Writer's Blog

Transient Thoughts

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ik Vaari Ik Sardaar Si

Bhai Niranjan Singh "Amreekawale" Ramakrishnan asked me if I would review his book "Bantaism - the philosophy of sardar jokes" on this blog. I accepted, perhaps a touch condescendingly, thinking I should give a hand to another budding writer. But only when the book arrived (in a cheerful red and yellow cover with a joyful sardar cartoon in the foreground of a red truck) did I realize that Niranjan is an established writer and an ex-runner of two software companies.

The book starts with a brief history of the sardar joke (it goes earlier than after the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, I learnt) and how it has changed over the years. Niranjan does point out that inspite of the sardar jokes, sardars are in general well regarded, and even looked at with deference and awe. But in addition, I think, some later sardar jokes might have been conceived in envy - envy at the sardar's physical prowess and bravery, at his appetite for tandoori chicken and drink, of his general joi-de-vivre. In an ironical conincidence, the very morning of the afternoon I received the book, I was watching an interview of the late Kartar Singh Duggal on DD Bharti - and being totally floored by his articulate, beautiful and pure English. (Also feeling a deep pity for the sheer incompetence of his interviewer - about it another day).

The book is a collection of sardar jokes - but each joke also looked at in a different light. Is there a philosophical insight hiding there? For example the joke where a sardar working as a lion in a zoo suddenly realizes that all the animals in the zoo are also sardars in animal constumes, brings home the point about our assumed roles at office. Niranjan points to the case of the call centre employees, Indians pretending to be Jane and John, but I think more subtle things happen too. A poet-at-heart crunching numbers in an investment bank for eg. And the other one, where a sardar who is sleeping too soundly to know that he has been given a shave and haircut, once awake, mistakes himself for another man, points perhaps the amount of care and interest we take in our outer appearance without investing enough time in how we are inside.

The first joke in the book, appearing in the introductory note, sets the tone for what is to follow: "Sardar, how do you know if a chick is a murgi or murga?" "Koi vaddi gal nahin, I'll feed it some rice, je khaooga ta murga e, je khaoogi ta murgi e" Though a philosophical discussion does not follow in the book in this case, had there been one it would have perhaps been of ardhanareshwar-ism, of yin and yang, of the balances of the sexes in a person...

The book made me reflect a whole deal about jokes in general. What are jokes? They are after all caricatures of human behavior, of life itself. And like all caricatures they perhaps accentuate the warts and the wrinkles, the weak chins and the ear hairs. And just like a politician might take his cartoon to his plastic surgeon and say, "see I want this this and this changed", so also jokes can prompt us to put ourselves in the Sardar's (say) shoes and think "Do I act like a Sardar sometimes?"

My favourite sardar joke actually involves a sardarni and a phrase 'mummyji hello' but I don't think I will find it in Niranjan's book and nor can I put it down here. Do ask around for it!