Punjab Journal: GT Road, a University and McDonald’s


On Grand Trunk Road, near Jalandhar City

by Diditi Mitra

McDonald’s is everywhere!

Seeing this fast food restaurant with which I am all too familiar on the side of Grand Trunk Road, close to Jalandhar City, was a reminder of the extended arms of McDonald’s and by way of that, the United States of America. It was an odd sight, I must say. There was a University nearby. Lovely Professional. I suppose that was considered when the fast food joint was built in this area.

Mostly though, there were villages that surrounded this now mega enterprise originally started by Ray Kroc in 1955. Kroc was inspired by the efficiency of a restaurant run by Dick and Mac McDonald when he first saw it on his visit to California in 1954. The restaurant was a small enterprise, but a successful one, with a limited menu of hamburgers, fries and various kinds of drinks. As the story goes, the brothers, Dick and Mac, were looking for a new agent. Kroc jumped at the opportunity and created McDonald’s System, Inc and six years later bought the rights to the name McDonald’s. His objective was to offer “food of consistently high quality and uniform methods of preparation.”

Little did Kroc know that years later “McDonald’s” would be used by sociologist George Ritzer as a trope toMcDonalddization of Society reflect upon and critique the homogenization of cultures ushered in by a globalized modernity. It is a completely different meaning of uniformity than what was conceived by Ray Kroc, a meaning that is critical of the many diversities it is accused of erasing and the subsequent losses incurred by us all. Ritzer had offered this critique in his now well known book, at least among academics, called The McDonaldization of Society.

And, consistent with Ritzer’s suggestion, albeit on a much more broader level of globalization and also remember that his use of “McDonald’s” was metaphorical, the physical structure of the restaurant on G.T. Road looked no different than what I have seen anywhere in America. Thanks to globalization, as the photograph at the very top shows, even the cars in the parking lot looked the same. Without any caption, it would be difficult to tell that this fast food place was not anywhere in America, but surrounded by villages in Punjab, India.

McDonalds India

McDonalds menu in India

However, appearances can be very deceptive, as they say. The exterior might look the same as any McDonald’s in America, the menu though is anything but! From it, one can order McAloo Tikki with fries and coca cola, or perhaps a Masala Grill Chicken, or even Veg or Chicken Maharaja Mac burger with Corn and Cheese Patty! What is also different about McDonald’s in India is its clientele. It varies from college students, to IT professionals, to elder couples to families with children.

The company that entered India in 1996 with one restaurant in New Delhi now has 213 outlets. The plan, according to Amit Jatia who is the Vice Chairman of Westlife Enterprises which is a master franchisee for McDonald’s in India, is to add another 250 restaurants by 2020!

And, McDonald’s is part of a growing business of chain restaurants in India. In 2013, this market yielded $2.5 billion and is expected to grow to $8 billion by 2020.

Clearly, profit is being made through these giant corporate franchisees in India. Wealth is being accumulated. Supposedly “progress” is taking place too. But, I am not completely convinced that “all” are benefiting from this so-called progress, especially in light of the growing gap between the rich and poor in all parts of the world that includes India. I would thus go out on a limb and say that this injection of progress in India is helping only some to accumulate wealth, while others are providing the labor for them to do so.

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Punjab Journal: Tall Men in the Military

by Shashwati Talukdar

It is not surprising to see billboards advertising the services of a sexologist, bonafide or otherwise, all across North India. Years ago, on a research trip in U.P., I ended up speaking to several sexologists, and they said that most of their clientele were men, and what most people needed was basic sex education, and if not that, they usually came to get help from them to have male children– an obsession as we know that has resulted in a skewed sex ratio, with Punjab being one of the states with a high rate of disparity– its 27 on a list of 35. Though, Punjab seems to have improved its record in the last ten years.

'Sex Power' and 'Why be afraid of getting married?'

‘Sex Power’ and ‘Why be afraid of getting married?’

We didn’t visit any of these doctors on this trip, but I wonder if the situation has changed, and people simply abort female fetuses instead of going to a “doctor.” The technology of sex determination has become more accessible and I assume, therefore, cheaper, and despite its criminalization, people have enough money to grease palms to get around its prohibition.


Perhaps, despite all evidence, people still believe a “doctor” or a health guru can help them get that precious male child, exhibit A being television star and yoga guru, Baba Ramdev.


