Punjabiyat

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Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

 

Hailing from the ‘land of the five waters,’ I am a proud Punjabi. The post today is a tribute to my heritage and my culture.

As I began writing this I did some digging, it is amazing what I learned even today about the land of my forefathers. Punjab has a rich history beginning at the Indus Valley Civilization (3300 BC) one the earliest in human history. The land was referred to as the Sapt Sindhu in the Vedas which chronicle the socio-cultural lifestyle of the people of this region. The Rigveda alludes to a battle fought on the banks of the river Ravi ‘The Battle of Ten Kings’ the place that the battle was fought later became the site of the ancient city of Harappa, and the kingdom established here came to be called ‘Bharata.’ Buddhist texts talk of Gandhara and Kamboja (two of the sixteen great kingdoms) believed to have comprised the upper Indus regions including Kashmir, eastern Afghanistan and most of the western Punjab which is now part of Pakistan. Alexander we all read in our primary school history defeated King Puru (Porus) but what is lesser known was that the battle with Puru demoralized the Greek advance as vast numbers of Greek soldiers were killed by Puru’s elephants and valiant warriors. The Greeks turned back from what is now modern day Jalandhar. Punjab’s timeline shows the glorious rules of Chandergupt Maurya, Kanishka, Srigupt, Harshvardhan, and Mahraja Ranjit Singh.

The lands of my ancestors has always been at the crossroads of Asian history and has seen the invasions of the Persians, Greeks, Huns, Turks, Afghans, Mongols and then the Mughals. All using it as the entry way to plunder the wealth that the ‘Golden Bird’ was so famous for. With the excesses of the British the land bled and partition tore it asunder. The largest mass migration and retributive genocide in human history resulted from this and is a blight on the History of both India and Pakistan. Despite the many invasions and many millennia of adversities what no one could take away from Punjab was the indomitable spirit of its people. The never say die, tireless and open-minded folk who to many come across as brash and bold, we had to be for how else could we survive.

We are the most tolerant of people, the birthplace of Sikhism and Islamic reform movement Ahmadiyya all faiths have found home here throughout history. Punjabis are Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and all ideologies are welcome here in one of the richest cultures dating back to antiquity. The scope of our culture is vast and fine minds that have brought poetry, philosophy, spirituality, Sufism, architecture, dance, music, food and cuisine, languages, traditions and values to the world we have in abundance and then some more

Honest labor and work, sewa and community service are the tenets that define us and make us what we are. If Leonardo da Vinci had drawn the Vitruvian Man based on a true blood Punjabi he would not have encircled it rather he would replace the square with a heart, for a Punjabi is all heart. We are generous to a fault and will open our homes to those that ask and even those that will never ask. You will be family from the moment we pull you into our circle, we will hug you and let you know that you’re loved whether you want to know or not.

We have our quirks and are extremely proud of them all. We love our whisky, our butter chicken, our ghee laden paranthas and our paneer tikka even on a pizza. In the blink of an eye we will down a Limca to ‘digest’ our calorie laden repast.  Vegetarianism confounds us most and we can be affronted by anyone daring to serve us ‘ghasphus’ (grass and leaves.) If you say you do not ‘drink’ we look at you perplexed and make it our personal mission to tempt you into the land of spirits. So out we will come, full guns blaring with single malts and Blue Labels, these according to us no one can resist. Try it once like the imp we insist.

Gregarious, glittery and loud we love to celebrate, parties, weddings anything that needs celebrating. Punjabis in the house and then just watch the magic happen. We love to dress up bright and shiny, and no self-respecting Punjaban will ever repeat an outfit (heaven forbid) and the men will carry off the shervani in colors that will dazzle. Jewelry is big and bold, no delicate baubles for us we love our sparkling beauties and couldn’t be bothered with symbolism. We love our dance and despite our girth we will do the ‘bhangra’ energetically, the ‘gidda’ gracefully. We will sing soulfully and sinfully ruin a melody, we will be the life of every party. Warm and full of beans nothing delights us more than love and laughter. We love swearing and will lovingly call our sons ‘ullu da patha’ (son of an owl) strangely to us it means you are a fool while in western culture an owl is a wise bird. Our other swear words though interesting may not pass the censors and so I shall refrain from them for the sake of propriety.

We love a good jest and can take one on ourselves, a comeback a rejoinder that will rest assured not be any less. We are a proud people who can take a lot and love a lot but test us to a limit for history has proven that we will never, never bend.

Ode to Sisturzzz

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Technically an ode is a lyrical poem usually expressing a strong feeling of love or respect for something. Since I’m not a poet and am lyrically incompetent I’m going to take some liberties with the word. The feelings of course are what matters at the end of the day and technicalities can be set aside for the sake of creativity.

So this is my Ode to Sisturzzz.

That cousin whom I grew up with who is of my blood yet more a friend than a sister ever could be. The stories that we shared, the childhood games that we played and the nightmares that our mothers we gave with our antics and bold revelry. The gossip that we traded and with laughter we shredded. My total antithesis, the grace and the fashion sense beyond compare. The girl who knew every outfit that Sridevi wore in wore in Chandni and would quiz the clueless me so lost in the pages of my books. She took it upon herself to pull me out of the latest bestseller that I found myself engrossed in and made me acknowledge the world as it went by. A friendship that is my oldest and like wine has just gotten better with age.

That friend who is not of my blood yet is my soul sister. Who completes my sentences and knows all the dark corners of my heart. With whom I dare to be myself for she never judges and always encourages. Laughs at all my jokes and loves all my leg pulling. We share a name yet are distinct as can be. When I laugh and giggle like a schoolgirl, my kids know that it is her on the other line without even asking. No matter how serious life gets she’s that one person I can be truly stupid with. She’s shared my life’s most difficult moments also and been a rock by my side, knowing just the right thing to say pulling me out from the abyss that threatened me and mine. A friend like her is impossible to find and I am glad I have her in my life, my best friend and soul sister.

Then the little sister who grows up looking up to you, admiring you, copying you and making you feel like a titan. She grows up and you find that she has become a remarkable person who inspires you more than you ever did her. With the patience of a saint and a heart that’s pure gold she brings sunshine into your life. She sings the loudest, dancing the longest at your triumphs and cries the hardest at your losses. The one person in your life who no matter what, will love and be loved for she is the little sister every big sister dreams of having.

NO, Not an Easy Word to Say

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A friend, relative or co-worker makes an unreasonable or for that matter a reasonable demand and even though all your brain cells are screaming at decibels that bats can hear, you hear the word ‘Yes’ pop out your mouth. If that’s you then you suffer from the malady called ‘wanting to please.’ You want to shove the yes back from wherever it popped out from your addled sense of being a do-gooder, but it’s too late and you are committed.

Those who suffer with this sickness, render themselves incapable of saying ‘No’ when they should. There are many predicaments that they find themselves in thanks to not using this small word that is only two letters and should be the easiest to utter, right? Wrong, for it is a small word loaded with heavy ramifications. You suffer the guilt of letting down, hurting or angering someone.

My better half was riddled with this disease early in our marriage. To my consternation he would by Wednesday have committed to at least 3 lunches and 4 dinners for the weekend. Now I wouldn’t mind hopping from one lunch to another on a Saturday and then again a leisurely one on Sunday and I could also do two dinners on Saturday but two on Sunday would be a bit of a stretch the next day being a working one. Where the telling of this tale becomes a tad bit complicated is that ‘I’ was the one who was expected to provide the lunches and the dinners all on the same Saturday. Now stretching myself really and I mean really thin I could pull off the cooking and the baking, I am pretty competent in that department even though I do say so myself. Learning from one Saturday when I did try to make it work the problem besides my exhausted self was that the guests would be so diverse, making the afternoon and then the evening not only tedious but rather very awkward as well. Following that one disaster, on Fridays when enlightened by well-meaning friends or relatives calling to confirm that they would indeed be coming to enjoy my well put together parties, I had to do the nasty task of uninviting at least a few. People would call him up, invite themselves over and he just couldn’t say NO. You can imagine the kind of rows that we would have over the issue till he resolved the situation to his own liking. Still unable to say ‘No’ he would tell people ‘I’ll ask her to call you back.’ That is when I discovered I too suffered from the same malady. He only had to tell me that so and so called and I would start hyperventilating about returning the call. Then I would further go and call up so and so and hear how long it had been since we last caught up (2 weekends back) and how I was such a great host and blah, blah, blah. Needless to say I would be slaving away in a hot kitchen on my well-earned Saturday. The only wise thing I did was I did not call up the other so and so who would have also called. I always wondered if I was the last of the hosts in my ‘small’ world since I was never invited anywhere.

At work too the same inability to say No landed me with extra work that the co-worker so sweetly asked me to help her with. In my head would be the thought “Oh really, and I have all the time in the world and nowhere to go but do your bit of the task also.” And the mouth would open and out popped the dreaded, “Yes, sure you go ahead and take care, let me know if I can do any more.” The brain would later berate me, “Seriously? Offering more help!!”

There are many more incidents far too many that cannot be shared so publically else I will lose the few friends I have left. This made us realize that the inability to say No cost both of us many difficulties due to our prioritizing other people’s needs before ours. Learning the hard way we made some rules that once implemented did result in uttering the No a lot simpler. Here are some, one will do at a time but in extreme cases I’ve needed to pull out all stops and use all at once too.

  1. Take a deep breath when a request is made, helps buy time and lets you think before you put your own head in the noose. Think about your Priorities – committing to this person will take away time that you need to spend with my family.
  2. Ask questions about what is being asked, pretend you are looking for more clarity which discourages some.
  3. Distract with rambling about the different tasks that you have on that day and how you may be able to fit their ask into the calendar but you’re not sure when, you’ll try and blah, blah, blah.
  4. Don’t begin by saying sorry, be polite but firm. It’s a good thing to be nice but remember there’s a difference in being nice and being a pushover.
  5. Be honest. 99% of the time it works.
  6. Then there are some sweetly persistent people who will just reason with everything you say and try to wheedle a yes out of you. Cut the phone and switch it off. Later you can say you dropped your phone from the balcony and it shattered into a million pieces. Don’t have a balcony? The tub or even the bog will do to destroy the phone. No one is coming to check if that actually happened.

Whatever you need to do to say this very difficult word remember that, By saying yes when you need to say No, you cripple the most important relationship in your life: the relationship between you and you. – Nea Joy

My Gita by Devdutt Pattanaik

 

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One of my posts had to be about a book sooner or later, a voracious reader cannot but help herself. Books for me have been my friends, teachers, philosophers and guides. I love the written word and wouldn’t know where to turn to if I lost them, my faithful companions.

Why ‘My Gita’? I grew up listening to the stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata retold by my loving Grandmother and then by TV series. The Gita is a name I grew up with, my Grandmother would give us advice saying this is written in the Gita and so forth but its contents were somehow obscure and continued to be a mystery to me. I have picked up ‘The Gita’ translated into English by various writers many times and tried to read it not getting beyond a few pages before leaving it. I could not relate to the language or the writer’s viewpoint in most cases. Probably because I was not looking to read the Gita to ‘find God’ but to understand the wisdom that I felt it had to offer. My search ended when a friend suggested that we read ‘My Gita’ by Devdutt Pattanaik for one of our Book Club reads.

I thought that maybe this way I would endure to read the Gita and tick it off my bucket list. Endure I did not, for I was hooked to the writing style immediately. He begins by explaining for calling it ‘My Gita’ and I discovered that he put into words exactly why I wanted to read it for so long. I too wanted to approach it like Arjuna, with curiosity, to understand. In my Grandmother’s tone as she spoke of the Gita I could always detect a note of self-realization which I found in Devdutt’s explanation “Krishna speaks of brahma-nirvana as an expansion of the mind.” He then explores the history of the Gita, even though you may feel that you know it I urge you not to skip over this portion there surely will be information you would have not known earlier.

Some of the truths that I have understood from the reading of ‘My Gita’ are that God lives in all of us, “that helps us cope with our own fears that disconnect us from society.” When we understand this we do not look for comfort from materialism thus we do not cling to them out of moha and when we learn to let go we attain moksha. “The God of Hinduism is no judge. Hence Krishna gives no commandments in the Gita.” A benevolent God that understands rather than judges, guides rather than moralizes. Standing on judgment on others and situations only limits us by obstructing our worldview. Being judgmental does not let the mind expand, how often we let our prejudices cloud our vision limiting our own spiritual growth. When we are blinded by moha living in fear and insecurity like the blind king. The fear of validation, the fear of not knowing our purpose on earth makes us derive our value from the property that we possess, the designations that we hold. Blindness on Dhritarashtra’s part is not so much physical blindness or “absence of sight as the absence of empathy.” The Devas and Asuras continue to struggle and fight as opposing forces rather than living in harmony as Vishnu intended them to in order to achieve the potential that we are capable of. These two opposing forces are within each one of us and when we do not reconcile them we only disrupt our own equilibrium, “The heroes of one plot turn out to be villains of other plots.”

“Rebirth takes away the sense of urgency and the quest for perfection.” This was probably the most important learning for me. We go through our childhood competing, striving to be the best. When there is only one lifetime to be concerned about the thought of achievement becomes paramount. The Hindu theory of rebirth makes the rat race irrelevant, why then do we make ourselves miserable trying to over achieve?

