Ngathingpei Khayi

You can make anything by writing – CS Lewis

United Colors of Punjab


They are hard working, fun loving, vibrant and believe in living life BIG, that’s Punjabi for you!

A Punjabi does whatever they do with all pomp and energy, whether it’s fun or work. And this must be the reason why they are doing so well in every field of life. Name it and you will find them, be it sports, music, politics, fashion, literature, business, and what not. When it comes to bravery there is no comparison with them, check out the Indian military! “Good thing about Punjabi is living life to the fullest, never giving up attitude, loud, hard working, and living in the moment. May be that’s the reason why, not just in India but all around the world people want to be a part of our festivals, culture, grand-wedding and most importantly eating and drinking in true Punjabi style,” says proudly Jattin Kochhar who is a Delhi based fashion designer.

One interesting aspect that many of us miss out about this community is that all Punjabis are not Sikh and all Sikhs are not Punjabi. Sikhs comprise the majority of the population (60 %) but there are also many other groups like Jats, Khatris, Aroras, Brahmins, Vaishas, Lohars, Gujjars, Tarkhans, Banias, Ahluwalias, Soods, and Sansins. And here is our attempt to find out these people and their contribution towards making this colorful tribe.

History –

Punjab is in the north-west part of India, a prosperous agricultural state and for its abundance it is called the Breadbasket of India. The word ‘Punjab’ can be found in the book Tarikh-e-Sher Shah dated 1580 written by Ibn Batuta, which literally means the land of five rivers (Beas, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, and Sutlej, out of which only two flows in India after the Partition). According to the Archeological finds, existence of life in this region goes back to 7000 BC and there was Indus Valley Civilization during 3000 BC. This territory was regularly invaded by Persians, Greeks – during 321 BC in which Alexander the Great conquered Punjab region, then by Parthians, Kushans, and Hephthalites. Then came the Arab Muslims in 713 AD under the leadership of Mohammad Bin Qasim, followed by Ghoris, Mangols, and Ghaznavids which is why today one will find lots of varieties in their culture. Looking back to the roots they are mainly descended from Aryans or Dravidians who came to India from the north-western side. In 1469, Guru Nanak was born in Talwandi (now in Pakistan) who throughout his life tried to bring Hindus and Muslims together and his followers were called Sikhs.

In 1849 the British spread out its tentacles. How can we forget the 1919 Massacre at Amritsar also called the Jallianwala Massacre which terribly shook the nation? Post independence, during the Partition Punjab was divided and the eastern part came to India’s side. During which around 14.5 million people were displaced and became homeless. “Punjabis have a great survival instinct, especially women. Maybe because number of families have experienced Partition or maybe it is just inbuilt. But Punjabis have knack of surviving and making the most of an opportunity. It is therefore easy to see why they succeed. They support each other and can go all out to make things work,” Shweta Kohli, Founder Brandrepublix on how Punjabis came out stronger from the impact of the Partition. Later, again on 1st November 1966 Punjab was further divided and that brought two new states, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

Culture –

Indeed these people are really fun loving and the fact which proves this is they have a dance form for every occasion. To start with their famous Bhangra, a lively dance for harvesting festival Baisakhi. Gidda a ladies version of Bhangra, Luddi for celebrating victory, Julli for religious occasion, Jaago for weddings, Teevan when married women visit their parental house, Gatka a war dance and the list goes on like Jhumar, Dhamaal, Sammi, Kikli, etc. Besides Sikh religious music, Mughal inspired music and dances are really popular here like Khyal, Thumri, Ghazal, Sufi and Qawwali. Some of the major festivals here are Lohri, Baisakhi, Deeyan, Maghi, Devuthan, Hola Mohalla, Dussehra, Diwali, and Gurupurabs. This is the soil of undying love affairs of Sohni-Mahiwal and Heer-Raanjha.

Punjab is known for her colorful cloths like Phulkaris and Bagh which is worn by woman during marriage and festive occasions. Phulkaris are believed to be originated from central Asia in which hand embroideries are done with stitches on the wrong side of coarse cotton cloth with colored silken thread. Don’t you miss out the crowning glory of every Punjabi man, their turban, Salwar-Kameez done with colorful dupatta, churidars, jutis and their trademark steel bangles – kada. Sharing her view designer Pam Mehta, “Punjabi outfits are easy to wear and comfortable. A traditional salwar kameez and its popular variation the churidar kurta, are go to outfits that can be worn for any occasion at any time of the day – be it a day at work, a dinner or a social event. Punjabi wear is also extremely flexible, you can play with fabrics, textures, embroideries, colors, accessories – there are just no limitations. Mix and match is the term for Punjabi wear.”

