Friday, May 20, 2016

The Punjabi that I am not

Ok, so this is a personal post. Somewhat.

I come from Western Punjab. Shekhupura on the father's side and Gujranwala from the mother's side.

I was brought up by my grandparents. Paternal grandparents. So my Punjabi is very Western Punjab Punjabi. Its softer, way more polite and just.. different.

The growing up years were very cocooned. No interaction with the outside world. Very Shekhupura upbringing. We came from a farming background and both sides had to deal with a huge sense of loss as they left everything behind and started life afresh with literally, the clothes on their backs.

The only person whose words feel anything like the "Punjabiyat" I grew up with is Gurdas Mann. Honestly. Everything else, feels like a different country being called "Punjabi"

Today, when I look back, I don't quite identify with a lot of things that are typically "Punjabi". It has led to huge confusion in the head for many, many years. Finally, last week, was able to crystallise the emotions and put them into words. This, then, is the reason why one doesn't quite feel "Punjabi" in the way that term is understood today.
  • Punjabis are show offs who love to flaunt their wealth.
What I grew up with:
कज के खाओ  - Cover what you consume. (Do not show off your wealth to others)

तली थल्ले नहीं, उत्ते होनी चाहीदी - The palm should be on top, not below. (Be a giver, not a taker)

किसे दी रीस, ते अपनी वडिआई नहीं करिदी  - Never copy another person, and don't praise yourself.

मन नीवा ते मत्त उच्ची - Let your heart be humble and your intellect/ ideals be high.

We were taught specifically to NOT show off, brag or praise ourselves. EVER. Even today, I find it very, very hard to talk about self. Much less praise self or show off. There was a very strong focus on teaching us to get our self worth from the quality of our work and not from how much others praised it. Children were never praised in their presence. Only behind their backs. We were always taught to self evaluate our work and to be grateful if the work met our standards, because that was the grace of God.  - मेरा मुझ में किछ नहीं, जो कुछ है सो तेरा। ..

I once fell in love with a frock that was ultramarine blue. I asked for it and was told, sternly, that I was not a "Miraasi" (a community that uses music and dancing for its livelihood) to wear such garish clothes. The clothes had to be the finest fabric, but plainly stitched, soft hued, and unostentatious. Unmarried girls were not allowed to wear makeup.

Modesty was very important. Tight clothes were not permitted - for men and women. Men wore a long kurta on their trousers because the shirt was considered 'indecent'.Imagine my shock when i went to Punjab and saw the tight 'kameez' on women.

We got good food to eat in the house, but no junk food or outside food. We invested in gold, not cars. There was a tradition of buying gold at every auspicious occasion in the house. But the house itself was never richly decorated.
  • Punjabis spoil their children and give them a lot of freedom.
We had the concept of "Gaddi" - the seat. This gaddi belonged to "Darji" - the father of the house. All children obeyed the parents. The children were allowed very little independence and were part of the household work very early on. They got the responsibility, but had to earn the authority.

We were never "too young" to do anything. Part of it could be because we had no money to allow our children the luxury of a labour less life. The other part was that, in a farmer's house, everyone is doing something as early as possible in their lives.

This whole idea of letting children drive cars, talking to their teachers if they get bad grades - its just not thinkable in my part of Punjab. In Punjab as I knew it (and as is depicted in the movie Milkha Singh) - if you made a mistake, you feared your parents, not the other way round. You were expected to work hard. And you respected your elders just because. Till the day she died, my grandmother had not heard anyone in the family answer her back. I mean that.
  • Punjabi food is standard rich fare.
Nothing, and i mean, NOTHING could be farther from the truth. The food in our house was simple, always home cooked, and varied greatly by the season.
In summer, my grandfather tells me, they hardly ate cooked grain. They survived mostly on the melons from the field, with an occasional 'lassi' when thirsty.

Food was meant to be sparse. There was great emphasis on that. They truly believed that rich food was the fastest road to ill health, as was wrong food for the season.  We either had dal chawal or vegetable and roti for a meal - never both. Fruits and salads, however, were aplenty. We could snack on seasonal fruits and salad vegetables at all times. I don't remember seeing biscuits or processed foods at home as snacks. Even today, when hungry between meals, my stomach refuses to accept anything other than fruit or cucumber in summers.

