My Dearest Komal, Anjli and Amar,
You have all grown up in the western world and have a patchy knowledge of your Indian ancestry. In this letter, I will try to fill in some of the gaps with the hope of igniting your thirst for this subject. Do remember when researching, that many sites give you a very starry picture of the reality. Just like you, I too was not born in India, and so my inputs on this history would be classified as second-hand.
We are members of the Charotar Patel community whose ancestors have roots in the areas around the towns of Anand, Kheda, and Vadodra. Each different region of the world has idiosyncrasies of living and eating as I mentioned in the ‘Rituals of the Gujarati Meal‘. Even though your surname is not Patel, we are all part of that community. Besides the most popular surname of Patel, many use names like Amin, Desai and Paatidaar. Some of these surnames have evolved from the occupations of our forefathers many centuries ago.
Gujarat, which was a part of the Indian state of Maharashtra became independent in May 1960. It is situated on the north west corner of India and is surrounded by the Arabian Sea, Pakistan and the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Gujaratis are the descendants of the ancient rulers, the Gajjars. There is a long list of Hindu rulers up until the late 13th century when the Moghuls conquered these lands and ruled for the next 400 years. The East India company of Gt. Britain started trading in many parts of modern day India during the 18th century. The Indian subcontinent and therefore the lands of Gujarat officially became a part of the British Raj from 1857. This lasted until India’s independence in 1947.
A large part of the Indian population is divided into broad hereditary groups, often termed jatis or castes which are loosely associated with a family trade. These castes are separated from each other by traditions that prohibit the sharing of food and marital liaisons outside of these social groups(gols). In Gujarat, each gol (ગોળ) is composed of a number of gaams (ગામ -villages) that are usually geographically close to each other. Among Gujarati Patels, each individual identifies as belonging to his or her father’s village. To this end, most of the older generation will attach the name of the gaam to the person’s name. This being their full identity.
Let me explain this in detail so you can grasp the concept. So all of you are Patels from Virsad(વિરસદ), your dad’s gaam. For some historical reason, all Patels from Virsad use the surname Amin (ahaa…you might exclaim!) I now classify Virsad as my saasri (સાસરી-married gaam) and can traditionally add that my peeyar (પિયર) is Sojitra(સોજીત્રા), my dad’s gaam . So Komal, Anjli when you get married, you will be referring to Virsad as your peeyar! Sorry Amar you are stuck to Virsad for the rest of your life! There is one more Gujarati term that I need to introduce here and that is -mausad(મોસાળ). This stays static from the time of your birth. So my mausad is Naar, my mum Lalitaba’s peeyar and Sojitra is your mausad( for all of you). Dad’s mausad is Gajera. Confused? Don’t be, just re read that statement a few more times and perhaps this small quiz will seal your knowledge!
Can you tell me,
- a)Shardaba’s peeyar and
- b)Shardaba’s saasri and Lalitaba’s saasri?
Do you know what, I know Shardaba’s mausad but not Lalitaba’s! Shame on me!
Gols are distinguished from one another by strict traditions restricting marital transactions, so that most marriages occur between individuals from the same gol . Within a gol, an individual cannot marry anyone from his or her village, as that would be considered marrying kin . The motivating factor for the formation of gols was the prevention of hypergamy, where a bride marries a groom from a family whose gol has a higher status. Marriage between different gols created financial inequalities in the shape of the size of dowry and the amount of fines incurred by marrying outside of gols. This in turn created a shortage of grooms for daughters of the higher gols. It is amazing to know that this practice went on, and still does in some households, up to the present day. Another amazing fact is that one of the reasons for the formation of the gols is the influence of the British upon Gujarat. They appointed many Patels( Paatidars) as village headman for various reasons. The headman status came with a substantial financial reward. This caused an in-balance when arranging marriages of the off-springs. In order to iron out these differences, the gol hierarchy was established. Hence we have the paanch(5) gaam , chha(6) gaam, satyavees(27) gaam and many such gols. Another quiz for you.
- Can you name the villages that comprise the ‘chha gam gol’ and
- Which gol does Virsad belong to?
Another interesting fact is that all gaams also kept a genealogy (vanshavdi-વંશાવળી) chart of their community. I had heard that Mohandada was earlier involved in helping to keep the Sojitra vanshavdi up to date. The Paatidars also worked towards creating a new Hindu Identity Caste Rules. They deemed the following rituals as ‘impure’: remarriage of widows, bride-price, meat-eating, and group participation in the worship of mother goddess, Mata. By process of elimination, the ‘pure’ rituals were deemed to be dowry-giving, vegetarianism, and worship of Krishna.
In my younger days, whenever inquires for a possible future marriage took place, besides knowing the gaam, one also needed to know the khadki-ખડકી(the speciﬁc corner of the gaam) of your origin! My khadki in Sojitra is ‘Pragdasbhai ni khadki’. In 1575 the Moghul ruler Muzafarshah, allocated the land of Sojitra to Jesangbhai Patel. Jesangbhai then distributed this land among his seven sons and Pragdasbhai was one of them! Dad’s khadki is ‘Kalidasbhai ni khadki’.
All these traditions have evolved due to various reasons in the past. As is usual in life, the traditions get carried on for generations and nobody really remembers the reasons for them. Similar to the old British culture, ancestry mattered a great deal in ensuring the ‘right’ partner for marriage. In Gujarati it is termed khandan, ખાનદાન, and if you watch enough old Bollywood movies, this term crops up time and again! By the time my siblings and I were of marriageable age many of us were living in the U.K, at least two generations away from Gujarat. Even then I remember the constraints imposed by my relatives when trying to arrange the marriages of their off-springs! Thankfully, the dying of the arranged marriage culture and the advent of young people finding their own partners has changed these old restrictions. Parents are still involved in finding partners for their children but it has become more like internet dating and with far fewer constraints.
All I can say is that I need to uphold my parental duties more seriously and start compiling a list of possible partners for all of you. Do not misunderstand us, neither Dad or myself are eager to become grandparents as yet, but life is zooming by! I would recommend you to watch the film, ‘Meet the Patels‘ which you can find on YouTube or Netflix. It is a documentary/movie centered around a Patel family settled in USA. It is a hilarious comedy and will give you an idea of the Patel community. Do let me know what you think of it. I really enjoyed it and could relate to many(though not all) parts of the film.
As you know I am quite busy at present hosting Motafoi and Fuva for the past few weeks. This therefore is my excuse for not making the time to attach recipes in this letter. I have tried to make many different traditional dishes while they are here. Be assured that my cooking practices are going strong! Recipes in the next letter, I promise!
Also my apologies for this big gap since my last letter. I am chuffed to find that even Amar noticed the lack of my communication! The months are just flying by and we are sadly almost at the end of the winter season. This in between season was very evident on our weekend trip to Lenzerheide. The vibrant new greens and yellows in nature certainly cheer me up and make me eagerly await spring.
That is all for now. Please do indicate if you are confused about any of the topics of this letter.
With all my love, hugs and kisses,
P.S. In case you want to research more on this subject and help you in your quiz! please look up the following links: