Sunday, December 18, 2005


the past 3 days we've been in sukharan, my maternal ancestral village, staying with gurpreet paji (my cousin) and my mamiji (mother's brother's wife). it's been a blast and it appears nayan's intestinal friend is on its way out. sukharan is a small pind, about 70 houses surrounded by flat and fruitful farmland. we've spent a good part of the day chatting with all of our village elders about our family and the village history.

sukharan was started about 150 years ago by my grandfather's grandfather's grandfather himat singh. himat singh's father, fauja singh, lived in a yellow house in rotinda. i doubt the house was yellow some 200 years ago, or had a soccer ball water tank on the roof as it does now (we drove by the other day). anyway, fauja singh is the last of our lineage that my cousin sukhi can remember off the top of his head. without blinking, sukhi informs me of over 150 years worth of family lineage. he tells me that my grandfather gurbachan singh, had 2 brothers, one shiv singh, who's grandson is gurpreet. the other brother, banta singh, had one son charanjit singh, who's wedding pictures, all black and white, show photos of me, a spitting image of nayan at 5 years of age. his son is sukhi.

sukhi lives in another yellow house that himat singh first built when maharaja ranjit singh gifted him 500 acres of land for being a 'brave and fearless' brigadier general in the raja's army. for those who don't know, maharaja ranjit singh was the first and only sikh king to conquer all of the punjab, modern day punjab, haryana, himachal, much of kashmir, pakistani punjab, and lands into afghanistan. his reign rendered one of the few moments of calm in an otherwise violent punjab history, as much of the conquering was done via clever negotiation. after many more mukhi de rotis, our complete line was revealed: i.e., himat singh was the son of fauja singh, and father of mehtab singh (a colonel in the rajas army), father of gopal singh, father of inder singh, who was the father of our 3 grandfathers.

while writing this, i'm realizing this all reads like the introduction to a shakespeare play. anyway, over dinner, one of my mamijis reveals that himat singh's masi's (mothers sister) daughter was maharani jind kaur, the 7th (and i'm told most beautiful) of 7 wives of the maharaja. so it seems, her parents, after discovering a babe of a daughter, saw an opportunity to expand the family fortune. they convinced the maharaja that 6 wives was not enough, and that he should check out their daughter. well i guess it all worked out, since himat singh was made a general, and our family prospered. another interesting tid bit, himat singh, on leaving the army, and taking land in lieu of a pension for his service, left his home in rotinda, and travelled about 2 kilometers to build a house on his new land. he brought with him his faithful servants. the servants, now politically correctly referred to as 'aatarmi', or the oppressed ones, it seems have far outbred the jats.

we jats form the warrior caste (and farmers, since warring used to be a part-time profession) within hinduism. none of this caste stuff should matter since caste-ism is officially banned in both the indian constitution, and the sikh faith, but alas, it certainly does. nearly all the punjabi jats became sikhs beginning around the 15th century. i'm informed that now only 5 out of the 70 houses in the village are "ours," though nearly all of the land is. as i roam the village, everyone knows who i am. its a serene pastoral place; no buzzing scooters, sputtering auto rikshas, black cloud bellowing trucks, or skanky red paan stains. the local police are annoyed that there's "no money to be made in sukharan." translation: everyone gets along, no drunken fights followed by law breaking, and the need to bribe the police to get off. it's also true that i'm related to everyone (jats) in the village. we drink chai, and eat barfi at each of our 5 houses, the members of which all fit somewhere in the lineage down from himat singh.

sukhi informs me that in rotinda, all the jats are gosals. they're often called 'billean', or the cats, beacause nearly all have green eyes (a rarity in brown eyed india). only 1 of the gosal lines in sukharan got the bille gene. i am eating with one of my more distant mami's (mother's brother's wife) and i nearly jump out of my seat. i suddenly recognize her eyes, from 30 years ago. she was then veiled in black wearing garlic over her mouth, and red chilli peppers around her neck, screaching through the village chasing us children (its an old wedding tradition in our village). i was terrified. my sister, cousins and i lied shaking under a bed for hours.

sukhi says the gosal line moved to rotinda about 450 years ago. he's going to rishikesh this summer, where our family pundit can track our lineage back many more hundreds of years.

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