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...