Increase your height

But it seemed that it isn’t enough to have male children. They need to be tall too, interestingly, in the picture we have, its a woman in this ad on the side of an autorickshaw. In most of the ads we saw it was often men who were targeted. Perhaps it’s a social necessity in a state that used to contribute to the armed forces in great numbers. Starting with the formation of the Khalsa, and the British promotion of Sikhs and Gurkhas as ‘martial races’ , who then became the preferred recruits for the British Indian army. For a quick primer, see Amardeep Singh’s blog post about this legacy.

With this history of recruitment over a period of more than a century and a half, significant number of young men in Punjab have historically set their sights on a career in the military. A dream that curdled during the violent 1980s in the Punjab. After Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 by her Punjabi bodyguards, the government stipulated that recruits from the Punjab would be reduced. That rule barred many young Punjabi men from opting for this career path, limiting their options. ‘And thus,’ as our wonderful hosts, the Kahlon’s in Chandigarh told us, ‘began the drug problem of Punjab.’

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Punjab Journal: Hopes wrapped in dreams

Western Education

The dream makers on Grand Trunk Road

by Diditi Mitra

This poster on the wall of a building on Grand Trunk Road between Jalandhar and Ludhiana speaks volumes about the hopes and dreams that are sown in the hearts of rural dwellers in Punjab. It promises an unlimited supply of education, settlement abroad and employment. The obstacles to work and associated accumulation of wealth, along with changes in the social relations in Punjab, make such promises of success in a far flung mythical developed world attractive. According to Professor Ranvinder Singh Sandhu of Guru Nanak Dev University, crisis in farming as well as lack of opportunities in education and employment is a driving force of migration abroad for the youth in Punjab. The advertisement enticing people to travel overseas and expand their horizons is tapping into that frustration felt by the residents of rural Punjab.

At the same time, however, it is noteworthy that the poorest do not migrate internationally because they do not have the resources to leave. Only those with both financial and social capital needed to “purchase the passage” can make those attempts to be “successful.” Ashwini Kumar Nanda, project coordinator at the Center for Research on Rural and Industrial Development in Chandigarh, found exactly that in a study conducted on rural emigration from Punjab. Nanda found that 93 percent of emigrants from Punjab are non-poor and they occupy the top two wealth quintiles.

Punjabi Immigrant Mobility Book Cover

Cover Image: Anannya Dasgupta

My own research on immigrant Sikh taxi drivers in New York City has also shown that emigration is possible for those who have some amount of land which can be sold to pay toward the passage out of India. Furthermore, the rural Sikh immigrants I interviewed relied on resourceful friends and family members from whom they borrowed the money needed for the trip. And, the amount for the trip many reported can be very high if the visa is bought from an “agent” and/or an “agent” is needed to help the person jump the border without adequate documentation. The immigrants, thus, were part of a social circle with the knowledge and money to help. The presence of friends and family members abroad is an additional layer of support received by the newly arrived immigrants, a valuable resource for the Sikh yellow cabbies in NYC who had poor English language skills and low educational qualifications. Being plugged into a network of friends and family members upon arrival eased their transition into the new society, including search for strategies of permanent settlement (green card marriages for the ones who had arrived with fraudulent “papers”, for instance) and work.


Advertisements for foreign education at the bus stop in Jalandhar

It is precisely those dreams of success that seem impossible in Punjab and broadly, India that are captured by the makers of the posters.

But, there’s one other dimension of the dream presented by the poster above that begs our attention – the dream of a ‘Western Education and Immigration.” The lure of the abundant and developed “West” is portrayed cleverly by the “dream makers.” To me, it continues the work of the colonial masters – they extend to the villagers, as they do for the upwardly mobile urban dwellers, the promise of a better world made possible for anyone willing to fly westward toward civilization!

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Punjab Journal: Shopping malls, helipads and privatized education in India

by Diditi Mitra


Entrance to Lovely Professional University

We passed Lovely Professional University (LPU) numerous times on our bus trips between Ludhiana and Jalandhar . I had seen advertisements for the University on Indian television and seen its grounds in some Punjabi films, but never had the opportunity to visit the place.

I must confess that I was actually a bit amused when I first heard of a university that began with ‘Lovely.’ For me, the name seemed a bit mismatched for educational institutions that are supposed to enlighten young minds and nurture in them a desire for the pursuit of knowledge. I questioned the quality of education offered at such a place. Prejudiced? You might say.


