For the past two weeks, I’ve had Veer-Zara’s “Aisa Des Hai Mera'' playing on loop, as I find myself rejoicing in the pride and joy of being a daughter of Panjab.
Growing up in Surrey as a second-generation Panjabi Canadian, this was the first insight I had -- albeit an incredibly romanticized one -- into what the place where my parents were from was like. When I heard “kina sona des hai mera” right off the onset of the song, eight-year-old Harpo would get chills and feel an overwhelming urge to be in Panjab.
I have the same sort of beautiful, overwhelming feeling now all these years later, but when I’m watching the farmer’s protests in India unfold.
When I see photographs of farmers being both resilient and joyful, making and serving langar in the streets that they are protesting in, I feel like I’m right there with them. When I see videos of elderly women that resemble my own dadi and nani holding flags and marching with conviction, I feel our souls uniting.
As I choke back tears while watching the videos and photographs of the farmer’s protests, I can’t help but ask myself: how come the reactions my body has for the problems facing Panjab feel more emotionally charged and visceral than those impacting the community where I actually live?
How can I love a place this much? How can a place that isn’t my actual home in the literal sense, feel so much like home?
What’s often surprised me the most about how issues of the homeland play out in the diaspora, is how invested we are as young people in being a part of these movements.
We are often incredibly quick to get together, mobilize, and lead the way for change -- and all without our parents nagging us to do so.
Our fire as young South Asians in the diaspora is hot and spreads quickly. Some of us organize rallies, while others create accessible websites, and almost all of us will use the hashtags and share graphics to our social media accounts, even if all other days of the year we might not even be logged on or checked in.
All of this is often in the name of a place that some of us have been to only a handful of times, a place we might’ve visited and not even fully remember, or a place that some of us haven’t even travelled to at all.
From New York to Vancouver, Washington, Chicago, Abbotsford, and Toronto; to Sydney, San Francisco, London, Canton, Auckland and Regina; from Marysville to Salem, to Edmonton, Frankfurt, Brisbane; to Indianapolis, Surrey, Brampton, Calgary, Victoria, and Oakland; the diaspora has shown up.
The last two weeks have seen many marches, protests and rallies take place in various parts of North America and Europe, as diasporic South Asians raise their voices in support of the farmers protests taking place in India. In doing so, the cross-continental farmers protest has now officially become the largest protest in human history, and the eyes of the world are watching.
With Indian mainstream media and news channels being criticized for spreading misinformation of the protests, along with rumours of internet jammers being implemented at protest sites, the diaspora and in particular, young diasporic South Asians, have become crucial in disseminating information about the protests at an international level, where mainstream coverage is either inaccurate, or lacking entirely.
It’s young, diasporic South Asians who are keeping their foot on the gas and helping to keep the rest of the world interested in the farmer’s protest.
While our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles show up because it’s the soil they were born on, I can’t help but wonder: what is the spark that lights the fire inside those of us who weren’t even born on that soil?
How is it that, while some might not really care to maintain cultural customs or celebrate traditions like Vaisakhi or Diwali, we still care to make our signs and march onto our streets in support of our community back home?
How is it that we so easily put everything aside and show up this fiercely for our people, our community, our land? And can we even say, our people, our community, our land?
I ask myself again in my continuous interrogation of my emotional bondage to Panjab, from within this complex third space I occupy as a second generation Panjabi Canadian, how is my fire for this campaign this strong? How does this feel like a fight worth dedicating more of my energy to over all the others?
How can I love a place this much? How can a place that isn’t my actual home in the literal sense feel so much like my home?
A quote from one of my favourite books, “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle serves as a possible explanation:
“I reach deeply into the rich soil beneath me, made up of every girl and woman I’ve ever been, every face I’ve loved, every love I’ve lost, every place I’ve ever been, every conversation I’ve had, every book I’ve read and song I’ve sung, everything, everything, crumbling and mixing and decomposing underneath.”
Perhaps I love Panjab so much because the soil in which my roots are planted has been and always will be Panjab.
Perhaps Panjab feels so much like home because it is home -- both at the beginning and at the end.