July 15, 2012: A joke book that starts with a quotation of the famous German philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. What next? A Sardar name for a Madrasi! Well, exactly that. Bhai Niranjan Singh ‘Amrikawale’ is indeed an Indian of Tamil descent. Brought up in Delhi, where Punjabi was adopted as practically a mother tongue, he in time found himself in Louisiana instead of Ludhiana.
Now, the Punjabi spirit in this person has made him a successful entrepreneur, and the Tamil origins ensure that he remains committed to intellectual inquiry. Thus this book. It is always instructive to read the author’s note, more so in this case as the author Niranjan Ramakrishnan says: “Why this book? I have spent the major portion of my career in the software world. In the course of my work, I was surprised to find a number of illustrative examples pertaining to conceptual, design and business issues could be drawn directly from sardar jokes. Later, I discovered the same thing with some of my writings on politics and current affairs...” He also gives a brief exposition on jokes, and says, “My aim in this book is threefold: To capture the best sardar jokes, to examine their deeper meaning, and to make their narration easy.”
Well, the author has made the task of the reviewer easy. We have the perimeters with which to judge the slender volume that is the repository of the mirth distilled by him.
It is a great collection of sardar jokes, in which Santa and Banta figure prominently. The jokes are there, to be delved into and savoured, one at a time. Sure, there are many volumes of sardar jokes, including many complied by Khushwant Singh that are so popular at railway stations, but this is a different collection, visibly so.
Good jokes have been selected, and they read well, although many are longer than what we can narrate here. Here’s one that isn’t: Returning from a trip abroad Banta Singh asks his wife, ‘Oye biwi, tainnu main firangi lagda waan (hey, wife, do I look a foreigner to you)?’
‘Bilkul nahin ji (not at all),’ she replies, pinching his cheek playfully. ‘Tussi ta hundred per cent Indian ho.’ ‘Hmmm... pata nahi, valayat ch saare mainnu ae hoi puchch riye sun (abroad everybody kept on asking me) — are you a foreigner, are you foreigner...’
The commentary echoes Wittgenstein, when it says: “Context is everything. The same sentence, the same word, the same expression, used in two different contexts, acquires a totally different complexion. Sometimes, it is not a person who changes, but the circumstances. The results are the same. This is what causes remarks ‘I feel like a foreigner in my own land’”.
This is a story I heard from a friend of mine in California. During the heyday of the problem, when a number of Indian software engineers had been imported into the San Francisco Bay Area, it was not uncommon to find entire apartment complexes inhabited literally a hundred per cent by Indian families. One day, an American worker knocked on one of the apartments asking for someone called ‘John Mathew’. The lady of the house, who answered the door, told him that no such person lived in the apartment. When he thanked her and said he would try next door, she called out helpfully, ‘In this whole complex, all Indians only, no foreigners!’
As you may have seen, the book is a good read. The author gives the earthy Punjabi humour, a Madrasi tadka. He serves a unique thali with Punjabi and Chettinad delicacies that will tickle many a discerning palate.