Monday, January 07, 2008

Viewpoint – My Delhi Vs Lucknow, Punjabis and the Americans

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My Delhi Vs. Lucknow, Punjabis and the Americans

The city is changing its hues.

[Text by Sadia Dehlvi; picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Delhi is the city of my birth and it is a prayer that it may be my burial ground too. Delhi, the threshold of Sufis is for me near sacred as the holy as the cities of Mecca and Medina. Prophet Mohammed is the pride of Allah and the Sufis are the pride of the Prophet. Delhi is one of the centres where the light of Medina radiates in abundance.

History and background is one way of defining ourselves and to the group we belong. I must confess that my pride in being a true “Dilliwalli” borders on arrogance. Delhi’s traditional battle for superiority of culture has for centuries been with Lucknow. The Lucknowwallas speak of themselves using the royal “we’ and explain that it sound less egotistical than ‘I”.

One has grown up on anecdotes about the extreme politeness of Lucknow’s “pehle aap” culture. We heard that they wrapped even their abuses in velvety words. I remember hearing that these Lucknow types used to walk at dawn with their umbrellas so that the dew would not fall on them. Subtlety and delicacy was the norm just not in humour but also in agitations, revolts, conflicts and romance.

To quote Amir Minai:
Who gurdan par churi phere amir aur main kahoon unse
Huzoor ahista ahista janaab ahista ahista


Delhi had the refinement of thought which was crafted in ethereal ways by the Lucknow poets. Although Lucknow gave birth to many poets like Dabir, Mir Anis, Aatish, Nasikh and Hazrat Mohani, the Dilliwallas still boasts that Lucknow never produced an ace poet like Ghalib.

Other areas of conflict between Lucknow and Dilli were cuisine and the use of gender in Urdu language. Dahi is khatti in Dilli and khatta in Lucknow. Motor and Qutub ki laat among other things are feminine in Delhi whereas Lucknow granted them a masculine status. Lucknow still boasts of their sheermal rotis while dilliwallas think nothing can compare to their “baqakhanis”. Lucknow had their rice pulaos and galavat kebabs and Dilli their biryanis and seekh kebabs. Lucknow”s emphasis on food presentation was unmatched but they are quick to desecrate other styles of cooking.

All these battles over culture and tradition with Lucknow took a second place after the partition of India. The new enemy for the Dilliwallas became the migrant Punjabi of whom we knew very little. When I was growing up in the seventies, Punjabi replaced Urdu as the language of New Delhi. I could have picked it up with ease had it not been for a conscious effort to stay away from the cultural onslaught of the Punjabis. The Dilli we were proud of was being taken over by the enterprising, aggressive and boisterous Punjabis.

I grew up amongst hushed apprehensions of the Punjabis and with jokes that the only culture they had was ‘agriculture’ and that their national bird was ‘tandoori chicken’. An extra effort was made to restrict the language at home to Urdu and no Punjabi expressions were allowed. If I ever slipped and said, “dupatta dalo”, Amma admonished me and said, “ kapda sirf murde par dala jata hai. Dupatta odha jata Hai”. Food in the fridge was never “padha hua” but “rakha hua” as “risq” was a provision from Allah and must be respected.

However as one went along in life, I learnt to drop cultural prejudices as most of my friends in Delhi were from the migrant Punjabis. But I must admit that some of the paranoia is still there and am fearful when my fifteen year old son uses some typical Punjabi expressions. I am always correcting them despite his irritancy. I squirm when he uses “tu” as a term of endearment with his friends. I hate it when he says “maine bola”, which is now the norm in Delhi and keep explaining , “beta jaanwar bolte hain, insaan kehte hain”. I have an Urdu teacher for him and force him to read Ghalib and Mir.

Of course it’s a losing battle but I shall go down fighting till my last breath. I guess we must accept that the Dilli we grew up in is just not the same any more. Delhi is no longer about any defined culture and has over the years got its Biharis, UP wallas, Kashmiris, Bengalis, Gujratis and South Indians. Delhi is now a modern multicultural polity where the idli dosas, paneer tikkas and dal makhanis are as much part of the city’s cuisine as our traditional biryanis, shami kebabs and chaat.

In recent times, the Punjabis seem the lesser enemy and I find myself fighting the American culture. The aggressive marketing of the multinationals seduces children like the Punjabis never did. My son Arman is gearing up to be a professional singer. Some years ago he loved Daler Mehndi’s sadde naal songs and I actually had nightmares that he might become a bhangra rap singer . Fusion is the mantra of the “gen next” and I guess one must be prepared for any eventuality. With all my cultural hang ups, my son labels me as boring. I have been accused of much else in life but never been labeled boring and simply don’t know how to react to this one.

19 comments:

Shaheen Sultan Dhanji said...

