1. Foot Touching :
In many parts of India it is a sign of respect to elders to touch their feet. You greet the elder with your hands together and Say “ Sat Sri Akal” or whatever the greeting is for your religion, and you bend at the waist to touch their feet in a loving manner. Most people make it only to the knee before the elder pats them on the back and says “no need, no need”. I had never attempted to do this tradition while we were in the United States, but I had seen my husband do it many times. When we went to India I was going to be meeting all different relatives and I was told I needed to touch feet as a sign of respect, and not doing so could make me look stuck up. There was a big discussion about who I was supposed to touch the feet of and who not, I was very lost and confused. There were some special people I was supposed to cover my head for and also touch their feet, but there was disagreement between my husband, mother-in-law, and sister- in-laws as to who was important and not. They were still disagreeing when the guests came! So not to disrespect anyone I pretty much touched most people’s feet and was laughed at by everyone because I didn’t do it right. I felt quite embarrassed and I glowed red! I pretty much hid in the kitchen at that point, volunteering to make food and such. I still get embarrassed when I think about this story; I am currently glowing red right now! Moral of the story I don’t really do the touch feet tradition anymore unless its someone a lot older and I see my husband do it first.
2. How to cook Punjabi food:
One of the biggest things I learned from marrying my husband was how to cook Punjabi food. Food is really important to my husband, as it is for most men actually. I personally could eat anything really and be content. When I was single there had been many a dinner of cereal and milk or a cold sandwich. This is NOT the case with my husband and most Punjabis I have met. Food is paramount in the family. It must be hot, fresh, and homemade. In my husband’s family going out to eat is considered bad. It’s not even about the money spent. Home food is considered sacred in some ways, eating out is not even in the same realm as home food. I personally love eating out occasionally. I love getting new ideas and being inspired to make new foods. I am a foodie. I love to cook and bake and make sweets and try all kinds of different ethnic foods. When my husband and I first started dating we used to cook together and he taught me how to cook many Punjabi dishes. I learned the rest from my mother-in-law and from the internet. Since marriage my husband has “forgotten” how to cook. I took me a lot of time to master the art of making round roti that puffs up when you cook it. For the whole first year of our marriage I failed miserably at making Roti! I would actually get frustrated and cry. When I went to India my wonderful mother-in-law finally taught me the art of roti making, and since then I am now a Roti Master!
My husband does not like food that is bland or does not have a sauce. Everything must be super seasoned and have chilies in it. My 3 year old daughter is the same way. Even as a baby she hated plain baby food. She loved subjis ( curries) and paranthas (stuffed whole wheat savory pan cooked flat bread). I love Punjabi food, but I also love things like mash potatoes and basic baked chicken. He won’t eat this without a base made of onions, tomatoes, chilies and spices. We make a combination of food in our house, about 60% Indian and 40% everything else. I have introduced him to a lot of foods, and he likes them as long as they are very flavorful! Here is out menu for this week.
Monday: Chana masala ( chick peas) and rice
Tuesday: Filled pasta with pesto sauce and garlic bread
Wednesday: Aloo (potatoes) masala with Puri ( fried flat bread)
Thursday: Rongi ( black-eyed peas) and roti
Friday: Homemade pizza with Capsicum, chilies, mushrooms and olives
Saturday: Vegetable Biryani (rice dish)
Sunday: Yellow Daal and rice
3. Speaking Punjabi :
Learning Punjabi is an on going process. Punjabi is a language similar to Hindi and very challenging to me. I speak decent Spanish but Punjabi was nothing like anything I had ever learned before. My Mother–in-law does not speak very much English and she will be moving in with is soon so I really need to learn as much as possible before she comes. My husband is a terrible teacher. He gets frustrated when I don’t pronounce things well. Its just not good to mix teaching and marriage. I have learned to comprehend a lot of Punjabi . I have had to learn or get left out of the conversation. I am working hard on learning to speak it as well. I started a great audio program through pimsleur and it has helped me with accent and retention. I started the program and learned secretly and then surprised my husband with a few good phrases and was shocked and happy, and said the accent was great. Here is a free lesson for all those that want to learn. http://www.pimsleur.com/Learn-Punjabi . I listen to the program with my daughter because she also needs to use Punjabi more. My husband speaks Punjabi to her and she understands it all and follows commands and such but avoids responding in Punjabi. We have to force her to use Punjabi. For example she has to ask for things in Punjabi, like Dudh dedo ji ( give me milk please) and such.