Having read ‘My Gita’ I have not understood it in its entirety but then I’m not supposed to “It is only in modern times, with a printed book in hand, that we want to read The Gita cover to cover, chapter by chapter, verse to verse and hope to work our way through to a climax of resolutions in one go. When we attempt to do so, we are disappointed.” The Gita was never supposed to be read in one sitting, it was supposed to be read again and again, it was to be understood part by part and that is the learning I have taken from “My Gita.’ I will read it many more times and discover myself in the process.

to be continued…

 

Live With Thy Neighbor

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Today’s post is in appreciation of good neighbors. The hammering going on, on my head brought this thought to mind that I have, till now, had amazingly understanding neighbors who have turned into lifelong friends.

Growing up in a small town one takes neighbors for granted, they have been around forever. My grandparents and parents had already forged relationships that had me calling some of them Chacha, Bua, Masi when they were in no way related to us by blood. Food bowls would be passed over boundary walls and festivals would be celebrated with each other. Gossip and recipes would be traded in the evenings over cups of steaming tea by the ladies sitting in one garden or another. And kids would be pampered by aunties or uncles and hauled by the ear to homes when caught making mischief.

Newly married I set out to establish my own household in a new city. A lot of things were on my mind, neighbors were not. Moving into condos in Delhi the first few days were very busy in the hustle-bustle of settling in, I smiled at the people that I would cross on the stairs and received friendly greetings in return. In the flat opposite mine lived the Gupta family and Aunty who would soon become my guide to the then unknown world of housewifery knocked on the door the very first day offering help, advise, gossip and so much more. Over the next few years we became great friends and when I shifted from that house to another, copious tears were shed and promises to keep in touch exchanged.

Over 19 years I have lived in different homes in different places. I’ve had a neighbor celebrate my son’s 5th Birthday in Bangalore as I had just shifted into a new home three days before. I’ve knocked on the doors of a newly married couple who shifted into the flat next to mine and been friend, guide, counselor to them. I’ve gone on numerous holidays with another. I’ve partied into the night with some and talked for hours with others. I’ve been sent numerous meals for my family when I’ve been laid up in bed sick and I’ve cooked numerous such meals and sent them forward to others. I’ve cooked and baked and pickled and shared. I have laughed with many and I’ve cried while leaving their company. I have given numerous farewells and been fare-the-welled many times.

What has been my biggest learning from all these people is that to live in harmony one must extend cooperation and consideration to each other. As the hammering above my flat continues I try to convince my new, yet to move in neighbors, that my son appearing for his decisive college entrance exams is affected by the noise. And my husband who works US timings needs to sleep for just an hour more. I bargain for asking for just a two hour delay in their work starting and hope that they will understand. At home I explain to my son and husband that the new neighbors too have to work towards a timeline that allows them to shift into their dearly bought home as soon as possible. I have already received a few offers that my son go and study at their home from neighbors who I have discussed this situation with. I also know I will receive dozens more after this piece of writing is read by friends and family and my neighbors who know the value of living in harmony with thy neighbors.

Kargil Memorial: A lesson in Humility

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Photo Credits : Namish Gulati

I had not heard of Kargil till it made the headlines in the summer of 1999. Like everyone in India we followed the news in those days and debated the whys and wherefores of the conflict between the Indian and Pakistani armed forces. We all heaved a sigh of relief on July 26, 1999 when the war came to an end. Slowly the headlines changed to whatever was the burning issue of the time and barring a few mentions Kargil became another name stored away in memory.

Last summer when planning a road trip to Ladakh, Kargil became a destination on our itinerary. A nondescript hill town with a swollen, muddy river flowing down the center was my first impression as we pulled into the town late in the evening. A river in a rush were the last sounds I heard before I dropped into a tired slumber. The next morning was bright and sunny, looking out from the hotel window at the snow covered ridges surrounding Kargil was a treat in itself, the Suru River was still muddy, but now in the daylight the town looked charming.

We did not linger long there and headed towards out on the Srinagar-Leh Highway towards The Dras War Memorial. Do take a local guide to point out the various points of interest along the way or you will miss out on a lot many details. Our guide pointed out the towering wall that the Engineering Corps of the Indian Army built in a single night to protect from shelling the road that is the supply lifeline of the rest of Leh and Ladakh. We stopped to gaze in wonder at the Indus that starts its journey in India and the Saru as it flowed into Pakistan. There was no barrier and the unbound waters danced on unaware from my country to the other. As I gazed across the landscape the guide pointed out to bunkers on ridges that belonged to Pakistan, I was struck by an oft heard abstract thought that became so real there that nature does not create barriers, humans do. The land on both sides of the LOC is the same, similar flora and fauna, even the people including the soldiers and yet the divide is so great that so much of our human potential just goes into drawing up lines of demarcation.