Students getting off the bus

As the bus stopped right in front of the gates to the university, we saw the enormous campus that stretched on forever. But, we couldn’t really see much from the windows of the bus. Secrets of the interior were carefully preserved by the high walls that surrounded the institution. Plus, we were focused on the hustle and bustle created by students getting off the bus, going in and out of the university, the many vehicles that were either dropping or picking up students, and the street vendors selling various things to the students and others going to the campus.

Little did we know that Lovely Professional “resembles a first-world township, with eleven libraries, four auditoriums, one open air theater, six bank branches, 40 ATMs and a hotel with 25 rooms. What stand outs is the Uni-Mall, a shopping complex with banks, offices, clothes and department stores, and a photo studio, among other things.” Click here for an advertisement for the institution which to me looks more like a trailer for films produced by Bollywood.

Confusion was my initial reaction to the above mentioned description of Lovely Professional University in an article written by Mayank Jain. What is the need for a shopping mall inside the walls of an university? Couldn’t students go outside those high walls and get a haircut in town? Jalandhar City isn’t far at all. Or, why do students need helipads on campus? Who are these students? Why are they being indulged?


Gates to a ‘transformative’ higher education experience

Upon reflection and some preliminary research, I realized that Lovely Professional is part of a growing number of private higher education institutions in India. Presumably, such institutions are competing for students because students in this era of neoliberal capitalism are a vital source of revenue. Aparna Kalra, in an article written for Livemint about LPU, notes the concerns expressed by experts at the high number of students admitted to the university every year. They worry, she suggests, that unqualified students are being allowed entry into the institution for the sake of profit, the result of which is dilution of teaching standards.

The story of ‘dilution’ is not something new to me. I teach in the American higher education system where grade inflation, whereby students receive higher grades than what they deserve, is a serious concern. It is at least partly motivated by the goal to retain students. Further, grade inflation is more likely to be higher in private institutions. Presumably, retention is a critical source of revenue in light of lessening public funds. Higher and higher grades is the way to make sure that students stay enrolled at the institution and pay the fees set by it. Such a system produces people with degrees, but not necessarily with the knowledge or skills they should possess. In such a system, students are misguided about the quality of their education. They are not treated as learners, but as consumers who must be satisfied with the ‘product’ they have purchased. Getting higher grades, remaining at the college or university and ultimately getting that degree is what keeps them coming back for more! The luxurious amenities available at the university, like LPU, are part of that same capitalistic objective.

Clearly, it appears that much like the United States, neoliberal economic policies and its associated retreat of government support are shaping the Indian higher education model as well. Like the American one, is higher education in India headed for ‘Declining by Degrees’ too? Time will certainly tell, if it isn’t already!

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Punjab Journal: Reflecting on Bhutta

by Diditi Mitra

During our bus ride to Rara Sahib gurdwara, the bus seemed to stop in the middle of nowhere, and dropped off a very well dressed young woman. We soon learned that we were stopped in the village of Bhutta, on the outskirts of Ludhiana. The young woman who got off the bus was headed to college.

Bhutta Group of Colleges3

Stepping off the bus

Above the college gates, which we could see from the bus, hung a huge sign that said Bhutta Group of Colleges. Surrounded by the rustic environment of the village was this modern structure enclosed within the gates of the college.  Somehow, it looked a bit out of place.

Nonetheless, it was a pleasant surprise to see the emphasis on education, and that too to see women walk through those gates of higher education in a state where female infanticide and foeticide is one of the highest in the nation.

Bhutta Group of Colleges 1

What looks like the middle of nowhere

A preliminary search on Google for Bhutta Group of colleges revealed some interesting information. It looks like the institution offers technical education to those in the rural areas of Punjab. Established in 1997 under the Punjab Technical University Act of 1996, they are affiliated with Punjab Technical University (PTU). As such, the mission of the Bhutta Group of Colleges is to advance technical education in order to facilitate development of Punjab.

