How do you tell a Canadian of Punjabi heritage to step out and take a walk?
Going by David Suzuki Foundation: wear a bhangra outfit, put on Punjabi music and invite Punjabis to explore nature in their mother tongue – Punjabi.
The concept is great – we need to reach more and more communities in their mother tongue to tell them how important exercise is, how a walk in a park, or a trail can de-stress the mind and fill the lungs with fresh air and keep one healthy.
But why the bhangra outfit?
Bhangra is a traditional Punjabi dance – to celebrate the harvest. The dance form is very dear and sacred to a Punjabi heart – including me. It is impossible to be a Punjabi and not know bhangra. Every Punjabi knows how to sway to at least one step of the dance form. No celebration is complete without bhangra. In nutshell – it is hard to separate a Punjabi from bhangra.
But the traditional colourful outfits worn by bhangra dancers are limited to professional performances on stage – be it at school, college, university or professional troupe level. Punjabis do wear traditional wear – in India, Canada and the world over, but they are not colourful outfits.
For men: it’s a simple cotton kurta (tunic) worn with a chaadra (loincloth) and a pagg (turban). For comfort, most of the men have substituted the loincloth with pyjamas (loose pants with drawstring). In Canada, most of the senior citizens of Punjabi heritage wear kurta with pyjama. Women wear a similar outfit – a kameez (tunic), salwar (loose pants) with a chunni (stole). The fancy versions – silken fabric with glitter – are mostly worn for festivals and celebrations.
But still the traditional colourful bhangra outfit is restricted to stage performances.
So why did David Suzuki, a leading environmentalist, pick a stage performer’s outfit to speak to a common Punjabi on Canadian streets is beyond me. If he really wanted to dress the part, he could have just worn a simple kurta pyjama and a turban. But again, one has to keep in mind that a turban is a mark of respect and honour in our culture – not a part of a child’s dress-up.
I am tired of depiction of Punjabis in ‘costumes’. Bhangra is close to our hearts but bhangra doesn’t define us. We define bhangra, we invented it, and we made it what it is today.
Don’t use it to speak to us.
We understand when people talk to us without breaking into bhangra in colourful stage outfits.
We are not foolish.
And yes, we understand environment. We are the lovers of nature, we have been since we came into being – we tilled the soil, we reaped it with our sweat, and we toiled in the harsh sun and produced grain. When harvest came, we celebrated it – with bhangra, through steps that showed how hard we worked in the fields. Bhangra flows from a Punjabi’s sweat – don’t make fun of it.
Like Coast Capital Savings Credit Union has in many of its ‘bhangra commercials’. In one, a Punjabi man climbs on to a desk, and breaks into bhangra on hearing the bank’s lucrative offer – complete with a colourful bhangra dancer and another playing dhol. I cringed when I saw that commercial.
So to the David Suzuki foundation, if you want to speak to us about taking a walk in the park, please do your homework first.
No one knows environment like Punjabis do, no one understands soil like Punjabis, in fact our sacred scriptures ask us to treat earth as mother. The hard-core farmers have a gift of predicting which cloud will rain and which will just darken the sky. I say this because my father, who adopted the urban lifestyle in India, stayed true to his roots. He never lost his bet with me on environment: it rained when he said it will and it didn’t when we all said it will.
Mr. Suzuki, I know your intentions were good, so please do talk to us – in Punjabi, but without a ‘costume’. Find our pulse, respect us, and we will listen to you. And we will teach you, not one, but all bhangra steps.
Categories: Canadian Identity