Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Being Sardar

When I was a kid, I used to love Laxmi Kara's geography class. Geography was the closest thing to travel which I later figured out was my source of energy in life.
Kara herself was stately in her appearencce. With silver white hair she had a perfect face. She must have been atleast 60. She had that sense of calm and clarity in her face. Very very similar to Nafisa Ali in looks.

Laxmi Kara single handedly made me dream about being a pigmy. I loved the fact that one can climb trees, live in the forest, be free of homework, school and uniforms, eat all the exotic foods. This image stayed on till quiet late in life. The whole idea of living without any possessions as a tribal does is extremely appealing. Especially sleeping on a treetop some 250 feet above ground. Watchng a clear starry sky, black as ink studded with a zillion diamonds.

Ofcourse all this lasted till I saw that episode on pigmys by NatGeo. Their exisstence and livelyhood in the 20th century. It was stark, devoid of myths and quiet literally showed them as "as humans as anyone else".

Even then the whole image of a pigmy remained etched in mind. No amount of realism could erase those.

To dream of being a pigmy when I was 12 turned to dream of being a sardar. If you think of any section of people in the world who have embraced life as whole heartedly as possible, they are the Sardars. Sikhs is the politically correct term, but thats just a relegious identity. To be a sardar is something else.

Firstly it is super human. Its dildhar (all embracing). Its filled with fun and goodness (as good as the lassi) and most importantly it is about the laughs, throaty, gutteral and at times self-deprecating. No one can dispute the fact that no one can say a sardar joke as well as a sardar.

The word sardar has come to mean dumb, stupid, loser. But one look at this world would say that there is very little truth in that stereotype. The only source of reasoning is because of the hordes of sardar jokes.

We had one pappe sardar in our team. Every morning we would ask him "Bhupi, Kuki ki ondhi ?". Every morning he would say in his trademark smiling style "Madrasi, it doesent mean anything". Well, in those days I would have taken grave offence and sprung in defence of anyone making fun of tamil iconography. Be it curd-rice, or Rajnikanth or silk smitha. How can these north indians do that ? But then as I lived more in north india (I still believe mumbai to be more north than south), I realised that the hindi speaking community especialyl the sardars dont have such a bipolar view of India as we think. Its more multi polar. The bumbling bong is as much a curiosity as a touchy tamilian or the mystic mallu or the shrewed gujaratis. That way Identity played its true intended role. To identify.

This identity pride thing is a mechanism to psyche a community to strive harder to overcome imaginary enemies. Something similar to the drummers on a dragon boat in kerala. The drum beat of identity, pride is more to get the group of boatman to act in synchrony to the drum beat. Idnetity icons are similar in nature. Gujarati Asmita, Tamilian pride etc.

I am not saying there isnt gujarati asmita and tamilian pride. There is infact a sense of commonality. But we make those commonality too much a centerstage phenomena than necessary. Its got its benifits, but the key question is are we over stretching it ?

Harpreet my senior in coimbatore is a sardar with a difference. Ask him where his native is ? he would say salem. Though thats not what people want to know. With time people started accepting Harpreet from salem as a plausibility although with a slight bit of suspicion. The funny thing was the look on people's face when harpreet spoke tamil. Some of us (including me), were taken aback when harpreet spoke flawless tamil (you know the beat, otha.. koodhi etc.)

Well it said more about the rest of us than about harpreet. Identity is real but its not always as stereotypical as we define it to be. Mahmood's padosan cast the death knell for many tamilians. kamalahasan's ek dujhe ke liye personally robbed me of anonymity at my workplace and made life difficult. Vasu meant Vasu-sapna as if sapna happened to be my surname(For more on this Read Morarjee Files - Parallel Run ). It dint help, I dint have sapna. But it helped to ease out tense situations, throw in some laughs and make people open. But how this identity issue will pan out is no gaurentee. All that matters is do we have the mindset to take something like that and make it positive ? or are we going to be confused, filled with angst and stressed out as the ABCD identity (American born confused desi). Are we going to make our identity the epicenter of our existstance ? Are we going to judge everything in the world through those lenses ?

Deep questions, but thats as deep as I can go today. Anyways I cant forget this one incident.

Andy was sitting down to play a game of Dave. Its 2.00 a.m. in the morning. Bhupi is impatiently waiting behind him for his turn to play. We had finished our shift and had 2 hours to kill before the first train came into lower parel. What do we do, but play Dave. Slowly it was becoming participative. "Left jao, right maro" rang the rarified morning air. Andy's reflexes were taking a beating at two and as everyone would say "old age was catching up". Andy got shot, by the revolving fireball. Immediately there was a loud laugh from behind Andy. It was bhupi, who was soaking himself in the situation andy was in. Andy sat there embaressed and fumin.