Cooking and eating was highly technical - there was a different technique and a different set of spices for each vegetable combination, and then it varied by the season. My garndmother considered a girl a poor cook if she did not know all the different combinations by heart.

Sample this:

  • Heeng is used in winters but prohibited in summers. When used, it must be the first spice to go into the ghee and nothing must be added until it is fully fried.
  • All vegetables in the house were cooked in ghee, except okra, which was cooked in oil. 
  • When cooking okra, the spices must be added at the very last - after the vegetable has cooked fully. When cooking dal, the opposite is true - the dal much not be boiled without the spices.
  • When the masala is being made for rajma, we add spices in this order - salt, then red chilli powder, stir for 5 minutes. When the masala has a nice red color, then add the turmeric. In every other masala, the turmeric comes first and then the red chilli is added, after the turmeric has been assimilated by the masala. 
  • Turmeric is NEVER added raw to the dish. It must always be roasted in the masala or fried before hand. 
  • When adding ginger, it must not be cut. It must be crushed on a mortar and pestle and added to the ghee with its juice still dripping from it. (In my house, we have 2 tiny mortar and pestles - both in marble. Ginger and garlic are both crushed - never cut. They are added to the masala with the pungent juice dripping into the ghee.)
  • Every vegetable must be added according to its cooking time. For instance, when making peas and cabbage as a vegetable, the peas is added to the pot a good 10 minutes before the cabbage, then steamed. After this, the cabbage is added. Even today, i don't understand how we can add all vegetables together. When cooking in my house, the vegetables are sorted according to their cooking time and added in that order only. 
  •  Amchoor is allowed for tinda but not for lauki (gourd) - they are close relatives from the gourd family, yet this subtle difference makes a world of difference to the cooking. 

  • Saunth (Dried ginger) is not used during summers. 
  • In all vegetables cooked during summer, add 2 grains of cooking saunf. This will ensure that there is no acidity or gas.  
  • When cooking parathas, no ghee must be added to the cooking until the paratha has truly cooked all the way. Ghee must only be used for roasting, never for frying.
 And this is only the set of rules that i can remember off hand.

Punjabi cooking was minimalistic, highly technical and very specialised. This point of "Rich Punjabi food" totally is alien!

  • Punjabi men cannot control their hormones and will lech at and misbehave with anything in a skirt. 
Really? Seriously? Because in my house, my uncle and brother were not even allowed to stand around the street corner with their male friends. If you were a young boy, you should be out playing or working. Standing in the street and talking/giggling was for the women and girls. Not the boys. 

What i grew up with: 
धीयां बेहनां सबदियां सांझियां हुन्दिया ने.  - One person's daughters and sister's are everyone's daughters and sisters.  (It is everyone's responsibility to respect all the women of the community). 

This was not just said - it was followed in more ways than one. If you were a young boy and you were caught even staring at a girl, God save you. The girl would have hit you right there, and then- your mother, your father, his brother, their second cousin, your neighbor, neighbor's daughter.. everyone would have joined to admonish or even hit you. And you were made to apologise to the girl. No one stood up and asked the girl, "What were you wearing, beta?" This really happened. Less than 70 years ago. That's why our movies had dialogues like "Lanvaan jutti?" (Should i take off my sandal to hit you?) 

When a girl from the village was to get married - the entire village would come to welcome the bridegroom's party. At the milani, at least 20 to 25 people from the girl's side would come forward to meet the corresponding relative from the boy's side. That was not just a meeting of relatives. That was the girl's family saying to the groom's family - she is not alone. If the girl faced an issue at her in laws' house, it was not left to them to sort out. The family elders sat from both sides to sort out the issue. It was not left to the in laws to propose a solution. The girl would call people from her family - and the extended family would come.
  • Punjabis are "Jugaarus" - people who will do anything to get results. The ends justify the means, and ethics is not a strong part of the equation.
In my house, there was no such thing as a "small lie". The biggest sin in that house was a lie. You simply could not do it.

To my father, the most important thing in life was "zubaan" - his word. He did not promise easily, but if he did, he would do anything at all to fulfil that promise. My father would say proudly that in all his years of business, a written paper has meant nothing to him. It is only the "zubaan" of a worthy person that he did business with.

