Strange, These Punjabis Downunder!


The Australian government has confirmed the introduction of a new "citizenship test" as early as this year.Immigrants will have to score at least 60% in the test, to earn the formal right to be called "Aussie".

Gone are the days when the "ten-pound Poms" (those from Britain who just paid ten pounds to travel to Australia by ship) or the "Wogs" (the post-war Greeks and Italians who migrated in large numbers) could take up citizenship soon after arrival.

Considering that Sikhs and others of Indian origin have now overtaken the Chinese as the single largest group of immigrants to Australia, and that Melbourne is the magnet where most are heading to, it's easy to see that a majority of the new arrivals are Punjabi; or shall we say "PiDs", the Punjabis Downunder!

But unlike the Poms and Wogs of the 20th century, the PiDs of the 21st century will have to earn their stripes, and pass a written exam before being called "true blue Aussie".

Having lived here for a better part of two decades, it's probably timely to share my experiences with potential PiDs.

When we first came here, it was important to Australianize ourselves to have a "lived happily ever after" sort of a story. You nearly died at the airport when someone asked you in a typical Aussie accent, "Did you come here to-die", when they actually meant, "Did you come here today".

The accent took a bit of getting used to, but the local lingo soon caught up and grew on us.

Everyone is a "mate" (even though its pronounced as "mite"). Instead of "OK " or "fine", people usually say "no worries". The toilet is the "dunny". "Thank you" is simply "ta". "Cooking tea" means making dinner and the ultimate Aussie meal is some sausages and meats cooked to perfection on the barbecue: a must-have in every household.

But the barbecue is a "Barbie" and a woman is a "Sheila". Men's names are shortened, too: Darren is Dazza, Desmond is Des, Jonathan is Jon and Gilchrist is just Gilly.

Being in the southern hemisphere, peak winter is from June to August, a typical Christmas is by the poolside or the beach, with women in their skimpy bikinis and men in shorts with the legendary "bum-crack" showing.

Even the traditional X-mas song, "Jingle Bells", has been Australianized to: "Dashing through the bush, in a rusty Holden ute ... kelpie by my side, singing Christmas songs, it's Christmas time and I am in my singlet, shorts and thongs."

I learnt not long after arriving here that no one wore ironed clothes; it's a lot easier to wear crumpled jeans. Not feeling like going to work after a weekend was "Monday-itis", and to get over it, you would usually take a "sickie" - call work to take a day off, since you are "sick".

Factories shut down if the temperature soars past 35 degrees (since it is unsafe to work) and men can take "paternity leave" on the birth of a child, too. Family planning gets a whole new meaning, because the government actually gives a baby bonus of few thousand dollars upon the birth of your child. The buzz word here is to have three children  -  one for the father, one for the mother and one for the country!

After coming to Australia, the word "sports" suddenly covered a lot of games other than cricket. This is one country that gets a public holiday for a horse race (Melbourne Cup Day).

Our Prime Minister once declared, after a famous sports victory, that any boss who sacks his worker for not turning up the next day is anti-Australian (as Bob Hawke did again, after Australia won the Americas Cup for the first time).

But the PiDs don't need to worry too much about Australianizing themselves anymore. Things have already changed dramatically in Melbourne over the past few years.

Hail a cab and you have more than a fair chance of being greeted with a "Sat Sri Akal", since a majority of taxi drivers are Punjabi.

Even a couple of very common Aussie surnames are very familiar to us Punjabis  -  Gill and Mann.

Bhangra has become popular here and even McDonald's serves a "tandoori chicken wrap" along with the usual beef-burger.

Taking a look at the arrival lounge at Melbourne's Tullamarine International Airport, one gets a distinct feeling that this will change further. It's not just the faces at the airport; it's the size of overstuffed suitcases, packed till they can squeeze no more, with each passenger carrying 20 kg. "handbags", that tells you that things are a-changing and getting Punjabi-ized.

But a word of warning for those who left the sub-continent to leave "the Injians behind" for good - if that's the reason you decided to come to Australia, don't bother. Melbourne is the new Mecca for desis, especially PiDs.

But thankfully, some things are still typically Australian and hopefully, will never ever change. It's the sense of "mateship" here, the friendliness of the people and the sense of justice  -  the desire and willingness to give everyone a "fair go".

Even though the government is introducing a citizenship test in Australia, based on what is loosely described as "Australian values", the fact remains that this country is gracious enough to adapt to any immigrant's way of life, be it Punjabi, Chinese, Greek, or whatever!

Australia has always given dignity to labor, society is truly caste-less and everyone really is equal. We might not need a "street dhobi" to iron our clothes, but the guy who collected our garbage in the morning could well be dining at our restaurant that night!

If you can afford a cleaner for your house, chances are he drives a car much swankier than yours. The high end of society has doctors and lawyers alright, but even electricians, plumbers and green-grocers are millionaires.

The amazing thing is that any man can call up the Prime Minister on talkback radio and say, "John, what the hell do you think you're doing, mate?"

That's the true beauty of this country and my message to all those Sikhs planning to migrate here is  -  yes, do bring a part of Punjab with you, but be sure to integrate these Australian qualities once you come here. That way, Australia can continue to be the lucky country for generations to come.

Yes, you will miss the mayees and bhaiyyas who did your washing and cleaning, and be prepared to pay money to dispose of things you don't need anymore  -  unfortunately there are no kabari wallahs to give you shiny new utensils for your throw-aways. But given time, you do enjoy your shiny new life here and slowly but surely, you feel proud to call Australia home.

What's more, you even get to win the cricket in reality, not just in your dreams!

Courtesy: The Hindustan Times

Back To Manpreet Kaur's columns page

Back To APNA Home Page