Why the Punjabi Matters

Why the Punjabi Matters Because they have come to embody a resurgent India. Because they have become the synonym for entrepreneurship. Because their music is kicking some serious you-know-what globally. Because Bhajji is Dada’s secret weapon again. Because they are conquering taste buds across the world—soldiers in Ole Blighty are insisting on their chicken tikka masala before embarking on operations, in case you haven’t noticed. Because they can teach the world more about resilience and joie de vivre than any other ethnic group, because you can’t ever translate chak de phatte. Because no one can make you feel-good as much as them. Because way before Bobby McFerrin sang Don’t Worry be Happy, there was koi gal nahi, Gurmukh Singh profiles this Punjabi culture. Read these three sayings, and you will get a glimpse into the Punjabi psyche: Khada peeta lahe da, baaki Ahmed Shahe da (Grab whatever you can before invade Ahmed Abdali comes). Khande pinde maaro. (Eat, drink and be merry) Punjab de jummian nu nit muhiman. (Punjabis are condemned to be on the campaigns). Characteristically, a Punjabi is a romantic by heart. That’s why all the famous love sagas (Heer-Ranjha, Mirza-Sahiban, Sohni-Mahiwal) were played out on Punjabi soil. A Punjabi is a fighter by instinct. That’s why Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Hari Singh Nalwa (he weighed 280 pounds) put an end to centuries-long invasions from the northwest. A Punjabi is a connoisseur by taste. That’s why every Indian talk about Maaki-di-roti aur Saang. And a Punjabi is an achiever by nature.

He relished challenges and uncertainties. As a writer has said, the Punjabi wants to own the world. Many Punjabis have crossed Saat Samundar and made it big in whatever they undertook. Look at how they became big farm owners in Canada and outshone their white counterparts. British Columbia’s Purewal brothers, who started in 1980 with just a few acres, today own thousands of acres and are the biggest producers of blueberries in North America. Their secret? “Be smarter than your competition and reduce costs. By the process, we became more profitable than white farmers. Many white farmers sold their land to us and got out of farming. Today we produce more than 60 million dollars’ worth of blueberries every year,” says Gurjit Purewal.

In California, Harbhajan Samra, who has been rated as the “okra king” by The New York Times, too started out with a few acres in the 1990s. Today, he produces the best okra and 40 other goods and sends truckloads of produce the best okra and 40 other goods and sends truckloads of produce all across America and Canada. His formula: don’t take the trodden path and go where no one has gone before. “Nobody grew okra in California when I came here in 1985. With a huge south Asian population here, I hit upon the idea of growing okra.” Samra is a multi-millionaire today.

Dr. Narinder Kapany, who is called the father of fiber optics, reached Silicon Valley and became a millionaire much before even the name Silicon Valley was coined. “Success is a sort of magnet for Punjabis. America has that magnetic pull. It just spells success. That’s what the Punjabi wants,” says Dr Kapany.

Canadian health minister Ujjal Singh Dosanjh put their success down to two traits: charhdi kala (optimism) and never-say-die attitude. “Give the Punjabi an opportunity and he will grab it both hands. He is very demonstrative by nature. He wants to show off. That’s why he wants to dress well, eat well and live well. That’s the reason for Punjabis’ success wherever they have gone,” says Dosanjh.

According to Bhajan Singh of the Singapore Sikh Education Fund, what makes a Punjabi tick in his high AQ. Spelling it out, he says, “In management, first they said that a person who surpasses others has high intelligence quotient (IQ), then they put it down to high emotional quotient (EQ) and now they say success is related adversity quotient (AQ). Because of their historically adverse circumstances, nature has equipped the Punjabi with a very high AQ. Be it the Terai or Kutchh in India or California or British Columbia, the Punjabis have spelt success in agriculture. They just love taming nature and opponents.” Singapore’s Kartar Singh never sit twiddling their thumbs. Chakde phatte. Tell them that something is not possible, and they will go the whole hog after it. That’s the formula which has made them world beaters,” says Bains.

Kim Bolan of the Vancouver Sun in Canada, who has covered this south Asian community for her newspaper for two decades, says Punjabis succeed because they are a cut above the rest.

Gurinder Mann of the University of California, opines, “The Punjabi steamroller abroad has just begun. There will be more Thakral, who is by far the richest Sikh in south-east Asia, says the Punjabi is very competitive. This spirit, coupled with their discipline is a sure recipe for success.

Up in northern Queensland in Australia is a Punjabi who grows more sugarcane than anyone in Australia. Gian Singh Bains’s forefathers came here in search of opportunities. “Punjabis CREATE opportunity. They and more Punjabs away from India in the future.”

Punjabi is one of the main languages in Canada and Singapore. Board any Air Canada flight, and you will read signs in Punjabi. With eight Punjabis in the parliament in Ottawa, three in London, and two in Singapore, the Punjabis have arrived on the world stage. --

Source: Amritsar Times, Vol. 1, Issue 12, pg. 9-10, 2005

Ted S Sibia

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