He taught us to value the person, not the designation. He said, "Invest in a good person. He may be a janitor or a big official. It doesn't matter. Invest in the good grain, even though the chaff appears to be flying higher."

There was NEVER any question of bending the rules, much less breaking or bypassing them.

हक़ दी रोटी - honestly earned bread - was the cornerstone of our existence. We believed that a dishonest man finds his hell right here on earth. And he never sleeps well. And is never trusted. There were such horror stories of things that happened to people who used dishonest means, that in all my life, I have never cheated in the smallest test or exam. I have also topped almost my entire academic career, lending credence to the concept of "Hak di roti" - so important to our family.

Our way of dealing with dishonesty of others?
करेगा सो भरेगा, तू क्यों भयो उदास?
- The one who sins will pay for them, why do you worry?
So if someone cheated us, we simply did not interact with them again. We bore them no ill will, leaving them to deal with their own karma.

Till date, the biggest sin in our house, is a lie. You just cannot do it.

How can I identify with a culture known for its ability to bypass the rules to get the results?

So now you know, why I don't quite understand the word "Punjabi" the way its used today...

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The parents were right. We screwed up.

Remember that time when our parents used to scream - These kids don't have any personal discipline! I wonder what will become of them in life!

And we used to grin?

That was many, many years ago.Parents have always said that, right? " आज कल के बच्चे ! Kids these days!" has always been a pet rant of all things parent and adult. And we turned out just fine, didn't we?

No, we didn't. We screwed up. Big time. Bad. Real Bad. And it only occurred to me this morning, when I tried to analyse how we're doing vis a vis the parents (ironically, in a bid to establish the fact that we turned out "just fine". )


When I was 7, an average 70 year old would be ashamed to wear their glasses. Today, an average 7 year old is almost certain to be wearing glasses.

When I was 8, diabetes was a "bad disease" - reserved only for the sinners who ate too much sugar. People were shocked by the word. Today, a 35 year old is very likely to have diabetes and a 40 year old is almost certain to have it.

When I was 5, the average age of the heart attack person was 80 and above. Heart attack was what killed you. Today, 25 year olds get heart attacks.

When someone fell ill, they rested at home and allowed their body to recuperate. They also first did some basic home based cure. Going to the doctor was a last resort. No one popped paracetamol to go to work and infect other people and be praised for it.

People got up on time, did physical labour - at least, worked in their own houses. There was no avenue to eat out, nor was it so permissible. And people ate good, wholesome food cooked by a family member. They went out to get fresh vegetables every day and did not eat imported fruits. Because they didn't get them. And they stayed healthy.

We screwed up real, real bad.


Since the mid 1990s, the world has seen more financial failures than perhaps the century before. Whats more, the participation in these epic failures was from the public. The Dot com bust, the Y2K problem, the sub prime crises.. and we refuse to learn! Today, real estate in India is in a mess - as an industry. There is another parallel circus of startup valuations, where there is no revenue, but there is tonnes of funding. Predictably, the funding dries up after the jackals have fed off the carcass. What suffers is the overall economy and the gullible small investor. Why was the small investor not so gullible 30 years ago? Because he was a simple man who liked to keep his money close, asked common sensical questions like "पैसा बनाओगे कैसे ?" before investing money, and did not believe in debt. Was told to live within his means and contain his dreams. Then, we went out to live our dreams beyond our means. And ended up - in debt. And how. 

Today, the average 45 year old worries about retirement. Because companies have taken away the pension shield and investments are nebulous in a financial sector that is dominated by Wall Street professionals whose basic job is to be con men.

A person who remained content rather than aspirational was praised 2 generations ago and ridiculed today. And that, ladies and gentlemen, has made all the difference.

We screwed up. And got a lifetime of financial worry.

Mental Health

Evolutionary biology tells us that man is a social animal. Over the weekend, parents lugged us to the prayer place and then to the houses of relatives, where we were forced to play with assorted cousins and make life long bonds. Then, they told us to stay in touch with the relatives. And we thought they were old fools. They saw what we were doing and went "Aaj kal ke bachche" on us. And we paid no attention. With the net result that today, we know our relatives only through facebook. The era of arriving unannounced is over. Long gone. Weekends are dedicated to worship of the sloth followed by household chores. No one goes to the temple except to offer ritualistic offering. There are no temples inside the house. And no one visits anyone except on a "play date" . We don't know who our neighbors are. So we pay shrinks and take to "social media" to get rid of loneliness - The no. 1 cause of depression. But we don't know what is leading to the depression epidemic. We don't even acknowledge that there is a depression epidemic.