I must say, Sadia Dehlvi should let go of her fears of absolute paranoia....let the son build his own personality, and not a reflection of what his 'mum' thinks fit. Urdu, no doubt is a beautiful language, but let's repsect all languages in fairness. To say, that, punjabi is downright unaccepted, is a slight share of marvelling in an ego. Also, a rather individual opinion on Lucknowis. C'mon, let's all wake up and face harsh realities of what has become to this world, as it is getting raped by hatred and stereotypes everywhere, and this excerpt just infuses the sense of 'my' versus 'yours'... Sadia, Can we try looking for a common lingua? Or let's not segregate an already sad rift, first perpetrated by the colonials, and off course the residues remain....let's wipe them, first, by alligning the common denominators. You know the rest.....

Raza Rumi said...

Aside from the serious issues raised by Shaheen, I loved the racy style of this post - as if we talk of things in our informal South Asian ways often in disregard of the politically correct modes of expression..

Sadia is perhaps pointing to the overall degradation of cultural values and the rich heritage of South Asians - the subtle yet deep effects of imperialism have all dumbed us down in a way...

alas...

hnewdelhi said...

Racist, narrow-minded and stupid - another Delhi person. Why is one not surprised?

Mayank Austen Soofi said...

It is not racist at all. To me, the piece is more about the author's regret at the disappearance of that face of the city she has been most intimate with.

Shaheen Sultan Dhanji said...

I re-read the piece, and regretfully did not capture the essence the first time (due to being narrow-minded), but I am definitely apprecaiting Sadia Dehlvi's viewpoint. Plus, it is rather unfair for me to raise serious issues (thanks raza for pointing it out), since I have never been to Delhi, nor, understand the true dynamics of living there.

Overall, it is an elightening piece, and I am now truly revelling it! My sincere wishes to Sadia Dehlvi in her creative pursuits and in spreading sufi appreciation.
p.s....I should be embarrased for giving an opinion on Sadia's parenting...for I am not a parent, and she a good one! Please sympathise with my tiny cells for being! :) tsk...tsk..

Anonymous said...

Punjabis that migrated from Pakistan like my own family, used Urdu for writing, and for formal conversations and Punjabi(different West Punjabi dialects)were only spoken at home. The wave of nationalism post partition and regionalism post states reorganisation, coupled with the policies of GoI effected the demise of Urdu. Do not blame the Punjabis for this.

To this day many of the first generation migrants (now in their late 60s and above) still cannot read or write Hindi or Punjabi (Gurumukhi).

Punjabis today prefer speaking Hindi or English(Hinglish) and even the Punjabi so spoken is distinct from what you would hear in Punjab, India. And many are distraught like the author that their kids are picking up East Punjabi dialects, and losing touch with their west Punjabi culture.

In time Delhi will become Kanpur-Patna of the North, seeing the massive influx of the migrants from that state.

warriorqueen said...

As much as I admit to having a sense of pride bordering on arrogance, when it comes to being a dilliwali, like Ms. Dehlvi, I am not pleased about how she has referred to the Punjabis as a culturally denigrating force of some sort. What exactly is wrong with Punjabi? Should we all be lamenting the Punjabi invasion of Delhi- post partition. That was a disgusting kind of cultural chauvinism, and it's sad that it's coming from a fellow Indian. As far as Punjabi, I am Punjabi, btw, is concerned, it is a beautiful language. Yes, Urdu is one of my favourite languages and I have the greatest respect for Urdu poets.
My father, who was from Amritsar, was fluent in urdu, wrote urdu shayari and appreciated it like nothing else. So stop viewing Punjabis as some kind of countryfolk who have harmed the sophistication of Delhi. Read some punjabi shayari and punjabi poetry in general, before forming opinions on the people or the language. Right! punjabis seem like the "lesser enemy". Thank you very much for that kind distinction Sadia!

Indian said...

I completely disagree here with the post .I have been liking all the posts till date but this one made me feel choked.I am a delhite and I now live in US but my every breath smells of delhi as that place has given me 23 memorable years of my life.I am a punjabi but I dont think we ever felt that delhi is made for punjabis only.I mean we find biharis , south indians,muslims, hindus, every one in delhi and all are equally welcomed and to say that punjabis are enemies is like a racist comment .Its like preventing people of other states from entering delhi like what is happening in Mumbai now a days. We are Indian Citizens and have the right to commute and go any where we want.Delhi comprises of punjabis in last number but then do we influence others to talk like us ?? I dont think so....

farhan said...

It is piece written in English with all the melancholy- which only a South Asian language can have- of Urdu.
To all the deterectors, when does one get to read a piece written like that?
I think the way Ms Delhevi has put it, its the way of social interaction in modern urban cosmopolitan India and this complaining and whinning is so like home.
Believe me, it is all one thinks of far away from home in london.
Meanwhile, keep it up Ms Delhevi ... without Delhvi tehzeeb, these too posh Lucknow wallas will run riot. :-)

from DELHI said...

