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Vaisakhi for farmers and for all

Vaisakhi for farmers and for all
May 01
13:43 2020

Thakar S Basati

I woke up at 3 am, happens often, sometimes I go back to sleep, sometime I don’t. Sometime I plan, what to work on, or do pathh. Today I thought about Vaisakhi. Here you know Vaisakhi from Rangla Punjab or Gurdwara bhog. Now they have added Guru Nanak Parkash Divas, this is the original date; it was changed during Maharaja Ranjit Singh regime to bring in more people to Shri Harmandir Sahib.

I have different memory of Vaisakhi. Whereas Vaisakhi is start of Vaisakh month, we used to celebrate on April 13th, now it is April 14th as moon calendar keeps changing. Around 2:30/3am farmers start to wake up. It is called Amrit Vela (early morning).

They will mix green fodder that we chopped in the evening for animals, mix it with dry chaff of wheat and feed the oxen, buffaloes, cows. We used to have 4 servants. 2 sharecroppers (Sanjhi), 1 salaried for farming and 1 younger one for animals.

Around 3:30/4 am a lady and a servant will go milk the buffalos and cows. Make chah and if they were going to farm, they will leave saying Wakhru (for Waheguru) or if they had to go to mandi(market) then we had to load gadda(bull cart) in the evening. We had to make sure cart is balanced. Few times a year we had to do maintenance check on cart. We had to grease the wheels with butter/desi ghee or grease if one could find. Make sure wheels are balanced and move freely. We had to make sure bulls would stay secure under the yoke.

Our parents had largest piece of land in the area and our parents lived in a joint family. They were 3 brothers. Youngest one died shortly after a son was born. He was very handsome, fearless, something happened; he had fever and passed away.

So my father raised his younger brother, we called him Chhote Taya ji. Chhote Taya ji had only 1 daughter; his son didn’t survive, so he raised 6 of us brothers as his own. We have 2 sisters too. There was no irrigation system; so all the crops were dependent on rain. So they grew daals, wheat, rice, corn, and sugar cane.

Growing wheat took some planning. You have to know how much seed to sow, plant only when soil is ready, like not wet or too dry. Sometime people mixed with Channa. Now they use tractor, in old times it was ox hull.

To keep it in rows, they will tie large oil pipe called kuppy (funnel) and pour seeds in it one at a time. To get rid of weeds, they had to do goudi (pulling weeds out). When stalks were about a feet, sometime we would make music pipes out of them. They also sowed mustard at the same time and when it flowered, it was an awesome scene, yellow flowers on green base. We used to cut mustard stalks for saag, delicacy in Punjab.

Once the wheat ripened, it was most amazing brown color painting created by Nature. Sometimes rains will come and flatten the crop, sometime even hailstorm will come and farmers could do nothing just watch destruction.

They were prepared. Sometime lightening will start fire and destroy the crops. So farmers never knew for sure if they will be able to procure the labor and be able to sell and get money. They never knew if they would be able to pay back the money they owed.

Farmers aren’t cash rich people, it is like long-term investment, and you can’t cash it when you want. So sometime they weren’t able to pay back their debts. They will arrange big functions like weddings after selling their crops. If crop destruction happened few times in a row, they will fall behind, then they will start giving their land to bankers. Sometime they had to sell to pay back. Some struggled to gain back. Very few will take their life seeing no way out. It is still happening.

If a farmer is lucky enough to harvest, they will arrange for hired labor to cut wheat. Sometime they shared labor. People will form groups, cut one day at one farm, others on different days. There will be competitions, songs, jokes, teasing, and lot of fun.

When the crop is harvested, they will leave a corner for the birds and for the poor. Poor people knew which farmer is almost finished with harvesting, then they will reach that farm. When farmer will signal they will harvest and take home whatever they could grab. Birds will eat whatever is left on ground.

Life for ladies at home wasn’t a cakewalk either. They had to make morning chah (tea) for 30-40 people, lunch for 30-40 people then afternoon chah. Some people may stay over night to restart in the morning, so dinner for all those and yes there will be some drinking of alcohol in the evening to relax. They will ask extra help from village ladies which gave them chance to get all the scoop on others, gossip time too.

While harvesting, it gets quiet hot. So they had people (Zeur) whose job was to supply water to homes and to people on farm. They will bring water, Pakore (fritters) or Ber (like dry dates) and collect harvest in lieu of it. They also got paid every 6 months from the crops.

Once people harvesting will leave piles behind, we had to role them into bales and make sure people can carry them on their heads, not too heavy. Again there was competition, who can lift by themselves, who can run faster with bale on head, yes we did fall, we did cry because we lost the race.

Elders will laugh at our sensitivity. Then it was also challenge to load on cart. They had to fit so that it can be loaded to full capacity, make sure it is balanced so that it is easy on oxen to pull. Sometimes we will ride on top of load, sometime parents will let us chauffeur the oxen. Yes we did make them go into ditches, later servants and parents made fun of us.

Unloading the carts was also lot of fun, very tiring. Once again we had to make a pile of bales, good technique needed again before they all came down. Then slowly, we had to spread them on hard surface where not too much dirt would rise when separating seeds from chaff. Chaff was used to feed the animals. We would put 2 or 4 oxen depending upon your farming level. There may be plank of branches of trees bound together, we can sit on and keep oxen moving. If the ox pooed, you had to catch it so it didn’t mix with seeds. Urine was OK, that would dry. We would sing or elders will sing ballads to stay awake. Sometime competition pursued with neighbors. It went on especially during moonlit nights. Sometime we will sleep there under cool nights, awesome fresh nippy air. Then we had to turn stuff upside down to make sure no grains are left attached to wheat plants. We had all kind of tools to lift to separate chaff from seeds. When all is broken, we will make heap, when wind blew, we will shake stuff to separate chaff from grains.

Yes many times we got completely covered in dust, and man, it itched,especially if Kale Chhole got mixed in it. Sometimes you had to bathe 2-3 times to get rid of the itching.

When all grain was separated, farmer would take it to market, if lucky enough, will pay off his debts, buy new clothes and ornaments for family, then go to carnival announcing, “maarda damamme jatt mele aa gya.” (Rejoicing the Jatt reaches the fair/carnival.) I was about 14 years old in 10th grade and we had finals in few weeks. My father got sick with dysentery. After 2 days, he was admitted in hospital. His younger brother said he would go stay with him to make sure he got right treatment. So I had to assign the people where to start harvest, take food to the hospital, study for my finals, and make sure everyone got tea, meals. Luckily after 4 days my father and uncle came home and took over.

Still, Vaisakhi is very, very dear to all of us.




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