The Punjabi Privilege

Grumpy old aunties are not able to comprehend that a degree in education can be a real degree because getting a degree is education. so said a friend of mine. I found it amusing because behind that non-comprehension is a mindset i.e. A punjabi’s sense of entitlement. Let me explain.

Just after his conquest of Jalalabad, Babar went about the area and got lost in bad weather and was rescued by a farmer. The farmer took care of him, and nursed him back to recovery. During his conversations, Babar noticed that the farmer could count, so he asked him to count and boy he could count. When he approached thousands, Babar, then and there decided to add the area to his lists of conquests. The area happened to be the outskirts of Punjab (somewhere near Attock). His logic was simple. If a routine farmer could count to thousands, the area must be rich. If Babar wasn’t found by a farmer that could count to thousand, India might not have the great mughal empire.

I am a punjabi and also the first hand witness of this punjabi privilege. I have had my share of embarrassments because of my punjabi privileged mindset. At the start of my career, I worked as a field engineer in the northern areas of Pakistan (happen to be in KPK). On one of my field trips, i miscalculated the drive. It was a tough terrain, and the disposable water bottles finished halfway through the journey. On arriving at the destination, I was sweating, very very thirsty and very very tired. I asked the receiving party at the destination if i can have some water. He immediately asked me if it is to be consumed for drinking. In my punjabi arrogance, I replied in an annoyed voice, “nahi! nahane ke liye chahiye” (translation: No! I want to take a bath). The guy was taken aback. Luckily, my pathan driver came to the rescue and water was made available. That incident became part of my memory for some reason. Years later, I realised, that in my privilaged punjabi arrogance, I couldn’t comprehend the plight of the rest of the world. A very real plight. Being from the land of five rivers, it was hard for me to acknowledge that clean drinking water was a plight of many around the world. The question the guy asked was very very genuine.

Punjabi mindset is a very entitled mindset and a normal punjabi takes most thing for granted, and since he takes most things for granted, there is always a shock and awe for non-punjabis who come across the sense of entitlement. Hailing from the land of five rivers, where food is plenty, a well established system of charity (shrines etc), the resident of Punjab knows that come what may, he will not die of hunger. Whatever he/she does, is for prestige and prestige only.

For this quest of prestige, the punjabis lack a sense of belonging. I have noticed this behaviour in children of expat pathans, sindhis, balochis and even siraikis, they speak their mother tongiue with proper accent. A punjabi expat child however does not know punjabi, and if he is to communicate his cousins back home, it will be basterdized version of urdu. The punjabi parent, in their ingrained quest of prestige, insists that their child MUST learn to know how the king’s speak. For punjabi children growing up in the 70s, 80s, even those living in Pakistan, would not know how to speak punjabi. The language of choice at home was usually urdu. After the advent of globalisation, the language of choice for a Punjabi parent has become english. One can easily witness this behaviour in the parking lot of any of posh schools in Lahore.

So, how can a grumpy old punjabi aunty understand that you can get educated about getting educated, because in her world, there is no prestige associated with it. For her, either it should be an engineer, a doctor, or if we want to expand her horizon a little bit, a civil servant.

Unless we, the punjabis, stop worrying about prestige, and start worrying about real world problems, there is no redemption.

Yousuf Jawwad

Yousuf Jawwad