I’m very excited this week because I will finally be visiting the holiest of holy shrines of the Sikh and extended Punjabi community — Canada. To a Punjabi, Canada is like El Dorado, the holy land and heaven all rolled into one. We believe that as soon as we land in Toronto, our bodies emit a fragrant potpourri of Chivas Regal and garam masala that make thousands of white girls descend upon us fighting to take us home. Next morning, once we’re done doing balle shava with the local lasses, the Prime Minister comes to meet us himself and offers us any job we want based on our skill sets. Finally, just to ensure we don’t forget how full of gratitude they are for us being there, the authorities personally escort our entire families from India back to Canada and also set us up with local African American talent in case we want to cut a Punj-hop™ album for music lovers across borders. I know it’s supposed to be like the United States with educated people, but I doubt it will be that amazing. The problem remains that not every Punjabi got that memo.
While a lot of young people travel legally to study and potentially settle down abroad, discourse has usually revolved around those migrating illegally.
This includes young people trying to get illegal visas, getting trafficked till they eventually reach the shores of Canada, England, Australia or the United States, villages that resemble ghost towns and have been reduced to really old people, women and babies because all the able bodied men have left and much more. One story I distinctly remember comes from a friend who worked at the British Embassy. A young farmer who had just sold all his land asked to help him fill the visa application correctly. In the income section he had written “4 quintals”. The stigma and reputation of the single Punjabi young man wanting to go to Canada has become such that even my friends’ first reaction at me getting the visa was “Haha you’re never coming back are you? And you’re not even a background dancer in Daler Mehndi’s troupe”. As if it wasn’t bad enough, enough Punjabi films will make you believe that Canada is the answer to every young man’s problems.
The more I think about it the more I feel the conversation needs to change from the mechanics of this mostly westward migration to the cause of it. Why is it that people are so happy to sell everything they’ve ever owned for a chance to start afresh in a country they’ve never been to before? Why is a culture so full of machismo and proud of the land of Punjab so perfectly comfortable with the land being deserted by its own folk? How badly does the state have to fail for a majority of your population to feel the exact same way?
I’m not sure my three weeks there will be enough to answer any of these, but I hope it’s a start. Mostly importantly however, bacon in maple syrup. How does one resist?