INDIA.004: PUNJAB

INDIA.004: PUNJAB

FINALLY, 2 months after getting home, I’m done sifting through the mounds of images I captured while in INDIA. And of all the postings I’ve done thus far on my trip, this 4th & final portion of the visual story is the most meaningful to me because it covers my parents homeland, PUNJAB.

It’s hard to explain what it feels like to be in the state of Punjab. I’m always overwhelmed with emotion when I see the roots of my family, my people, my heritage. Even though I was born & raised in Los Angeles, there’s an immediate feeling of being at home when I’m in Punjab. No, I wasn’t raised there, but I was raised with the same values, the same culture. Even something as simple as language makes a world of difference when you enter Punjab. Up until this point of the trip, all I would hear is Hindi, every where I went. And let’s face it, Hindi is a soft language, while Punjabi is the language you cuss someone out in. It’s a ruffneck dialect and to finally hear nothing but Punjabi flowing freely from all corners, was like music to my ears. Finally, I’m surrounded by my people, PUNJABI JATTs.

We are a proud people, we love our culture – if you’re a friend of mine, you know this statement reigns true as I wear my culture on my sleeve (literally) like a badge of honor and share it with everyone in my life. If you are a part of my life, it matters to me greatly that you understand where my family comes from.

I think its fitting that as I sit down to write this piece, I happen to be in the Bay Area on business, staying with one of the most JATT families on the planet…I mean, you want a serious dose of PUNJABI-ness, my cousins up north will ram it down your throat like nobody else…its awesome. You can take a JATT out of Punjab, but you can’t take Punjab out of a JATT.

We are a strong people & historically have always defended India from all sorts of foreign threats. As you walk through the villages of Punjab, you can feel this strength emitting off the land, off the people. For a long time, nearly 70% of India’s military was SIKH. My Masserji is a retired Air Force Group Captain. My Mamaji is a retired Army Colonel. Sikhs have always been held in high regard in the military. If you don’t know the geography of India, let me break it down for you. Punjab sits at the northern-most tip of India (bordering Pakistan) and because of that simple fact, it always bore the brunt of invasions into the country. Being WARRIORS is part of our history. We are fighters. We are LIONS.

My faith, Sikhism, believes in defending the defenseless. We will not let you walk over us. We will protect ourselves. We will fight for what is right. You cannot break our spirit, ever. We will outlast you. We will endure anything you can throw at us. That’s what Sikhs are all about. We believe in equality, freedom, justice and will lay down our lives defending those principles for all of mankind. We are a fearless people.

We celebrate life, all the time. To know a Punjabi family is to know a loving family – also a family that’s loud & eats well πŸ˜‰ If you’re coming into town, don’t stay at a hotel, stay with us. Stay with family. Stay with friends. We welcome people into our homes and treat you as equals. If a JATT has a loaf of bread as the only food left in their cupboard, they will offer that entire loaf of bread to their guests before they take it themselves. We love our families, we love our friends and we want to spend our free time in their presence all the time.

What is life without family & friends? What is a life without love? Nothing. You know those people who say they are happy being alone? Nonsense, who the FUCK wants to live their life alone? That’s someone trying to trick themselves into accepting their loneliness. That’s some western bullshit mentality. That’s someone rationalizing being alone. JATTs like to be around people. Punjabi culture, South Asian culture for that matter, is all about being around people, no matter what part of the world they live in. You’re happy being alone? Good for you. I’m happy by myself (we all need to find our own internal happiness, sure, I get that), but who the fuck are we kidding, we’re happiest in the presence of those that we love. You can keep your loneliness, isolation & “me-first” western mentality, I’ll take a household full of loud, boisterous JATTs over an empty one any day πŸ˜‰

And that’s a pretty accurate way to describe our time in Punjab; we went from one busy family household to the next, drank 100 cups of tea each day, loaded our bellies with PHAT aloo-paranthas, ladoos & pounds of namkeen, not to mention roadside stops for shakarkandi (sweet potatoes, w/chaat-masala & lemon juice), hot moongphali (peanuts) and fresh oranges & guava (my mouth is salivating, reminiscing about all the amazingly yummy fresh fruit & vegetables I’d get right off the street on the daily – America, you are seriously behind in this department, despite what anyone thinks with this whole “Local” craze & the community gardens – that just makes me laugh, India has us beat on that all day, every day. Hell, they got us beat on shopping for that matter too – clothes, housewares, furniture, shoes, etc. – you name it, what they have and the variety mops our asses all over the floor, it is literally mind-blowing to see from this California native…TRUST me, mind-blowing).