Bhutta village itself, according to the Census data published by the Indian government in 2011, has a very high literacy rate. (The only state in India with close to 100 percent literacy is Kerala. According to Census 2011, the literacy rate in Kerala is 93.9 percent). Additionally, the village is comprised of a high percentage of people of scheduled caste background (about 38 percent) and the sex ratio in the village is 865 which is lower than Punjab state’s average of 895, i.e. there are fewer females than males in Bhutta. The child sex ratio in the village is even lower – 765 as opposed to Punjab’s average of 846. Presumably, this pattern of sex ratio that favors males over females is indicative of a higher rate of female infanticide and foeticide. Interestingly, according to an article published in The Indian Express, the author asserts that female foeticide is alive and well in the diaspora too!

Bhutta Group of Colleges2. Cropped for blogJPG

On her way

The Punjab government has strategized to curb female infanticide and foeticide. There are many critics of abortion of female foetuses or murder or abandonment of female infants. Also, India itself is an extremely diverse society with numerous strands of religious, cultural and regional beliefs. So, it is problematic to pin down female infanticide/foeticide as innately ‘Indian.’

Furthermore, it is necessary to note that high rates of female infanticide in Punjab, or other parts of India with high rates, does not mean that this is the only state or nation where patriarchy exists. The pattern is not suggestive of some kind of pathology possessed only by brown men as a colonial, or a racist, lens would have one believe. After all, India, and a few other developing nations, have had female heads of state. Of course, that does not mean that patriarchy there is absent either. Conversely, it does not mean that the West is free of patriarchy. Evidence show otherwise.  I would argue that this is how patriarchy, in conjunction with other social factors, lives in the context of Punjab and broadly, India.  Ultimately, what one must note is that patriarchy is not exclusive to the third world and that manifestations of it are likely to vary based on the specific socio-cultural histories of a place.

What is curious though is the high rate of literacy as well as the high proportion of people of scheduled caste background in the village of Bhutta. How are they connected to the availability of resources, like the Bhutta Group of Colleges, if at all?

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Punjab Journal: When the Jatt met his Juliet….

by Diditi Mitra

The Punjabi movies playing on a small screen at the head of the bus going back and forth between Ludhiana and Jalandhar was a genius idea to keep the passengers distracted from the assault of the high temperatures that is characteristic of summer in Punjab! The fans attached to the windows did not help keep the passengers cool. No curtain on the bus window was thick enough to keep the sun away. And, even the air-conditioned buses did not stop the profuse flow of sweat from all the glands in the body. Focusing on the films playing in the bus, however, kept us entertained. Clearly, the two gentlemen shown in the photograph were watching the screen, oblivious to the sweaty and hot realities of the journey. Will the Jatt ever find his Juliet? I surely wanted to know.


Riveted by Neeru Bajwa

Curiosity did get the better of me. So, after returning to America, on one of those aimless and restless nights while surfing through YouTube, I chanced upon the film, Jatt and Juliet, and watched it!

Interestingly, the film is set in Canada. It is a story of Sikh immigrants from Punjab. The lead characters in the film are Pooja (Neeru Bajwa) and Fateh (Diljit Dosanjh). While Fateh’s dream of financial success led him to Canada, Pooja made the journey to fulfill her educational desires. The two did meet in Punjab first on one of those visits to the American embassy in preparation for their departure. As fate would have it, from then on, they kept running into each other. The power of fate was such that they ended up sharing the plane ride to Canada where they were seated, accidentally of course, next to each other. And, the endless gifts of fate also led them to the same house in Canada where they lived as roommates. Quite predictably, after overcoming much differences, including their disgust of each other, the Jatt and the Juliet discover their undying love.

In reality, Neeru Bajwa, the actress who played the part of Pooja in the film, grew up in Canada. I first came across Ms. Bajwa in the documentary Bollywood Bound. Before venturing into Punjabi cinema, she had tried her luck in Bollywood – the most prestigious and glamorous of all film industries in India located in Bombay. But, her dreams were not realized. Ms. Bajwa began her career with Hindi television drama and then moved onto Punjabi cinema. Today, she is one of the leading ladies of popular Punjabi films. Bollywood has not been completely out of her reach though. She has performed in some Bollywood films as in this song with Akshay Kumar in the film Special 26.

For non-whites like Neeru Bajwa, who have grown up in North America (presumably, in other western nations too) and would like to pursue careers in cinema, the options are likely to be limited. Non-white faces like hers are not going to be accepted as American or Canadian, in her case. Additionally, racial marginalization in the society as a whole is likely to push the second and subsequent generations to cultural practices of their parents. A connection to something like Bollywood films, like the one felt by Neeru Bajwa, is to be expected. Looking to their parents place of origin can therefore become a way to overcome racial/ethnic barriers of the society and realize those goals.