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Photo Credits : Namish Gulati

The landscape as we drove towards the Kargil War Memorial in Dras on both sides was breathtakingly beautiful with snowcapped mountains visible in the distance and rolling hills of soft green grass, rivers flowing on one side and fields being tilled on the other. Signposts along the way ominously remind you of the area being under temporary ceasefire. Then from a distance the guide pointed out Tiger Hill, the decisive 11 hour battle here had turned the tides in our favor on July 4, 1999, after which the Indian Army had regained control of Dras and soon managed to drive the insurgents away. There was silence in our car after that. Soon we were at the Memorial, Vijaypath built by the Indian Army in Dras with Tiger Hill overlooking it.

 

The sandstone wall in the open has the names of all the army personnel who laid down their lives during the Kargil War. Your breath will catch in your throat as your eyes skim over each name. Walking into the Manoj Pandey War Gallery you will experience the war recounted with every step that you will take melting even the most hardened heart at the ultimate sacrifice of our soldiers. As tears flow down your cheeks the epitaphs on each tombstone will humble you. The freedom that we enjoy comes at a price that the soldier pays to protect us. I did not lose any loved one in the Kargil conflict. I was not affected by it in any way till that day that I stood at this monument of bravery and courage of the Indian soldier and my heart was full of pride and my eyes full of tears. The silence here was palpable, what a contrast to those days and nights of the summer of 1999 when guns thundered and patriotism bloomed in the hearts of those brave men who laid down their lives while I slept safe in my bed.

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Photo Credits: Namish Gulati

Junagarh Fort, Bikaner, Rajasthan

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The Glorious Anup Mahal

 

Sometimes you visit a place and it lives up to more than your expectations. Junagarh Fort for me was one such place. I enjoy reading History and visiting monuments wherever I travel. Somehow, with my very active imagination, these places come alive to me. On a road trip around Rajasthan last year, our second stop was at Bikaner, the erstwhile capital of the Rathore’s of Bikaner. Founded in the year 1488 AD by a Rajput prince Rao Bika the younger son of Rao Jodha of Jodhpur, the state of Bikaner played an important role in the History of India.

The Junagarh Fort at Bikaner is an excellent peep into the History of the Rathore’s who trace their ancestry back to the Gahadavala Kings of Kannauj. The sixth ruler Raja Rai Singh built a new fort called Chintamani during 1589 to 1593 AD. It was renamed Junagarh or old fort in the early part of the 20th century when the royal family moved out of it to the Lalgarh Palace.

Junagarh fort is one of the few forts in the world that is not built on a hill and the modern day city of Bikaner has grown around it. When one walks into the Suraj Pol (Sun gate) of the fort you leave behind the hustle and bustle of modern life to take a leisurely walk down the annals of History. The fort is a composite structure, the result of building efforts of a number of rulers through four centuries. An audio guide accompanying you with its soothing rendition of the past brings alive the various palaces created by every ruler making the fort a vibrant jewel in the middle if the Thar Desert.

One walks into the sandstone structure into a white and pristine Karan Mahal, built in classic Mughal style, this was the Public Audience ‘Hall.’ The Anup Chowk that the next few palaces are built around has been featured in many movies and as one walks into it images of peacocks and bustling maidens come to mind.  The first palace to visit is the Phool Mahal, motifs of trays, flower vases, and rose water sprinklers stucco work and glass inlay is reminiscent of the Jehangirian era. Then into the glorious Anup Mahal or the Privy Council Chamber, breathtakingly beautiful to which no words can do justice and should be seen to be believed. Bikaner is famous for this kind of gold vermillion varnished work and you may have seen some of it earlier.(See Picture Above) Then onto the Badal Mahal, reflecting the longing for rain in an arid landscape. The room is soothingly blue with clouds and rain drops depicting the Monsoon.

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Badal Mahal

 

Then onto to the Gaj Mandir and Dungar Niwas with their white walls decorated with elaborate niches and mirrors in the Mughal floral designs and style.

Here the past ends and the British influence begins to be seen the rest of the fort was built in the Indo-Saracenic style and houses the first lift installed in India and the Durbar Hall and Vikram Vilas. It is here that one finds the ancient sandalwood throne of Kannauj and various war souvenirs, howdahs and the famous Nalki, one of the honors conferred by the Mughal rulers.

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Honors Conferred by the Mughal Rulers

 

This is but a short synopsis of the many treasure that the Junagarh Fort houses. I have visited many heritage sites in my country, a lot many are more popular; this fort however provided to me the best insight into the grandiose living style of the rulers of Rajputana. So if you like to tread down the annals of the past as I do, do visit the Junagarh Fort.