Punjab: The Farming Village and the Tailor

Good morning everyone,

We’re in a farming village just outside of Amritsar this morning (well a few weeks ago by the time I’m writing this).  It was amazing!

First stop was Bhuaji’s (father’s sister) house, then off on a walking tour of the village.  The next stop (unintentional) was the local government school, which has students up to the 6th or 7th standard (12 or 13 years old).  It was literally a two room schoolhouse with two maybe three teachers and about 30 kids aged 5 or 6 to 12 or 13.  We were walking by on the road above the school while the kids were playing outside.  All play stopped while the kids checked out the very pale woman wearing three coats.   No pics of the super shy kids though because I don’t play that way.

Next we stopped at a little house (in the background of the picture with me and the bicycle full of mustard) where Bhuaji’s brother in law and my friend’s cousin were picking turnips from their field.  By hand.  In the freakin’ cold Punjabi winter Fog o’ Death.  From the mud.  Hard, hard work is what these two men were doing.

The air here was foggy but so much cleaner than Delhi or Amritsar.  It was nice to get lungs full of fresh, farm air (including the scents of sweet hay and the manure fertilizer).  Just what my polluted lungs have needed!  What I did not need was the freakin’ cold.  I was wearing three jackets for a reason.  The humidity was 100%, the temperature about 5C and it was not raining – we were walking through a thick mist of cold, wet fog the whole time.

It brought back so many memories of my childhood though, growing up in rural Saint John when I was very young.  Here the plants (and we just wandered in and out of the fields) were rice, wheat, potato, sweet hay, spinach, mustard, turnip, carrot, turmeric, cauliflower and feed crops for the buffalo… there the crops consisted of wheat, oats and sweet hay with small plots of root vegetables and rhubarb.  Same difference really.  Here, the crops are all gathered by hand.  No combines – even the sweet hay and wheat are harvested by hand.  By hand.  I’m going to be repeating that a lot, I expect.  I don’t think we have a real appreciation for how much work goes into our plates any more so let me say it again.  Look at the size of those fields.  By hand.  In the heat or the cold.  By hand.

I look huge in these photos, I’m just noticing.  Three coats will do that I suppose.  Just bring a thin jacket, they said.  It’s India, you’ll be warm they said.  Yeah… they be crazy.

When we were finished wandering through the fields we went back to Bhuaji’s house to… no power.  The power goes out here a lot.  At least once a day, for several hours at a time.  No one blinks an eye… or relies on electricity to cook with.  Nope.  Electricity is for lights people.  For lights only.

The ladies were busy making two different kinds of sweet.  Not sure what to call it.  It’s made from wheat, sugar, ghee, lots of other ingredients that came with no labels (imagine no labels on a farm, duh).  When they were done with that though, we gathered round the cooking stove for some chai, some heat and the most delicious vegetable rice I’ve ever had.  So good.  Simple, cauliflower, some peas, some carrot bits and the rice.  Yummy!

The stove was fuelled by cow patties (well, buffalo patties technically).  No smell!  Yay!  Or maybe my sense of smell had been frozen… either way I cozied on right up to that stove and warmed up, enjoying the company of good people!

After a few hours of pleasant conversation (not in English) and good eating, we were getting ready to say goodbye when an older man came in and said (in perfect English) “I’ve just come from work.  How are you?”  Dude!  Where were you all day!  Me and my 50 words of Panjabi could have used you earlier on!  lol

While we didn’t stick around to speak with the elder man, I did have a very clear conversation with a buffalo.  Well, I understood her clearly enough…

The buffalo in the pictures is Bhuaji’s milk buffalo.  Not part of the herd that gives milk for selling.  My friend Anoop stood next to her for a while having a phone conversation … no incidents.  Then he suggested that I stand next to her while he takes some pics… incident.

Me:  “Hello buffalo.  I’m not going to do anything to hurt you.  Just going to stand here while my friend takes some pics, okay?”

Buffalo:  “What the frack?  Where did you come from, puny human?!?!?”

Me:  “Shhh.  It’s okay.  Just going to stand here.  Not touching you.  Good buffalo.”

Buffalo:  “Talk to me like that some more, puny human.  Let me show you my displeasure.”

Me:  “Are you?  What?  Are you peeing?”

Buffalo:  “Your powers of observation are astute, puny human.”

Me:  “Why are you peeing buffalo?  How you gonna pee on a friend?”

Anoop:  “BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA”

Buffalo:  “I’ve peed 6 litres so far and I have another 10 in me, human.  Step off”

Me:  “Okay, we’re done.  Did she get any on me?”

Anoop:  “BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA”

I walk away (thankfully dry).

Buffalo:  “Buffalo 1.  Puny Human 0.”

 Thanks Buffalo.  Way to end my trip to the farm.  Nice how do you do!

