Punjab Journal: A Fair in Beggowal

by Shashwati Talukdar

Gurudwara fair chatris4

Chhatri on Beggowal’s Gurdwara

  Our hosts from the Jalandhar countryside were very keen we go to the fair at the Gurudwara in Beggowal, a place to which they had contributed handsomely. And indeed it was a handsome building. A fair was in progress, complete with neon squirrel light displays, and seva in the form of food and water.

Gurudwara Fair1

Seva at the fair

Beggowal is predominantly a Lubana village, as is the Gurdwara. And even a lazy researcher’s go-to, ie. Wikipedia, tells you that they were a nomadic people who became sedentary in the 19th century (Lubana.com has a brief outline of all the possible histories of the Lubanas). Interestingly, they seem to have become Sikhs in large numbers around the 1880s. So what was happening in the 19th century that could possibly explain all this?

A possibility from my engagement with a previous project suggests itself. The 18th century was a rather tumultuous time in the sub-continent. Not the least due to the coming of the railways in the wake of seemingly inevitable march of British Colonial progress. Nomadic peoples paid dearly for this particular political and economic reality. First, the coming of the railways destroyed (a detailed account of what happened to the Koravas in Madras Presidency is a good example) the livelihood of nomadic traders. Second, a system of colonial laws and economic arrangements created conditions such that many communities were unable to sustain themselves. They were increasingly marginalized socially and legally. Finally, the growing suspicion of nomadic communities and their criminalization with the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, threw entire communities into a crises at the stroke of a pen. And many communities sought to escape their marginalization by transforming themselves. I do not know if the Lubanas were ever notified under the Criminal Tribes Act, but it was certainly the context of their lives in the late 18th century.

Gurudwara fair int2

Vyoma Gupta filming the interior of the Gurdwara


This LED Squirrel is animated

A second reality that was brewing in mid-19th century Punjab was the promotion of the idea of Sikhs as a martial race (in contrast to the rebellious Santhals, who got notified as a Criminal Tribe). A result of the changes after the first wars of independence in 1857, and the participation of Punjabi Sikhs in that particular conflict. This opened up career paths in the British Indian army. An attractive option in a world where traditional livelihoods were increasingly in jeopardy.

Whatever the reasons, the Lubanas seem to have, by and large, adapted very successfully to all the challenges and opportunities that presented themselves. And if our hosts were any indication, this was a community that hadn’t lost its ability to be successful. The Gurdwara they had funded was very well appointed, and the fair was not lacking for any up to date decorations, state of the art sound systems or any other arrangement you need for a large scale celebration.

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Punjab Journal: What is Western Union in Punjabi?

by Diditi Mitra

Western Union

Prominently Displayed on the Highway

As our bus hurtled down the state highway in the district of Ludhiana, ‘Western Union’ popped into our field of vision. The presence of Western Union, a company via which money is remitted internationally, signals the presence of migrant households in at least those villages. We also presumed that the immigrants from that area were likely to have traveled to America, given that Western Union is an American company. Perhaps as they rode away from their homes, or came back for a visit, they were reminded of their duty to support the family back home., preferably by using Western Union’s services.

Western Union, the company, is an old American institution. It began as The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company in 1851. Soon thereafter in 1856, the company’s name was changed to The Western Union Telegraph Company. The change in name reflected the links that were now established between the telegraph lines in the eastern and western parts of the United States. Nineteenth century was a time when America was in the throes of industrialization as well as a time of increased immigration from various parts of the world, including Asia. Over the years, Western Union has grown as a company. Here’s a video of how Western Union’s “culturally sensitive” marketing techniques in India furthers the company’s goals to make it an integral part of Indian immigrant lives.

As for remittances itself, journalists for the Times of India, Anahita Mukherji and Ashley D’Mello, reported that Kerala and Punjab are the two states in India that receive the highest remittances from its residents. Furthermore, India is the country that receives the highest remittances in the world, followed by China, Mexico, the Philippines and France. There was a slight decline in the remittances from 2008 and 2009, Mukherji and D’Mello write. But, the figures increased again in 2010, this time to amounts even higher than 2008.

Interestingly, Parasuraman, director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, asserts that along with being the highest receiver of remittances, India also has the highest number of return migrants – over 1 lakh (or 100,000) people return annually out of the 6 to 8 lakhs that emigrate every year.

