Lakhan Singh’s house in the state of Punjab has no specific address, tucked as it is among the blazing mustard fields. And yet, it is easy to identify, even from a distance. That’s because the top of the cement water tank outside his gate is shaped like an aircraft; a symbol that the man of the house has immigrated to North America.
For decades now, Sikh men and women have been flying to foreign shores in search of work or to reunite with their families. While Lakhan is trying to adjust to the alien flavors of pizza and pasta, his wife here in the lush ‘cow-belt’ of India, still plucks her mustard greens fresh off the field and pounds her spices by hand.
I meet Santosh Kaur as she sits under the shade of a 100-year-old banyan tree, singing a folk song as she vigorously churns fresh buttermilk in an earthen pot.
The endearingly mean song (as translated from Hindi), goes:
The rich young woman’s son is bawling,
clinging to her sari silk
Let him bawl, let him yell,
but let me churn my buttermilk,
jhakkar jhoon ah! jhakkar jhoon.
Jhakkar jhoon ah! jhakkar jhoon.”
“Jhakkar jhoon” being almost exactly the sound that her wooden whisk makes as it rotates deep in the belly of the earthen pot. Of course, the sentiment behind the words is never to ignore a bawling child–Santosh is too tender for that–but to cherish the stirring of the buttermilk.
My fatigue melts faster than home-churned butter when Santosh serves us a soul-satisfying meal of spicy chickpea curry, hand-rolled chapatis, and a tall glass of the freshly churned lassi(buttermilk).
Between bites, I savor the delectable story of how the villagers hit upon the idea of the aircraft-shaped cement tank as a tribute to every lucky lad who landed that coveted document: the Immigrant Visa.
A teardrop slides down Santosh’s rosy cheeks as she recalls how much her husband loves chickpeas the way she makes them: ah, when will her visa come through?