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Posted at: Feb 17, 2017, 12:35 AM; last updated: Feb 17, 2017, 12:35 AM (IST)

Punjabi and proud

Shaira Mohan
I WAS on a flight back from London to Delhi a few years ago, on my way home to Chandigarh. Not one to chit-chat on long flights, I settled in with my book and the excitement of going home for the holidays. 

As our readiness for departure was announced and I was giving myself a mental fist-bump for having an empty seat next to me, an ample-bodied, turbaned ‘Bhaji’ perched himself on the seat. With a sinking feeling, I prayed that he shared my fondness for a silent, peaceful journey.

Alas, no such luck. Bhaji introduced himself, and that was the end of my reading. Dan Brown would have to wait a little longer to reveal to me what secret Robert Langdon had just unearthed. 

‘Tussi kithon?’ he enquired. Chandigarh, I replied. ‘Tussi kithon?’ I decided to humour him. After all, there was no escaping the Punjabi prowess of persistent small talk.

‘Ludhiana. Oye, Chandigarh!’ His face lit up and before I knew what was happening, he had called out to Jassi and Pinky, seated at the front of the cabin, across from us, evidently forgetting that it was a public space. In a frenzied diarrhoea of words, he relayed to the family that a fellow Punjabi had been found and an applause followed. 

I couldn’t help smiling. You can take a Punjabi out of Punjab, not Punjab out of a Punjabi — even on a seven-hour flight from London. Under the mask of embarrassment, I was proud. 

Some more animated chit-chat revealed that the enormous Bhaji family was a resident of Canada and now on their way home for some sarso- da-saag-te-makki-di-roti time.  That was another thing we had in common. Punjabi food was irreplaceable.

By the time the captain announced our descent, I had been showered with a generous helping of laddoos and an invitation to their house in Ludhiana. I thanked them profusely and reciprocated the invitation. I felt like I was already home. 

He asked me about my plans after my studies. I reluctantly conveyed my desire to get a job in London, though it was laced with a confusion of what it was that I really wanted to do. He said everyone figured it out eventually and it would come to me too.

Bhaji, in a revelatory mood, confided that Canada may have been home for many years, but Ludhiana was where his heart was. As I reflected on it, I realised that we were no different on this — he and I. 

I have been living away from home for years. I have met wonderful people and been acquainted with myriad cultures and traditions, but nothing matches the hospitality of Punjabis. 

If you are a fellow Punjabi, you qualify for a free laddoo and a heart-warming story. As I bid Bhaji and his family adieu, he handed me a slip of paper. ‘God bless you,’ he whispered in Punjabi. With a full heart and a lingering smile, I walked away and glanced at the paper. In a penciled hand, Bhaji had written his address in Ludhiana, and at the bottom: Sada safal raho.

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