those older stories of pesticides leaching into the groundwater and of children being born with horrific congenital defects, which jostle for space amid the crowded cities with their BMWs and SUVs -- all this in a state that has more Mercedes showrooms than any other in India; a planned mall with a helipad, no less; and matter-of-fact tales of half-a-dozen Beemers being given away as wedding presents to the "Boy's" family!
Still, this past week I've felt more alive, more joshed-up and (more than ever before) in serious need of antacids-- thanks to a parade of relatives hugging and feeding the life out of me -- than I have in a long, long time. It is this flawed paradise that reminds me of who I am and who I will always be: a similarly flawed, but proud offspring of a rich and stubbornly resilient heritage, held together by the sheer goodwill and tenacity of a people with hearts richer than all the butter chicken in all the world.
That's my Punjab: chakking the phattas at a corner near you!