A fair defines a community
By Satish Chandra
In response to my e-mails of my being in Davis, California over the Memorial Day weekend, one of my cyber friends responded that he would be in Yuba City on Sunday for the 11th Punjabi-American Festival. Though I was to visit Yuba City on Monday, but for the sake of the festival, I changed my programme. The four or five hours spent in the fairground was an experience of its kind!
What is the importance of fairs? Growing up in Bhatinda of 1950s, I recall various local and religious fairs focusing on children'srides, candies and toys. They were held in dusty open fields on the outskirts of the city. I used to enthusiastically walk with a group of friends till the age of 10 to 15 years, but stopped it later on. Women from a small social stratum were rarely seen in a fair. By and large, a visit to the fair showed a low taste. There were also relatively little adult activities. Before India'sIndependence in 1947, the British discouraged gatherings within city limits, specifically after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of the Vaisakhi assembly, on April 13, 1919.
Since coming to the US, I am surprised at the variety of local carnivals and parades held here. It is a display and reaffirmation of ethnic identity, pride in heritage and culture. Around 5 p.m., my son and daughter-in-law wanted to leave. I said, ?Stay here, soak in the atmosphere filled with Punjabi pride, music, food, showmanship, art, history, etc. A home has nothing new, but this occasion will not come before one year.?
Never before in India or the US had I seen Punjabi boys and girls, young and old, well dressed and in such a large number. The boys were robust and mostly six-footers, and girls tall and beautiful in their Punjabi folk and urban outfits, salwar and kameez. I pointed out to my son the rosy cheeks of little kids jumping in a play area. The White kids looked pale. Some men of the 1950 generation had pagris (headwear) that I saw after 40 years!
The boys were robust and mostly six-footers, and girls tall and beautiful in their Punjabi folk and urban outfits, salwar and kameez. I pointed out to my son at the rosy cheeks of little kids jumping in a play area.
Yuba City is a citadel of Punjabi culture outside India. In a city of nearly 60,000, Punjabis are hardly 20 per cent but they dominate 80 per cent of the economy. They are active at every government level: local, state and nation. The image of Punjabis in Yuba City of being just a farming community is no longer true. The new generation is engaged in every profession and business. Farming now remains a side business.
There were three highlights of the fair. The most popular was the energetic Punjabi Bhangra (a male group dance), Gidda (a female group dance), and skits. The colourful costumes and the beat of the drums would fill any heart with enthusiasm. The open make-shift amphitheatre was too small. I am sure, next year TV monitors will be installed at various points for the enjoyment of a larger number of people.
In between the musical scores, dignitaries and speakers of various political affiliations were introduced. Is there a politician who would not like to mingle and be seen by a crowd of 30,000 men and women of consequence? In their address, they all paid tributes to the Sikh tradition and success in business due to their enterprising nature.
Numerous stalls of food, jewellery, arts, dresses and other gift items were set up on grassy grounds. The traders came from far off places. Everyone was engrossed in eating and buying. A gallery of pictures depicting the history of Punjabis in California interested me particularly. Along with it was a video on the oral history of Punjabis in California. Incidentally it was produced by a White young man from the Univeristy of California, Berkeley!
My primary interest in the festival was to watch the movie, Continuous Journey- the 1914 story of Punjabi immigrants who sailed in a ship called, Komagata Maru. It is produced by Ali Kazimi, settled in Toronto. For more than two months the ship chartered from Honk Kong to Canada was not even allowed to dock in Vancouver. Instead of returning to Hong Kong, it was forced to sail to Calcutta where the passengers were arrested, a few were hanged and rest of the passengers were put behind bars. It is the story of valour and vision against open racial discrimination in Canada and tyranny of the British in India. Also, there was a 50-minute animated movie, Sahibzadey on the martyrdom of seven and nine-year-old sons of Guru Gobind Singh. The shows alternated during the time.
The themes at the fair were fully steeped in Sikh religion and history as the overflowing crowds were seen in every show of the movies, and yet the people were seen enjoying the present moments with pride and gusto.