We make our children sleep alone, scared and unprotected. When evolutionary biology tells us that man finds safety in numbers, and all primitive tribes have "sleeping huts" - where people sleep literally, skin to skin. We forgot the joy of fitting 5 cousins on a double bed mattress and surprisingly, everyone sleeps well. Today, our egos sort of fit that bed. There is no space for another human being.

And we have a depression epidemic. And we wonder why. 

We don't keep a temple in the house and don't practice 2 minutes of meditation and silent prayer in a day, but we pay ashrams a ton of money for satsangs and prayers and blessings. We pay respects to our Gurus - who are visited by thousands of individual islands in a sea of humanity - every devotee lonely, everyone looking for answers.

We screwed up.

Work Environment
We had processes, and we had common sense. Then someone came along and said the magic words " 100% compliance" . Anyone who has worked in compliance knows that no one size fits everything. There are exceptions where common sense needs to be used. And we should use it. Problems cannot be solved by checklist based solution sheets. But those check list based solution sheets do something magical  - they completely absolve us of the onus of having to actually use our heads!
So basically, we live with mechanical checklists that accomplish nothing except the shifting of the blame. And this is the Dilbertworld that creates majority of our economic activity.

We really, really screwed up.

What amazes me is how quickly we took the path to this. Within 2 generations, the entire ethos of a civilisation has changed. Our aspirations are diametrically opposite. For me, personally, the lesson is that you should not empower someone to think if they are not educated enough to think well. This dramatic shift in our lives coincides with the 70s - when the new parenting movement of "let the child breathe" came in. Coupled with a lot of other things of course - liberalisation, unbridled ad spend of the multi nationals - gunning for a piece of the "big indian middle class market". What could have resisted that wave of consumerism was the common sense of the old folks, who answered a request for any purchase with a stock question - "Why do you need it? क्या ज़रुरत है ?"

But that's not what we did. We sidelined the old folks, empowered the children, and the elders nodded their heads and went "क्या होगा इनका ! Children these days!"

सत्यानाश हो गया इनका!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Review of Nil Bate Sannata

Once upon a time, there was a Children's Film Society of India . It created excellent children's cinema. The kind of cinema that really spoke the language of children. Speak to them, not speak down to them.

Then came the Dark Ages of children's cinema in India - with tiny little flashes of brilliance like The Blue Umbrella, Taare Zameen Par. But otherwise, some child actors, a low intellect script passing for childlike story, and some rather puerile acting, song and dance sequences. In short, Children's cinema from India was a disappointment and you had to depend on Disney to create the magic.

And then comes Nil Bate Sannata. With this film, ladies and gentlemen - Children's Cinema is back!

A story has 5 classic components - Characters,  a Setting, a Problem, a Solution, and a Conclusion. Most story tellers forget these components and believe that a story primarily consists of 2 things - song and dance sequences, and comedy.  Not here. All 5 components of story telling are adroitly handled. The characters are clearly etched, the setting made apparent through subtle visuals, the problem forms the core of the story, and the solution takes its own time unfolding - keeping the viewer involved - close enough to feel, distant enough to analyse.

Many times in the story, you find time to step back, pause and reflect. Many times in the story, my 8 year old asked, "What would you have done in this place?"  The conclusion was nicely drawn out. The final punch - everything that a final punch should be - That moment when you are laughing and crying both. "Kyunki main Bai nahi banna chahti thi." is the most amazing punchline I have heard in a long, long time.

I recommend this film for all children and parents. It doesn't have sugar coated candy to break the monotony of a challenge. It has real moments - lived by real people. It has challenges that we all face, as parents and as children. And everything in between - interested people, role models - you will find many mirrors in this story. And you will find a reflection of self in a lot of them.

