Major General Baldev Kumar retired from Indian Army in 1986, after serving the country for thirty six years. He lives with his wife, Mrs Aruna Kumar in Gujranwala Town. On a laid back Sunday, I engaged in a candid conversation with the Punjabi couple to know their views on the prevalence of Punjabi folk culture in Delhi.
Me: So for how long have you been living in Delhi?
Maj. Gen. Baldev: I was born and brought up in Delhi, and then I joined the Indian Army and lived in various places all across India. After my retirement, we came back to live here.
Mrs. Aruna: (Smiling) I’ve been living where he has been, since marriage.
Me: What is your take on Punjabi folk culture? Is it still prevalent in Delhi, in your opinion?
Maj. Gen. Baldev: You see, Punjabi folk culture is very boisterous, lively, rowdy and flamboyant. It is because Punjab, historically, was always engaged in fighting. Punjab was attacked time and again. So, the culture reflects the ever-engagement in conflict. It also has a mixed culture as first, there were Aryans in the Punjab region, then came the Scythians and Bactrians, then the Muslims. So the culture is a mix of all the elements these brought us.
Mrs Aruna: I think Delhi is very much influenced with Punjabi culture, in general. Punjabi songs are very famous in Delhi. All the dance numbers still have the folk instruments and beats, are quite famous in Delhi. It is the era of Punjabi songs even in Bollywood, so that adds to the popularity of these songs.
Me: Do you see any changes in the Punjabi folklore in Delhi?
Maj. Gen. Baldev: I think change is inevitable, beta. Not just the folklore, there is a marked change even in the way Punjabi parents are naming their children. Earlier people named their children like Hardev, Mannu, Shanno, Shashi, etc. Now you see names like Shanaya, Samaira, etc.
Mrs. Aruna: Punjabis specially, I feel, are very adaptive of the environment they live in. they always try to engage in knowing the culture of the other communities they mingle with, and always include and take something back from the cultural environment around them. Say, for example, if they mingle with Bengalis, you would see they would not hesitate in including shakha-pola bangles with their traditional Patiala suit attire. They love experimenting by including stuff from other cultures. So the Punjabi folklore is always changing as they keep adapting and assimilating practices of other cultures in their own culture.
Me: How were the weddings like in your time?
Mrs Aruna: Weddings in our time followed a long chain of events. Say, for example, for 10 days, every evening, ladies of family and neighbourhood would gather at the bride and grooms place and sing songs with a dholki. The haldi ceremony and the chura ceremony alone would take 5 days.
Maj. Gen. Baldev: I remember how ladies used to stand on the rooftop of havelis (houses) and sang Sithniyan, and often playfully teased the males, specially the groom. You know the typical nok-jhok (laughs). They would praise the to-be bride in the Sithniyan and give all the reasons why the groom and the in-laws were useless and unworthy.
Me: What about weddings nowadays? How are they different than earlier times?
Mrs Aruna: Weddings nowadays have seen various changes, cutting short of the length of events, for the starters.
Maj. Gen. Baldev: People nowadays don’t have time, I guess.
Mrs Aruna: True. 10 dinn takk ek hi ceremony karne ka time kiske pass hai? (Who has the time to perform only one ceremony for 10 days now?)
Maj. Gen. Baldev: Another reason, I feel, for the shortening of ceremonies is that as opposed to the Havelis back then which could accommodate a number of people, in an expensive city like Delhi, accommodating people for such a long time in hotels would be very heavy on pockets. Thus, nowadays you see a trend of having two or three events in a single day. Like Haldi and Mehendi in the morning, Sangeet in afternoon and engagement in evening. Accommodation, let alone inexpensive accommodation, is a big problem in Delhi.
Mrs Aruna: (smiling) the weddings were way simpler back then. Nowadays, they are costly and lavish. ‘Big Fat Punjabi Weddings’, as they’re called, right? People nowadays are coming up with such lavish ideas for something as meagre as invitation cards. Back in our time, people would send invitations through word of mouth, usually carried by, the wife of Nai (barber) or Naian as we called her.
Maj. Gen. Baldev: Families too, were very well knit back then. People were served food personally by the family members of bride and groom in thalis, and they would eat food later after catering to everyone. Nowadays, waiters serve food not the family members.
Me: Do you remember some of those Sithniyan?
Maj. Gen. Baldev: I remember one where the friends and family members of the bride are praising her, and taking a dig at the groom. It goes like ‘kudi te saddi tilli di taar, munda te lagda hai koi ghumiyaar’ (laughs).
Me: Are those Sithniyan, or say Boliyaan, Tappe, etc prevalent nowadays too?
Mrs Aruna: Nowadays, it’s rare to see women performing these in weddings.
Maj. Gen. Baldev: I think all these traditions are reducing day by day. It’s been very long since I have seen these Sithniyan or Bolian and Tappe being performed. It is the age of DJ and Punjabi Pop Music.
Me: Do you have any favourite Punjabi folk song?
Maj. Gen. Baldev: Your aunty has one (smiling). What was it? The one which had a line ‘sadde naalo button change jehde hikk naal laye hoye ne’
Mrs Aruna: Umm, I think we are getting old (laughs). I can’t recall the title of this song, but just this line that uncle mentioned. Let me think (after a pause) Oh yes, it was ‘Sanu Tedi Tedi Takdi Tu’ by Surjit Bindrakhiya. He was a very famous Punjabi Folk Singer. Listen to it when you are free. Kids like you nowadays can easily find anything on the internet.
Me: And folktales? What are your views on the Punjabi folktales in Delhi in the present context? Are these tales being passed on?
Mrs Aruna: I think the tales are being passed on, but in just joint families, maybe. In nuclear families, I don’t think that parents have the time to pass on these stories. Kids in Delhi don’t even know how to speak Punjabi, let alone know Punjabi folktales. My children know how to speak Punjabi but they prefer Hindi or English. My grandchildren don’t even know the ‘ABC’ of Punjabi (laughs). Moreover, even we too now speak Punjabi only when people our age get together. You cannot speak in Punjabi to others in Delhi; say for example if we speak in Punjabi to our maid, she won’t understand a thing.
Maj. Gen. Baldev: I do not think these traditional folktales are being carried over. Not just the tales, Punjabi too, as Aruna pointed is diminishing in use as a language for conversation in Delhi. I think the reason for that is Punjabi cannot be used for official and professional purposes. People prefer English for official and professional purpose.
Me: Can you share some Punjabi phrases, proverbs and idioms with us?
Mrs Aruna: Waise toh, I keep using them every day, but now when you have asked me to share some of them, I cannot recall any (laughs). Let me think.
Maj. Gen. Baldev: This is auntie’s department, she knows way more than me, but there is this one, ‘Doobe taan, je saans na aaya’.
Mrs Aruna: Oh yes, I remember some now. ‘Aankhi dikhe na, na hooran pari’. Then there is ‘Gharr nahi daane, amma chali loka nu bulaane’ and ‘Uthh sake na, phite muh godeyan da’.