Bantaism (The Philosophy Of Sardar Jokes)

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Item Code: NAD936
Publisher: Rupa Publication Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9788129118899
Pages: 157 (12 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.0 inch X 5.0 inch
Weight 170 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

The sardar joke has an unmatched originality, verve and versatility, not to mention a wild balle-balle undercurrent. Capturing all the affection and abandon that accompanies its best renditions, funny but not tawdry, an ode not a slur, this eclectic collection introduces readers to a hitherto unexplored dimension of sardar humor. Through the rustic foibles of Banta and his friends, we are gently reminded that the joke really is on us and all our pretensions.

And if the American baseball star Yogi Berra can be hailed as a philosopher and his sayings celebrated as Yogi-isms, should our own Banta Singhs glories be kept from their due?

A few eminent public figures appear in these jokes.The stories in this book, including those involving them, are apocryphal, in no way to be confused with real-life personas.

About The Author

Bhai Niranjan Singh ‘Amrikawale’ grew up in Delhi and lives in the USA. His articles on politics and current affairs have appeared in print and online publications in India and America. In other lives, he has worked for a bank and run two software companies.

Author's Note

I couldn't have been more than seven or eight when I heard my first sardar' joke. It opened for me, as someone said of PG Wodehouse's novels, 'a world to live and delight in'. I have treasured ever since each gem that has come my way. But it was only in college several years later that I first ran across Banta Singh. He figured in some jokes told by a Punjabi classmate, an outstanding raconteur. Incidentally, Banta's associate those days was Bachittar Singh not Santa, just as his wife bore the stately name of Kulwant Kaur instead of the Preeto or Jeeto she has since become. In time this new character, like Mulla Nasruddin or Father Brown, would come to acquire a universal persona all his own.

The invention of Banta Singh seems to have achieved two purposes. For the joke-teller, the very name is a godsend. It trips off the tongue. It is delightfully rustic, rotund, funny, broadly benign with a whiff of low craft - a concoction guaranteed to provoke a laugh just by its mention. Its other task, perhaps not originally envisaged, is as a fig-leaf in our increasingly touchy 'Sardar is a term used for 'leader' or 'head' or 'chief' in many parts of Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. In India it is mainly used for adult male members in Sikh families.

Times - to provide a pretense that this is not really about sardars; it is just about one lone guy called Banta Singh. I've always thought this was a pathetic cop-out, even disingenuous. Banta Singh without the 'sardar' identity is like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. Banta is to Sardardom what Homer Simpson is to America, a caricature entirely imperfect but wholly irresistible; Homer is certainly not America, but you cannot conceive of his being from anywhere else.

Meanwhile that traditional staple, ik vaari ik sardar si ... (once there was a sardar ... ) - the Classic Coke of the sardar joke - continues to march along, as everyone knows it will: some jokes are just naturally ik vaari ik sardar si's. And Banta Singh too is here to stay; with a name like his it could not be otherwise. Both have their own place, and that's all there is to it. How does one decide when to use which? For a hint of how to resolve such conundrums we have only to look to the master himself:

'Oye Banteya, how do you tell whether a chick is a murga to the (rooster) or murgi (hen)?' someone once asked Banta Singh. 'Koi vaddi gal nahin (it's no big deal). I feed it some rice and then observe carefully: replied Banta, 'je khaooga ta murga e, je khaoogi ta murgi e (if he eats it, it's a rooster, if she eats it, it's a hen):

From whom to feature in a sardar joke we move to a more fraught question: whether to tell a sardar joke. With all due respect to the Political Correctness Police, I think it is an insult to the average citizen to say he needs to be shielded from certain kinds of jokes on the chance that he may believe something he hears as the gospel truth (an especially lame plea in an era when even the gospel has trouble passing as the gospel truth). The simplest of folk have sophistication enough to separate the real nature of individuals/ communities from the apocrypha about them. For me this was brought home - not literally, for all my jokes came from friends and classmates and other adults outside - early. I noticed even as a youngster that, while all kinds of people regaled one another with sardar jokes, Sikhs were in general well regarded. They were seldom addressed other than as 'sardarji', and treated with a respect sometimes bordering on deference and awe, stemming perhaps in part from some feeling of guilt.

Of their reputation for physical bravery, courage and sacrifice, no Indian needs to be told; a cursory acquaintance with history would do. But growing up in New Delhi with its large Sikh population I came to learn that they also tended to be among India's most hard-working, open, and large-hearted citizens, albeit quick to anger.

The urban Sikh was not unoften the most urbane of Indians. It was even reputed that many sardar jokes were made up by sardars themselves. Impossible to verify, of course, but if true there can be no greater tribute to the sardar intelligence. Or self-confidence. I do know that the use of expressions like, 'Oye toon aadmi hai ki sardar (are you human or sardar)', or 'sardaraan waali gal (sardar logic)' was common in gently debunking any perceived infirmities of reason. That such things could be said as freely to a Sikh, even inviting a smiling repartee on occasion, 'Oye jaddon hain hi sardar ta sardaraan waali gal kivain nahin karaange (when one is a sardar, after all, how would one not talk sardarspeak)?' said volumes about the self-esteem and sense of humor of the Sikh. Indians are usually happiest making fun of everyone else while wearing the thinnest of skins themselves. Sikhs seemed to be wonderful exception to this norm.

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