This month Punjabi By Nature turned six. I am reproducing the first column that appeared in December 2009. Titled, Rangla Punjab, the column was about issues in Punjab. However, since India’s unity in diversity is under duress, I have tweaked this slogan to read as ‘Rangla India’ to salute the secular spirit of our nation. Thank you for your patronage.
I cannot help, but put one of my Facebook statuses as the starting line to this piece. ‘Utter nonsense is taking place in India’.
However, having written this let me now take you to the government operated kinnow waxing, grading and packaging centre in my village Chhauni Kalan, in district Hoshiarpur.
Eighteenth year in running, this waxing plant besides packing off juicy kinnows to the country, provides a unique example of India’s unity in diversity. Kanti and his mates have arrived from Gujarat and are busy packing kinnows in the corrugated boxes, their fingers moving like that of a tabla maestro’s engaged in a ‘jugalbandi’.
‘We are Vaghelas from Gujarat, and our family occupation has been packing fruit,’ I remember Kanti telling me on a cold December day as we sipped our chai.
‘We travel all over the country packing mangoes, litchis, pears and apples but Punjab is the best, Kanti had said one day. If I remember it correctly, he had come asking if I could join them for a meal since they had cooked ‘kukkad’. With kinnows having turned orange, how can SK Zakir aka Munna, from Kolkata be not at the waxing centre, procuring kinnows for the Kolkatans. Years of haggling with farmers to procure the fruit at the lowest price has not only helped him perfect his Punjabi, but his ‘gup’ according to farmers has also assumed Punjabi proportions.
‘Munna di gal da itbaar nahin karna... eh hun gup vi Punjabi style chad da hai, my father told me one day warning me not to be lured with his gift of the gab. However, I know that my father always wishes that Bakr-Eid should fall during the harvesting season as Munna gets him a big portion of the sacrificial goat that he has cooked.
Kapoor Sahib alias Benarasi Babu, is the official Ear Nose Throat (ENT) specialist, as anyone with the slightest cough and cold at the plant is on the lookout for the commission agent from Varanasi, who invariably carries in his coat pocket anticold ayurvedic tablets. His most regular patient is my younger brother whose pet line each time he bumps into Kapoor sahib is - ek goli daiyoaachoo. No farming operation in Punjab, I can claim with a good measure of authority, is possible without the farming labour from Bihar and Jharkhand. The first farm migrants to land in the Doab were at our farm in the midnineteen seventies. All of them were from Bihar and were all Christians. Though, I was only a few years old, I remember the scene vividly, of them sitting in a group and listening attentively to my grandfather’s instructions. Most of them had small towels wrapped around their waists and had crosses hanging around their necks. A few of them carried indigenously made hockey sticks, as hockey was their favourite game.
Their group leader was one Julius who worked as our ‘head mali’ for three decades before returning to his home state where he owned ten to fifteen acres of land. According to him irrigation had become available and he wanted to till his own land. However, he left all his three sons behind and presently they work at the farmone as a tractor driver-and the younger two as managers- taking care of guests at my brother’s farm stay project.
Barring a few cultural peculiarities, the migrants have assimilated well and speak fluent Punjabi. They celebrate Christmas with full gusto and drink their rice based Bacchus to the hilt and do not turn up for work for the next couple of days. We are ok with that.
So next time Facebook asks me what’s on my mind - I hope I can type - Rangla India.