If there is one technical aspect that absolutely, totally, utterly stands out, it is Art Direction. Very little airbrush makeup here. The houses are not plastered. The bricks are directly whitewashed, as they are likely to be. The houses with their thin partitions, the small lanes and the terraces without parapets - all little touches that go into creating a lovely visual experience.

Don't miss the songs - lyrics and music, both. The music is so gently intertwined in the film that you don't really notice it. But its beautiful. 

Among the ensemble cast (and imho, it is the ensemble cast that really holds up a good film) - Pankaj Tripathi clearly and absolutely stands out. Watch him. His work is one of the highlights of this film. The other highlight is the boy who plays Amar. I am not able to get his name from the online credits.

in short, this is one of those films that you should first watch in the theater, and then buy the DVD to keep at home and show to all cousins and family kids.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Satya ki pehchaan... Atma- abhaas

आज हमें ये सत्य ज्ञात हुआ है कि :

हमारी प्रजाति है: वनस्पति
हमारी जाति है: देवदार
देश: हिमालय
गाँव: अभी खोज रहे हैं. याद आ ही जायेगा। 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

आज हमने ये सीखा है कि

आज हमने  ये सीखा है कि :

१. पंजाबी पैर १ ढोल पर जैसे  थिरकते हैं, वैसे पूरे band पर भी नहीं उठते। 
२. आधा घंटा बारात में नाचने के बाद जो लाली गालों पर आती है, वो दुनिया के किसी blusher से नहीं आती.
३. अपनी राजनीतिक राय सिर्फ एक जगह ज़ाहिर करनी चाहिए। .. polling booth के अंदर। 

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Simple changes we have made in our life

Since quitting in October 2016, we have made some simple changes in our lives that have had a huge impact on our health and wellness..

  • No Aspertame . Plant a stevia and use the leaves.
  • Eat food that remembers where it came from. 
  • Food: Locally sourced, produced in India.  
  • We stopped eating organic dals when I realised that they don't sprout. We have gone back to the normal dals and they sprout and we are happy.
  • When you are sleepy - sleep. When you are hungry - eat. When you are not thirsty - still drink water. Missing someone? Call. When you are not well - don't pop a crocin and report to work. Rest and let your body recover.
  • Make your own stuff - it is easy to make labels for school, colors for holi, and diyas for Diwali.
  • Have a  kitchen garden - it doesn't matter how small it is - 2 pots, 3 pots.. anything. As a family, watch things grow. its very important to nurture and watch them grow.
  • Playing a lot of board games as a family, inviting anyone who visits to join in.
  • Meditate a little. And pray. Everyday. Even it if is a cursory bending of the head in front of the temple on the way out.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Happy Holi!

While growing up, we were not allowed to play Holi. To be fair, that was a time when Holi meant chemical colors. Home made colors were considered "cheap" and no one wanted to play with them.
When my son was born, I was very relieved to find people talking about herbal colors and non chemical formulations. And thanks to that, my son was able to enjoy Holi in a way that we never could.
Today's gratitude is for people who spoke about herbal, non chemical colors. That allowed m...e to experiment with food based permanent colors at home, making it a safe Holi for my son, and even converting the pater to smear just a little bit on us at home.
Me? I have sort of made up for all those years of missed Holi. tongue emoticon

Friday, March 18, 2016

More Logic Puzzes

All these puzzles are starters for the Logc Grid variety of puzzles.
Houses on the Street

Sapna, Ashish and Bharat live in the same lane. Their houses are of different colors, but attached to each other and in the same lane. What we do not know, is:

A. Who lives in which colored house.

B. Which house comes first, which next, and which last.

See if you can answer both questions after the clues below:

  1. The red house is next to the blue house but not next to the green house.
  2. Sapna and Ashish are not neighbors.
  3. Bharat loves going to the green house to the left of his house.
  4. Sapna and Bharat never visit each other's house.
  5. The right most house comes first in the lane.




There was a robbery at Jaibagh Haveli. And everyone is amazed. Because, the said robbery was actually a set of group thefts. You, the detective, have met all the witnesses. Three things were gone. And you know that each one was taken by a different person. The things that are missing are a quartz clock, a diamond brooch, and a marble statuette. The three persons identified are Raju, Sheel and Pavan.


Here are your notes after a series of interviews:

  1. Pavan took the clock.
  2. Sheel did not take the brooch.
  3. We are a happy family.



This is a Real Place!

