Chapter 14: Punjab's Exodus
You cannot take one step in the City of Ludhiana without noticing advertisements for the IELTS examination. IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. This system is the entry gate for Punjabi immigration applicants, hoping to join hundreds of thousands of other Punjabi natives in English-speaking countries like Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Two of the interview subjects spoke to the scale of this migration, stating that 90% of their high school graduating class is now abroad. When those 90% exited their airplanes and stepped down in their new home, many were confronted by a comforting sight: their native script. Punjabi is now the second language of many areas of Canada, featured alongside English and French on airport signs.
Dr. Satvinder K. Mann declared that the “crux of the problem,” propelling Punjabis away from their home country, is a generational aspiration. She explained that generational aspiration is a natural sociological phenomenon experienced by any society that sees an increase in the standard of living. The result of this newfound comfort and luxury, she postulates, is that the proximate generation aims to achieve a higher standard of living than their parents. The idea dictates that, if my parents buy me a Prius, I’ll want to buy my kids a Bentley. Since the standard of living went up with the Green Revolution, she stated, the rising class adopted this mentality. Everybody wants more than their parents had.
This explanation captures just one side of the story. In my interviews, subjects blamed the immigration on a host of other motivators as well. One 18-year-old, who is currently in the process of studying for his IELTS exam, thinks that Canada and New Zealand are cleaner and more appealing than India. Others claimed that agricultural work requires too much effort. They would prefer instead to become truck drivers in Canada. When asked about his dream job, one 18-year-old responded “I want to be a truck driver.” People’s perception of Canada and their desire for easier work influence the decision to travel abroad, but the main motivator for this evacuation is money. Evoking this sentiment, the IELTS teacher highlighted that any Punjabi kid would jump to accept a job offer in a foreign country if the opportunity arose. Now that immigration has become trendy, people also report feeling social pressure to immigrate. The IELTS teacher said that, because of this social pressure, those that don’t go abroad report more difficulty finding a marriage partner. The few who decide to stay in Punjab are stigmatized! Not only are there many appeals of immigrating, but also the Punjabi youth lack a sufficient deterrent. Any connection to their homeland, pride in their culture, and familial bond fail to mask the scent of money. The youth are not the only agents, however. Parents also have a large voice in this conversation. Many guardians, afraid that their kids will become victims of drug addiction and unemployment if they remain in Punjab, have pushed their children abroad.
So, Punjabis in Canada must be extremely pleased with their new lives, right? According to one source, this isn’t necessarily true. He equated the immigration of a Punjabi family to a hybrid plant. The first generation thrives, but the next generation, disconnected from its roots, begins to wilt. Now it’s the third generation of immigrants and, whereas previous generations sent money back home to support their relatives, this generation feels a much weaker tie to their homeland. Americans are now Americans, and Canadians are Canadians, Dr. SK Mann articulates. One man from the select crowd of Punjabi natives who decided not to immigrate voiced that the stampede to Canada is trampling Punjabi culture. They are not just abandoning their community, he dictated, they are abandoning their culture as well. In that queue, his friend pulled a Saranda from his bag and placed it in his lap. This traditional North Indian instrument was intricately crafted. Her wooden frame was decorated by sheepskin and bone. And though that sheep seemed dead when the instrument stood still, the man’s hands breathed life into it once more. His face possessed a silent stoicism while his fingers danced. As his left hand worked the strings and his right hand guided the bow, I closed my eyes and relaxed into the sound. Longing and despair stained the air as the instrument mourned an unspoken loss.
Anonymous. Government employee. Personal Interview. Ludhiana, Punjab. 7 May 2019.
Singh, Sunny. Organic farmer. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 7 May 2019.
Mann, Satvinder K. Professor. Personal Interview. Ludhiana. Punjab, 23 April 2019
Anonymous. Student. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 26 April 2019.
Anonymous. Teacher. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 3 May 2019.
Anonymous. Shopkeeper. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 28 April 2019