I think mrs. Sadia Dehlvi is from a hardliner muslim family, and she herself is a hard liner. These kind of people think of their culture ,lang. , religion etc. as superior to others.These in turn produce terrorists! I have 9 years of touring across India & one thing I can say is that a culture one can be truly proud of is PUNJABI, it is full of life & meaning. Another thing is that if delhi did not had punjabis, it wouldn't be the same fun-frolic-green delhi but a mini up-bihar.......worse than hell.

sukrit said...

mrs dehlvi, first go and read history, the people whom you are calling migrants in delhi are no migrants as delhi was a pat of punjab after 1947 punjab was split into east and west punjab, out of which east punjab became a pat of india and west punjab became a part of pakistan and the indian punjab was divided on linguistic basis by some hardliner like you into punjab, haryana, himachal pradesh and delhi was left alone as a bastard city, and today due to so many migrants from up, bihar, orissa bengal and the south, delhi has lost what it was and everybody calls it their own city but donot realise the fact that it is originally a part of punjab..

osmanmalik said...

l punjabis are the most wonderfull community in indian subcontinent either living in Pakistan or india . they r the most friendly and down to eath people and wlecome all kinds of cultures and people. miss sadia if u ever visit come to Pakistan u will see how punjabis here adopted urdu as their language although i not like this thing becoz punjabi culture is most beautiful culture as well as punjabi language. i also suggest u to read some punjabi poetry beleive me its better than any language in some continent urdu or hindi or sanskrit . punjabis r truly secular in nature and by heart but emotional people exploited by other races in indian continent on the name of religion and language .

tahdude said...

Very well written article Sadia. Delhi has undergone a phenomenal change in its identity over the past 60-70 years. From being a highly cultured city, it went down to being a regular city to now becoming a large metropolis.

If you read William Dalrymple's book 'The Last Mughal' or 'City of Djinns', you will realise how much Delhi has changed over the years. While cities like Mumbai are relatively shallow in history, Delhi has a long and storied history. I am from the Gen X, and despite my parents speaking clean Urdu, I speak a completely mangled form. DOn't know what my kids will learn.

Anonymous said...

Comments of Sukriti and Oman are laudable and correct as Punjabis even after suffering riot torn partition loved all people of Delhi and had emotional relationship with Muslims brethern forgetting miseries done to the during partition by the radical muslims in the name of religion. Delhi prospered with the influx of Punjabis. Being Punjabi I still hold delicate and sympathetic to all communities that is the reason no leader spoke bad about them whereas other migrants lately entering and dominating Delhi by way unionbazi demolished the very culture of Delhi by all around whether it sanitation, encroachment, crime, misbehaviour is concerned. So to say one great leader of ruling party in Delhi had to chew rightful uttering for them back. Delhi can not be beatiful if on one hand we allow encroachments by them and add to slums we should check further influx in order to make it safe DELHI.

Anonymous said...

Osman,

Punjabis are 'down to earth' ?

Who knew.

osman said...

yes punjabis r most down to earth people in indian subcontinent they r full of life and smile even hard times
u disagree with me ?

Anonymous said...

Sorry Osman, for disagreeing with you.

My experience of Punjabis is restricted to those found in India. So I can't comment on Pakistani Punjabis but I have heard that some minority ethnicities in Pakistan have beef with them over cornering of resources.

I still can't bring myself to concur that they are down to earth, based on their elaborate marriage ceremonies and the fact that I know several who have defaulted on bank loans.

The South Indians, can be incredibly modest and down to earth. So are the Chinese and the Japanese. But not the Punjabis. Please don't fight with me, have some butter chicken. Peace.

osmanmalik said...

well thanks for sharing ur experience u seems very interesting i would like to talk more with u and know more about u and what u think about punjabis email me if possible my email is reachusmanmalik@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

This is a disgusting article...The writer has really said harsh words regarding punjabis and compared it with dead people and animals whicg is shameful....Urdu might be a sweet language but Mam do read some punjabi poetry and you will get to know it's no less than any language...Punjabis did not come to Delhi by their choice they were forced to flee from the region where there ancestors have been living since ages.....Bussiness of LAHORE MULTAN RAWALPINDI PESHAWAR and other cities that are now in pakistan was dominated by Hindu Punjabis...muslims were their servants but at the time of partition they started rioting killing them so as to grab their Bussiness and huge Houses and eventually Punjabis had to flee leaving their everything behind....There cannot be any greater trauma than that but still punjabis with their hardwork and dedication started their lives all again and in the due course they control maximum of delhi's bussiness and due to their kind hearted nature enthusiasm and jolly behaviour they are liked by all and sundry an hence outsiders think think that Delhi is a city with punjabi culture but punjabis have not stopped anyone from following their own culture and if your culture has that wide acceptibility then you will also be hailed upon by evryone....The thing is that people get really jealous by the success of punjabis both economically as well as their cultural influence and therefore start criticising them but guys dont blame them hail them becauese after loosing their home and everything and fleeing to an unknown land they got so much success so learn from punjabis not get jealous of their success.....