How would you describe a Punjabi?
Well, any Hindu, Sikh or Muslim from Punjab would classify as a Punjabi but being a Punjabi comes from the spirit of ‘never say die’ (chardian kalan). The Punjabi has this unique trait, this immense belief that anything you do, I can do better. Look at their vocabulary.
If you were not a Punjabi, what would you have liked to be?
Not an Indian. I’d like to have been an Englishman. I admire them because they are straightforward and they don’t boast.
If you were to pick one good trait of the Punjabis, what would it be?
The Punjabis have been through so much adversity; they have learnt the art of surviving by fighting. Kirt karo, the Sikh faith teaches you and they have learnt to inculcate this as part of their work ethos. They believe in working hard and fighting for it and taking pride in what they do. Even after Partition, when they were reduced to poverty, they fought their way up. You would never see a Sikh stretch his arms out. You’ll never see them begging.
What typifies Punjabiyat in you, personally?
Frankly, I’ve never been conscious of being one but I have a great sense of belonging despite being an agnostic. If the Punjabi suffers, I feel deep suffering and when they are happy, I rejoice. I was very happy when Manmohan Singh became the prime minister. Part of the dream of ‘raj karega Khalsa’ (the Sikh will rule) came true, even if it was through a ballpoint pen and not a kirpan.
The community sees you as an icon of sorts. Is that a burden?
Icon? That’s bullshit. If I am, that makes me happy but frankly, my modesty won’t allow me to get flattered.
Modesty? That’s not a Punjabi trait?
(laughs) Well, that’s my bad trait then. Talking of bad traits, the Punjabis are rather loud and aggressive. We are also very vulgar. And great show-offs. At the drop of a hat, we take out processions and then even take out our kirpans. Our weddings are the most vulgar weddings. It is a common saying, put two Punjabis together and you have a singh sabha (Sikh congregation), put three of them together and you have rola rappa (noise).
What has the Punjabi contributed to the rest of India?
The Green Revolution, undoubtedly, which was started entirely by Punjab. It is still India’s bread basket. Take the case of Ganga Nagar and Tarai. One was a barren desert and the other a dense forest. Today, both are top agricultural areas and the credit goes to the Punjabi. I also think we have a delightful vocabulary which has crossed the confines of Punjab and Delhi. One Sikh is often described as ‘sava lakh’ (one plus a quarter) and fauj (an army). Then, there are other words. Chillies are called ‘ladaki mais’ (a woman who fights) and when we want to shit and piss, we say, cheetah bhagaan jaane hai and Chittorgarh ka kila fateh karna hai…
Do you find the Punjabi very boastful?
No, that’s an Indian trait. The Punjabi is as hypocritical as a Madrasi or a Bengali.
Unlike other communities, the Punjabis can laugh at themselves, right?
That quality is much on the decline. Sikhs and Parsis were two communities who could laugh at themselves but Sikhs are becoming very touchy. I was served a notice recently by the SGPC asking me not to narrate too many jokes about Sikhs in my columns.
So, have you stopped doing that?
(laughs) I just reproduced the letter in the introduction of the seventh edition of my joke books.
What about Punjabi music? Cinema and songs are incomplete these days without a Punjabi touch.
Our religion is entirely music based. We have 31 ragas which no other religion has and I’m glad we’ve preserved our kirtan. As for the Daler Mehendis and the Gurdas Manns, I can hardly say I admire them. You hear them once and you’ve heard them forever. Our gurbani and kirtan is pure and unadulterated.
How do you think other communities, down South, perhaps, think of the Punjabi?
With a certain amount of envy and appreciation. Under two percent of India’s population and we are at the helm of affairs in every sphere. Long live the Punjabi.