ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Punjabi Tales of Food, Gluttony and Sexuality


Malhotra Anshu


29 – Travelling stories, bodies and genres and the making of communities


 Folk stories meant for children and disseminated within homes have rarely been analyzed for their content, or the values they transmit. In this presentation I will discuss folk/domestic tales – one from my small familial archive cobbled together recently through memory and recall of tales orally narrated by my mother to her children in story-telling sessions; and another from a glossy printed copy of Punjabi folktales, as laboriously and dedicatedly collected, preserved, and proffered to diasporic children in America and beyond, to connect with and imbibe Punjabi culture. Both stories are about women’s relation to food, gluttony and sexuality, deploying what Peter Olivelle has called ‘animal ventriloquism.’ These seemingly simple stories, where humans and animals interact or talking animals enchant, have complex pretexts and subtexts, making them interesting to adults as they are captivating for children. I contend here that meaning-making is more ambiguous and open-ended in the first tale transmitted through oral narration (which itself must have transmogrified as it journeyed through West Punjab, now Pakistan, to Delhi around the time of Partition and then became a part of household lore); in comparison to the North American printed story that endeavors to both introduce its young audience to multiple cultural referents in order to familiarize the distant, as well as pre-draw a moralistic conclusion, attempting to foreclose other possible interpretations.