I belong to Punjab or that’s what I have been told. Growing up in India’s many urban cities, we needed an emotional anchorage; an anchorage that was our village, our place of origin, and our belonging. “Where’s your native place?”, my brother and I were quite often asked by a legion of kids we went to school with. The answer to that question was a confused smile or in my brother’s case a facile reply, “We don’t know!”
Always a curious historian, I asked my mother about our rather muddled roots. “Tell them you belong to Punjab!” , she exclaimed. We did belong to Punjab, although our Punjab was far away, across the border; but fixating ourselves to a place abound with agrarian lands and rivers, that not only fed the people who inhabited its banks but also stood witness to several historical events, seemed convenient.
As we grew up, Punjab was glorified, largely in films. The films, opened into a mustard field, an omnipresent yellow, and there emerged a young man, adorned in a pathani kurta, tending to his land. Enter ‘gabru’, the simpleton, who swore by his community, took immense pride in his land and swept many girls off their feet.
Quite smitten by the gabru , I once agreed to be squired around the state, the supposed place of our ‘nativity’. Perambulating through many, almost desolate pinds (villages), and overwhelmed by hospitality, that is unprecedented, my search for the gabru began.
During our visits to rock gardens, lakes, and intermittent indulgences in lassi, paranthas, generous quantities of butter, home made paneer and so on, the gabru was not to be found. As the travel progressed, it was slowly and sadly revealed, that gabru had gone missing, many years ago.
Where was the handsome lad who sauntered through his fields?
He was perhaps hiding from his own men, who now satiated themselves with alcohol and banned substances, instead of lassi, from his men who replaced their imposing tractors with sleek ‘s classes’ and pretentiously macho SUVs; he was running away from those who maddeningly migrated to lands abroad for odd jobs, in a bid to establish a newer identity, an identity that had a mark of a foreign citizenry, he was avoiding those who chose baggy jeans, diamond studs and underground music over mystic sufi verses and a white pathani. The gabru had succumbed to years of conflict, ill planned money laundering revolutions, rampant migrations to foreign lands and unemployment. He had paid a price for distancing himself from his fields, his land that fed his family, his village, his state, and his nation at large.
My search ended in vain, for the gabru went missing, carelessly slipping into oblivion!