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 neighbours 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 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 a flat bread, served with most commonly a vegetable curry. 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. They are also in abundance and super affordable at only a few rupees per kilo. They can easily walk to the local market stall to buy ingredients fresh. For those who live on a farm they can easily pick their own fresh crops.
Harvesting Crops For Dinner
In Punjab you will even find that elderly women will continue to help their daughter or daughter in law with keeping the home. Women can live well into their nineties and beyond. I actually had the pleasure of meeting a relative who made it to 110 and is still going strong. Her secret was having a simple life and enjoying the simple pleasures.
Women of lower status are encouraged to marry into wealthier family's. The arranged marriage is still very much prevalent in today's society. The family will seek out a suitable partner. They will organise a meeting with the family of the potential partner. Should both families come to an arrangement the couple will then meet, and a wedding is then planned. Traditionally the couple only met for the first time on their wedding day.
Elderly Woman On Handwoven Bed
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. Consequently you will not find a woman slipping into their nike lycra tights and sneakers to go for a midday run as I would. Most women stitch or sew as a hobby to help pass time. You could imagine the astonishment when I decided I couldn't stay inside the house any longer and had to go for a jog. Needless to say I was not allowed out on my own. I had to bring my entourage. As I jogged through the neighbourhood streets people would come out their house to look on from their front gates. Or would be peering down from their balcony. Most likely in disbelief and amusement.
The attire worn by women is the Punjabi Suit which consists of Salwar Pants 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 washing the clothes. The pants are tremendously large in style almost like a tent tied around your waist. Women are not permitted to show their legs so the Salwar Pant certainly hides them well. They also cannot show any cleavage or chest so a Dupatta is worn around the neck and sometimes over the head depending on circumstances. You will not find many women wearing western clothing unless they now live abroad and have embraced the western culture. Even so they usually will wear traditional clothing out of respect. Of course for the man they can wear western attire. Traditional attire for weddings and special occasions are exceptionally beautiful and extravagantly made. With brightly coloured fabrics, detailed stitching, ornate embellishments and beautifully embroidered designs.
Women cooking dinner in outdoor kitchen
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 only beverage you will find a woman drinking is 'cha'. Should guests arrive at your home a pot of cha is prepared to serve. It is consumed here almost as if it were water. They also do not sip their tea rather they wash it down as though it were a shot. Unlike western society where you would typically sip on your tea for morning or afternoon tea. 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 slightly changing with the younger generation. Although this still depends on your upbringing and family status along with where you reside. Particularly since the more rural you live the less open minded some people are.
Do you know any hardworking Punjabi Women?