Okay. so on the tailor.  The tailor.  I like the tailor, he’s a Gursikh, like me.  He has a shop that is smaller than my first apartment which means really, really, really small.  Like 8 x 8 small.  He has a long beard and a welcoming, grandfatherish smile.  He speaks a little English (a very little) and I speak only a little more Punjabi.  Good so far.

I’ve been wearing Punjabi suits since I’ve been here, like the local ladies, although sometimes I wear them with jeans.  They are also known as salwar kameez or churidar kameez.  Salwar are loose pajama type pants and churidar are tighter around the calf with folds that go down to the ankle.  I prefer my pants to be more like the men’s kurta style pajama pant rather than the churidar or the salwar.  I also prefer my kameez to be the Kashmiri style rather than the Punjabi style.  It’s a little longer and more of a shaped skirt near the bottom.  Rather than buying these off the rack (nothing would fit me), I go to the market, buy the suit material and then I have the tailor stitch them for a very reasonable fee.

The first time, he had to take my measurements.  He took very loose measurements of my waist, chest, arms, length for the Kashmiri style and for the Punjabi styles, hip line to ankle, etc.  Very loose.  Like he barely touched me with the measuring tape.  I thought “How is he going to make something that fits from those measurements?”  How??  He’s a magician, that’s how!  Everything fits perfectly well!  Master engineer of textiles that one!

Also on my first visit, I had two suits made, from suit material that the host unit and little sister gifted me.  I ask for salwar kameez which is the looser pant.  I had a translator with me of sorts.  And that’s where it all went awry.  I got the suits back and the kameez (tunic) part were beautiful!  He made unique neck lines and the tunics fit over me properly – loose but not mumu loose, and so comfortable!  The salwar though… he made them in a style (translated by little sister) called Patiala salwar.  Huge, complicated, with way too many folds.  They were too heavy, uncomfortable, awkward and downright ugly for me, thanks.  Wearing them felt like wearing a blanket or three pairs of pants.  I thought things just got lost in translation and since there was SO much material, maybe he can just take out half of the folds and pleats and make something simpler… so I asked.  Big mistake.  Big, big mistake.

He was offended that I didn’t like his work.  They fit, they look beautiful.  What is wrong with you, you crazy foreign woman?  These are what was asked for.  I know, I know but these weren’t what I wanted.  Language issues you know… I will pay you to fix them since it also was not your fault.  But please, fix them.  This is what I want – sort of this Patiala thing… loose like.  But more like a simple form of it… way less folds and creases.  More like the kurta pajamas that the men, and plenty of the women wear around here.  “Bring me a sample”, he says.  “Everyone wears this”, says little sister.  It turned into a round of me explaining what I want and them telling me that this is what the women around here like to wear.  At no time did we even come close to discussing the same issue.  What I want v. what local women like.

Since I would have to get more suits made, I was getting a little worried that they would all end up being in this style that I just wouldn’t wear because they are way too awkward and uncomfortable for me.  Going to the gurdwaras to offer prayer in jeans wasn’t going to cut it for me either…

I was finally saved because I was ripped off on the third salwar, which I was having made for a wedding.  The shop gave me a full metre less material than I asked for.  Which meant the tailor did not have enough material to make a Patiala salwar from them.  Since I needed the salwar for a wedding, he made the pants with much fewer folds and creases.  He apologized profusely and told me they were not going to be as beautiful as the first salwar.  Oh man.  What was I in for… in my head I was preparing to go to Hall Bazaar and try to find something off the rack… wait a minute… dude!  This is exactly what I’ve been talking about.  Fewer folds, less complicated, not so many creases.  Not awkward and weird.  Bingo!!!

He looked at me with a look that said “why has this crazy human walked into my shop?  Why?”  I ignored the look and danced a little.  Offence gone.  Frustration gone.  Suits made… well sort of.  He still wouldn’t (or couldn’t) fix the other two so those are sitting on the shelf as we speak – not being worn.  Those kameez I wear with jeans to places other than the gurdwaras.  Fine, I can live with that.

He and I now have an understanding.  I don’t rely on the translator but instead show him what I want.  He doesn’t make any more Patiala salwar for me.  We use a lot of hand gestures and every once in a while he laughs, actually laughs.

I’ve been giving the Patiala salwar a hard time in this post.  It’s a popular style here that is very fancy and complicated looking.  I won’t call it beautiful, as the ladies here do because it’s not my aesthetic.  Not my thing at all.  It looks fine on very slim women, for sure, but on most it looks like someone wrapped two blankets around their legs and let the blankets droop to the ankle.  Sorry but there it is.

The tailor (no one ever gives or asks for a name here so “Tailor” he is) also charges me local rates.  There’s no ridiculous mark up because I’m pale like many other things around here.  He does things on Indian time and I generally don’t mind that.    

Sorry this post is so short.  Next time – the whirlwind trip to Anandpur Sahib and back.  And we’ll talk about the Clash of Cultures.

Till then all,  Peace and love,
Himmatpreet

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