Much ado about Sikh jokes

KHUSH RANDHAWA

As far as ethnic jokes are concerned, the Sardars are right up there with the Irish, Polish and Jews. So much so that some Sikh lawyers tried to get these jokes (commonly known as Sardar or Sardarji jokes) banned by Indian courts.

Although jokes about other Indian communities exist, Sardar jokes are the most widely circulated in the sub-continent.

They are also popular in Singapore. Several decades ago, there was a TV commercial for a local bank that featured a Sikh watchman or "jaga" with the bank's tagline: Big. Strong. Friendly.

That resulted in the other communities associating all turbaned Sikhs with this phrase, sometimes sarcastically, especially for a diminutive and unfriendly Sardar.

Although these jokes often depict the Sardar as simple-minded or unfamiliar with norms and customs, it is said that many of these gags were created by Sikhs themselves.

For instance, the late Indian writer Khushwant Singh compiled a series of joke books featuring mainly Sikhs.

Here's one that features Santa Singh and Banta Singh - two popular names for the stock characters in many Sardar jokes:

Santa and Banta went fishing. They caught a lot of fish and returned to shore.

Santa: "I hope you remember the spot where we caught all these fish."

Banta: "Yes, I marked X on the side of the boat to mark the spot."

Santa: "You idiot! How do we know we will get the same boat tomorrow?"

On paper, it might appear rather lame, but when delivered in Punjabi or Hindi after a few glasses of whisky, it often brings forth guffaws.

Explaining this self-deprecatory trait, author M.V. Kamath cited "the Punjabi's enormous capacity to poke fun at himself".

The researcher Jawaharlal Handoo believes many Sardar jokes are based on the original stereotype of Sikhs working in jobs where physical strength was more important than intelligence or knowledge of the English language.

Of course, it could also be due to Sikhs being very different from other communities with their turbans, beards and burly physiques.

Many Sikhs take Sardar jokes in their stride and see it as harmless ribbing.

Sadly, in an age of political correctness, some will insist on being offended. Hopefully, they will remain a minority because often nobody tells a better Sardar joke than a Sikh.

tabla@sph.com.sg

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