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.
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.
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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