Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mrs Inspector Amar Nath

When Yossarian, who had not been heard from for years, learnt that yours truly was getting married, he wrote in to offer congratulations. "I presume an arranged marriage with a Sikh girl, are you getting a dowry?" he asked in his usual charming manner.

Yossarian always had a certain world view, one in which Bengalis solely ate fish, where a girl who smiled at you wanted your affections, where the Inspector Amar Naths of the world got arranged marriages with Sikh girls and rediscovered their religion. And in which Punjab's only culture of course was agriculture.

Anyhow, who am I to argue about the validity of one man's veltenschaung over another's? Thus I wrote back:

Thank you Yossarian, yes an arranged marriage, with a good Gursikh family - farmers. They are from a village near Bhatinda, and as she is an only daughter, I am going to get 10 acres of land and 51 cows in my dowry. Don't get me wrong, they are not unsophisticated villagers, they are quite prosperous - it's just they are into agriculture. Also they are naming a tractor after me. A bit religious too. I had to promise on our holy book I would never smoke again, so Akbar old mate, no more Sheesha for you and me. You would be suprised how much alcohol people from villages drink. One grandfather is a priest at the village gurudwara, so lot of pressure on me to become more religious. The other grandfather was an Army colonel, with a very Anglo-Jat moustache pointing upwards and all.

Fought in 1971 war by the way Anthony - he was really excited that I too was going to Dhaka! Apparently he was the legendary Shahbeg Singh's underling - when they were training the Mukti Bahini. He cut his beard and moustache and put on a lungi and stank of fish as part of his disguise. This was all told to me over a Scotch whisky.
Actually, the whole village has a very interesting history. Bhatinda is in the south of our Punjab, a region known as the Malwa. The more fertile and better irrigated fields are North and West (especially in what is now Pakistani Punjab). So 60 years ago, this area was barren and largely uninhabited. When Hindu and Sikh refugees came across at the time of partition, there was not enough (and similar quality) land to give them to compensate for what they had left behind, so many of the refugees had to make do with land in Malwa. This includes my wife's family.
One thing the administrators tried to do was ensure communities were settled together where possible. So this village consists entirely of Sikh and Hindu refugees who came over together from their home in Pakistan. In fact, they have named their new village after their old home in Pakistan - the village's name is Naya Toba Tek Singh.