Talking about Punjabis, don’t we dare to miss out their cuisine that lip-smacking and mouth watering delicacies? Can you beat it, Chole-bhatoora, Makai ki roti, Sarso ka saag, Butter-chicken, Dal-makhani, Tandoori-tikka, Dahi-bhalle, Malai-Kofta and Amritsari-Aloo. Along with that they have a wide variety of traditional bread in their menu – lachha parantha, naan, kulcha, tandoori roti, rumali roti and all. Ritu Dalmia well known chef who owns Diva restaurant in the capital talks about Punjabi food, “Look at the amount of ghee or cream they use in their cuisine it has to taste good, no matter what they cook!” So good and loved is the food that many restaurants in Delhi are wholly dedicated to Punjabi food, like Punjabi by Nature, Pind Balluchi, Gulati, Punjabian Di Khaan, Ambarsari, and Rajinder Da Dhaba to name some. Singing the praise is Jiggs Kalra owner of Punjab Grill, “The world is eating Punjabi food – butter chicken and tandoor tikka. Now, the goras are dancing to bhangra. We’ve overshadowed global culture. The Punjabisation of Indian cuisine has made Kesar da Dhaba and Bharawan da Dhaba popular in Manhattan. The Punjabis love to battle it out, we’re fighters, and that’s what makes us successful.”

The People –

The phrase ‘Live life King-size’ must have been coined by this community for sure. They constitute about just 3% of the country’s population but one will be surprised to see their presence. In the past there were freedom fighters like Lala Lajpat Rai who is called the Lion of Punjab in whose honor Lajpat Nagar a locality in the capital is named after. Sukhdev Thapar, Shivaram Rajguru, Krishna Gopal Dutt, Lala Har Dayal, Bhai Balmukund and Bhai Parmanand who gave up their life for the country. The first Indian to fly into space Rakesh Sharma is from Patiala who was awarded with Ashok Chakra in 1985. Also astronauts like Kalpana Chawala the first Indian woman in space and Ravish Malhotra. Amazingly, there was even a Punjabi Christian missionary Sadhu Sundar Singh who went all over to Tibet to spread the gospel. They have Nobel laureate Har Gobind Khorana for Physiology or Medicine in 1968. Piara Singh Gill the first Director of Central Scientific Instruments Organization (CSIO) of India. Making Punjabi women proud is the first woman IPS officer of the country Kiran Bedi and first woman Chief Information Commissioner Deepak Sandhu.


“Punjabi is an honest laborer, tolerant and believes in community building. They are simple, humble, enterprising entrepreneurs. For me, the spirit of Punjabi defines self-control, tolerance, and commitment. It makes us instant winners,” says Onkar Singh Kanwar, CMD of Apollo Tyres Ltd. So much is the confidence that any Punjabi takes pride in saying that there is no beggar in Punjab. A perfect inspiration is Gulshan Kumar the owner of music label T-Series who started as a juice seller in the streets of Daryaganj in Delhi. Ajay Bijli the man who brought the trend of multiplexes in the country with PVR. Airtel mobile network giving nation a medium to ‘Express Yourself’ belongs to Sunil Bharati Mittal. World’s second largest e-mail provider is owned by Sabeer Bhatia. If you are flying Jet Airways, remember it has a Punjabi connection, Naresh Goyal started it in 1993. Vinod Khosla the co-founder of Sun Microsystems gave the world Java programs.

Gautam Thapar, founder of the Avantha Group which is one of the India’s biggest business companies. He is the grandson of Karam Chand Thapar the man behind JCT Limited and Oriental Bank of Commerce. Prithivi Raj Singh Oberoi who took charge as the chairman of The Oberoi Groups after his father Mohan Singh Oberoi. Most of the two wheelers on Indian roads are manufactured by brothers Om Prakash Munjal and Brijmohan Lall Munjal the founder of Hero Cycles and Hero MotoCorp. One of the top furnishing and life style brand Zynna is led by Retesh Sharma who says, “Exposure, adventure, and willingness to try new avenues have been the core aspect for the success of the state and its people. Also, Punjabis are very hard working and will not leave a stone unturned, when they decide to walk a specific path….hence success simply follows them.” Indian-American Dr. Romesh T. Wadhwani founder of Symphony Technology Group, made it to the Forbes in US rich list. Giving India the cheapest tablet Aakash is Deepak B. Phatak. Lord Swaraj Paul one of the richest in Britain is from Jalandhar.


