She’s Sikh and tired of Sardarji jokes. That pun was impossible to resist, but for Harvinder Chowdhury, it’s clearly no laughing matter. She has a point in that it does project Sardars as stupid, naive and inept, but then again, who could live in a world without Sardarji jokes? Santa and Banta are not persons to be ridiculed, they are part of popular culture, as much as butter chicken and bhangra. So too is Navjot Sidhu, whose second career, being India’s resident jokester and judging laughter shows, is far more enduring and successful than when he let his bat do the talking. Khushwant Singh and Sardarji jokes were as inseparable as...well,
Santa and Banta. We now have to picture the duo in court, facing charges of bringing disrepute to the community. In one of the millions of jokes they have spawned, Santa and Banta appear before a magistrate for fighting with each other. The magistrate says he is sure the matter can be settled amicably, and asks them to shake hands and say something nice to each other. Banta shakes Santa’s hand and says, “I wish for you what you wish for me.” And Santa tells the judge, “Look, your honour! He’s starting again.”
Ethnic jokes do have historical connections to discrimination and stereotyping, but Sardarjis have become the butt of jokes for the opposite reason that people from Poland did, or Paddy and Mick from Ireland. Polish jokes were at their peak in Germany during the 1990s, when entertainers and satirists connected the Polish economy and increased automobile theft in Germany. One joke went: What is the latest slogan promoting tourism to Poland? The answer: ‘Come to Poland! Your car is already there!’ The resulting outrage among German and Polish intellectuals calmed the issue, but during that period, fears of car theft actually led to a decrease in German tourists to Poland. In India, we have Mallu jokes, Bong jokes, Gujarati jokes, Ghati (rural Maharashtrian) jokes and of course Rajnikanth jokes—which have by and large descended from Chuck Norris jokes. Sardarji jokes are memorable because the community is fun-loving and extrovert, and jokes about them are actually a show of affection.
The English came up with Irish jokes, which originated when Ireland was under British colonial rule and Paddy and Mick were the equivalent of Santa and Banta. Here’s one. Paddy stops Mick in Dublin and asks for the quickest way to Cork. Mick says, “Are you on foot or in a car?” Paddy says, “In a car.” Mick says, “That’s the quickest way.” The most fascinating survey was the search for the funniest joke in the world. The winner: Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He’s not breathing and his eyes are glazed, so his friend calls 911. “My friend is dead! What should I do?” The operator replies, “Calm down, sir. I can help. First make sure that he’s dead.” There’s a loud bang. Back on the phone, the guy says, “OK, now what?”