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Punjab Journal: Migrating In

By Diditi Mitra & Shashwati Talukdar

Migrant Employees3

Fishery worker

Our host, while driving us to his village, stopped by at a fish farm that he had acquired. The caretaker of the fish farm was a migrant from Bihar, who lived with his family, in a mud shack by the water. His son was going to the local school. A friend of our host, who is a teacher, who had come along for the ride, immediately asked to see his books. The boy was going to a Punjabi language school, and was at the top of his class.

Migrant Employees7

Top of his class

While there’s migration out of Punjab, there’s also migration into Punjab. According to Census data published by the Indian government in 2001, about 8.7 percent of Punjab’s population is comprised of migrants from other parts of the country. Of all the Indian states, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana were the largest migrant sending states. Migration from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to Punjab has been slowing down though. The Census also reported that the three states with the highest proportion of in-migrants in 2001 were Maharashtra, Delhi and West Bengal. As for Punjab itself, the Census reported that of all the out- and in-migrants in the country for the year 2001, about .03 percent of people migrated out of Punjab, while approximately .05 percent migrated into Punjab (Census calculations are based on the total out- and in-migrants in India). Further, men comprise a higher number of migrants into Punjab. Work is the primary reason for men in general to have migrated. Women, on the contrary, are much more likely to migrate for familial reasons, like marriage. However, women are likely to become laborers when they migrate along with their husbands to various parts of India.  The women too become part of that migrant worker pool and contribute to the household income.
Migrant basket seller cu

The photographs offer a glimpse into the lives of those men, women and children who comprise migrant families in Punjab. The first is of the fisherman who, along with his family, had migrated to Punjab from Bihar, followed by a photograph of his son. On the left is a photograph of a migrant woman from Bihar. She had migrated with her husband. It was on our way to Chandigarh from Jalandhar that we saw her working alongside the highway – selling hand-made baskets.


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Punjab Journal: Farmland and Fisheries

by Diditi Mitra

FarmProduceFish5Driving through the vast areas of farmland with the return immigrants was a reminder that the village is very much alive in India. According to a report published in The Hindu on July 15, 2011, approximately 70 percent of India’s population lives in the rural areas. It is a decline by roughly two percent. Nonetheless, 70 percent is a significant proportion. Thus, any effort to obliterate the existence of the Indian villages is a denial of the lives and livelihood of many in the country. Above is a photograph of a person selling fruit and vegetables in the village of Beggowal, Punjab. One’s first impression of the photograph is of abundance. It looks picture postcard perfect. And, it is beautiful. At the same time, it is complex. This complexity unfolds as we continue with our journey through various parts of the state.

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Punjab Journal: Return Immigrants

by Diditi Mitra

Our own histories of being (im)migrants, from one big city to another as well as from a small town to a big city, within nations and across national boundaries made us seek out those who understood what these journeys are like. Our own journeys took us back to return immigrants–those who had left their villages in the Punjab and made journeys that sounded impossible, and were now back.

Meeting Return Migrants in Jalandhar (Photo by Vyoma Gupta)

Meeting Return Immigrants in Jalandhar (Photo by Vyoma Gupta)

In their village in Punjab, the returnees had reunited with their families. Perhaps that was something to celebrate. But, they had also left behind friends and relatives whom they had not seen in quite some time. We had brought back to them a piece of themselves – that’s what it felt like to hang with the immigrants who had returned back to Punjab from the United States. Some of them had lived in the States for as long as two decades. With us, had traveled stories of the land to which they were still connected, emotionally as well as through family members.

These histories of immigration also bound all of us together. All of us understood what it meant to have homes, and yet be homeless at the same time. Our gender differences did not seem to matter. They were all male and we were female. They were mostly from farming backgrounds and we were upper-middle class city people. In that experience of having immigrated though, we were connected. We were connected in our experience of being in-between homes.

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Punjab Journal: Omens

by Shashwati Talukdar

02. Bird copy

The journey from Dehradun to Chandigarh was marked by an omen. We stopped to get tea outside Nahan in one of those modern eateries where the food is the same its always been, but the interiors are ‘Tired Modern,’ with air conditioning. A persistent Bulbul kept dive-bombing into the window, and urgently calling out to let it in. So were we the bird, or were we missing the bird song that would tell all?

Avian persistence aside, the road was the usual procession of trucks with Truck India is gareta death wish. Sadly the truck art one sees in India is slowly shrinking. Gone are the elaborate landscapes, beautiful women, exotic fauna, and dense patterns, and romantic couplets. Some phrases, however survive. The ‘मेरा भारत महान‘ (India is great) from a more innocent time lives on.

