After a seven hour road trip that commenced at 7 in the morning, and two pitstops later, we reached Adampur (district Jalandhar) at about 2:30PM in the noon. We had eaten tandoori parathas paired with a big glass of chai at Amrik Sukhdev, the dhaba-land of NH1, in Murthal early in the morning, which ensured that we stayed fed and happy for the rest of journey. Murthal is a place which falls in Haryana and the dhabas there operate on 24×7 timeline drawing customers all the way from Delhi NCR and Panipat/Sonipat just for a grub at odd hours of the day. I remember trips being planned to Murthal after night-outs with friends; only to go and eat the parathas with that white makkhan. I wondered how a generation who is so open to trying new cuisines from around the world, turns back to the good ol’ parathas and makkhan when in ardent need of a meal and is ready to travel almost 150kms for it? While savouring every morsel of that paratha it struck me that it is concept which is exactly like that of coming back home after a few days of holidays. Comfort.
This set the tone for what was coming for me – the return to home. The return to your roots. The return to comfort.
When in Punjab, I spent maximum of the days from my holidays at my Bua‘s (father’s sister) house. She is the youngest of the three siblings and the one who is the closest to all her nephews and nieces. Her house is in Hoshiarpur, which is in the foothills of Himachal Pradesh but is a part of Punjab. Hence, the place has influences of two states when it comes to their food and culture. A house which is fit to be a part of any film set which wants to show a stereotypical setting of Punjab – A bungalow surrounded with lush green farms, with a gurudwara in the vicinity and peacocks and birds dancing and chirping outside! Probably the only thing missing were the ladies running around with phulkari dupattas and dancing to “ghar aaja pardesi” from DDLJ!…yeah, that would’ve completed it. Anyway, I am sure you can imagine the serenity I was now a part of.
One of my selfish reasons to camp with her was for the delicious food she cooks. Unlike many people today who take shortcuts in cooking, she doesn’t believe in doing that. Instead, what you notice in her neat kitchen is a lady going all the way to prepare food for her family. At this point, I must tell you that bua is a person with a great sense of humour, someone who is always smiling (and bursting out laughing occasionally, because of a joke that she remembered!) and a woman whose faith in God or a higher power is undeterred, no matter what the circumstances. To say that she is a caring person would be an understatement, because honestly, in today’s time I have not known anyone who first makes a roti for the birds and dogs and keeps cool water and refills it in short intervals. Staying with her, I picked up the habit too and plan to continue it. As she says, “hum nahi karenge, toh kaun karega?”
During my stay at her place I gained a lot of knowledge about Punjab and our culture. The fact that Punjab is divided into three regions, was unknown to me. The three regions are namely – Majjha (between Ravi, Beas and Sutlej) , Doaba (between Sutlej and Beas) and Malwa (south to Sutlej). This division of Punjab is due to the rivers Sutlej and Beas flowing through the land of Punjab. In the earlier times, it was not easy to cross the rivers and hence the areas divided by rivers were considered as separate regions. The regions were often ruled by different rulers or kings and the interaction between the people living in these geographically separated areas was limited. Due to this, there is a difference between the language and culture of the people living in these regions.
Note that the regions Malwa, Majha and Doaba span over the parts of historic Punjab region which includes today’s Punjab (India), Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab (Pakistan).
Our family took refuge in the Indian part of Punjab after the 1947 partition, belonged to Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan), which basically falls in the Majjha region. Post partition they shifted to Adampur, which falls in the Doaba region (that between Sutlej and Beas). Hence, one can notice a confluence of these two cultures distinctly in our family, in terms of the language that our ancestors spoke to what is spoken today.
“Migration is often accompanied by a feeling of unavoidable disorientation, and the circumstances of 1947 would have pronounced this feeling. In most cases, it would have created an involuntary distance between where one was born before the Partition and where one moved to after it, stretching out their identity sparsely over the expanse of this distance. As a result, somewhere in between the original city of their birth and the adopted city of residence, would lay their essence – strangely malleable.”
― Aanchal Malhotra,
How I wish I could speak to the older generations of our family and be a vessel to the knowledge they possessed. Alas! there aren’t any of them remaining now who’d be able to give me first hand account of what life was like for our family and our ancestors before a line was drawn to mark a clear distinction between “us” and “them.”
“I have grown up listening to my grandparents’ stories about ‘the other side’ of the border. But, as a child, this other side didn’t quite register as Pakistan, or not-India, but rather as some mythic land devoid of geographic borders, ethnicity and nationality. In fact, through their stories, I imagined it as a land with mango orchards, joint families, village settlements, endless lengths of ancestral fields extending into the horizon, and quaint local bazaars teeming with excitement on festive days. As a result, the history of my grandparents’ early lives in what became Pakistan essentially came across as a very idyllic, somewhat rural, version of happiness.”
― Aanchal Malhotra,
These are lines from Aanchal Malhotra’s maiden book – Remnants of a Separation, that I connected the most too. Like most children of families who took refuge in India after the partition, I too have grown up listening to such stories and imagining a land of utmost happiness, a place of our own…an almost Utopia. It became essential to me to connect and turn to my roots for answers I’d been seeking for a while. The answer to the question – who am I? Where do I come from?
In Bua I saw someone who had made the most of the knowledge that my grandmother and great-grandmother passed on to her generation. From her patience, to her cooking, to her love for the family…it was all that was always told to me about my grandmothers. I learnt a lot of cooking techniques and some lost recipes of Punjab from her, and also got to savour them all. She sang folk songs to me and even read out from books written in Punjabi, because now it was essential for that transference of knowledge to take place. She indulged in every small, muffled detail and once it began, it was difficult to interrupt or stop.
As a keeper of this knowledge and the memories passed on to me, I now have to safeguard it, document it and ensure that this is passed on to the future generations. Because, one day, like me, they too would come seeking answers and I have to be ready.
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