Monday, July 13, 2020

My grandparents narrowly escaped India during the Indo-Pakistani partition of 1947. Their escape was so close that the Sikh mob going through their village was entering the front doors of their homes while they ran out the back with only the clothes they were wearing, however, it was also a Sikh family who helped my maternal grandparents hide within their homes to wait for the military vehicle that would safely take them across the border to Pakistan. Once they arrived in Pakistan, they began building their lives from nothing. 

    My maternal grandfather (Nana Jan) became a stationmaster with a humble income. They would be relocated every few years along Pakistan's railway until retirement. They were lucky enough to be provided a home and some house help at each of their locations. My grandmother (Nani Jan) cooked on wood and coal-fueled fire in the hot dusty heat. They received fresh milk every morning which needed to be boiled for use and water was provided from a well with a hand pump that required an effort to pump out enough water for the day's use. This water would be used for everything: cooking, washing dishes and clothes, drinking, and bathing. Giant blocks of ice would be delivered every morning as well for keeping food items cool for the day in lieu of a fridge. Wheat and red chilies would be washed and soaked in the summer heat through a multi-step process so that the wheat could be milled and chilies crushed in a large enough amount to be used for the rest of the year. They would also occasionally have a buffalo for milk and chickens provided fresh eggs. Butter churning and yogurt making were also done at home with a traditional wooden churn. My Nani Jan, aunts, and mother would all be required to help contribute to the daily and seasonal chores which, according to my mother, every day was quite a workout. Although they were provided with some house errand help, the cleaning and washing were done by hand by my Nani Jan and her daughters. All the women of the house also learned cloth dyeing, embroidery, sewing, knitting, and crocheting. Nana Jan's income did not provide enough to buy new clothes, sheets, and blankets every year so my Nani Jan who loved changing decor and colour schemes around once a season made sure they were able to do it at home. It wasn't until much later that my grandparents could afford a working girl at home as was common there. 

    There were a few modes of transportation available for the middle-class household. Short distances could be achieved by riding a bike or very modest form of horse-drawn carriages known as "tongas" while motorcycles and rickshaws were not as widespread and gained momentum later on. Trains were the most popular form of long-distance travel at the time.

    Oh, I forgot to talk about the toilets. The washrooms would be in the form of an outhouse located at a distance from the main house. Some homes did not have a shelter or roof covering the hole dug out for all excretion purposes and within the hole would be a pail that would fill over the course of the day. In the mornings, workers whose job it was to empty the pails, would come by with a basket balanced on their heads. They would empty the pail of the houses that paid them (a tenth of a rupee) and dumped the waste in a location just outside the small town or village. 

    Yes, there was a caste system in place. Actually, it still exists. The job of cleaning out the outhouses was reserved for the poorest in the area who were usually Christians. Because of their job and status, others would refuse to go near them, respect them, or let them eat from the same dishes they used because they were considered dirty and low class. To this day, it is difficult for someone of a poorer caste or status to receive the education and means to succeed in Pakistan. Caste also affects who you marry, where you work, and what your life is worth. 

    But I digress. My mother's family did not eat at restaurants or shop for new clothes seasonally. Everything was made or altered at home in the form of hand-me-downs. There are some traditional recipes of dishes and desserts passed on from my Nani Jan and the menu never detoured from those meals as long as she cooked. But this meant that they learned how to make ice cream at home as well, which I was so happy for. 

    By the time I was born, we had an outhouse with a squatting toilet and running water that pumped waste outside via shallow canals into a ditch in front of the house and flushed everything away (at least from the vicinity of the house). As you can see, there was still no form of communal city plumbing and waste removal, and the garbage was taken from the house and dumped in a communal garbage dump about one kilometer from our home. Yes, going to the washroom at night was a nightmare. You never knew whether you would be conversing with a flying cockroach, lizard, moth, a halo of mosquitos, or a frog that night.

Until next time,

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