Now, outside of the family obligations, as a Sikh, when you’re in Punjab, you feel drawn to visit the Gurdwaras (temples). This is where my heritage was founded, on this land. And just a few towns up from where we are staying, is home to the holiest temple for our people. It always takes my breath away & brings me to tears the minute my bare feet touch the beautiful white marble grounds of HARMANDIR SAHIB, aka THE GOLDEN TEMPLE. The temple rests in the heart of my dad’s birthplace & hometown, AMRITSAR. That means I’m a Dhillon from Amritsar, which apparently makes us the most feared Dhillons in all of INDIA (no, I’m not making this up, this is what I’m told from the natives). If you know my dad, you’ll laugh at this statement, because he’s a sweetheart (don’t get it twisted though, he’s a JATT, he definitely ran a tight ship). BUT, if you know me well, this probably makes sense – cross me or my family, you will never be let back into my life again. Seriously, think twice about screwing with JATTs…just some friendly advice. We never forget…

At any rate, by the time we made it to Amritsar, my trip was nearing the end and I was somewhat disappointed creatively because I felt like my portfolio was missing something. It was missing the life-blood of Punjab. It was missing the farmers. You see, us JATTs are farmers. That’s our thing – well, we sing, dance, party, eat well & drink too, but you already know this…man πŸ˜‰ When you drive through Punjab, you actually think you’re in Fresno or central California, because all around you is farmland as far as the eyes can see (and who do you think runs all the farms in Fresno & Yuba City? Wanna take a guess?). We love to work with our hands, build things. When my dad came to this country in the late ’50s, he picked grapes with this boys in the farms out in Fresno to pay for his masters degree. I’ve watched my dad garden my entire life. Even with a bad back, he insists on mowing the lawn himself. What can I say, he’s a Jatt, he needs to farm to feel alive. Farming is in our blood and my pictures were missing that. I was running out of time & opportunities to capture this on film…

Until we got to JALANDHAR. My home-base on this trip was my sister’s crib in Delhi. The drive to Amritsar is long and because of the dense fog that rolls in during the winters along the canals, its not safe to travel at certain hours, so we couldn’t make it all the way back to Delhi in daylight and had to stop at the PIND (village) in Jalandhar for the night. It was there that we stayed with my Jeejah’s good friend, Jang, who was affectionately dubbed the “Potato Prince of Punjab”. We stayed in their village and during dinner, Jang was asking me about my work and how things were going. I told him that my images felt incomplete; how I came here specifically to meet the true farmers, capture their stories/life through my camera(s) – yes, I was packin’ serious heat, 3 cameras all together. He quietly listened to what I had to say, picked up his cellphone & made a call to someone around 11pm at night. After about 5mins, he hangs up the phone and says, our farmers will be here, waiting for you at 8:30AM tomorrow morning if you’d like to spend some time with them for pictures. AMAZING. The next morning, there they are, a grip of their hardest working farmers waiting for me (not a single one of them spoke English, so good thing I can hang in my mother tongue of Punjabi). These men were no joke. You can see how tough they are just by looking into their eyes. Those 30-45mins I got to spend with them on the farm yielded what I believe to be the most powerful images from my trip. My goal was to capture the faces of India throughout my entire journey and after I left Jalandhar, I was confident I had successfully accomplished that goal…

Well, there it is my people, PUNJAB as seen through my lens. For those of you that have kept up with my visual journey through INDIA via my newsletters & blog, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope the images, at the very least, inspire you to travel. I hope they inspire you to learn more about yourself, your culture, your people, your roots, wherever you are from. INDIA changed my life, it always does. This time especially…