There are a good number of individuals from this community in politics, like the 9th President of India Dr. Shankar Dyal Sharma, 10th Vice President Krishan Kant, and 12th Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral. An interesting profile had Gulizarilal Nanda, he was acting prime minister twice after the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru and then Lal Bahadur Shastri. In the current Indian political scenario there is Law and Justice Minister Kapil Sibal, Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni and Opposition leader Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj.

Making politics interesting are Pawan Kumar Bansal who made some news recently for his nephew and lost his job. Madan Lal Khurana the former Chief Minister of Delhi from BJP who in later part of his career got expelled from the Party. Tejinder Khanna whose profile is hard to match, an IAS officer, Chief Election Commissioner in February 1992, counselor for Indian High Commissioner in UK and then governor of Delhi. And some more names like G.C. Malhotra the former General Secretary of 12th and 13th Lok Sabha respectively and former Mayor of Municipal Corporation of Delhi Arti Mehra. Making a surprise entry to the list is the Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit who was born in Kapurthala. And Jagdish Tytler against whom cases are still going on anti-Sikh Riots of 1984.

Journalism and Literature

Names doing Punjabi proud in journalism are Arun Shourie, a noted scholar and columnist who has written around 20 books and edited newspapers like the Indian Express and the Times of India. And his sister Nalini Singh who started a trend with news capsule Aankhon Dekhi in Doordarshan. Barkha Dutt the group editor of NDTV and a Padma Shri awardee who took all the limelight with live reporting of Kargil War. Tarun Tejpal who is counted in India’s 50 Most Powerful People in 2009, after all he is making so much Tehelka with his magazine. Vijay Kumar Chopra the editor in chief of the Punjab Kesari. Prabhu Chawala who handles the editorial of The New Indian Express and making people talk straight with his talk-show Seedhi Baat. “Punjabis are the most spirited people. That’s why they are a global success story. I think it’s our never-say-die spirit that gives us a global edge. We never believe in the word – Impossible,” says CNN international news anchor Monita Rajpal.

Karan Thapar, the Devil’s Advocate who loves to give The Last Word with his Hardtalk India, and you better not come Face to Face with him. Surprised? They are just the names of Karan Thapar’s talk shows which he hosts for CNN-IBN and BBC. Vikram Chandra is the ringmaster of The Big Fight in NDTV and tries to spread some gyan by hosting Gadget Guru, also the CEO of NDTV Group. Vinod Dua, a veteran in Indian journalism who was awarded Padma Shri in 2008 is now basking in the glory tasting of the Indian foods with his road show Zaika India Ka on NDTV.

In the field of literature are historian Romila Thapar and her nephew Valmik Thapar who is a Nature Historian. Vikram Seth is a noted novelist and poet, also a Padma Shri recipient in 2007. Susham Bedi, she is the mother of actress Purva Bedi and a Hindi professor in Columbia University who was honored by Sahitya Acedamy in 2006 for her contribution to Hindi literature.


There are galaxies of stars to name, not just individuals but a whole bunch of clans. The Anand brothers – Chetan, Vijay and Dev Anand – the evergreen hero who has starred in more than 104 films. The Deols – Dharmendra, India’s He-Man and his kin – Sunny, Bobby, Esha and the newest member Abhay Deol. The Chopras – Baldev Raj, Yash, Ravi, Aditya and Uday who gave us hits like Naya Daur, Nikaah, Waqt, Dil Toh Pagal Hai, Veer Zaara, Jab Tak hai Jaan, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and many more. The Sahnis – Balraj, Bhisham and Parikshit. The Dutts – Sunil and his Sanjay the Khalnayak. The power house of entertainment, The Kapoors – Prithvi Raj, Raj, Rishi, Shashi, Shammi, Randhir, Karishma, Kareena and the latest nation’s heartthrob Ranbir. “Punjabis by nature are ostentatious and earlier it was always joked that we are loud but now that has changed to being glamorous. There is no better example of glamorous Punjabis than the Kapoor family. Even feature wise Punjabis are very fair skinned and have usually sharp features. As a community Punjabis are far better looking than any other communities,” says Bollywood Beauty and Make up Expert Puja Taluja.

