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Tuesday, Oct 26, 2021
Outlook.com

Joy, And The River Of Sorrow

Rural Punjab retains its spirit and inventiveness; the Sutlej is another story

Joy, And The River Of Sorrow
Illustration by Sorit
Joy, And The River Of Sorrow
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

At the end of May, I undertook a joyride in the districts of Amritsar, Ferozepur, Muktsar, Faridkot and Tarn Taran, on both sides of the Sutlej. It was a chance to see and learn—a rare thing these days. The hot, dry summer had set in; the wheat had been harvested, the straw was being piled into big heaps and plastered over with mud—a makeshift igloo. Cattlefeed for the year. There was a vibrancy—as only in Punjab—even in the mid-day sun. It also happened to be a Sunday. We drove through Tarn Taran, past my village, and on to Harike, the great Bhakra barrage, at the confluence of the Beas and the Sutlej. This drive through the heart of Punjab had been some time coming and I was hungry for visual satiation. My companions, Tarn Taran-Goindwal farmers, added spice.

I found clutches of happy Sikhs by the roadside, eager to offer sustenance to passersby. A roadside shamiana had something cooking and young men were hailing down and urging people to partake. I asked, “Is it a special Guru purab?”—the Sikh calendar affords plenty of opportunity to celebrate all year around. “No,” they said, “this happens every Sunday.” Why? It’s a tradition in Tarn Taran. Villagers, feeling generous after the harvest, cook a meal for people by the roadside. Those who are fed are welcome to leave a contribution if they should so feel, but no one is explicitly asked.

In the small towns, I found the roads dotted with ‘marriage palaces’ with romantic-sounding names from the UK—a hangover of the Raj—just as the building industry around Delhi does: Marble Arch, Kensington, Oxford and God knows what else. Among Punjabi names, the favourites are ‘Eat Well’, ‘Naatch Le Palaces’. We do both with ...

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