Punjabi by nature: From hoof power to horse power

  • Khushwant Singh, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: May 31, 2015 12:40 IST

Last week, my father and I were driving from Chandigarh to Kasauli when our conversation, from politics, meandered to the changing times.

I was of the view, that the Gen Next is more accepting about gender, race and class equality than mine, and especially my father's.

Even though they remain glued to the Internet and their smartphones, I find them to be much more sober and less loud than my generation.

The topic struck a chord with him and he started reflecting on his growing up days and sharing anecdotes from that era.
As per him, his generation is the fortunate one (he is 67) to witness two extreme times and see times change.

My father then started sharing tales of the days gone by and narrated various incidents of how the village life was in his growing up days at Chhauni in Hoshiarpur district.

According to him, the family owned a few hundred acres of land (before the land reforms) and the only way to plough it was with oxen.

The family had many oxen for the purpose, however, there was one ox that was special. It was the one that was used to pump out water from the nearby well.

It was on call 24x7 and would be marched to the well, the moment my father's grandmother would make a call 'paani muk gaya' (water has finished).

This ox hated his job and would start making a blaring sound like a pressure horn in protest. “Sara din ehi tamasha chalda si (the entire day this drama happened),” he laughed as he remembered the blaring ox.

Oxen were soon replaced by a single tractor. “Now instead of Ox power we had Horse Power after bapuji (my grandfather) bought a John Deere.”

It was a miracle machine and villagers would keep gazing at it all day, mesmerised by its power to till acres and acres of land.

My father's conversation soon veered into the superstitions and customs of those times. According to him, there was this constant gossip of paranormal activity on the farm.

Stories of chaledas and chaledis (male and female ghosts) roaming around in the farm were part of common folklore of the village.

No one would venture out in the evening for fear of them. For years, there was this scare of Badani' s spirit haunting someone or the other.

Badani was a girl who had died at a tender age. No day would pass when someone wouldn't complain about Badani chasing them. Some would see her dressed in white clothes, while others thought she walked on her hands.

Enter Rameshar Babu from Uttar Pradesh. He was employed as a ‘syce’ and looked after the horses and maintained the ‘tonga’, said my father.

“But he soon became the local ghost-chaser and villagers would flock to him to rid themselves of evil spirits. He was also a great storyteller and we would keep listening to his ghost stories. His favourite was the 'ride with the goras.'

Bapuji had deputed him as a night watchman at a groundnut farm close to the goriyaan di kabraan. “Raat ko gora sahib aye aur humara manji utha key hume ghumane le gaye,” would be his story every morning.

A laugh followed and dad recalled why a section of the village protested against having a metalled road? It was the village Rajputs who were against it because they feared that if their cattle went missing the metal road will make it impossible for them to track them since there will be no pug marks.

Talking about the economic condition of the villagers, he said it was only now that one has started seeing motorcycles and cars speeding up and down the narrow village lanes.

In the early days, villagers used to walk barefoot to their destinations. They would carry their shoes on a stick and slip into them only once they were close to their destination. It's our generation that has seen both the times.

Soon our topic curvets to politics again. “Modi shaukeen lagda hai. Shaukeen bandey hi tarakki di soch sakdey ne, khachar nahi.”

We reach Kasauli and the cool breeze makes us forget the 45 degrees Celsius of the plains. “No intelligent man of that time asked for a Punjabi Suba,” he says, with a lament in his tone. We soon headed for the bar.

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