Since childhood, I have heard that Punjabis and potatoes can be traced to any corner of the world. During a three-year graduation course in Switzerland, I got the opportunity to visit several European countries. Incidentally, wherever I went, I came across Punjabis who took pride in their work, be it big or small. Recalling those special moments is exhilarating and I often share them with family and friends. What better time to revisit those experiences from visits to London and Paris than today, which happens to be Punjab Day.
During my first holiday in Europe, I took off to London from Zurich and the moment the plane came to a halt at Heathrow airport, I saw two turbaned men transporting bags from the neighbouring aircraft to the conveyor belt. When I got into the airport, I found most of the employees were of Punjabi-origin whether they worked in housekeeping or security or immigration.
My uncle, who had sponsored the visit, was waiting outside to pick me up. We boarded the famous double decker bus to Southhall. The bus was packed with Punjabis and the driver was a Punjabi too. I asked my uncle if we were really in England. He laughed and said, “Just wait till you get to Southall Street.” He was right for the street resembled a typical Indian bazaar. Seeing Punjabi restaurants and shops made me feel at home.
The scene was no different when I boarded the famous TGV Lyria French train from Basel to Paris. Minutes into the ride, my friend and I were in for a surprise whe the ticket-checker arrived. No, he was not French but an Indian from Jalandhar to be precise and settled in Paris. Noticing that we were Punjabis too, he greeted us with a: “Sat Sri Akalji”. We happily showed him our tickets and told him that we are students in Switzerland visiting Paris for the first time. He gave us guides and maps of Paris and gave us the best recommendations. “When you reach Eiffel Tower, you will find many youngsters from Punjabi selling souvenirs,” he said before wishing us best of journey.
At the magnificent tower, we ran into several Punjabi vendors, who followed us with postcards and Parisian gifts. One of them told us that he had been in Paris for years. He shared an observation that I am often reminded of. He said, “What surprised me and my colleagues when we came here was that while we Punjabis don’t take pride in our mother tongue and our rich culture, people in France or in its neighbouring countries do. We are fascinated by the western culture.” He went on to add, “Like me, Punjabis are spread across the world and have left the natives behind due to our hard work but if our community starts taking pride in its language and culture like the French, Italians or Germans do, we can take our community to the peak of success.”