Monday, March 21, 2011
I wake up one morning in my new host family's home, a few doors down from our community center, and am immediately handed a steaming plate of makki ki roti and sarson ka saag.
As I eat, the live broadcast from Amritsar's Golden Temple plays on TV in full blast -- thousands of turbaned Sikh men walking by the camera as they pray to the Guru Granth Sahib. My host grandmother, just back from the local gurudwara, hands out ghee-filled prasad to the whole joint family -- stopping to shout "Wahe guru" to the holy men on the screen.
Manjas, the rope cots, are plenty around the house, and sitting on one to eat, and sleeping on one at night has made me especially love them for their versatility and ability to put up with seven people at once. Above our heads is a marble picture of Guru Nanak, the first guru of the ten Sikh gurus, craftily settled into the wall.
Yes, this is Punjab. I forget that sometimes since Chandigarh is a city of migrants, a union territory, a place where North Indian culture prevails more than any strong state culture. But the symbols -- from the corn-flour rotis to the cots to the turbans are constant reminders.
Just as Punjabi culture has come to symbolize India in the West through all its colorful, blaring glory, I have come to adore this big, rowdy family. They embody everything I ever thought of Punjabis -- the loud, passionate shouting, the dairy-rich foods, the long hair on men, women and child. They are built, as my host mother says, to fight, the boys over six-feet, the girls with broad shoulders. My host dad even drives one of those colorful trucks that you can find on an Punjab Pride t-shirt.
The family's connection to their village, where they swear the fields are postcard green, is strong, as is their love for all things shiny and big. My new sandals, my cotton kurta, those just barely pass their test. But a picture of my pink, sequined sari from my cousin's wedding wins me parantha points.
While I was worried I would burden them by staying in their home, I find that this family, more than most, knows how to adjust, how to move just a bit to the side to accommodate another person or ten. "It's a joint family, we're used it," they say, having grown up in households of 18 or 25 people.
As I watch my youngest host brother flip his waist length hair upside down and comb it tediously, I decide that Punjabis have real soul. Just by the nature of their bloody, discriminatory history, and their loud dhol drums, they possess an identity that is hard to miss. And becoming one with them, although never one of them, has been latest blossoming of my fantastic Indian spring.