Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Snare-e-Punjab

dunali (double-bore gun)... revaalver (revolver, of course)...panga (trouble-making)...daaru (booze)... kudiyan (chicks)... kukkad (chicken)...gwandiyan de munde (neighbourhood boys)...gabroo (strapping young lads)...laung da lashkara (glittering nose-pins)...sat rang de parande (colourful hair accessories)...chaati di lassi (most awesome buttermilk)...boys gona ral ke pao bhangra tonite (weird Pinglish on CD covers)...botalan de datt (poppable liquor bottle caps, as I imagine it)...zameenan (land; property), as well as the most wonderfully vague, all-encompassing and versatile one-word in all of history: laih! and all that jazz. Yes, those of you who are familiar with any or all of the above and the fact that they are all being listed together, alongside this very (in)appropriate picture, have guessed it right: I've just been to paradise and back.

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!   

9 comments:

  1. nice. It's a terrible shame that I don't know my own language (punjabi). But we try, as best as we can to forge connections with the lands our parents grew up in..

    a laih, indeed. : )

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  2. @Pringle Man: thx. well, worry not - my situation's worse...i can sort of read and write Punjabi, but get choked every time I try speaking it, not to mention my complete humiliation of trying to test drive my pseudo-Punjooisms in front of those "theth" Surdy "rishtedaars"! still, it's kinda nice to know i could have auditioned for Bend it Like Beckham :)

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  3. Wow, one of my good friends jsut sent a email of your blog to me and Phatte chak aritcle likhiya haiga...
    behja behja :)

    loved reaading it and as you say india might be a part of punjab rather the other way round is true , if you look at history and all but sadly all that has been forgottne and inspite of step motherly treatment by the centre we stand tall..

    Excellent will come back for more and this was in janaury you wrote long time when is the next one coming up ..

    Bikram's

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  4. Hey, love the way you write...will read all the old posts soon

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  5. @Bikramjit: thanks! Well, we all carry a little bit of Punjab inside us, don't we? I wrote this on the Shatabdi back to Delhi, completely overwhelmed...somehow haven't been able to muster that much passion to drag myself back here lately...these comments sure help:)
    @Aneeta: thank you! well, all I can say is...don't hold them against me ;)

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  6. "See me anywhere, but eat me here" : Deluxe Hotel Ambala Cantt, Haryana (en-route Punjab)?

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  7. @Incognito: yup, that's the one! Though I think it was a little inside town, on way to Cantonment, and not near the highway... fat juicy murga strutting his stuff on the billboard :)

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  8. Punjab evoke extremes: a lot of courage, swagger on the upside. Loud, back slapping, ribaldness, revelry, fat weddings is the other side. Punjab hits you on the face there is no avoiding. My perspective of Punjab that I saw in Delhi streets is the fad for western imagery; god these folks are racial.

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  9. @Sathyanarayanan: Punjab is nothing if not in-your-face, so I'll grant you that. But what you see on the streets of India's capital city is not Punjab, but a curious, so-called "Punjooness" that a melting pot like Delhi evokes. And the 'fad for western imagery' has deeper sociological implications, inextricably linked to a curious mix of influences that inspires Gen Next as a whole.

    Loud - yes...Fat weddings - uh huh...Ribald -proudly...Courage - totally... BUT I take serious exception to you calling "these folks" (read: me and mine) 'racial', which in itself is a misnomer. Besides I can't help but wonder if you have a single Punjabi friend who might help you prove your hypothesis wrong :)

    In fact, and I say this will all due respect, don't you think a gross generalization like yours might automatically qualify for the Inadvertently 'Racist' Hall of Fame in itself?

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