Life's Like That

Thursday, November 12, 2009

2 States. Or 3. Or wait, is that 4?

Warning: Super long post ahead.
When you ignore excellent advice , let boredom get the better of you, and start reading Chetan Bhagat's latest, you deserve to have a headache. It is dreadful. I don't know which uneducated, unfit- for- civilised -society Punjabi woman he has modelled the Punjabi mother's charecter on, her behaviour is unbelievable. As for the Tamilians. My goodness!! Which urban Tamilian, or for that matter South Indian family, eats off banana leafs on the floor as a matter of routine? Do Tamil men really read The Hindu 24x7? Even during weddings? Based on my considerable knowledge of Kannadigas, Malayalis, Tamilians and people from Andhra I reeeaaallly don't think so.

To be fair, some bits did ring true, the Punjabi obsession with food, the over the top wedding, the handing over of car keys to the dulha, Chennai autos, the wedding description at the end...yes those were the believable bits. But the rest..atrocious rubbish. I should write a book on a marriage between 2 states. 3 states if you consider the Boy is more Tamilian than Punjabi in his choice of entertainment (Rajni Saar wof course!), food (curd rice rules) and comfort levels. Some of my experiences and valuable insights on Punjabis:

I have noticed that Punjabis do place a certain value on giving and receiving gifts (at weddings more so). Specially if you are newly wed and are going to their house for the first time. There is no time period on this offer. Almost 3 years after my wedding, I still receive pretty envelopes with notes of high denomination inside : "Arre rakh lo beta, shagun hota hai, pehli baar ghar aaye ho".
Me: "Nahin nahin Aunty what is this, what was the need" ( reaches out and grabs envelope with greedy paws wondering when she can open and check the amount inside). I do hope I get to visit new Aunties and Uncles aaaall the time.

My first brush with a proper Punjabi wedding( as opposed to my hotch potch one) was when Rahul's cousin got married. In saddi Dilli. The jaimalas were made of orchids. There was a mechanised shower of orchid and rose petals when they exchanged garlands. He was gifted a fancy car. The wedding lived up to all my expectations of an ostentatious Punjabi wedding down to the sparkly saris and dripping diamonds and the chaat counters and the four kinds of cuisines and the DJ in the backside. Seriously, to quote Monsoon Wedding, these Punjabis are soooo ostentatious... my pretentious Bengali soul loved ever second of it.

However the shameless display of wealth is besides the point. What really impressed me was how dangerous Punjabi weddings are. There I was, looking distinctly shabby in my Kanjeevaram in a sea of sparkliness, dancing merrily at the head of the baarat when I heard this POP POP sound just behind me. Thinking it was advisable to get away from fireworks I turned to check. I saw a suited booted, evidently inebriated man holding two pistols high up in the air. The sounds, as my dazed brain noted, were being emitted by those pistols. "Are those real?" I quaveringly queried. "Of course they are real beta, you think I will bring fake pistols to a wedding?"he said incredulously. My timid Bengali self gaped,thinking that surely he was emphasising the wrong word. My mother in law came swooping in and made me move from there, saying "Yeh Jat log!! Shaadi mein tamasha karte hain. Come away, you might get shot"! SHOT. Getting SHOT was a real possibility here people. I swiftly moved my considerable girth far away from him. I stood behind the horse. Only to have my aunt in law frantically pulling me away. Apparantly the horses kick. Hard. Break bones sometimes Im told. Again, I moved far away from the possibly delinquent horse as well as obviously mad gun weilding Jat. Only to have my mother in law once more swooping in on me to tell me that standing on the sides of the wedding procession is dangerous as the light walas and band walas jump on u make off with your jewellery. What a dangerous business it is to get married in Delhi to a Punjabi. Guns, kicking horses thieving light and band walas!! Phew!! Its a miracle I made it back to placid Bangalore with my life and my (meagre) jewellery intact.

Speaking of placid. Here, in the South of India, road fights happen like they do elsewhere in this country. More often than not, the two parties circle each other like angry hens. Each party says "Ai" in various tones and levels of threatning-ness. Sometimes, they chuck glass bottles at each other, careful to aim for the area around the feet. To avoid unneccessary bloodshed you know. Very Gandhian. If it a domestic fight then each party rushes inside only to re-emerge with a knife or a sickle or somesuch. They make suitably dramatic proclaimations about cutting the other party in half. And wait for their female relatives to rush in and hold them by the arms and wail. An hour later, both parties disperse with menacing looks at each other.

