Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
I've typed out here a few snippets from Sathnam Sanghera's book: "If you don't know me by now". I could not stop being amazed at how closely some of the descriptions of the Punjabi/Sikh family in the book resembles my own. ("Are all Punjabi families the same!")
Read along for some of, what I thought were, the more captivating lines in the book:
- In the end, I did what came naturally. I lied. I lied three times, like Peter.
- [Footnote] Her conclusion was that people who speak two languages ‘feel like a different person depending on which language they are speaking’
- “Like taking retah to the maru[s]thal”
- I’ve tried to find a word that might describe this not pleasurable, not unpleasant state of intellectual and emotional suspension, and an online dictionary suggests ’hebetude’ which apparently means ‘dullness of mind; mental lethargy’. But the offline Collins Dictionary suggests the word doesn’t actually exist, which seems apt somehow, for a state of blankness.
- It is particularly interesting to read his thoughts on the effects of the illness can have on siblings or children of schizophrenics. “[They] often try to compensate for their ill family member by being as perfect as possible. …”
- When it is done well, watching someone perform bhangra can be mesmerizing, but when I did it, it looked as if I was being electrocuted while simultaneously trying to unscrew two light bulbs.
- … represented a matrimonial opportunity for those lingering in the relegation zone of the arranged marriage league table: the over-25; the obese; or the offspring of those parents who were most concerned about Westernization and wanted their children to marry Indian spouses to keep alive their traditions of religiosity, illiteracy, alcoholism, manual labor and domestic violence.
- Because you loved us [mother], we know what love is.
- Until then, organizing weddings had been like voting Tory: we endured the horrendous consequences of other people doing it, but never did it ourselves.
- [Footnote] I’m hoping that writing this in a smaller font will make it sound less misogynistic, but in my experience, second generation Punjabi women – being the product of patriarchal culture – are depressingly servile or terrifying aggressive. As one of them once put it to me – or rather screamed at me – Sikh girls don’t have personalities [as much as] they have post-traumatic stress disorder: They have to fight so hard and so persistently for their independence that they become brutalized by the experience, and even when they have their freedom, they can’t stop fighting.
- It’s not about where alcohol takes you, it’s about what alcohol takes you away from.
- I’d like to say that the room gasped. Or that I literally felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders. But no one blinked and I felt no different.
- … a powerful surge of anger at the multiculturalists who argue that immigrants shouldn’t be forced to learn English. This is the consequence of not understanding English. It means ethnic communities can’t educate themselves, don’t understand what is happening even when the most extreme things occur.
- And you need only glance at a Bollywood movie to see why they might be perplexed by the idea of a book about Mum and Dad. The misery memoir is very much a first world phenomenon. In India, you only need to glance out of your window to feel grateful for your lot.
- ‘Your kismet is your kismet’
- There’s only one thing more unacceptable than a divorced woman in the Punjab: a single mother.
- On the last day of school I showed up, as tradition dictated, to sign the shirts of classmates I’d known for seven years, and to have my shirt signed in return. The only message I remember is: ‘Don’t kill yourself Sang’. It was no great loss when mom stuck the shirt in the wash.
- ‘Stop laughing so much. You’ll only cry twice as much later.’
I grew up resenting the phrase, thinking it epitomized the rather joyless, if not at the heart of Punjabi culture, then at the heart of our family life. Mum is never more anxious than at a celebration, or on receiving good news, hovering around with red chillies to frighten away evil spirits, telling us to remember to thank God for our good fortune. I hate that I’ve inherited the attitude: sometimes I can feel the end of good things before I’ve even had a chance to enjoy them. But finally I understood why she was so fond of the saying: that’s how life was for her. Whenever she laughed, she cried twice as much later.
- In other words, she saved my father, she saved her children, and for that I do not need to gather any corroborating evidence, because my entire life, my entire record collection, is a testament to the fact.
- Whereas Puli had not lived up to her academic promise, for instance, I had outlived mine. While I had been permitted – albeit with intense emotional pressure – to procrastinate on the issue of marriage, Puli had married twice.
- I interrupted. “Thing is, Puli, a lot of the family don’t know you are ill. You’re a victim of your success, in that way. People think you’re fine.”
- But another came up with an infinitely more intriguing explanation. ‘He went mad. He became so educated that he went insane.’
- ‘Sorry for calling.’ Puli always apologizes for calling.
- [Footnote] The most a British Punjabi genealogist can hope for is that after months of research, and recurrent visits to the subcontinent, he will discover a small parchment helpfully informing them that his father’s father was a farmer, that his father’s father was a farmer, and that his father’s father was a farmer too. Doubtless, future generations of Sikh Punjabis in Britain will have a similar experience when they learn that their father’s father was an IT consultant and that his father’s father was an IT consultant and so on, back for two centuries, until they eventually discover that – shock, horror – one of their original ancestors was a farmer.
- I’m not going to beat myself up about it, because I know now my family will love me regardless of what I do or do not do, and that is a feeling I never expected to feel and this is a moment I wouldn’t change for anything.