We want to voice what affects us; we want to be heard. This is our platform to stand united against all odds.
After contemplating for almost six years, last weekend I finally had an opportunity to visit a Gurudwara (Sikh temple) in Auckland. The facade of the building was as unassuming as a corner store or a residential structure. But once inside, you spot a crowd quite big by Kiwi standards, gathered to offer prayers and also felicitate child achievers on the occasion of the Gurudwara's anniversary.
All three Kiwi-Indian members of Parliament - who happen to adhere to Sikhism - attended the event and handed over accolades to the deserving. Each acceptance was echoed with a Sat Sri Akal or Jo Bole So Nihaal. The chorus of voices lent the atmosphere a festive fervour to an otherwise ordinary Sunday morning.
Later in the day, I had a taste of the langar food – quite literally and figuratively. The spontaneity and energy with which the food was prepared in a communal kitchen and served enthused a feeling of oneness; the longing to belong to a community.
I have often heard Indians, who do not abide by the Punjabi way of life or even Sikhism, complain that Indian culture has been usurped by Punjabi culture. To the outside world, Indian music signifies Bhangra and Indian dance is Bhangra or Dandiya. The most popular Bollywood songs played at nightclubs in New Zealand include the ones with heavy Bhangra beats. Popular Indian fashion in the international market is also dominated by Punjabi influences.
At the Auckland Diwali Festival, which is the biggest showcase of Indian culture in the city, the most popular activities and performances are Bhangra or Punjabi-based. Indians who attend the festival, and are not part of the Punjabi culture, never fail to point out that India is way bigger than Punjab and the culture of the land is truly diverse. Punjab is only a tiny part of it.
Similarly, during the nine days of Navratri, Auckland buzzes with Dandiya performances – the clothes, the music and the dance moves derived from another northern Indian state, namely Gujarat.
The same group of Indians, who do not belong to either Punjab or Gujarat, have similar views on Gujarati culture usurping and monopolising the diversity of Hindu festivals in India. If you consider the Indian dishes that are most widely known outside of the country, you will find that the majority belong to either Punjab or Gujarat. Take a look at your nearby Indian grocery store or restaurant/ takeaway to confirm this claim.
Instead of accusing the Punjabis and Gujaratis of imposing regional cultural imperialism on India, have you ever stopped to wonder how this could have come about? Have you ever tried to understand how these two cultures have made their presence felt in every corner of the globe?
It is perhaps because people from these two states have stuck to their communities like super-glue wherever they have travelled to in the world. Both within and beyond the home country, they have believed in upholding their culture proudly and sharing their values and rituals beyond the boundaries of their belief.
In other words, these communities have pimped their cause; promoted their presence through colourful and attractive cultural expressions. It is not surprising then that they got noticed wherever they went to, beyond their dedication to their professions. Yes, these two communities are also reputed for their perseverance and ability to succeed professionally against all odds.
Perhaps there are more such communities in India with similar capabilities to achieve in life. But their recognition has been limited, especially as immigrant communities. It is the time we learned a lesson from the communities that have succeeded, instead of being critical of their efforts. We need to recognise that there is no evil in promoting your cause, as long as it is positive and does not harm another.
So, how do you plan to blow your trumpet?