Yes, India is after all ‘Garet.’ And some images are slow to completely die out. There was this lone bird on the side of the truck (ah the bird again!), done in the style of yore.

Truck bird paintingAn auspicious sign because it was a bird and its proud owner that started me off on this trip. This hawk was like a hawk I had seen elsewhere. Right here at home, on the arm of the patron saint of Dehradun, Shree Guru Ram Rai. Here seen in a popular picture postcard and on a mural from the Guru Ram Rai Durbar.

I had finished making a film about mural paintings in Dehradun, and the Durbar and Guru Ram Rai featured prominently in it. And this painting with the bird made an appearance in it. And so here we were, going to the place where it had all started. To Punjab.


Postcard Image of Guru Ram Rai

Falcon imagery

18th Century Mural Painting of Guru Ram Rai with Falcon




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Punjab Journal: Starting Out

by Diditi Mitra

It was a simple question, or so I thought – why do Sikhs dominate the New York City taxi industry as yellow cabbies? Little did I know that this question which culminated into a dissertation for my doctoral degree and subsequently my first book, Punjabi Immigrant Mobility in the United States: Adaptation Through Race and Class would develop into a project of this significance- it slowly, but surely, carved out a path to Punjab, India.

Chandigarh bus stop. In the middle of summer.

Chandigarh bus stop. In the middle of summer. (photo by Vyoma Gupta)

In 2007, I made a trip to Punjab, mainly its villages because that was home for most of the cabbies with whom I had spoken in the Big Apple. It was that journey that sowed the seeds for my interest in exploring transnational Sikh families, my current project. My co-conspirator, Shashwati Talukdar, encouraged me to pursue this research. Further, in one of our many conversations about traveling together, Shashwati suggested that I add a visual component to the story of Sikh immigrants. And thus was born this ‘visual sociological’ project, a collaboration between a sociologist and a filmmaker.

Over the next few months, we’ll share some of our impressions in a series of blog posts. So watch this space!

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‘Rangrooting’ for films in Dehradun


07-doctoredIn 2012 while making a hybrid documentary, Wall Stories, we decided to make a collaborative short film.  The inspiration was from my participation in the collaborative filmmaking event, RipFest in New York.  RipFest had been a wonderful experience. I got to stretch myself creatively and I met likeminded people who became treasured colleagues and friends.  I wanted to recreate that experience in Dehradun.  And so our first short, Rangroot came about in 2012. Then came The Girl in 2014, and now its time to recharge our batteries with Rangroot 3! Rangroot, the Indo-Anglian word for ‘recruit’ having become the identity of this method of making films.  A method that incorporates the talents of the cast and crew into the story that is written around whatever location is available. A combination of serendipity, preparation and improvisation.

Interested cast and crew should get in touch with us. We thank those who have already showed an interest, we’ll get back to you very soon with interview and audition dates. Meanwhile please introduce yourself to us:

Fill in this form

Collaborative Film Project in Dehradun

Film ProjectWe want to make a film that  challenges us creatively.  Instead of coming in with a script which is then imposed on the cast and crew, we will reverse the process.  We find the location and actors first and build the story around them.  This is how we made ‘Rangroot’ which turned out to be a very rewarding experience, and now we are ready to get our creative juices flowing again.

Read about ‘Rangroot’ here and here.

Actors, Cinematographers, Sound Designers, Editors, and Producers are welcome to apply.  Fill in the form below.

10/7-8 Auditions and interviews of cast and crew
10/9 Meeting of selected cast and crew
10/10 Scripting based on selected actors and location
10/11 Rehearsal
10/12 Camera blocking and shooting script
10/13-14 Production
10/15-23 Post production
10/24 Screening!

We want to emphasize this project is a way to create an outlet for talented actors and filmmakers in Dehradun, to create an environment where people can learn from each other and perfect their skills.  Its not a commercial enterprise. We are not getting paid to put this project together and neither is anyone participating. We cannot reimburse any costs that are incurred.

Filming in Dehradun!


After our great experience making ‘Rangroot’ a 100 percent Dehradun film, we are ready to stir things up again.

Read about ‘Rangroot’ here and here.

We had the great pleasure of working with a veteran actor like Jagriti Dobhal and an up and coming actor Raman Rawat (last seen on CID). And now we are getting ready to create a new team.

3 actors • 2 locations • 5 crew members    
10 people will get together to create a film in 10 days!

Actors, Cinematographers, Sound Designers, Editors, Writers, and Production crew are all welcome to apply.  We will likely crew up in October. Details to come soon.  Meanwhile you can introduce yourself and indicate your interest.

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