My dear friend Renu Chhabra’s Lori wishes this morning propelled me into writing this ‘ode to Punjabi culture’ which was singing inside me since I saw ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’ two days ago.
To write about the vibrant boisterous Punjabi phases of my life !
When we moved to Ambala in 1982, we had to live in a reimbursed accommodation due to shortage of service accommodation.
We moved into a huge Victorian style bungalow built by the Britishers and owned by a retired Colonel Brar. Col and Mrs Brar gave me the 1st encounters of a sardar family albeit tamed by the ‘Fauj’ !
Their appropriate dressing statements like dressing gowns for morning tea, casuals for lunch and formals for dinner time made them all the more interesting. Col Brar was more approachable in his ‘patka’ during the day than in his navy blue’ pagdi’ in the evenings.
My sister and brother in law were at Bhatinda then.
Misguided by a Mess waiter ( Manjeet singh)on the distance to Bhatinda from Ambala, we ventured to drive to Bhatinda at 2PM on our yezdi bike-it was actually 250kms !
Although it was the peak season for Punjab terrorism, with our limited exposure and no authentic advice, we went ahead in spite of seeing the heavy police security all along the way.
Crossing Barnala, Sangrur and some interior villages through Punjab we reached Bhatinda Air Force station at about 11.30PM. While everyone expressed their dismay at our impulsive action, we tried our best in assuring them about the hospitality and care taken by villagers and police when we needed help.
It was not terrorism- it was their tender care for strangers that we saw on our way to Bhatinda.
A few months later we shifted to tribune Colony-
A neighborhood of people who breathed and sighed in Punjabi.
My journey into Punjabi culture continued on a different note here.
From fasting on karva chauth to eating paranthas for breakfast and also celebrating ‘lorie’ more than bhogi (Andhra equivalent of lorie) and eating revdis and moongphalis roasted in the lorie fire-it was all a pure Punjabi fare.
Strangely enough my rigid Andhra background allowed me to dance within the confines of our anterooms in officers mess, but not in the park around the lorie fire or karva chauth thalis.
When we moved into our status accommodation in staff road-a huge palatial bungalow-we made best use of our fireplace and lawns.
Our Punjabi friends-sangotras, malhotras, bhatias,malliks, sharmas and our non Punjabi friends-atris,reddys,bhans,joshis,singlas etc., etc., ensured that there were enough pot lucks and get togethers with lots of Punjabi music and nonstop frolic with all the Rajma chawal, Khadi, chholes, bhaturas, sarson ka saag,makkai ki roti and the sanctimonious ‘kukkad’.
Wg cdr Gopal, murty’s course commander from AFA was also posted there. A typical Punjabi family from Janakpuri, with plenty of warmth and loads of love were always there for us along with stuffed paranthas and makkhan on all Sundays.
My respect for Mrs Gopal ( a beautiful lady) doubled when I watched her, cheerfully but effectively handling the uninvited compliments and attention from unwanted quarters.
Dear Mrs Bhogul- a glamorous lady and an assertive sardarni from Chandigarh not only knew how to cut her dresses to shape but also people to their size.
We had to live in Sirsa for a month, a town in Haryana bordering Punjab,almost near the borders of Pakistan.
Our journey to sirsa was my first encounter with Nihangs.
The train was full of blue tunic people with kirpans and menacing beards. My first reaction was fear but my next reaction was surprise. Their humble behavior and simple conversations almost reduced the sharpness of their kirpans. A group of them were singing all through the night, hymns from Gurbani !
Their readiness to help us alight from the train with all our baggage during the middle of the night was another endearing act of these otherwise dangerous looking people.
Our posting to Bombay may have introduced us to Marathi shreekhand puri and Bhingarkars and Chitnis but that did not mean that we had short supply of Punjabi fare ! Sondhis, Dhatts, Kochars, Rajpals and Sethis kept the Punjabi connection live.
We moved to Sarsawa an Airforce base near Saharanpur
My devoted connection to the ‘punjabipan’ was initiated by Daljeet kaur, a sardarni from Jalandhar-my dear neighbor and friend in Sarsawa.
Tall, well built and good looking sardarni , Daljeet can be the brand ambassador for all the ‘kaur’ clan of Punjab.
She was a super mom to her ‘two plaits dolly’ and ‘patka clad pinto’ and in same breadth she dealt with Maharaj Singh her sober and soft husband who would make random appearances between his sorties.
Thanks to the strict order she gave to dolly and pinto on eating priorities, my daughter also learnt from them to finish the important things like subzi daal and salad first and relish the achar and halwa next.
