Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Punjab before Partition

I grew up with my grandparents.. who were from Western Punjab.. the values i grew up with are very different from the Punjabis that one sees around today.. for a long time now, i have been wondering.. searched the history and anthropology books, and literature about the era.. to get an idea of the social structure at the time.. relied heavily on inputs from both sets of grandparents.. and came up with not much.
This, then, is an attempt to chronicle what the Punjab was like before Partition.. what was the socio-economic structure, and how was the value system different. Please, please add to this list if you can.. and i will be very grateful.

Part 1: Within the family learning that is incompatible with our society today

Chaaude to vadda doonga: The deep one is better than the wide one.. my grandmother used to say this every time she saw someone show off. She always maintained that wealth and jewelry should be kept under wraps and one must appear as simple as possible to all outward appearences. Makeup was absolutely forbidden for unmarried girls. Synthetic clothes, clothes with silver or golden decorations were all considered "Miraasi" - not worthy of a person from a noble family. "Clothes maketh the man" was not taken to mean "Good Clothes" :-)

Man neeva te matt uchhi: We thought, as kids, that we were super intelligent. Some of the adults agreed too. But at home, we were taught to never speak unless spoken to, to never show off our knowledge or intellect, to always remember that someone is wiser than us, and therefore to be humble at all times.

There is no such thing as a small lie: In my house, you could kill and be forgiven. But you could not lie and hope to be forgiven. There was no such thing as a small lie. Lies were detested in the family and still is the BIGGEST crime.. being a family with roots in farming and trading, we were always told that the "zubaan" is very important, and if a person cannot trust you for a small thing, fat chance that they will trust you for a big thing.

Can you remember anything from that era? Anything at all that will help us understand the people who lived in those times.. the people who survived the partition and lived to thrive in an alien country that was far from kind to them.. they were very special people.. i am always amazed at what the refugees could achieve post partition..


D said...

I've always longed to hear tales from that era. But I have none to share!

artnavy said...

I am sorry i cannot contribute being from the south but this is so intersting and moving

Mama - Mia said...

no idea about partition. but yes, if i go back to grandfathers life and hard times that they survived, the things you said would hold true.

my grand pa tells us about how they would do "bhikshuki" (brahmins begging for food) to earn their daily food and then study. how they walked for miles and how eating out was just not done.

it was a different era altogether.

loved this post!

Id it is said...

"Do the right thing for the right reason" an aphorism from a yester era that is rarely talked about and even less so acted upon in my world today.

Forgive me for changing the setting of the post from Punjab to the USA :)('my world today')

Varun said...

I wish to visit Pakistan someday.. to see the village my grandparents (maternal and paternal) came from.

Had heard loads of stories from them :-)

Great to see your 'sanskaars' and sad to see them vanishing.

BK Chowla said...

All this sounds so familiar.
All I can say is irrespective of the loss of SANSKARS we still maintain PUNJABIAT

Anonymous said...

We were not allowed to waste food or to leave food in the plate, we were asked to think of the millions of children who do not get a decent mean a day.

And another one was 'Bad achacha, badnaam bura' It was better to be bad than to have a bad name.

And my mother recalls she was not even allowed to make a parting in her hair. This applied to all unmarried girls.

Very interesting post!

Varun said...

Jinne Lahore nahi vekheya O paida hi nahi hoya

My daadi told me, Lahore was an extremely beautiful place then! And the whole country used to take pride in that fact.

Vas peyi darjiyan, kappad kainchi laa. Kisi na kitti hai-hai, kisi na kitti si.

It is the tailor who has control over the scissors, but when it cuts the cloth, only the cloth can feel the pain. No one else can feel your pain, even if they do sympathize.

Onkar said...

Very interesting and different post.

Shadows of life said...

Wow I remember these lessons from my Grand ma, we called her Beji. She was born and raised in Pakistan. She lived all her life there until the day she moved with family to India.

I remember she always told us that never let any guest or anyone go empty hands, never return anyone's dish or borrowed stuff empty. It has stayed with me forever and I always return something if I borrow some dish or thing from anyone. There are many other things also I have in me which are her gifts...Thank you for reminding me all those.


How do we know said...

Hi D: :-) You can, like the others, share lessons learnt in your childhood, that are no longer applicable.. i've realised that there is great unity in all of these..

Hi artnavy: Thanks!

Hi Abha: Yes, i rememer all that too. My aunts were first gen refugees and could not afford the expensive books required to study. So they used to sit by the candle light and copy by hand the books they needed..

Hi id it is:Thank you for enlarging the perspective of the post.. your comment made me realise tht all of us have childhood lessons that are no longer relevant.. and perhaps, all of us feel a little misfit in the world that we have helped create.. defined as it is by consumerism and waste.. Thanks ever so much!

Hi Varun: Please share some more.. i loved the scissors quote..

Chowla Sir: Those sanskaars WERE the Punjabiyat that we inherited.. not the loud, brash Pop songs that define the word "Punjabi" today.. i keep wondering all the time.. how does one explain to the rest of the world that being a Punjabi is a lot more than dancing at the drop of a hat, cracking loud, vulgar jokes in the presence of children et al.. all these things are likely to be misunderstood, unless they are placed in the context of what it means to be a Punjabi.. how appearences can be so very deceptive!

Hi IHM: Wow.. please add some more if you can.. this is interesting!

How do we know said...

Hi Onkar sir: Thank you!

Hi VJ: Oh, i had no idea we shared the same history..we had this too.. and the sometimes funny, sometimes sad experience we have when grandmothers, irrespective of their current financial condition, refuse to consider dry fruit in units less than kilos and gold in units less than a tola (10 grams), when they refuse to think of wedding gift to a stranger being less than 2 tolas ( we cannot go if we cannot even give a decent gift) .. and refuse gifts that are less than the best Phulkari, not believing that something as basic as Phulkari now costs a few thousands.. i am sure you are smiling too, as you read all this.. :-) do share some more.. i m sure there is a lot more..

Shadows of life said...

You were right, I smiled and I'm still smiling.

This post and its comments reminds me of those days when my Beji (Grand Ma) used to make karela shape braids and quietly used to hand me few pieces of cashews or pistachios with black pepper (arrghh must be wondering what the connection is..hee hee) Well she always said black pepper and pippal (I dunno what it is called in English) are good for digestion specially when we eat dry fruits and nuts as those kind of snacks are heavy to digest..but man...

I love her and her culture. I envy her knowledge of life, she never went to school but was able to give me lessons on how to behave in school. Those days were beautiful and cheap. She mentioned many a times that she bought desi ghee for 9 annas, and rice and grains for anna each pound..damn!!! I could have saved millions if I was still living in that age hee hee

Thank you again for sharing those days and reminding me of my Beji.

Amrita said...

this post is wonderful

How do we know said...

Hi VJ and Amrita: :-)

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