In the North, they do things a weeee bit differently. We were in Chandigarh. Travelling with Rahuls Maasiji and Maasadji (former bodybuilder or wrestler or somesuch) in their car. Suddenly this HUGE tractor opposite us, broke the traffic light, hit a bike, sending the rider flying and jumped into our lane at full speed missing the car by centimetres. Maasadji gave an enraged roar. Much like an angry lion. He turned the car around at full speed, tyres screeching and all. Chased after the tractor and swerved dramatically in front of it forcing it to stop. He jumped out, caught hold of the driver by the shoulder shaking him like the proverbial rat. Even as our (mine and Rahul) South India acclimitised brains were registering this, Maasadji delivered TWO resounding slaps on the drivers face. My jaw dropped. Maasiji, by this time got out of the car with a bellow like an angry bull and language that makes even me blush. She too proceeded to deliver two tight slaps. A crowd collected. Maasiji continued bellowing in Punjabi, something about the driver almost killing her son n daughter in law before they stepped into her home. Hearing the bit about the daughter in law, large throngs of women gathered around the car, to peek at the noo....unsuspecting dumbstruck me. Even while the bike rider and policeman and crowd continued to berate the drunk tractor driver, these women pulled away from the windows with disappointed faces, conversing in Punjabi about how plain the noo was and did you see the clothes shes wearing? So plain. And not even wearing chooda..tsk tsk these modern types. It was quite surreal I assure you. I am very much in awe of both Maasadji and Maasiji. My heroes!!

Chetan Bhagat writes about the Punjabi obsession with food and feeding. Especially dairy products. How right he is. I firmly believe that milky chai and paneer can solve all problems if there is a Punjabi concerned. I once had a Sardar colleague who relocated to Bangalore from Delhi and went back to Delhi after a month because he could'nt get good paneer in this city.

After we got married, we decided to honeymoon in Manali. Part of the reason was that we would go via Chandigarh where Rahul's nani and uncles and aunts lived and Naniji was not able to come for the wedding. We reached late at night and went to sleep. When I awoke the next day, I was given tea with mathris and dhodhas (a North Indian delicacy that I detest). Very happy about eating deep fried snacks for breakfast I helped myself generously. Alas! How little I knew of the Punjabi obsession with feeding. This was just the prelude. 20 minutes later I realized ghee soaked alu paranthas with dollops of white butter were on their way. An ardent lover of aloo I rubbed my hands in glee and helped myself to one. Except that the bare minimum they expected me to eat was 3. I bravely managed 2. We then went to see the Lake and the Rock Garden. An hour later, with breakfast barely digested, we made our way to the aforementioned Maasijis house for lunch. Lunch was a very 'simple' affair..puris (fried in enough oil to make my arteries choke from just looking at it), choley, alu gobi, mattar paneer, jeera rice, capsicum alu, dahi bhallas, salad, and ghee laden gajar ka halwa. Each dish was exquisite, my mouth is watering at the memory. But my stomach groaned in protest as more and more food was piled on my plate. We managed to finish lunch by about 3.30. At 5 p.m. we went to another Maasijis place. There she insisted on us having tea. And cake. And sev. And more mathris. This time I managed to stick to just tea. Possibly because the boy, incredibly enough, was eating everything in sight. When we boarded the bus to Manali, Maasiji fondly pressed a large and heavy bag into my hands. Dinner you see. Again very simple. 12 ghee smeared rotis, paneer bhurji, anda bhuri, kheer. Stomach churning we put it away. As the bus climbed the Himalayan slopes all the food I had ingested during the day started clamouring to come out. I looked out of the windows at the moonlit mountainside, biting my lips and telling myself, "Its so beautiful, puking here would be a crime against Nature". We reached Manali and the first thing we did was medical shops since both our stomachs had surrendered.

We are visiting Chandigarh and Delhi again in 2 weeks time. Im totally looking forward to it. Rahuls relatives are warm 'bade dil wale' people who made me feel totally at home from Day 1. No we didnt know that the brides family is supposed to give a Punjabi mother in law gold jewellery at the wedding. They didnt tell us and we didnt give. We also did not give a car to Rahul. There were no orchids and no 5 different cuisines at my wedding. And you know what? Everyone who attended the wedding from his side only talks about how wonderful the whole experience was, and how well my Dad had organised the whole thing and how wonderfully at home my family made them feel. In Delhi, Rahuls 82 year old Daadi insisted on making paranthas for me when I first went to their house, despite the doctors orders to rest, because its a tradition she established with her own daughters in law and she wanted to continue it with me. I love visiting his mamas and maasis in Chandigarh because I feel like I've belonged to their family for years and years. Of course there are stereotypes reinforced and culture shocks and major adjustments, but what would life be without them?


