On my first trip to India, Hubby and I traveled to Punjab, a small state in northern India where his mother and father grew up and where the majority of Hubby’s family still lives in a small rural village in the district of Ropar. Ropar is a farming community and during my time there I got to tour the family farm which included eight buffaloes (used mainly for their milk), endless green fields of winter vegetables and more colorful peacocks than I had ever seen in my life.
The village itself had one main unpaved road and all the homes were connected to each other by the rooftops where children constantly ran from house to house above you.
Being in Ropar felt as though I had traveled back in time to another century and in a very pleasant way. There were two family houses separated from each other by the main village road. One house had three huge bedrooms, an indoor kitchen used during the day time and an outdoor kitchen used at night when there was a cool breeze and everyone was gathered under the stars.
This house had a large open courtyard where everyone spent most of their time standing around or gathered on cots when they weren’t working in the fields or around the house. The house across the road had four bedrooms and everything else was the same; an indoor kitchen, an outdoor kitchen and a large open courtyard. Behind this house was a wide open space for the buffaloes. After the hustle and bustle of Bombay, Ropar was a stark contrast, where the days passed slowly as there were no distractions.
The family had a television in the living room which was a large open area outside the three bedrooms. It didn’t have as many channels as in Bombay, so most of the day and evening was spent chatting with the family members, joking around and taking turns entertaining each other. I spent most of the time watching everyone talk as I couldn’t keep up with the rapid-fire Punjabi in thick rural accents. Hubby did try to translate but eventually the conversations picked up so much speed, stopping to clue me in became impossible.
Our time in Ropar was filled with meeting the whole of Hubby’s family and I was thrilled to finally meet Nani-ji, Hubby’s grandmother on his mother’s side. Nani-ji is known as the heart-beat of the family but most importantly, she is said to be the source of the family’s propensity for quick wit and for playing tricks on friends, family, loved ones and well, pretty much anybody.
Anyone who knows Hubby sees he takes on this family legacy with great resolve. In Hubby’s family there’s a talent passed from generation to generation of an unparalleled sense of humor. One minute you find yourself laughing with the family, pulling someone’s legs and the next minute you are the victim and everyone’s laughing at you. They also have a talent for entertaining each other. As there are little other distractions everyone sits around in the courtyard telling jokes. Just like Hubby and even Hubby’s mother, his grandmother also has a talent for impersonations and kept everyone in stitches the whole time we were visiting.
At first glance Hubby’s family appeared very serious looking to me, with sun parched skin and thick strong builds from years of farming and hard manual work. The men have long beards and wear turbans and the women always keep their heads covered. Within minutes however, laughter filled the air, hugs were given all around and great Punjabi food was served.
For our welcoming meal we were served Indian style scrambled eggs with palak paneer, daal and chapatis. Eggs are considered somewhat of a specialty dish because there were no chickens on the farm and as most of the food is homegrown, making eggs involved a trip to the village store. Though Indian scrambled eggs are a daily breakfast for Hubby and me, Hubby shared with me how it was a special dish for them whenever they visited Punjab every couple of years.
When we arrived at my Nani’s place after a 28 hour train ride, they would ask us “since you don’t eat meat, would you like us to make you eggs?” and eggs were a big deal over there! In rural Punjab eggs are not part of the daily diet.
So we used to have to go to the store to buy the eggs but there was only one road to the store that wrapped all the way around village. But if we took the rooftops, we could get to the store in only twenty or thirty steps. So we’d have fun running across all the rooftops, knocking on the door on the roof, going down the stairs into the shop and getting the eggs. Then my aunt would make us scrambled eggs. It was a special meal.
The next morning Hubby took me on a tour of his farm and the rest of the village. The fields were full of green winter wheat, eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, chilies and turnips. I saw my first buffalo – a group of them parked right around the back of the house and everywhere I looked there were colorful peacocks, something I had ever only seen in the zoo growing up. I must have seen ten or fifteen peacocks that first morning.
We meandered on the village’s one road till we reached Hubby’s cousin’s house near the outskirts of town and had the customary cup of chai while we visited. As we circled back around the village towards the house I started to notice a growing group of onlookers – children watching us while following along on rooftops and neighbors peeking out of windows or doors. By the time we had arrived back at the house it seemed as though the majority of the village had gathered on the street to stare.
Leaning over to Hubby I asked “why is everyone staring at us?”
“They’re not staring at us, they’re staring at you.” Hubby answered. “You’re the first white person to visit the village”.
To find Punjab and Ropar on a map of India, check out this post.