Saturday, April 10, 2010

Desi Dinner

Indian culture thrives on a spectrum of segregation, particularly when it comes to gender. It happens at temples, parties, household get-togethers and even run-ins at the store. It's always an awkward, rushed moment when a man and woman who aren't related have to interact socially.

Aunties are famous for their relentless kitchen gossip, but even a room full of aunties will quiet to a hush when an uncle walks in looking for an extra fork. So, shocked by the sudden scrutiny of the room, uncle is guaranteed to complete his mission and quickly return to the safe haven afforded by the barbeque. Preferably in a manly place such as the garage or patio. However, the opposite situation also holds true. No auntie likes going into the 'uncle circle.' So, auntie will always send son or child-who-doesn't-have-to-conform-to-social-standards-yet to send messages and food.

Anytime a bunch of punjabi men get together there is a guarantee of three things:
1) Alcohol (Ek peg, paaji!)
2) Nuts (cashews, walnuts or anything to munch on)
3) A barbeque (lamb, goat, fish, chicken, duck)
And they all do this while sitting in one huge circle. Whether it's three guys or 20, they will find a way to make the circle work.

I'm sure this tradition has been passed down through hundreds of Punjabi generations, and it has recently started to change. Only since the 80s, with the advent of modern bhangra, have men and women concieved of dancing in the same room. 20 some odd years later, we still dance in gender or family-segregated circles but that does not take away from the grand achievement of dancing within view of the opposite sex.

With all this cultural history hanging over our heads, sitting together at the family table with father and mother had become an issue. Mom and Mom's mom (Nani, affectionately called Biji) would never eat at the same table as Dad. Mom would dutifully ensure Dad had eaten first, and Nani would awkwardly munch on food in his presence. Dad always felt more than a little uncomfortable. The whole thing never mattered much to me as long as I got fed, until I came back home from university.

All of a sudden the concept of quality family time became important to me. Helped along by commercials stressing the importance of eating together at the same table I decided it was time for a change.

I was entirely unsuccessful. Unsuccessful until Nani went to India for a month. I took advantage of the regime upset.

Mom got swamped with household chores and willingly accepted my offer to help out. It started with washing dishes and reorganizing my bathroom and it built up to an offer to make dinner, a rare event in and of itself. I planned the meal the day before, and reasonably demanded that everyone arrive promptly at 7:30 or prepare to have dinner forcibly shoved up their nostrils, silverware included. The threats worked, everyone showed up, and dinner was late as per IST. However, success was only won when Mom realized how cute the table looked piled high with food and conversation, and the opportunity to offer salad and veggies as part of the meal. She also took the opportunity to instate a rotation for washing dishes after dinner.

Surprisingly, it was a pleasant experience and worth reliving. I eagerly repeated the request, "Same time, same place? <3" Since then, we've regularly had a dinner table including three or more people. Dad is usually absent because of work obligations, but he makes it when he can. Uni-Sister absolutely loves the idea (+1 fan for me!). The Teenager Duo (Baby Sister and Baby Brother) sometimes have issues keeping up with it, but I appreciate when they bring their moody selves down for the most part.

While this is still a shaky, newborn tradition, one obstacle remains: winning Biji over. She arrives on Monday, and then we shall see. Just keep in mind that I'm a very sore loser. :)

How To: Play Bhabhi

Bhabhi means 'brother's wife' in Punjabi.

It's also the name of a card game popular with groups of old Punjabi babey hanging out in local parks and their grandkids. Most kids learn the game on an uneventful afternoon and use it to get a kick out of teasing the loser.

You need at least two people to play, but three to six is perfect.

The game itself is a lot like Hearts, the computer game that came with your Windows PC. :)

The deck is shuffled and divided between the group. Everyone looks at their cards, the person with the ace of spades puts it down and everyone in the circle adds a spade to the pile. The pile is then moved to the side and out of the game.

If one of the players doesn't have a spade, he gives his highest card of another suite, letting the first round finish before moving the pile out for the next turn.

From the second turn onward the person who played the highest card (A, K, Q, J, 10-1) from the last round, starts the current turn and the player to the left continues with cards from that suite. After every turn the pile is moved out of the game.

If one of the subsequent players doesn't have a card in the suite played, he throws down a card from a different suite and forces the player with the highest card to pick up the whole pile and add it to his hand, ending the turn in a 'Dhola.' This usually ends up skipping some people.

After the first round, if anyone breaks the clockwise order of adding to the pile he has to pick up the pile and add it to his hand.

The trick of the game relies in remembering who ran out of which suite and trying to use it to screw over another player with a Dhola.

The player to empty his hand first wins.

The player stuck with cards at the end loses and gets called Bhabhi.

When there are only two players left in the last round, and a player empties his hand but had thrown the highest suite, the game must enter a sudden death round. The player with the empty hand has to pick a random card out of the pile of discarded cards and use it for another round. If the player with no cards is given a Dhola, that player automatically loses. If the card is again the highest suite then another sudden death round must be played, if neither of the above happens then congratulations the player with an empty hand is not the loser.

Best part is, the loser usually has to serve snacks and drinks demure-bride style. A favorite is making the loser dress for the part, especially if a boy. :D