4. Wearing Punjabi Clothes:
This is one of my favorite things I have had to learn. Punjabis love to wear traditional clothes. Many women prefer Punjabi Suits over jeans and western clothes. I honestly prefer suits too. They are so colorful and shiny and pretty and so comfortable. It’s wonderful because in India suits are tailored to your size exactly. So for a curvy girl like me it’s great to have things made to my size and shape. A suit is a long pretty tunic, with a either straight pants or Patiala style, which remind me of the Aladdin look. The only that is hard for me to wear is the chunni. A chunni is a long scarf that is worn over the shoulders, and in a Gurdwara it is worn over the head. I have sloped shoulders so my chunni falls and gets really irritating after some time. Whenever I see Punjabi Women I am always jealous of their ability to wear their chunnis so beautifully while mine looks all messy. My daughter at three is better at wearing a chunni then her Gorri mommmy.
5. Unexpected Guests and Indian Hospitality:
I love this tradition of guests coming over unannounced and the process for entertaining them. In India it is totally acceptable and common for people to just drop in. There are many people who hate unexpected guest but I love it. Yeah your house has to stay clean, and you need to be dressed, and have some snacks on hand. I love it though. Neighbors in india all talk to each other and come over all the time. I never talk to my neighbors here in the USA , so I loved it in India! I feel like the USA is so formal and as a result people don’t socialize as much. I don’t see my friends as much as I want to. I also really want to know my neighbors better, but everyone keeps to themselves. This is not the case in India. When I was in India people just came by and it was awesome! We also went and visited people anytime and it was awesome! In my husband’s house when someone comes and visits first your bring them water or soda, depending on the time of day you can bring out a salty snack, or fruit, or chai and cookies or cake. I just find the whole process to be so fun. In Punjabi culture a guest in your home a huge honor. I always loved visiting people in India and tasting all the different ways that people make chai. Going to people’s house is like an event and I loved it.!
6. Indian Sense of Privacy and Evil Eye:
I swear that my husband acts like everything above a whisper is a shout to the whole neighborhood! When we are out at a store I constantly hear shhhhhhh from my husband. He always says “why do you have to talk so loud”, or “do you have to tell the whole neighborhood?”. He also has an issue with me sharing pictures and posts on facebook and other social networking sites, saying “cant this just be private, why share?!”. Then there is the complicated issue of evil eye. Evil eye is when a person might be jealous or may wish bad things on you. As a result my husband does not like to share any of our plans for our lives for fear of the “evil eye”. When Nasreen was born he used to tie a black string on her wrist and put a black mark on her face with eye liner. I thought it was weird but I like his logic behind the mark. He says that when people looked at her face they see the mark and they start to wonder what’s the mark about, and look at the shape of it, and think so much about the mark and don’t think negative thoughts to cause her harm. I don’t believe in evil eye , but its harmless so I don’t mind it. We both make compromises. As you can see from the blog, I still share about my life on a public forum.
Here is also a list of things that I will not learn!
1. I will not allow people to comment on my daughter’s complexion or coloring:
In India there is an obsession with being light skinned. Skin bleaching is really common and many (not all) parents are very concerned about their children having light skin. I have seen many women and girls obsess about the color and “darkness “ of their skin and be upset and depressed about it. When Nasreen was born with brown skin I got comments in the Indian community that it was too bad that she did not get my light skin. I was told that I should keep her out of the sun. I do not allow these comments. My daughter will love her body and her skin exactly how it is and I will not allow such comments to occur around her!
2. I am openly proud about having a daughter:
In many families in Punjab and India in general there is a serious issue with desiring boys over girls. Girls are seen as a waste. Girls join their husband’s family when they marry so any investment in them is theoretically lost. While a son will stay with the family and support the parents when they stop working. Girls also cost a lot of money because the girls family is responsible for the wedding cost and in some cases dowry. There is also the fear that a girl could bring shame to the family. There were some in the Indian community, no one from my in-laws though, when they learned that we were pregnant with a girl they expressed their condolences. they said that they prayed I would have a boy next. I hate the preference for boys. I love having a daughter; she is a blessing to our family.