On 25 January 2010 I stepped off Jet Airways flight number 2633 in Amritsar, Punjab at 2pm and could not wipe the grin from my face. I’ve waited my entire life to come here and can’t believe I have finally made it. I’ve heard all of the stories and stereotypes and now it’s my turn to make up my own mind about this bold yet beautiful, colourful and confusing, delicious and delightful country; Welcome to India. My first destination has to be the Punjab in north India, where my parents were born and raised, where my routes are, and where I am from. This place has influenced my upbringing, career, taste buds, religious thinking and family values that I hold very close to my heart, even though they have often clashed with the western viewpoints I am offered growing up with dual heritage in England. Well, I am here to understand these differing ideologies better, see where mum and dad grew up and meet their siblings that are here, learn what I can of Sikhism the religion that I have experienced only in the West, and get a grasp on contemporary life in India and the major problems and opportunities affecting this rapidly growing nation. Hmm that’s quite a tall order, but I’m interesting in all of this and more so will have to see how I get on over the next 3 and a bit months.
The last time I set foot on India soil was in 1980 at 9 months old. My mother was determined she was not going to miss her youngest brother’s wedding so flew me and my four siblings aged 5-10 at the time to India. I have not returned since as mum and dad never really visited very often, they made England their home and were always working very hard bringing us up to give us the best in life. The few times they did it always clashed with my school and university terms. My education was considered as a priority so I missed out, and as I got older my desire to visit grew but I wanted the experience to be more than a two week holiday of quick family visits, a few gurdwaras and shopping; I wanted to live it and understand it. My friends and family have mixed feelings about the Punjab and its people, and some of their opinions I now realise are a result of such brief encounters. I don’t agree already with some of the conclusions they have drawn.
Bit of Background: the Punjab is in the north west of India, translates into ‘Five Waters’ and is named after its five rivers; Beas, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej. The beautiful fertile land produces 20% of the country’s wheat amongst many other crops including rice, barley, sugarcane, maize, vegetables and fruit. Oh and not forgetting 15% of India’s cotton. Popular Punjabi people include the country’s current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and cricketer Harbhajan Singh. The Punjabi food and culture from sarson da saag to bhangra music has spread around the world with more expatriates per capita than any other Indian state.