A Peculiarly Punjabi Quarrel

By Manreet Sodhi Someshwar in The New York Times

The ruby red seeds of the pomegranate gleamed invitingly as I coaxed my 7-year-old daughter to eat the fruit. Loath to do any task without being regaled with an accompanying narrative, she asked me to retell the story of how as a child I would steal pomegranates from a neighbor’s garden and cause trouble. Despite several retellings, the story continues to exercise a hold on her, in part because it allows her a peek at the child now obfuscated by her mother’s adult facade.

The neighbor’s house was across from ours, separated by a narrow brick road into which branches of pomegranate trees spilled from the enclosed garden. In summer, after hours of sweaty play, there was pleasure in crumpling in the verdant shade, gossiping as we ate the plucked fruit. It never occurred to us that the pomegranate didn’t belong to us and that, technically, we were stealing.

Before long the matriarch of the neighbor’s house would open the gate, see us sucking the fruit that she had so religiously tended, and let out a howl. Then my mother would be summoned and shown the evidence and the women would proceed to quarrel. My mother would attempt to make amends but the matriarch would dig up old grievances, her voice getting more shrill with each new volley, drawing inquisitive women from other households. My mother, never one to let a jab go unanswered, would argue back, ensuring afternoon entertainment for all.

At some point the quarrel would run out of steam, and the matriarch would troop back inside, only to return with a reed stool that she would then lean upside down against her front door. It was a symbol that the quarrel would be renewed the following afternoon. Over the next few days this ritual argument would continue, producing minute details from the past; stories were remembered and embellished, grievances were aired and sorrows shared.

This custom of turning the reed stool upside down was a peculiarly Punjabi one, and in the town where I grew up, which straddled the India-Pakistan border, it seemed to hold a particular relevance.

[Read the complete article; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/09/opinion/09iht-edsomeshwar.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=a27%5D

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