Thousands, if not millions, of us would have heard that repartee atleast once while growing up. About Santa Singh and Banta Singh and Jasbeer Singh and Milkha Singh (i know he's real, but there were jokes about him too!) and every other 'conceivable' Singh not to mention extensions like Singh Gill. Sardarji jokes - it was almost a quinessential part of life as a kid, probably even when you were slightly older till the 6th/7th grade, but definitely not after that - once you've been self-taught Sexual Reproduction in the most inane form, the jokes are of a different league altogether(the one with the difference between a woman's skirt and a universe comes to mind!), but i'm digressing too much, that one's for later.
All this came flowing back, when i read this - Anil Ambani is being charged for alleged insult to the Sikh community by sending out Sardarji jokes via SMS. [sidenote: if you have seen the earliest ads for nokia 3200 remember the guy,who looked a little like bill clinton, dressed in a business suit, jumping around with joy, running to a waterfront and sitting with his feet dipped in the water playing "Snake" on his Nokia 3200 ; now replace the guy with anil ambani and playing Snake with sending sardarji jokes!! Not really funny eh?Sigh.]
The bigger question of how a little joke can insult a whole community (which ironically counts Navjot Singh Sidhu as one of them!) is obvious. I'm still a little trepidatious though, since the issue with the Santa and Banta joke book has happened before. If there is one thing i remember very well about growing up, it was Sardarji jokes. At home, at school, on the bus, while out playing, even when your parents introduce you to a strange uncle whom you have never met - the sardarji joke was the way out; to avoid tough questions ("What do you want to be when you grow up?'); and if the joke had a tamilian in it all the better -the combination was lethal, bellowed out laughs followed and the young 9 year old lad was relieved and glad that he can make a room full of 40 year olds crack up. On the bus, with friends, the competition was intense, the one who knew most of the jokes was always listened to,he got the window seats and even the teachers laughed (who didn't want to be the teacher's pet then?!). Infact I remember a particular time when my uncle came home with a lot of printouts - of Sardarji jokes! What joy! For the next few weeks i used to trouble him with "get more Sardarji jokes from the internet", though i dint have a clue as to what the internet was - for all i cared there were Sardarji jokes there(this was when the internet had just started off). On every single vacation in India, the first thing to buy at railway stations were the sardarji joke books. Nothing could be further from funny then. Ofcourse, there were Archie's and the like which were really good,but they couldn't be retold. There even was a Jaspal Bhatti tele-serial which was funny in parts but dint last too long i think.
There were similar jokes about Tamils, Mallus , Gujjus amongst many others, but in a way the Sardarji jokes ruled(something like Bhangra of the desi-joke scene). Some instances and people remain in your head long after simply for the joy of that moment. There was a classmate of mine, Jaskaran Singh Gill, who instead of being the butt of the Sardarji joke, used to to his advantage, especially with our Chemistry and Math teachers, a Tamilian and a Malayali ; lethal combination overdose!
During attendance call:
Chem teacher(tamil accented english) : Jas karan?
Jaski : No ma'am, its Jaskaran. Singh Gill.(sad face).
Every single time. I still remember him humming the soundtrack to the Batman and Robin tv series (tanananana, tananannanana... Batman,Batman!) in Math class with our sir shouting away in Malayalam accented english - "Bloody fool, I'll throw you out of the window! He was a rare find and in some way defined punjabis for me then as fun loving chaps.
Yes, as we grew up and matured (actually we had heard almost every Sardarji joke till then), a new Singh had come into the picture - Khushwant Singh. Not for his lessons in our textbook, but for his jokes - especially the sex ones (remember the one about the dog named sex?!!) ; thereby the joke saga continued with Sardarji's playing an essential role once again.
In any movie/story/song/play/party/event/anything at all, the sardarji's have a disproportionately larger role in the jokes department. Yes, times have changed and the same jokes may not sell, but new jokes can always be created ( at times an entirely new genres like Sidhuisms) and new markets too(the Santa and Banta jokes may not have reached the non-hindi speaking south; Tamil Nadu, Heh!). They have firmly established themselves as an intrinsic part of 'indian culture' now!
These jokes probably do reinforce stereotypes, but stereotypes are a necessary evil in comedy - simply because, it is used in the context of a joke and is therefore by default not to be taken seriously. It is to be laughed at and if someone is incapable of that, i'm sorry, you need to lighten up. The stereotypes themselves always die out, after all, how many times can you listen to the same joke?
Interestingly, if the Sardarji jokes get banned, the tamilians(erstwhile madrasis) sole 'singam' kalaignar will 'on behalf of tamil brethren everywhere in the world' ask for any insulting/offensive remarks against tamils be removed from books/movies/magazines/food menus. Imagine watching Padosan without the song 'Ek Chaturanar Kare Hoshiyar' or worse Mahmud himself or if the "ena rascala, top gun murugan" scene from OSO is deleted? Wouldn't that be crazy? But under our current system, this is a pretty sizeable possibility. The worst case scenario would be the SC declaring that you can make Sardarji jokes but they cannot make fun of Sardars - WTF??
Also the list of banned books by India will have Satanic Verses followed by Santa and Banta joke book.LOL.
So, before it does get banned, "Once when a Tamilian went to Punjab and asked a Sardarji "tamil terima?" ,the Sardarji got angry and retorted "Punjabi ...... "!