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Of parathas, Punjabis and more….

I grew up in Orissa in the pre-liberalisation era when satellite television was still a far dream. And I grew up on a staple diet of Oriya food. Masala dosas were the only luxury we had once in a while from outside and it was considered as a real celebration. Paneer butter masala……. well it was an alien in my mother’s kitchen which smelt of mustard oil and paanch phoran. But interestingly, the first story I wrote as a nine year old had one Mrs Malhotra as the protagonist (blame it on the endless reading of soppy short stories I read in magazines bought by mother). Without even knowing it, I had my first brush with Punjabis through Mrs Malhotra. In life, many times you do things without even realising it.
Punjabis became a part of my life when I moved to Delhi for my higher studies. In the hyper-active lanes and bylanes of Karol Bagh, I got stories that would keep me going for the rest of my life. Aloo parathas suddenly had a special place in my life. I still long for them on a mild winter morning (well, I must say nobody can make parathas like Punjabis though my Gujarati cook boasts that what Sachin Tendulkar is to cricket, she is to exactly the same to ‘paratha making’. ). And how can I forget spicy aloo gobi, paneer butter masala and rajma chawal (hey, did you say the dirty word calorie….well ‘khate pite’ ghar ki log hai hum).
After living in different parts of India, I think only Punjabis can make you laugh, cry at the same time and the buck doesn’t stop there only. And after a roller coaster ride, they can feed you as if nothing has happened. They can call you ‘beta’ in the very first meeting and 15 minutes into the meeting after a supply of chhole bhature, gobi paratha, gajar ki halwa you will be doubting your own mom’s exstence. But then as you swear by Malhotra uncleji and Reetu auntyji, an earthquake with a Richer scale of 8.4 will rock your very existence and you will be running for cover. Such is the power of Malhotra and Co. The moment you enter into the house, somebody will come to you with a glass of water on a tray almost like a spring. And then comes the next ballistic missiles (common to all Punjabis) “Chai, coffee aur cold drink?” Never had a South-Indian asking me this question (their offers are always limited.) Please don’t think that I am anti South-Indian (I am married to one for last 11 years)
I lived among Punjabis in South Delhi for years. Gregarious they are… unlike South-Indians. When we had a monkey visitng our house in a ground floor apartment in Delhi, it was only our Punjabi uncle (next door neighbour) who came forward to help us in saying goodbye to the unwanted guest. But that was not the one occasion uncle was ‘active’. Every time a friend walked out of our house in a short skirt, uncle’s eyes were ‘active.’ But then let me be fair, uncle was just doing something which is so very ‘man’ ly.
Punjabis know how to live life and of course show off to the entire world. Have money, will show… is the mantra they ‘jap’ everyday without fail. And if your neighbour has a 32 inch LCD TV then you have to buy a 42 inch LCD TV just to show him that your bank account is really loaded. Every Punjabi living room looks the same. The sofas are always huge, the crystal (on most occasions fake) flower vase is always there and the curtains are rich gloden or deep red. The opulence has to be there.. the lack of it will put you on the bottom of the ladder (it’s always like a snake and ladder game).
I never knew that I will miss Punjabis per se. But I missed them like crazy when I went to Bangalore in 1998. I missed that laughter in gay abandan. I missed the tiffin dabbas sent to us by our Punjabi neighboures which had dozens of ghee laden aloo/ gobi parathas, paneer ki sabzi and achar. I missed that word ‘beta’ which Punjabis use 10 times in a 3 minute conversation.
And one of the most dominant image that still come to mind is young Punjabi brides wearing tight fitting jeans and T shirts teamed with chudas and sindoor. Years after I have left Delhi, when I see a young girl in this ‘avatar’ immediately I feel a rush of happiness within myself. And my mouth can almost feel the tingling taste of aloo paratha/ spicy aloo gobi. And I can almost hear that sentence “aur kya haal hai ji?” The world within me seems at peace.

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About Deepika Sahu

I earn my living through writing stories, editing what other people write (in simple terms I am a journalist). I dream of opening a cafeteria in the mountains, owning a beach home on the shores of Bay of Bengal... but right now, they all seem like wild dreams.. A gypsy at heart --- am passionate about life, music, words, cooking for people I love, soaking in the lashing rain and just looking at the changing colours of the sky.... And I am a great fan of the Indian Railways and I long to travel in First Class AC coupe across India.....with my man

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