  • All the food described is making me ravenous. And have loads of fun at your trip. You think I should bother reading Chetan Bhagat's latest?

    By Blogger Annapoorna R Shinu, at 10:27 PM  

  • Please please please get yourself published. A lot of people could do with some good entertainment!!

    By Blogger Seema, at 10:46 PM  

  • Me: "Nahin nahin Aunty what is this, what was the need" ( reaches out and grabs envelope with greedy paws wondering when she can open and check the amount inside).

    I almost fell off my chair laughing!! ;)

    By Blogger Vishal, at 12:02 AM  

  • That incident in Chandigarh is just amazing. Totally surreal.

    By Blogger Dreamcatcher, at 8:31 AM  

  • What a lovely post:)
    My tum is feeling queasy at the thought of all the food you managed to ingest!

    By Blogger dipali, at 8:17 PM  

  • damn good piece of writing.

    By Blogger Soham Pablo, at 1:09 AM  

  • Fantastic piece, Ron. And you describe an inter-state/ inter-cultural marriage as I know it. My in-laws welcomed me not too differently from the way yours did - at no time was I made to feel I was a Madraasi.

    By Blogger Natasha, at 10:58 PM  

  • ROFL! The next time someone is bombarding you with bucketloads of high-fat food, pliss to fedex it to me pronto. I will gladly eat it all. Most of my friends are Sindhi and oh, I used to relish going to their homes to gorge on all the food :-D Gujrati and Punjabi homes are also good in that regard ;-D Sadly, I am a Maharashtrian married to a Maharashtrian and our cuisine is so austere. High-fat would be dar-dar ke fry kiye hue sabudana wadas :-( And lunch is cauliflower chi bhaji, phulkas, varan and bhaat. BAH!

    By Blogger Pitu, at 1:41 AM  

  • what a hilarious post. Being a hard core Punjabi I could relate to every word of it ! Stumbled on your blog from somewhere and thoroughly enjoyed reading it !
    keep writing !
    p.s I didn’t think much of two states either :-)

    By Blogger Tall Girl in Japan , at 2:44 AM  

  • Err, am an Andhra, and I HAVE seen my uncles reading the paper (may or may not be The Hindu)at weddings, so I laughed my head off at that part of Two States! I guess he has picked up stuff he's observed and then exaggerated it!

    By Blogger LAK, at 6:55 AM  

  • I dunno howcome Im seeing all these comments so late in the day, but thank you all.

    @Annu: Food in Chandigarh is always excellent. Come with me next time I go.

    @Seema: Find me a publisher

    @Vishal: Im nothing if not honest :P

    @DC: Oh it was believe me!

    @Dipali: We were as sick as dogs afterward!

    @Soham: Dhonnobad

    @Rayna: :) I think these days most mixed marriages are like this only. Some adjustment on both sides, a lot of good humour and a lot of fun. Bhagat has exaggerated his experience to the point of caricature.

    @Pitu: Oh but I LOVE sabudana vadas. And sabudana khichdi. And that stuffed brinjal thingie, I have no idea what its called but its delicious! My mouth is watering.

    @Ruch: Heh Punjabis are the bestest man. Bongs dont give money when you go to their house for the first time :P

    @LAK: really? at weddings!? Goodness. Im sure his book is based on frist hand experience, my problem is that he has exaggerated it to the point of caricature. Its irritatingly badly written.

    By Blogger Ron, at 2:36 AM  

  • I discovered your blog today and read a fair bit of the archives. Love it! Added you to my Reader:)

    But this post - to my very Punjabi self married to a very Bengali guy - resonated with me the most. I can well imagine the 'new noo not wearing a chooda' episode. I had to keep juggling between the chooda and the shakha-paula for 2 months of wedded life recently, because either the Punjabis would be disappointed with the "dhee" or the Bengalis with the "bou"!! :D

    By Blogger The Soul of Alec Smart, at 3:48 AM  

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