Diljit Dosanjh, on the other hand, is a prominent Punjabi film actor and singer. Recently, he has starred in the upcoming, and much awaited, film Udta Punjab made in Bombay on the drug problem in Punjab.

Regardless, I am sure neither Neeru Bajwa nor Diljit Dosanjh ever imagined their immense value in the lives of perspiring, exhausted, and sometimes irritable passengers on those buses. They are their messiah. As such, they liberate those riders from the torturous summer heat of Punjab!

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Punjab Journal: What’s In The Bag?

by Shashwati Talukdar

Postal System4On our way to Jalandhar , the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere. A smiling middle-aged man got on and reached for under our seats. At first we thought it was the police in plain clothes checking for drugs, since the ‘Punjab drug problem’ always came up in most of our conversations about the state, without any prompting from us.

Turned out, the pleasant gentleman was a rural postmaster collecting the mail for distribution in the area villages.

Perhaps our misreading of the situation says more about the times we grew up in than anything else. We came of age during the ‘Punjab Problem’ and the ‘Kashmir Problem,’ when very visible surveillance became a way of life, with random checkpoints and searches which seemed like so much security theatre, and a way to intimidate young women considered ‘loose’ for being out late.

It’s interesting we conflated the postal system with a surveillance system, maybe a connection that is not so farfetched. And I don’t mean in a Thomas Pynchon-‘The Crying of Lot 49’ way, or maybe I do.

The postal service is much older than what we know as the postal service now, one that was set up by the East India Company, which was in turn based on the Mughal system.  But the colonial post office was charged with responsibilities the older systems were not.

Radhika Singha,  in examining identification practices in colonial India, positions the post office as a place of Postal System3establishing administrative identities and fixing them. Fluid identities, especially those of non-sedentary communities were seen as deviant. Therefore fixing of identities was imperative to the imperial project. And the postal system was eminently suited to the task. The postal system identified populations as having fixed places of residence, pathologizing those who didn’t in the process. Additionally, the postal system was a conduit for financial transactions through money orders, which required a system of identification. And lastly, the postal system was also a site of surveillance.

So sensing a conspiracy in the innocuous act of collecting the mail may not be that farfetched after all. There is something in the DNA of the modern mail system that allows for it:

Since the British engaged in trade with India and also governed India, the political and commercial motives were important and linked. The welfare role of the post, though genuine, came later as a by-product of the network already established for political and commercial reasons. The service-for-the-people role of the post was secondary to its tool-for-governance role, both temporally, and in terms of importance.

(From a dissertation on the economic history of the Indian postal system by Sheetal Bharat)

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Punjab Journal: ‘Languaged’ Out

by Diditi Mitra

Pindi Attachi HousePre-packaged offering for those who have passed – is that what Pindi Attache House was selling? Pindi refers to offering on behalf of one’s family member who has passed – that’s what it means for Bengali Hindus. The busy lives that people lead today certainly make it difficult to set aside time for such rituals. Like pre-packaged food that one just goes home and heats up, pre-packaged religious offerings would mean that the only thing one would have to do is make the trip to the place of the offering? And, the availability of pre-packaged pindi in the market also means that capitalism had reached a new height. Nothing is sacred any more. After I spoke to a colleague though, I realized that pindi in the context of Punjab does not mean any of those things that were dancing through my head. Meena Dhanda’s answer was quite anti-climactic – not so exciting, and in fact, it was a heartbreaking reminder of the trauma endured by the Indian subcontinent. Pindi, she said, is sometimes used to refer to Rawalpindi, now in Pakistan.

Quite possibly, the owners of the attache store had connections to Rawalpindi. They migrated, not in the traditional use of the word, but in another way – The Partition of India on the basis of religion (Hindu and Muslim) and the resultant creation of Pakistan when India gained independence from Great Britain in 1947. Punjab, being on the border of these two nationalist projects, was thus divided into East and West Punjab. The eastern part remained in India and western part now belonged to Pakistan.

