Friday, October 28, 2011

Born Punjabi

Of all my guilt afflictions, the strangest has to do with having been born a Punjabi. Vulgar, no-culture, unabashedly consumerist, all sound and no substance, gaudy, one-dimensional, paneer bred, gold digger…. I have heard pretty much the entire perceptive gamut and it is enough to make me want to reserve a permanent berth at the confessional. But where would I begin?

Let’s see. I admit that I grew up in an environment imbued with Santa Banta jokes rather than the exalted strains of classic literature. Music was folksy far more than pure raga based, not counting the shabad kirtan interludes. Even though we were fed some mandatory and cursory diet of Sikh history, literary forays extended to bedtime stories and Punjabi riddles. If that made me practical and range of the moment effective, is it such a tragedy?

What’s more, since I was born Punjabi, I came kitted with the dance chromosome. No particular effort or training involved. I just raised a leg, thrust two arms out into the air, fingers pointing heavenwards and the spasms followed. It was more about joie de vivre than technique. Aesthetic non-violence was not all that paramount, participation was. If you happened to be amongst Punjabis and they came to be celebrating, you would do yourself good to join the wiggles and leaps. It bespoke of poor grace to stubbornly stand outside the floor just because in your culture, you either danced only perfect lines or worse, because dance was associated with ‘bad’ women back home!! What really distinguished the Punjabis was not their form but their determination to undulate, against all odds.

Take our pre-occupation with appearances. Of course we like clothes and jewellery and cars and gadgets. What if we never lived again or worse, bypassed the Punjab completely in our rebirth. Our abiding faith has always been with the bird in hand. There is something affirmative about lifeless goods to us. Acquiring expensive articles is a celebration of life, a reinforcement of our vigour, potency and self-esteem. Our life lens is made of grains called prosperity through which living looks amazingly abundant and feasible. Where I come from, there is always a way out. Troubles and mishaps are irritants, swat them like you would the buzzing flies and get on with life.

Let me admit more. I ate rice only when sick and ailing, a glass of milk was the cure for all ills, mustard oil went into everything beginning with the hair and ear to sewing machine and tractor machinery, pure ghee was manna from heaven and pickle either meant mango or big red chillies or lime, that’s it. I happily wore polyester; it did not strangle my skin or cause any great itching. Apples were eaten whole, no slicing, afternoon siestas were discouraged and there was always work to fill the hours, embroidery, stitching, weaving. 

Welcome and seeing off gifts of small cash or clothes were de rigueur. And it was quite done to pull out all the gold one owned and don it in its entirety on ceremonial occasions. What's more, if there happened to be two Pinkis in the family and it was hardly unusual, we gave it a little twist, one Pinky bacame Pinka, easy to tell now. Life should be "tension free".

Punjabis are far from perfect but their arrogance lies in not caring who is. And although I did not choose to, I would pray to be born Punjabi every one of those seven times we are promised.

Chak de!


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