Often, on this trip, I have been introduced to people as: "Saddi Annie... intelligent kudi"
This was usually said in a tone of wonder - as if I were a circus animal performing a particularly clever trick. As if I was a rare butterfly - that thing, the intelligent girl... ever seen one?
This happened so often that I began to wonder whether Punjab really had such a dearth of women they could be proud of? And then I remembered... what women? The child sex ration in Punjab is as low as 793.
------ ----------- -------------
Later, I was introduced to this generous lady who invited me into her home. When she went to lie down in another room, she handed me control of the remote, saying "Watch TV."
I quietly picked up a book and switched off the television.
The lady saw this, and frowning with worry, she asked, "Are you getting bored?"
I said, "Of course not. Why?"
"You aren't watching TV?"
I said, "No, I'm reading."
"Oh... you're intelligent..."
Later, when I did get around to watching TV - some very raunchy remix videos on 'etc' - the lady comes into the room, looks at me, looks at the television, takes hold of the remote control, switches to Discovery, and leaves me to watch my 'intelligent' channel.
I tell you, it's no fun being an intelligent kudi.
------- ------------- --------------
In Samrala, where I'd gone to visit Lal Singh 'Dil', the great revolutionary poet in Punjab, his neice dropped in to see me.
Word had spread like wildfire, in the whole mohalla, that a young girl from Delhi was in town. First the women of his family, then their daughters, then the neighbours and then the neighbour's friends... all of them peeped in to look at me.
Once, when Dil was too drunk to talk cohorently, I slipped downstairs to talk to his neice, Kuljeet. A pretty girl with smooth wheat-cheeks and a slim, compact body, her only negatives seemed to be a restless high-pitched voice and a sulky mouth.
She took my hands in hers and said, "Take me with you."
"What? Where?" I asked, bemused.
"Anywhere. With you. I want to do something other than sit at home... take me to Delhi."
"But what will you do in Delhi? I work."
"I'll sit and talk to you. Can't you hire me as your assistant? I want to see the world."
I smiled and shook my head, no.
I tried explaining to her that she needed to do something with her own life, here.
She said, "I thought of nursing... but there isn't enough money for the course fees."
It turned out that Kuljeet had dropped out of degree college, after the second year. She had fallen sick during the final exams and then, had simply lost the motivation to continue. She's done some embroidery and sewing courses, but was sick of them.
"But that won't do at all." I scolded. "You MUST finish your degree. Then you can get a good job. You could begin right here, or go to Ludhiyana. You could teach, study further, work with an NGO, join a Punjabi newspaper..."
She said, "I don't want to study. My parents keep asking me to finish my third year. But what happens then? They will just make me sit at home. Why bother?"
I said, "You must try, at any rate. The degree will be the first step."
But Kuljeet's eyes had already dulled. She smiled vaguely. I was already feeling guilty, as if, after letting her see how it was to be free, like a bird, I had clipped her wings.
I couldn't take her with me. I knew I couldn't stop her family from imposing its will on hers, either. I couldn't do anything for her, except tell her to fight back.
I said, "Kuljeet, it's never easy for girls. Even for me, it wasn't all smooth. One step at a time... One freedom at a time... one battle a year."
She bowed her head; we sat silent, a long time.
Then she finally said, "If I call you, will you remember me?"
I said, yes, I would.
"And will you invite me to your wedding? I want to look at you when you're a bride."
I said, yes, I would.
And then, we said goodbye.