The father-son duos like Rajendra Kumar-Kumar Gaurav and Pankaj-Shahid Kapur. The Jumping Jack of Bollywood Jeetendra and his kids Tusshar and Ekta. The villain brothers Madan and Amrish Puri. Rajesh Khanna the king of romance and his daughters who couldn’t make it big – Twinkle and Rinke. More Khannas – Vinod, Akshaye and Rahul. Veeru and Ajay Devgan the real action heroes. The Bedis – Kabir whose voice is to die for and daughter Pooja’s look to kill. Another deadly father-daughter combo Anil Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor.

The chef who made it big as action hero from Chandani Chowk Akshay Kumar, Anand Bakshi whose words will melt your heart, the funny combo David Dhawan and Govinda, the bad men Gulshan Grover, Pran, Ranjeet, Prem Chopra and Shakti Kapoor. Ever bubbling and giggling Juhi Chawala, Karan Johar who thinks male bonding is fine in Dostana, Kunal Kapoor the Aslam in cult movie Rang De Basanti and Ayushman Khurana who made the word ‘sperm’ a normal thing with Vicky Donor. Malaika Arora Khan who made the country dance with her item-numbers. There are more beauties like, Suraiya, Bhumika Chawla, Priyanka and Parineeti Chopra, Celina Jaitley, Neha Dhupia, Pooja Batra, Urvashi Sharma and Yukta Mookhey. And handsomes – Jimmy Shergil, Harman Baweja, Aryan Vaid, Ram Kapoor to name some.

Not to forget the out of box directors, Deepa Mehta whose films like Fire created some storm on Earth and Water was also not any help either. And Shekhar Kapoor with movies like Bandit Queen, Elizabeth and Passage to name some.

Music & Fashion

How can we forget the bhangra beats, the rhythm of this land that can even make a stone-feet dance? Gurdas Mann, Manmohan, Sukhwinder Singh who sang hits like Chhaiyya Chhaiyya, Chak De and Jai-ho which are more like a theme song for any event. Putting it in the words of Daler Mahendi, “A Punjabi is full of life; never let anything to get them down, always in a balle balle mode. Yet, we have a down-to-earth heart and a Sufi mind, a combination of a soldier and saint. It’s all about spirit, bhangra and happiness.” Not just in India but abroad also they are on the top, Bally Sagoo, Jay Sean, Sukhbir, Jazzy B, Dr Zeus, Apache Indian, Bombay Rockers, and Rishi Rich. Their presence is in Hollywood also like Verma Malik in Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and Shankar Singh Raghuwanshi in The Darjeeling Limited by doing the music.

Talking about the fashion, Salwaar-Kameez has become more like national clothing in India, no matter which part of the country you are in, you will find it. “More than any other culture, I think Punjabi culture has influenced the Indian designs the most. Whether it is on the ramp or in our movies, it is the Punjabi designs that dominate. And people in India look up at Bollywood even more than glossies for fashion inspiration. And Bollywood has always adored the phulkari and the patiala salwar. The humble punjabi salwar has also found its way to the international ramp,” says Anjalee and Arjun Kapoor who are known for their sparkling designs. Other Punjabi names in the world of fashion are Manish Arora, Suneet Verma, JJ Valaya and Ritu Kumar. In Delhi, Jattin Kocchar, Heena Malhotra of Chhabra 555, Pam Mehta, Vandy Mehra of Study by Janak.


Indian sports won’t have been complete without the contribution of the Punjabis. In the words of champion Milkha Singh, “The spirit of being a winner is all about being Punjabi. We’re the world’s most hard-working tribe. We have a history of being fierce warriors and we’re natural winners. I think that’s the reason the Punjabi rules, in India and globally.” Starting with cricket, Yuvraj Singh – the giant who can hit six sixes in an over, Virat Kohli – the live wire on the field and no doubt the future captain looking at his records, Shikhar Dhawan – the latest batting star, Gutam Gambhir – lefty who can score runs at ease and Piyush Chawala. In the past Manoj Prabhakar, Chetan Sharma, Atul Wassan, Madan Lal, Akash Chopra and Dinesh Mongia. In others sports, Jyoti Randhawa a true golf champion, and also a path finder who inspired youngster like Shiv Kapoor and Arjun Atwal to take up the game. The Great Khali who made sure the presence of India in the world of great drama WWE. Gagan Narang an Olympic bronze medalist for whom winning medal has become a habit. Geet Sethi the World Amateur Billiards champion in 1985, 1987, and 2001 respectively. Michael Chopra an Englishman but his roots are in Punjab who is a well known name in the international football circuit who plays for Blackpool currently. Doing the nation proud with the tennis racquet are sisters Shikha and Neha Oberoi.

(Published in Society Oct ’13, Page No. 184)


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