Harnidh Kaur( @harnidhk ) in a brilliant poem on Punjab, talks about a land ‘cleaved into two’ and the image of a flushed Mustard field, like the ones I passed on my way to school, enters my mind, only there happens to be a terrible expanse of emptiness that hangs over the middle, the ground is split into two, but the comfort of material does not lend itself to the divide, the swaying grass dissolves into the emptiness, it does not terminate, but instead, makes itself invisible to the onlooker, leaving no abrasive finality behind, only a vacuum that seems very very out of place in this entirety of vividness and nurture. A vacuum that she dwells further upon through the means of poetry and language, art and a cultural identifier. A similar vacuum happens to haunt the modern-day Punjab, or at least so, in my opinion. It happens to be one that has caused several families across the state to be rendered distant and has left behind an almost skunk-like stench of disenchantment hanging around, in its wake. It is important to note the historical context within which the Punjabi identity is sourced into strong and evocative images of patriotism, and a sense of proud citizenhood, and it is important to note that the same history is being rewritten because of the Diaspora, as was once rewritten in the Partition. What are the causes of this vacuum? Unlike the first, this one happens to be strongly rooted in issues of class, and the drive that Capitalism envisions in each individual, coupled with a strong structure that favours the bourgeoisie. The unavailability and inequitable distribution of education and literacy has, as always, perpetuated a state of hard times upon the masses, and the dream of a Canadian citizenship has become the denier of class consciousness, in the modern-day Punjab.
Popular culture has interwoven the same principles into itself, where songs of wanting to go to Canada, and the dream and the splendour of it, come out at the rate of at least a couple of hundreds per hour. But more importantly, Canada is associated increasingly with the materialistic, the urban, and essentially the petty-bourgeoisie, perhaps. In this way, the very system that denies the foundations of this image to the masses, also sells it as the dream to achieve, ensuring a circular interaction that seeks to amaze at close analysis. But the current babble only stems from idle and pointless contemplation on the most brilliant Punjabi song from 2012, Roshan Prince’s Look/Lak. Straight up, the song places Canada as the primary cause of his separation from his lover, in a sense, it is Canada to blame for this urban woman who had finally been enchanted by the simplicity, strongly associated with his positioning in a rural setup, more reminiscent of the simpler days in Punjab, of the brute love, to be broken out of her spell and realise the capitalist reality in which ‘dollars’ happen to be more important.
A frustration with the unfair Capitalist structure, and more closely, a frustration with an inept state, is seeped into the Punjabi consciousness, into the very conceptualisation of the Canada Dream. But, in its operation, Capitalism largely monetises upon this frustration by churning it into study centres for IELTS, and visa offices, and people who promise a visa in less than ten days, and, literally, a gurudwara which allows you to buy plastic aeroplanes and pray for your departure from this land of five rivers, the earth that sprouted the Gurus, and the Grantha Sahib. The frustration is manufactured, to borrow Tennessee’s word, into a bright and sparkly illusion which places itself over the vision of unfairness, and blithe, and exploitation which the global capitalist order, organising itself along services, and more specifically the post 1991 fall in agricultural growth, has painted into the lives of these men and women. Canada in this manner comes to carry with itself the weight of economic and democratic distress, but also happens to stem from the causation of the same economic and democratic distress. I always like to imagine the Canada Dream best represented in a cloud, as viewed from within an aeroplane, with yellow lights, in the early hours of a morning. Note that the aeroplane, though, is moving in the direction opposite to the cloud, and is doing so with great speed, only to the mind of the onlooker, the gargantuan expanse of space, and the gigantic cloud, make it seem like the calmest of movements, a pleasant stroll along a brook perhaps. And there happens to be a storm brewing on the other side, only if the plane could move fast enough, for you to take notice.
The song starts with a soulful articulation of the class conflict that informs this culmination in the Canada separation. ‘Oh, Punjabi bole na, ‘ta mai English wich arhda si.’ The role of the English language as a signifier of class, in the post-colonial times is very evident in the nature of the divide between Private Schools, and their mode of communication, and Public Schools, and spaces. While most students belonging to upper-middle class get to go to Private schools that emphasise communication skills in the language of colonial heritage, the language or the use of it isn’t promoted in the universal sphere of regularity. This creates an evident divide and urges the creation of more clearly defined cultural sub-spheres, let’s say the culture signified by the English-speaking, as represented by the women in this particular song, and the culture signified by the Punjabi-speaking. Where one is inadvertently placed below the other, the latter below the former. The song, in this manner, becomes the expression of a tension that looms in an entire state community, the distress further emphasised through imagery of the memory, a return to simpler times of ‘pind di pichli firni utte hundiya si mulakata, ekko chattri thalle kinni langiya si barsata.’ Parochial images, of smaller communities, and controlled individualism. And note how the move away from this particular form of living is characterised as ‘dulgayi dollaran te.’ ‘Dulna’ is definitely not a positive verb, and has connotations of being easily deceived, being easily seduced, and hence, unsteady in one’s opinions. That the woman happens to be doing this is reminiscent of a strong patriarchal custom of establishing women as incapable of reason through stupidity and inability, and, as in this instance, corruption and inability.
While all of this is great and important to note for an understanding of how unfair state policies of favouring the burgeoning service sector in cities like Chandigarh, and Jalandhar, have led to the eruption of a cultural disparity extremely noxious for the glorious history that Punjab is burdened under, there is also a larger caveat to allow for the realisation that the song, in and of itself, is a manufactured illusion that seeks to provide comfort, and establish tacit control. Through the production of such songs, the system ensures that there remains a divide between the petty-bourgeoisie and the working class, unable-ing all forms of vertical integration which seem to have become necessary in the current formation of class boundaries. While the songs that promise the brilliance of Canada ensure that the dream is retained, songs such as these allow a suitable expression of the denial of the same, only posited as plain expression, and absolutely no instruction. These calls to a simpler time are not symbolic of a larger tension brewing against capitalist modernism, but instead the relationship between the audience and the art is one of ‘oh meri look te mardi si, te main ohde lak te marda si.’ Just another instance of commodified feelings, commodified ideology, and fetishized poverty, in simplicity.
Translations of the Punjabi sentences.
- ‘Oh Punjabi bole na, ‘ta main English wich arhda si’: She does not speak Punjabi, and I struggle with English.
- ‘Pind di pichli firni utte hundeya si mulakata, ekko chattri thale kinni langiya si barsaatan’: In the loner parts of the village, we met, several nights, under the same parasol, have we spent. It is possible to argue for the word parasol in this current context, and say that the word is just plain weird and I am a bit too extra in referring to it. But the sort of imagery allowed,the image of hay and rain, in the middle of a field well cultivated, and a hero and a heroine together under the same umbrella, doest seem to come through with a simple ‘umbrella’ in worse. The word is laced with quotidian layers and the middle class, which needs to be first stripped to allow for the objectified naturalism and consequent sensuality of the implication.
- ‘Oh meri look te mardi si, ‘te main ohde lak te marda si:’ She loved me for my looks, and I loved her for her slender waist. Lak happens to have a more feminine connotation attached to it, than the plain and simple waist allows, hence the slender, in my opinions.
Also, everything I’m saying is founded on my random thoughts, and obviously this isn’t an academic paper, and obviously I’m just referring to the people I’m referring to and not representing them.