I still use that maxim in the school - ‘finish and relish’.
In her trips to the the dusty town of Saharanpur which was about 10kms away, I was her pillion rider on her vespa.
Her stern voice in severe Punjabi accent set right even the most rustic shopkeeper. From ‘dadis’ (5kgs) of alu, pyaaz, tamatar, gajar , dusseri aam to wooden crafts and clothes we bargained for everything.
Daljeet made me take my first step in ‘Gidda and Bhangra’. She trained us all !
Hardcore southies like me or plumpy gujjus, she taught us all the steps to ‘vaari varsi khatanyasi’ and balle balle. We sang the bolis and danced to the dholak beats.
My wardrobe began to have bright mustards, majentas and pinks to the dismay of my husband.
( My parents were shocked to see my loud taste in clothes when I came for a holiday)
Kavita and viman arora –another couple who introduced us to elite punjabi culture, were good friends and great company. Viman’s jokes and kavita’s wise cracks were awaited hits in any party..
Kaushiks were unique in their own way-They managed to blend their delhite image with their inherent punjabiness . Lovely couple whose company we enjoyed even in Begumpet.
We visited Ponta sahib, a gurdwara near dehradun with Jeetender Singh a delhite sardar and George our mallu friend.
All the airforce stations usually have temple and gurdwaras. Langar and kar seva along with gurbani path on Sundays were something we got used to.
Living for 6 years in delhi was another sojourn into ‘punjab di masti’
Our 1 year stay in Munirka vihar got us close to Sarids, an old couple who were living with their 24 year old son-Sunny-who just started his career as DJ in Maurya Sheraton and turned into a famous DJ later.
We enjoyed their serene company and moved to Subroto Park . Sadly, this old couple got brutally murdered when they moved to DLF qutub . It was a shocking experience to us.
Murty’s cousin lived in lajpat nagar for many years. We would visit them during our travels between ambala and home or sarsawa and home.
Their 3 boys grew up as Punjabis –in looks and behavior. When we moved to Delhi, they bought their own house in pitampura.
To hardcore unadulterated andhrite parents, the adapted Punjabi sons brought home, authentic, original Punjabi bahus.
The two marriages and the ensuing functions made my in-laws from amalapuram and Kakinada also dance in the baraat.
My in-laws who objected to onions and garlic back home, gorged on the chholes and chaats uninhibitedly.
Needless to say that our airforce life kept the Punjab di spirit alive and vibrant with frequent parties and potlucks.
Even the holy visit to Vaishno Devi felt like another Punjabi experience with every devotee chanting-‘jai mata di’
Parantha wala gali in old city had a flavor of its own but not really Punjabi by nature.
God knows what this kismet connection with Punjabis is- Manjeet and Dhillon and JS Maan got close to us even in our hometurf- begumpet. Manjeet is another mast sardarni who knew how to live life the queensize.
In Gwalior we actually created a whole Punjabi wedding scene for the benefit of a visiting dignitary from France. Although regaling Rajasthan would be equally colourful, the balle balle would glaringly miss in it.
The far eastern Shillong also gave us the punjabi fare-AVM Sandhu and Mrs Sandhu-thanks to them we ended up in Gurdwara on many sundays.
Daler Mehndi and Gurdas Mann made me love the indipop and my feet begin tapping the moment I hear a Punjabi beat !
Band Baaja baarat , made me recall all those Punjabi moments that I had in all these years.
Although Rachna Sharma another punjabi friend from Air Force has been with me in the school for the last 3 years-she doesn’t count for Punjab ki Punjabi because she is a Hyderabadi Punjabi –subtle and sober- too sophisticated to be a……. !
It is the simple sardars from Moga district or, lovely sweets from Jalandhar, affluent Punjabis from Amritsar, elegant ones from Chandigarh and the classy clan from patiala and the dilwalas from dilli who make the Punjabi panorama a vibrant canvas !
I can never forget the golden yellow mustard fields and mighty eucalyptus trees with ultra modern tractors and mansion like houses-that make Punjab serene inspite of the boisterous people.
I don’t know if my maiden surname –suri- has any roots from Punjab but I certainly have lots of love for them.
Renu-thanks to your Lori wishes this morning- I could write this ode to Punjab ! Hope you noticed that I left ‘pudding’ –that s a different clan altogether ! And you are ilk of the enlightened !
Happy Lorie folks- thanks to Manmohans, Monteks, Ritu Beries and Reetu Kumars and JJs-you have proved that agriculture is not the only culture you have ! (kill me for this- I will die happily and take rebirth in Jalandhar…or Patiala..or Moga or….)