It's late morning in Winter, the sun is shining warmly over the cool air in the countryside of Punjab. We are all seated on hand woven lounge chairs in the front courtyard of my mother in laws home, sipping on cha or more commonly known as tea. There are only women present, and they are laughing heartily amongst one another whilst talking vigorously. Some of the women are shelling peas or cutting vegetables in preparation for tonight's dinner.
They have all finished their household chores for the morning and are now enjoying each other's company. Meanwhile I am sat firmly in place as the neighbour's down the road have come to visit me. So I must sit in their company although we don't personally converse given the language barrier. It would seem this is the most common past time for local women in rural Punjab, other than weddings.
Traditionally women were raised to be mothers and home keepers. At a young age girls will help their mothers cook and prepare meals along with cleaning the house. Whilst the men go out to work. Breakfast and dinner consists of roti which is an Indian flat bread, most commonly served with a vegetable curry known as sabji. The sikh religion do not consume meat or eggs as they do not believe in taking another's life, hence why you will most likely find lentils or pea and potato curry on the menu.
Whilst the women are socialising, they tend to prepare all the vegetables for that nights dinner. Vegetables are also in abundance being the agricultural state of India and affordable at only a few rupees per kilo. However for some locals this can be all that they can afford to feed their family, which is another reason why sabji is so popular. They can easily walk to the local market stall to buy ingredients fresh each day or for those who live on a farm they simply pick their own fresh crops daily.
In Punjab you will even find that elderly women will continue to help their daughter or daughter in law with keeping the home. It is not uncommon to find that many elderly women can live to ninety years of age and beyond. I actually had the pleasure of meeting a relative who made it to 110 and was still going strong. She said that the secret to longevity was living a simple life and enjoying the small pleasures.
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The arranged marriage is still very much prevalent in today's society and is still expected of many daughters. Traditionally women considered to be of lower status (caste) are encouraged to marry into wealthier family's. Meanwhile for those of a higher status it is generally frowned upon to marry down.
It is the parent's role to seek out a suitable partner for their child, which usually involves the entire family throughout the process. Once a potential partner is found, they then organise a meeting with the family. Should both families be able come to a mutual arrangement the couple will then meet. Nowadays the couple will also have a say, so should the couple be happy then wedding plans will proceed. Traditionally the couple had no say in who they married and only met for the first time on their wedding day.
You will not find women walking the streets of their neighbourhood during the day unless they are going to the temple or to the markets. Even so they would usually go to the temple in the early morning when there are few people around. They also never walk alone and will always go to temple or market with an entourage. Consequently you will not find a woman slipping into their gym tights and sneakers to go for a midday run as I would. Most women stitch or sew as a hobby to help pass time, rather than going for a jog.
So you could imagine the astonishment when I decided I couldn't stay inside the house any longer and had to go for a jog during the day. Needless to say I was not allowed out on my own and had to bring an entourage. Whether that be a relative or a neighbour, it didn't matter as long as there were safety in numbers. Jogging through the neighbourhood streets with my entourage, would attract all the neighbours to come out their house just to look on in either amusement or disbelief.
The traditional attire worn by women is a salwar kameez, also known locally as the Punjabi Suit, which consists of salwar pants, kameez and a dupatta. There are different variations of traditional attire but this is what women wear daily whether they are going to the market or doing the laundry. The salwar pants are tremendously loose in style, almost like a tent tied tightly around your waist. A dupatta is worn around the neck out of modesty, though sometimes is worn over the head depending on circumstances. I was always expected to have my dupatta draped around my neck when we had male company.
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You will not find many women wearing western clothing unless they now live abroad and have embraced the western culture, or live in major cities which are much more westernised. For a man it is acceptable to wear western attire and is actually less common to find the younger generation wearing traditional attire. Traditional attire for weddings and special occasions are exceptionally beautiful and extravagantly made, with brightly coloured fabrics, detailed embroidery, and ornate embellishments.
As part of the Sikh Religion women are not permitted to drink alcohol, thus you will notice at any Punjabi Wedding or special occasion men and women are seated in separate areas. The most common beverage you will find a woman drinking is 'cha'. Should guests arrive at your home, a pot of cha is generally always served. It is almost consumed as if it were water, that's how popular cha is. You generally won't find women sipping their cha, but rather downing it in one sitting.
It is quite entertaining for me when I am asked on many the occasion throughout the day if I would like some cha. Tea here is made from the stem of the tea plant rather than the leaf so it is much stronger than that of the western culture. Women drink it as a substitute for coffee with its high caffeine content. Although I find it very relaxing and induces sleep within half an hour of consumption so I stick to instant coffee.
Whilst some might say the life for a woman in Punjab is relatively relaxed, there also is not much opportunity should she choose to be career focused. However society's traditional attitude towards the woman's role in the household is changing slowly with the younger generation. Although this still depends on your family demographics.
Do you know any hardworking Punjabi Women?