I don’t know when exactly it dawned on me, possibly sometime last year when I turned 39. As the big 40 approached, I began getting more and more nostalgic and as is typical of ‘old age’, I wanted to go back to my roots, to rediscover myself. And it was then that it hit me… I am a Punjabi.
Till then let’s face it, I was anything but. I was born in Bombay, grew up between Bombay and Bangalore, did my schooling at Lawrence School, Lovedale (near Ooty), went to college in Bombay, studied Film Direction at the FTII in Pune and then began working in Mumbai. I had never set foot in Punjab, I somewhat understood Punjabi but could never speak it. And though my work took me to places I might have never got a chance to visit otherwise like Navsari and Ramgarh, it never took me anywhere near Punjab.
So what did this great realization do to me? I revisited 1947 as every Punjabi goes back to 1947 at some point or the other in their lives and read up everything I could on the partition of India. I questioned my mother and uncle extensively on their life in Mardan and Rawalpindi before they came to India. I dream of visiting Lahore and seeing where my grandfather’s photo studio was situated at Mall Road. And as I read more and more of Neville Pran’s Lahore: A Sentimental Journey, I seriously believe that Jinne Lahore Nahin Vekhia Oh Jammia Nahin (He who has not seen Lahore is not born).
And that’s not all. I have begun to wear a ‘kada’ and have started to learn Gurumukhi. I try and incorporate Punjabi, however little, in my Hindi. I have stopped cooking kaali dal in the pressure cooker and now make it over a slow flame letting it simmer for 4-5 hours. When in London, I make it a point to visit Southall for a good Punjabi meal. I have rediscovered Noor Jehan, Shamshad Begum, Surinder and Prakash Kaur, Mohammed Rafi, Meena Shorey, Kuldip Kaur, Hansraj Behl and Sardul Kwatra while discovering Inayat Hussain Bhatti, and Mussarat Nazir. I regularly listen to Mera Laung Gawacha, Wey Mundiya Sialkotia, Sayoni Mera Mahi, Sun Wanjhli di Mithri Taan, and Batti Balkay Banere Utte Rakhdi Han. The last book I read was Land of Five Rivers, a collection of short stories by the best known writers from Punjab, selected and translated by Khushwant Singh. If I am awake at 12 at night, I make sure I am tuned in to DD Punjabi to catch up on the Late Night Punjabi film. Whether it is Nishi or Indira Billi, Sunder or Mehar Mittal, Bhangra or Guddi, Shehar di Kudi or Kankan De Ohle, I see them all. And when Mera Pind: My Home doesn’t release in Mumbai, I am most disappointed.
My next holiday is a planned tour around Punjab from Amritsar to Bhatinda, from Ludhiana to Jullundur. And needless to say, I now want to make my first feature film in Punjabi.