People were forced to leave their homes. More than twelve million refugees moved between East and West Punjab itself, with a total of about fifteen million who had been uprooted. In The Other Side of Silence, Urvashi Butalia writes that “People travelled in buses, in cars, by train, but mostly on foot in great columns called kafilas, which could stretch for dozens of miles.” “It was the world’s biggest mass migration in less than nine months.” Death under these dire circumstances was almost guaranteed. About two million people died. Families were separated.

As a second generation bearer of the The Partition memory, I personally know people whose families are split by the border. The contemporary Urdu poet Nida Fazli of whom I am an ardent admirer had made the decision to continue living in India, although his parents moved to the newly formed Pakistan. Ethnic cleansing, including violence that targeted women, marked yet another dimension of this separation. Communities that coexisted for almost a millennium were now arch enemies of each other, attempting to erase the syncretic fabric of the society. In Rawalpindi, “‘A Muslim horde had descended on Kahuta like a wolf pack, setting fire to the houses in its Sikh and Hindu quarters with buckets of gasoline. In minutes the area was engulfed in fire and entire families, screaming pitifully for help, were consumed by the flames. Those who escaped were caught, tied together, soaked with gasoline and burned alive like torches.‘” Muslims, too, were not spared by the Hindus, contrary to what many Hindus would like to believe. Click here for a sample of stories of survival told by the Muslim refugees to Pakistan.

The beast in all of us had been unleashed.

Click on this link for a pictorial tour of this loss and trauma endured by people of the Indian subcontinent.

In Punjab, the violence was especially acute. It was “the storm center of partition.”  Sikhs, who formed a third community in Punjab unlike Bengal, were dispersed through central parts of Punjab where the dividing line between East and West Punjab was drawn – an important contributor to the intensity of violence in the province.  The Punjabi Sikhs who moved to the Indian side of the border faced another loss. Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak who was the founder of Sikhism, was now in Pakistan. It was no longer easily accessible.

Although my paternal grandfather migrated from what is now Bangladesh (East Pakistan at the time of The Partition and only in 1971 did it emerge as a nation independent from Pakistan) prior to The Partition, the trauma of separation from home and being forced to re-imagine one’s identity and homeland  were still present. In my father’s voice, I could sometimes feel the anger and the sadness of being exiled from ‘home.’ He was born in Rangoon, a time when Burma/Myanmar was part of the British administration, and would visit his ancestral home in what is now Bangladesh on vacation from his school. “I remember that house in Bangladesh,” he said one day on the phone, “and I still remember the house in Burma where I was born.” Any mention of Bangladesh troubled him, I remember. I still hear the lament for what once was India in the voice of Indians, like parents who lament separation from their children, especially those with whom they can never be reunited.

So the trauma and memory of The Partition lingers. One finds them in spaces unexpected, like Pindi Attache House in Ludhiana, Punjab. The Partition is “A defining moment that is neither beginning nor end, partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.Personal accounts of the trauma are still being recovered, still being documented. It continues to inform the identities of those with ties to the Indian subcontinent.

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Punjab Journal: Hip Hop Mirzā’ī

by Shashwati Talukdar

Waiting for the bus to Jalandhar from Ludhiana felt like we were in a hiphop video. There was the sound of the bus station, the rush of people, and the star of the show – the conductor of the bus to Phagwara who was rustling up passengers for the ride.

Rustling Riders for Phagwara

Rustling Riders for Phagwara

At some point he realized that he had an audience and he obliged — striding up and down with just a right swing of the scarf, and the tilt to the head. The man was a performer and a star. And, we were an appreciative audience taking fan photos!

We couldn’t quite pin down the particularities of this masculine display, but it did remind me of my recent obsession with the Guru Ram Rai Durbar murals. Some of the finest examples of the mural paintings are portraits done in Mughal court style. How would have men (and all the portraits were of men) who looked like this have been understood by someone looking at these images in the 18th century? Definitely as eminent men with Mirzā’ī. That certain something that demarcated nobility as possessing qualities of loyalty, kindness, courage and spirituality. Qualities that were publicly displayed in how men dressed and presented themselves. Here is a piece from the larger film about this display of Mirzā’ī.

While how masculinity was coded in North India, differed among the Mughals, Marathas, Sikhs etc, they shared a pool of values and ideals. And how masculinity is codified may change over time, but the necessity of coding it never does. Nor does its public display. Mirzā’ī may have been transformed into Hip Hop. But our conductor man was channeling a long history of public expressions of North Indian men performing their gender.

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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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