It was only after landing in Australia that I realised what I had been missing. Awesome people, vast landscape covered with canopies of eucalyptus, great weather, and my kind of food made me wonder why the hell was I always west-bound when there was something more enchanting available elsewhere. Khushwant Singh writeschandigarh Updated: Nov 18, 2012 11:02 IST
It was only after landing in Australia that I realised what I had been missing. Awesome people, vast landscape covered with canopies of eucalyptus, great weather, and my kind of food made me wonder why the hell was I always west-bound when there was something more enchanting available elsewhere.
This continent Down Under seemed like one heck of a place with the right ingredients for a perfect tadka or what some may call the right blend of quaint Europe and bustling America.
The visit also made me realise that the craze for West was overrated, and Australia was one country that had created the right work-life balance.
My first stop was Sydney where I spent a week with my cousin, Harman, and his charming wife, Aahuti. Harman, who was fully aware of my interest in mingling with the Indian, especially Punjabi, diaspora other than just pubbing at a blonde-infested pub, ensured that I got the full flavour of the former.
However, my obsession for the diaspora should not be misconstrued that I lagged behind in pubbing because I did manage a desi-blonde balance too. The pictures on my Facebook page are evidence to that.
Having visited many pubs, hotspots for racist remarks, I personally found no trace of racism anywhere. People were rather friendly and had a kick-ass sense of humour.
In one of the pubs a young man walked up to me to ask if his girlfriend could feel my beard. “Without hesitation,” I replied.
In America, the folks, to tell you that you are different, can pass racist remarks, but this ‘feeling of the beard’, I thought, was an interesting move. Friendly.
However, the problem arises when we take such incidents as ‘hassi toh phassi’ moves. You know what I mean, and it’s asking for panga (trouble) if you did a tit for tat and felt her bottom.
Alas, many young Punjabis, especially the ones who travel outside of their homeland for the first time, fall for this trap.
Coming back to Punjabi expatriates, I felt (even though the Punjabi language, in terms of statistics, is the fastest-growing language in Australia) the diaspora was yet to make its mark Down Under.
It appeared to me as a young, emerging diaspora, still in its infancy as compared to the one in the West.
When I say young, I mean that the inflow of a full family unit through the various emigration programmes is only a recent phenomenon even though the arrival of Punjabi men can be traced back to the late 19th century.
The first glimpse of the Sikhs in Australia dates back to 1898, when out of 413 hawker licences issued in Victoria many were issued in Sikh names.
Many Sikh men arrived in Melbourne on ships, the first carrier being SS Clitus followed by Sailing Ship Jullundar. The first one, Nutta Singh, is supposed to have bought a horse and cart and hawked his goods South East of Hamilton.
But being young is not disadvantageous. The Indian-Australian diaspora is evolving at a time when the laws heavily favour equality (I’m not sure if last year’s attacks were racist), unlike 50 years ago when it was much tougher to start a life in a white country.
Young also means that ties with the homeland are stronger and in this age of technology and communication this diaspora will perhaps remain more connected to its roots unlike the immigrants to West where many generations have changed over. I think once the diaspora gets stabilised, the Indo-Australian relationship will make a great headway.
After a week in Sydney, I was heading for Melbourne to attend a family wedding. The rituals performed were as per the traditions, but the celebration was Anglicised, an indication of the eclectic stage of the Indian community —- speeches, more speeches, a sit-down dinner with nametags on the tables etc. Having said that, the coveted waterfront venue (Carousel, Albert Park Lane) overlooking the Melbourne cityscape sprung to life once the DJ played the Punjabi beat. When the ballroom turned into a bhangra junction no one knows.
Melbourne also meant meeting the charming Manpreet Kaur, executive producer of SBS Radio’s Punjabi unit. Through her voice, Manpreet has done yeoman service to the Indian community in Australia. She has not only brought out their stories, raised awareness and issues but also connected the world diasporas through her various programmes.
Soon, it was time to head back. But I can’t wait to get back for my second dose of Australian tadka.
Punjabi by nature is a fortnightly column. The columnist is a Punjab-based author and journalist.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com