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Monday, September 15, 2008

A Proud Punjabi

The following article appeared recently in The Tribune, Chandigarh, India.

He proudly wears Punjabi attire

Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 31
In every society, there are only a handful of people who dare to tread uncommon paths. Balkaur Singh, who retired today as excise and taxation officer of the Punjab government, after putting in 33 years of service, is one such person. Of the nearly 6 lakh employees of the Punjab government, he maintained a distinct identity.

He did not wear pants and shirt unlike most senior and junior babus in Punjab and many other parts of the country, even once during the entire tenure of service. And he did not even wear a kurta and pyjama while on duty. Without bothering about self-imposed protocol by babus, Balkaur Singh wore the traditional Punjabi dress, chadar, kurta and tilledar jutti during the period of his entire service. He was the only employee of the state government who attended top-level official meetings in the traditional attire.

Before joining service as an inspector in 1975, Balkaur did his post graduation in English and Punjabi as a regular student from Panjab University in the early 1970s. He sat in the class room in the traditional Punjabi dress without bothering about what other students and teachers felt about his dress. “My colleagues and other students in the university and during service in the excise department used to taunt me, but I did not bother as I always feel proud of my Punjabi identity,” said Balkaur Singh.

A brief comment made by an English couple in 1966 changed his life forever. He was so hurt by the comment that he decided not to wear “pants and shirt” ever again. “The British couple was sitting in front of our college at Sirsa. Out of curiosity, I along with other students went to see them as we had never seen such people,” said Balkaur Singh. “As far as language and dress is concerned we are still ruling India,” said the Englishman. “Listening to that remark I felt so humiliated that I decided not to wear the attire given to us by Englishmen,” said Balkaur, who also holds post graduation degrees in philosophy, sociology and psychology.

He says public life is dominated by thugs, corrupt and dishonest people. Bureaucrats and other government officials take pleasure in harassing common people. Hypocrisy has become way of life. Ruling classes of all hues are dishonest to people to whom they pretend to serve, he says. “As I had the guts to confront dishonest people, no one asked me to do anything illegal. I tried my best to serve small traders and businessmen honestly and never harassed them. In fact, I tried to help them. I spared those who committed mistakes inadvertently, but never spared those who have been dodging the government by using influence and their status”, he adds.

Balkaur says, “I will now promote Punjabi culture and expose hypocrites, who in the name of serving and promoting Punjabi culture are playing their own politics”.


Sidhusaaheb said...

I had read it a couple of days ago when it appeared in the newspaper and was impressed too.

Thanks for sharing
Manpreet | Homepage | 09.15.08 – 9:56 am | #


Thanks a lot for bringing this news item. I wish and pray that all over Punjab, whether it’s eastern or the western one, there should be more and more of Balkaur Singhs.
Unfortunately, we in the Punjab have forgotten ourselves. We neither use our traditional dress nor do we make effort to speak our mother tongue. Among all peoples, all nations in the world, we the people of Punjab are perhaps the only people who use a language – to write and to speak which is not our mother tongue.
I think that Gora couple was quite right to taunt Balkaur Singh. It is mainly through language, attire and cultural habits that men are moulded, influenced and patterned to behave the way their lords would wish them to.
B.S. has set an example for all of us Punjabis (more so here in Pakistan where even Punjabi themselves ridicule their own friends, parents expecting their children to speak Urdu, or kids ridicule their elders while somebody may want to express in the mother tongue so much so I see writers, poets, performers who in their full rhetoric’s advocate for Punjabi but when they express all this, they do so in Urdu.
While you quote this example of B.S. I remember that great soul of Punjab and a great son of Pakistan, our only Nobel laureate, who while accepting citation of world’s most prestigious award, too was attired in his typical Punjabi dress (this even though he had spent his whole life at the Imperial College, London, UK).
Unfortunately he is not much admired here in Pakistan merely because his belief is not acceptable to certain mullahs. But he is the person, most of us Pakistanis revere from core of our hearts and irrespective of what he believed, see only what he did and that is something, the world of science will always be proud of. May be here in Punjab, we need to have millions of Nobel laureates so that one comes out of this complex to use a different language, a different attire and a different approach to a way of life that’s all at the expense of his mother tongue.
Nayyar Hashmey | Homepage | 09.16.08 – 1:21 am | #


That’s nice, the costume looks so nice. Even sarees look nice, but no one wears them to office in my office – only on diwali when hr tells us, do some girls turn up in saris.
cyberkitty123 | Homepage | 09.18.08 – 4:05 pm | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

cyberkitty – no offence to you, but your comment says it all – our national dresses are now reduced to being costumes. in the environment where i work, if i turn up wearing traditional clothes, i’d be fired in 5 mins !! kudos to balkar singh… wish we have more like him

(bows his head in shame at not being able to be like him)
nomad | Homepage | 09.23.08 – 11:24 am | #


It all depends on the circumstances. You know that people who work in private sector will be soon out of job if they decided to wear traditional dresses at work. I also agree that working for the Govt. of India, and wearing traditional dress through out the course of service is an achievement too. But it is easier than being in a private job. And if someone thinks that British still rule India by the language spoken and dresses worn in India, I can only say that they are not willing to accept the fact that British have been kicked out of India.
Sifar | Homepage | 10.12.08 – 1:27 am | #