Insights and Inspiration for a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful You


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For a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful You

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Let us now praise some good men

by P.S. Wasu
Good Man dilaaltain
Unearthing the origins in Punjab of the colloquial gem ‘Good Man Di Laltain’, the author reminisces about a couple of good men he has come across.

‘Good Man Di Laltain’ is a charming Punjabi phrase that translates to ‘the lantern of Goodman brand.’ 
Transport yourself back to an era when electricity was a mere whisper, and the Scottish company Goodman illuminated Europe with its top-notch lanterns. It was Europe’s only reliable light source before electricity was made available widely. These lanterns were favourites of sailors as the fiercest storms could not extinguish them, like a metaphor for good men.

The British used these lanterns in Indian Railways extensively for signalling and other purposes. It was also the only solid quality, reliable brand of lanterns in the united Punjab before the Partition. If you sought the highest quality lantern, you’d simply stroll into a shop and demand, “Give me ‘Good Man Di Laltain.”

This colloquial gem didn’t just illuminate the literal darkness; it metaphorically evolved into a compliment for someone who is first-rate. It became synonymous with dependability, a seal of approval for someone exceptional. The phrase was widely used in the army, sports circles, and elsewhere to convey one’s appreciation in an informal or friendly way. It amounted to a pat on the back. It was a morale booster. When someone achieved something great, saying ‘Good Man Di Laltain’ to him was the ultimate compliment.

The beauty of the phrase is that it has passed the test of time and is still very popular. A few decades ago, there was a famous play in Punjabi titled ‘Good Man Di Laltain.’ In 2018, filmmaker and lyric writer Gulzar weaved magic with this phrase in a peppy track, ‘Good Man Di Laltain’ for the Punjabi movie Soorma. The phrase in this song welcomes and extols the protagonist who has risen as a hockey star.
In the mosaic of my life, I have met quite a few good men who could be given the badge ‘Good Man Di Laltain’. I will talk about two of them here.


This charming Punjabi phrase didn’t just illuminate the literal darkness; it metaphorically evolved into a compliment for someone who is first-rate. It became synonymous with dependability, a seal of approval for someone exceptional. Saying ‘Good Man Di Laltain’ to someone was the ultimate compliment.


One such person was Ram Lal (name changed), my boss and friend during the first half of the 1990s, one of those rare good men. Fragile-built and medium in stature, he gave himself the macho looks by having military-style moustache and puffing on fat cigars. High-spirited, carefree, and jovial are some expressions that come to mind as I think of him. He had a great sense of humour and was always joke-ready for all occasions. He had many top-notch qualities of good men, but the one that will come through the following incident takes the cake.
Although naturally cheerful, he radiated an overwhelming sense of joy one day when he entered the office. He came across as a walking symphony of happiness. The corners of his eyes crinkled, suggesting an emotional overflow, as if his joy couldn’t be contained. End of the day, everybody was asked to stay back for a bash. The yummiest of goodies were ordered, and booze flowed. 
When pressed to share the reason behind the revelry, Ram Lal told us about a law then prevailing about child adoption. We learnt that biological parents could claim back their child from adoptive parents over a specific period, and beyond that period, they ceased to have any right over their child. 
For the biological parents of his adopted daughter, that was the day they ceased to have any right over their daughter. Although it was unlikely for her biological parents to have laid any claim on their daughter even before that date, this was the day they lost any right to do so. This was the reason for that day’s celebrations.
Ram Lal’s sensitive side, usually veiled behind his lively persona, shone through. It warmed the cockles of our hearts. We all congratulated him profusely. 
“Good Man Di Laltain!” escaped my lips spontaneously, encapsulating the sentiment perfectly.


In the early 2000s, I conducted a workshop for senior management at a Dutch engineering multinational in Noida. On the third and final day of the workshop, I had one participant, Sham Lal (name changed), sitting next to me during lunch break. He was from the first batch of IIT, Delhi. As we sat over bowls of steaming soup, he narrated a poignant incident from his life. 
His son, let us call him Mukesh, had a penchant for dangerously high-speed motorcycle rides. Family and friends used to dissuade him from rash driving. They all pointed to the danger to his life if he did not desist from such recklessness. Ignoring pleas to reconsider his reckless behaviour, Mukesh continued his devil-may-care approach until fate intervened with a severe accident on a city road, landing him in the hospital. 
Mukesh was unconscious for two days. When he recovered consciousness, the doctors allowed limited family and friend visitations. This was when our friend Sham Lal played a crucial role. When folks came to the hospital to meet the boy, Sham Lal instructed each one of them with unwavering firmness, “It is good you have come to meet Mukesh. But at no point will you utter a single word about his speeding and make him feel guilty about the accident.” Remarkably, everyone adhered to this advice.
Mukesh probably expected reproach for his reckless actions as he saw his family and friends entering his room. Imagine his astonishment when not one of them mentioned speed. Imagine his relief when he was not reminded of his fault or blamed for his foolhardy ways. I am sure this unexpected, silent support empowered him, protecting his self-esteem. 
The entire episode stands as an attestation of Sham Lal’s thoughtfulness, understanding, empathy, and sensitivity towards his son’s feelings.
As he finished narrating the incident, I could only say to Sham Lal of the good men era, “Good Man Di Laltain!”

Gulzar created a peppy track, ‘Good Man Di Laaltain’, for the Punjabi movie Soorma starring Diljit Dosanjh and Taapsee Pannu. The phrase in this song extols the hero who has risen as a hockey star.

Extensions of the popular phrase

  • Over time, a humorous line was juxtaposed with the phrase, which became ‘Good Man Di Laltain, Bad Man Da Diva,’ implying that good (read wealthy) people use lanterns in their homes, and bad (read poor) people make do with earthen lamps.The extended saying also became part of a slogan against British rule in India: “Good Man Di Laltain, Bad Man Da Diva. One, two, three, India is free.” This slogan, satirically, implied that though the British (good people) brought lanterns to India, we (bad people) were quite happy with our earthen lamps. Away with your lantern; we would be okay with our earthen lamps when you leave! 
  • With a slight word variation and a different connotation, the phrase found its way in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. A chapter of this novel is titled ‘Big Man the Laltain, Small man the Mombatti’ Mombatti means candle/tallow stick in Hindustani. This chapter in Roy’s novel is a biting social commentary. The lantern symbolizes the society’s big guns, the tallow stick, the small fries, and the have-nots. A strong glass frame well protects the flame in the lantern against the wind. The tallow stick has no such protection and is quickly extinguished.

‘Woman with Lantern’ painting by Sarath Sr. courtesy Navkala Gallery

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Bijal Maroo March 5, 2024 - 3:40 pm

I loved the way you enlightened your audience about this age-old Punju phrase. You have a wonderful style of writing that holds the attention of the reader. I particularly loved the phrase, ‘walking symphony of happiness’ and hope to embody it😄

PS Wasu March 6, 2024 - 6:35 am

Good to hear that, Bijal Maroo. Thanks for the kind words. 🙂