"Kya sardar bangaya yaar ?", managed bhupi amidst the laughs. Everyone joined in. Andy retorted. "Abhe, thu already sardar hai..". Bhupi was in form that day. "Haa par thera jaisa nahin.." And the laughter went on for a long time to come.

The ability to laugh at one's identity and not feel any less proud about it is sardardom in my definition.

I now dream of being a sardar as much as I once dreamt of being a pigmy. As for being a tamil, I already am one. Dyed in the wool. Unabashed. I can be both cant I ?

15 Comments:

At 12:28 AM, Blogger Vijayeta said...

LOL @ Madrasi! That used to be my preferred word to annoy the chauvinists one met all over the Tamil film industry... And god! It Works!
Anyway, in other news, i've not retired :|

 
At 10:14 AM, Blogger Arthi said...

hehe.. Never been called Madrasi, but have had to live with a more precise identity... Tam bram!! Doesn't matter whether you're up north or still south (in my case Bangalore) for people to identify you and call names... And then it's not that bad a thing you know!! An identity is important. Hopefully it should remain harmless and unbiased.

Arthi
arthi.livejournal.com

 
At 5:43 AM, Blogger Deepti said...

hola!! hmmm... never liked being associated with an identity!!! :) BUt always wondered how Sards could stand being made fun of all the time!!!

 
At 11:43 PM, Blogger Vasu the terrible said...

@vijayeta - :) ha chauvenists... I know that breed. But down south we believe that the punjabhis are more aggressive. Isnt it so ? anyways, its all convinient stereotypes.

@arthi - Tam brahm is an identity very difficult to shake off. I mean how can vasudevan srinivasan escape that ? Well, better make fun of it than be stressed out about it.

I am at level 2 of sardardom.

@deepti - sardars are also called dildars. Some of the most viciously funny sardar jokes are told by sardars themselves. It takes a certain attitude to diffuse the starkness of their identity. pagadi, kacha, dhadi and all..

I guess sardars are better evolved than the rest of us.

Wahe guru da kalsa..!!!

 
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At 4:27 AM, Blogger Why Am I said...

if ur in the south ur branded tam brahm if u r...and elsewhere a madrasi...the other day a gujju frnd remarked tht for south indians, neone from outside of the south is a north indian... tho he mite be from bbay which si the west or cal which is the east...neways...i just cudnt help laughing when i read abt the vasu-sapna thingy...atleast u have a sapna to comment!

 
At 5:19 AM, Blogger Vasu the terrible said...

@why am I - Its just the way we look at differences. The vasu-sapna thing is a disaster. the worst is I dint have a sapna then and really it dint matter to anyone that i dint. Vasu meant vasu sapna.

more of it explained in the link.

Thanks for dropping by.

vasu

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger Mumbai Guy said...

Wow...rare to see such posts and views. Well written. Trust me until I left Mumbai for few places outside, I never knew that we indians too have north and south classification. My Tamil office-mates hated everything north for apparently no reason. And this made even me uncomfortable many times.

Bottomline is be good to each other and have fun. Gujjus, sardars, madrasi or whatever.

 
At 2:51 AM, Blogger Vasu the terrible said...

@mumbai guy - bingo.

But its always not a bad thing. Just that people should workout and develop the humour bone.

I am kidding, you cant work out and develop the humour bone. I was just joking.

You should have taken a fall pretty early in life.

Ever wondered why the best mallu jokes are said by mallus ?

its the accent :D

vasu

 
At 3:44 AM, Blogger Mumbai Guy said...

You are right :-)

Hey do you know they call gujus the "Gandyabhai's". Means "stupid" brothers and marathi crowd are "gaathis" meaning nomadic. Ok I dont know exact meaning but whatever it means, it is not something to be proud of.

I am not saying life should be treated as a joke all the time but like you said we should a humour bone.

 
At 3:47 AM, Blogger Vasu the terrible said...

I think it depends on the group. If there is a good chemistry in the group and everyone equally nutcase it is real fun. I think it puts into perspective the individual identities.

We even had an anglo indian in our group and what fun it was. One thing is there was no malice. Just whole hearted fun.

vasu

 
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At 10:02 AM, Blogger www.smsnfun.com said...

Boss : Where were you born ?
sardar : Punjab.
Boss : which part ?
sardar : Kya which part ? Whole body born in punjab.

Sardar Jokes

 
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