During the show at the 2016 Punjab Pavilion, the host asks the Youth Female Ambassador, Tanisha Dhillon, what makes her proud to be Punjabi.
Dhillon replies, “We are so deeply connected to our culture, to our traditions. [They] are so rich and so strong. We still continue with them to this day.” That love and pride in their culture is readily apparent throughout the whole pavilion.
The entertainment includes fast, fun, and sensual dances. This is also a traditional Punjabi martial arts display. The food tastes great, too. Ultimately, though, the best part of my visit to the pavilion is the cultural display.
A passionate Punjabi
Nishu Gumber is a financial planner by day, but her true passion lies in sharing her culture with the world. For one week, Folklorama allows her to live that dream, as the Cultural Display Chair at the Punjab cultural display.
Her dedication might be hard for some to understand. She tells us, “My employer is telling me, ‘Folklorama is not giving you bread and butter. Why are you doing this?'”
Undaunted, she tells her boss, “‘Sorry, sir. This is my passion.’ This only comes once a year for seven days.”
A tour of the Cultural Display
Gumber gives us a personal tour of the cultural display. One by one, she leads us to each exhibit, explaining the items in detail. There is a mix of interesting relics from the past and clever objects that are still used today.
She shows us a hand-made drum, used “to make beautiful sounds,” extravagant clothing, utensils, and cookware. She points out different fabrics and explains the methods of how they are made.
There is a hundred-year-old hand-made decorative tapestry that took 5 years to create. The yarn is spun by hand on a cotton gin spinning wheel (charkha), like the one that is on display. It is a rare and expensive item that would be used to carry a bride at her wedding.
At the jewellery table, Gumber says, “Every part of the body, we decorate.” There is specific jewellery to cover the face, ears, neck, arms, finger, and ankles.
She explains how different types of bracelets communicate status. A new bride wears special bangles (suhag choora) for 40 days after the wedding.
According to Gumber, “We can recognize that she’s a newlywed” due to the bracelets. If the newlywed gets pregnant, she cannot wear them anymore.
Gumber demonstrates how to wear a saggi phull on my sister, Crystal Stevens. The jewellery is placed on the crown of the head, tied behind the neck, and the cloth is draped over top.
An engaging public demonstration
The personal tour we receive is not unique to us. Gumber is trying to engage the public to get them interested in her culture.
She says, “I told the volunteers, explain everything. Demonstrate for them.” With a flick of the wrist, she spins a fancy hand fan around, to show how it works. She wants the revolving fan “to excite people, to show them that we do have these special things.”
The response from the public seems to be positive. She proudly tells us, “Today, one lady got a turban. She was just crying, ‘Oh, I’m so happy!’ So, that’s a very good experience.”
Her pride in her culture, her people, and their way of life is inspiring and beautiful to behold.
She puts a lot of work into organizing the display, but can’t do it without her husband and a team of dedicated volunteers. All of the volunteers we talk to are friendly and knowledgeable.
A deeply personal display
When Gumber shows us her silk wedding dress, casually hanging amongst the other intricately decorated clothing, I realize how deeply personal the exhibit is.
In telling the story of Punjab culture, she tells a part of her own story.
A lesson in gratitude
After visiting the Punjab Pavillion, I think about how I take the cultural displays at Folklorama for granted.
I often walk through the spaces where the cultural displays live (in hallways, gymnasiums, church basements, or 2nd floor atriums), without considering the care that goes into creating them.
I wonder how many other passionate and dedicated people like Gumber are working behind the scenes, meticulously planning these displays and infusing a part of themselves into them.
Earlier in the week, at the Mexican pavilion, Mayra Dubon spoke about the work that goes into running the kitchen at Folklorama. She says one should “be thankful every time there is food in front of you.”
I am thankful for the Gumbers and the Dubons who put passion, pride, and hard work into Folklorama. I will keep that gratitude in mind the next time I walk through a cultural display.