Enid Blyton loved writing about so many lovely places. Here is a real place for you to figure out. Out here, there are the Fabulous Three instead of the Famous Five : Codenamed: Alpha, Beta and Cama. . Each one has a pet : parrot, cat or dog, and each one lives in a different lane of the village – Salzbury, Cadbury, or Tomberry Lane.


Here are your clues, as usual:

  1. Alpha lives in Salzbury Lane.
  2. The parrot is owned by someone whose name starts with a vowel.
  3. The resident of Cadbury Lane is a girl.
  4. The Tomberry Lane resident lives in a white house and has a cat for a pet.
  5. Cama lives in Cadbury Lane.


Free for Four

The Natural Ice Cream Company is running a promotion. If 4 friends come in together, each of them gets an ice cream cone free. Abhay, Bhavana, Chandra and David walk into the parlor, each wearing a different color of shirt. Expectedly, no two of them chose the same flavor of ice cream either. The colors are : Red, Green, Blue, Orange. The flavors are: Chocolate, Orange, Vanilla and Pistachio.


See if you can figure out the color of the shirt and the flavour of icecream from the clues below.

  1. Abhay wears a green shirt and his ice cream is green too.
  2. Chandra and David have a curious combination – the color of Chandra's shirt is the flavor of David's ice cream.
  3. The boy in the red shirt likes chocolate flavored ice creams.
  4. Chandra likes Vanilla ice cream.



Monday, March 14, 2016

3 Gems from Indian Education Techniques

In trying to find ways to enrich education, one of the things I started doing, was reading more about the Indian system of education in the pre Mughal era. And am surprised to know that there is so little information available on the Indian methods of education.
We have been fortunate, however, to pick up 3 gems that we will share here.
  1. It’s not a lesson. Its a conversation.
Bhaskaracharya wrote a book called “Leelavati Beej Ganit” . The format of the book is a dialogue between Lilavati and the author of the book.
Indian books and lessons rely heavily on the concept of Story telling. If a complete story telling is not possible, we convert it into a conversation between two people, to make it interesting. All of Panchatantra is narrated as a conversation. All of Mahabharata is recorded as a narration from a disciple of Rishi Veda Vyaas to the descendants of the Kuru clan. We use this technique extensively in our books too!
2. The teacher does not teach. The teacher asks questions.
A beautiful thing that we found in addition to the technique of Vartalaap was the technique of asking the right questions. When a teacher wanted the student to learn something profound, they did not give the lesson to the student. They asked the student difficult questions. The student would attempt to answer the Guru’s questions in a satisfactory manner and through this process, would arrive at the answer / gyaan.
The most famous example of this technique perhaps appears again in the Mahabharata, in the espisode where Guru Drona takes the princes to a spot, makes them take aim, and asks them, “What do you see?” All the princes, except Arjuna, respond that they see the tree, the bird, the branches etc. Only Arjuna replies that he can see nothing but the eye of the bird, that he is supposed to shoot. The lesson was that you must focus only on your endgoal and completely eliminate all distractions from your senses. It was not given. It was taken.
3. We do not merely memorise. To be called learned, we must analyse.
It is often assumed, erroneously, that the native Indian method of learning involves, basically, rote learning. Ergo, the oral transmission of the Vedas and the oral tradition of Indian classical music and dance. But that’s simply not true! In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
We first learn enunciation. Then we learn the text. And THEN, the education begins.
Not only did learning involve a critique of the subject at hand, the best analyses were also published with the name of the author (A very rare thing in Ancient India). You might have heard of some books that are ‘Teekas” on a certain book. A Teeka improves upon an original work and adds new perspectives.
Another word that appears often, is “Shastrarth” - literally meaning - the meaning of the Shastras. Sanskrit being the magical language that it is, the same phrase could mean a lot of different things. The ONLY way you could be a scholar, was to interpret that text, and argue your interpretation with other scholars. If you could not do a Shastrarth, you were not a learned person at all.
And this has fuelled in us a hunger to understand more cultural learning aids from around the world. What did education mean before we universalised it to mean the 3 Rs all over the world? How was education imparted? If you know any resources that could help us understand, or if you remember education techniques from your own family, please do share.