Caste: November 17th

Nanowrimo word count 2291 running total 26,215

The caste system seems to have been begun in India by invaders from South Europe and South Asia around 1500BC. It meant that families passed their work skills down through the generations.
To help eradicate the system, the government of India has collected records and divided the population into ‘Forward’ castes, (29% of the population who are on average ahead of other Indians in education, political representation and being employed by the government) and ‘Other Backward Castes’. These percentages are scrutinised and changed as India makes progress. People in the OBC category are given quotas in education, jobs and politics.
Which is why the brahmin employee of the Water Board who came to fit a meter in my mother’s new house, told me in 2017 that all the doctors are now low-caste and his children (high-caste) have no jobs. ‘The tables have been turned,’ he said. He didn’t like the government.
The doctor who rents a shop from me in my village is from a low-caste family. People in the area around my house have no problem with that. At one time they might have expected him to be cleaning the open drains. His daughter is a steward on Indigo Airlines. When I return and ask after his children, he always says, ‘Aunty, with your help we are all doing well.’ His son is studying medicine. I haven’t raised his rent for ten years. £9.00 a month.
My family is ‘carpenters and iron-workers (tarkhan and lohar)’ so, we are considered a backward caste. Other castes that I came across in 1964/65 were nai (barbers and go-betweens for marriages), jheer (houseworkers), sheembay (tailors), chooray (street and toilet cleaners), chamaar (took away dead cows – leather. They are a little above the street cleaners who are the lowest), ghamaar (potters), marrassi (wedding singers) and brahmin and rorhay (higher castes, Sanskrit readers, govt workers, shopkeepers).

Language: November 16th

Nanowrimo word count 594 running total 23924

She is a vulnerable person because of her age and the fact that she lives alone, so I have been visiting my mother once a week. I think I am allowed although we are in a tier 3 area in Scotland. The last time I was with her I asked in Punjabi, ‘Tusi naha liya?’ She looked at me, quizzically. It is difficult as she wears a hearing aid, but still does not always make out my speech. Then switching to the English word for bathing, I said, ‘Tusi shower lai liya?’ Her face lit up with understanding (shower), and she said, ‘Yes!’ Today the same thing happened.
English words are dotted around in her vocabulary. She doesn’t hear the Punjabi equivalents. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is because of how my younger brothers speak to her and how she responds to them as she thinks she’s helping them.
I began speaking English when most people around me spoke either English or Punjabi (not a mixture), so I keep my languages separate. I’ve been told my spoken Punjabi is perfect as if there is an expectation, from my westernised look, that it won’t be. I was talking to a bi-lingual friend who thinks this happens in other families as well. In India, it’s the same. English has become an addition to Hindi and whichever local language has been learned by the speaker. I understand that the French are possessive of their language and want to keep English words out, but it must be more difficult as so many internet and social media terminology is in English.

Note to self, I must not be annoyed when my mother does not understand my Punjabi. She’s a modern mother in her ninth decade.

Karva Chauth: Another November Festival

November 15th word count 2491 running total 23330

Another festival which I was part of in 1964 is called Karva Chauth. Wives fast for a day, at the same time, wishing for the well-being of their partners. Women prepare special meals for the end of the day, wear new clothes, visit the temple and gather to relate folk tales.

On 1st November that year I was officially betrothed and, a week later, my mother said I should take part in the fast. I had not fasted before, did not drink enough water that day and became very weak. Added to this my mother chose this day to clean out the storeroom that my grandmother had used to store fuel which was dried cow-dung. My grandmother would bring the patties from the shareholding, carry them in a shallow wicker basket on her head, and dump them in the back room. It hadn’t been cleaned out for years and was full of tiny remnants which had been further broken down by dung beetles.

On Karva Chauth 1964, my mother sat at the edge of that room, filling a large shallow metal bowl with the accumulation of years of broken rubble in which the dung beetles had lived and raised their families. I hated beetles, they were huge, black and too quick, seeming to blindly come in my direction every time I saw one. Each bowl would be squirming with these, I could see them before my mother lifted the bowl on to my head and shooed me off. My route was through our living room, past the kitchen under the stairs, into the verandah, out the front door into the lane where everyone sitting enjoying the winter sun could see me, then into the empty space beside the wall of our house where I dumped the bowl of cow-dung into the corner. And returned for the next one.

When the room was cleared, my mother insisted we wait to see the moon before I could eat anything. The ritual is that you look at the moon through a large sieve. My mother gave me a steel tray and I stared at the reflection of the moon and I was supposed to see a vision of my betrothed (a man I had not met) in it. That was my one and only experience of the Karva Chauth fast. It was one of the worst days of those twenty-two months in India. When my betrothed became my husband he had no time for that festival. He said, ‘You don’t have to starve for a day to keep me healthy. What nonsense.’ There we are, one person’s esteemed festival is another’s nonsense

Diwali: November 14th

Nanowrimo word count 1067 running total 20839

We didn’t celebrate Diwali when I was young. The first time that I saw people celebrating it was in 1964. It was double-edged, there was the happy, lighting up the dark, side and the scary side. There was a boy whose leg, behind his knee, had been burned by Diwali fireworks and not healed, leaving him walking with a limp. Young people might throw a firework towards someone in malice. I knew a girl whose one plait was cut off in the crowds. It would be used to perform black magic. The hair of a virgin, I suppose.
Placing candles in your windows will light the path of the Goddess Lakshmi, and she will bring you wealth over the next year. Some like to gamble on this night, and if you win you will have good luck all year.
The 6th Guru of the Sikhs was released from prison in Delhi. He had been incarcerated for speaking out against the Muslim government. This is the reason Sikhs celebrate Diwali, but it’s more of a community celebration rather than specifically religious, like Christmas. The inner sanctum of the Golden Temple will be draped in lights. Hindus celebrate the return of Ram from fourteen years of exile. People enjoy the fun of lighting fireworks, eating sweet food and receiving gifts. These used to be clothes. Fine new clothes for Diwali.
I will light candles and use some of my Christmas fairy lights to brighten up my home. We do need some sparkle in this time of Coronavirus when we can’t visit each other.

Friday 13th November

Nanowrimo word count 1204 running total 19,772

The national football team have won a great match against Serbia. I was a coward and went to bed when the game extended into extra time. With the Real Madrid player coming on to the pitch I thought they wouldn’t win and couldn’t watch them lose. What a surprise this morning to see them jumping up and down after playing 120 minutes of tense football. Wonderfully, well done, Scotland!
Strictly Come Dancing is the highlight of our regular winter viewing. Anton du Beke, who, in our household, creates an argument about whether he is a good dancer or not has been promoted to judge status. I think he will be a breath of fresh air, although Motsi was bright and sparkly.
It’s Friday 13th which has a history of horror movies connected to it as well as having religious connotations for Christians (The Last Supper). A baker’s dozen is 13, and the number has special significance in Sikhism. The founder, Guru Nanak, was the son of a grocer and when his father left him in charge of selling the goods, he gave everyone thirteen instead of twelve weights of flour. It’s not unlucky at all.