Rhythm of an ominous beat: Rabbi Shergill on what ails Punjabi music – The Tribune India

Posted By on June 6, 2022

Rabbi Shergill

I didn't listen to Sidhu Moosewala much. But it was hard to miss his mercurial rise, his near ubiquity. Amrik-Sukhdev dhaba at Murthal, our favourite pit-stop on the way to the hills and my window into the Punjabi unconscious, played him on a loop. My very first introduction to his music was via the chartbuster G Wagon and I remember a chill running down my spine as I gleaned the lyrics from distorted speakers and the general cacophony: Jithe bandaa maarke kasoor puchhde, Jatt uss pind nu belong kardaa. (Where you kill a man and then ask what his fault was, Jatt belongs to that village). I, father to two teenagers and husband to a pretty wife, suddenly felt exposed, vulnerable. The song and others like it had shrunk my safe space. I suddenly felt the need for security, tribal bondings and winking at crude behaviour to feel safe. All those little liberties won for the common man, especially women, by progressive content and arts, my own oeuvre playing a small part, seemed lost. Punjab had lapsed, reclaimed by its own crude memory. Contradictions abounded. All progress seemed getting reduced to form swanky interiors, cars, silent ACs, giant LED screens, well produced AV kitsch hollowed out of any progressive aspiration/s, at the same time. And this phenomenon wasnt confined to its geographical borders. It raged in our tranquil hill sanctuary and the Jat-Gujjar outskirts of NCR. Punjab was expanding to the rhythm of a silent ominous beat.

Status quo suits silver foxes like me, whose insecurity about their identity has calmed down somewhat. But what about the young man, the gabhroo? How does he prove his mettle, his worth to his farmer-warrior forefathers in a time of unviable agriculture, a deformed language, the lure of immigration, the abject paucity of role models, the easy availability of a fix? What does he do?

The contradictions

Its been two years. A former Jathedar of one of the five Takhts invited me to give out prizes at the annual day celebrations of a school he ran in a district dotted with Gurus shrines. Always a sucker for any excuse to tread in Gurus wake, I readily agreed. He met us outside his fortified dera, and led us through two large creaking iron gates to the parking. Chuckling at the elaborate arrangements, I asked him why they were needed. He stared us grimly in the face and said, Its bad here, wait a bit, they must be on their way. Theyll dismantle your car in minutes and scoot. They being the junkies, the zombies, the dragon chasers. This in a place with nearly as many gurdwaras as people! They dont care for katha-kirtan any more, Rabbiji! Would you believe it, I was stopped midway through my sermon at a local wedding by the boys. They felt I was being a party-pooper.

Next day, we met the local SSP and his wife. His last posting was in Mansa. So how did he like it here, I asked. Before he could answer it, his shiny wife, draped in velvet indigo, cut in: Phew! Every time he went out on patrol, my heart was in my mouth! Just how peaceful this place is in comparison, I cant begin to tell you.

What? Wait! But he is the SSP, the big chief, the big daddy I squealed.

An awkward silence followed.

The place is disturbed, exhaled the SSP finally, staring vacuously at the floral patterns on the pandal roof.

Many more accounts tumbled out: the routine muggings by the canal, the cab driver who was carjacked and almost thrown into it. The fun seemed to have gone from living in Punjab. Once more.

The indoctrination

Hey no! You cant do that, exclaimed Jas bhaji, our contractor, as he leapt up to snatch the big stick from his four-year-old grandson who, red with rage, was about to bring it crashing down on his big brother, 10. A big fracas ensued. The little lord, all arms and legs now, wanted to have a go at his big brother, who was rolling on the floor with laughter. Whats the matter? I wanted to know. Turned out someone asked the four-year-old who he was, a Jatt or Dalit, and before he could answer, his brother had answered for him, Not Jatt. Even the toddler knew the importance of this arbitrary circle. He wasnt going to take any casting out lying down. His rage was confirmation the great Jatt indoctrination machine was working well. It took me back to my own childhood and sessions with my grandmother Bhaabhii. The result of which is her many slogans branded into the whole clans memory Jehdii nii zamiin, o ey kamiin, Sandhu-Sidhu ik baraabar, Gill zaraa ucheraa and more vitally in the bittersweet pill of identity that we can neither swallow nor spit. But dont get misty-eyed yet. Were no victims. Just torn.

Why should we give it up? ranted my buddy Sangha on the phone in one of our many blowouts. Our identity is our 10,000-year-old story. Did anyone give us privilege on a platter? Didnt they call us Chandaal in the middle ages? Doesnt modern psychology recommend that you ignore haters and just play your own tune out loud? Why is it a problem when we do just that? And what is the real problem, is it caste or hierarchy? If caste, a means of screening and prioritising others like yourself, is wrong, then so are all social media, dating apps, clubs, schools, universities, associations, friendships indeed, all human social life.

But surely you understand the disparity in power? I ask.

You think the Laala, the Baniyaa and other non-Jatt industrialists have no power? he counters.

Surely, you understand degrees...

Surely, you understand enterprise.

And the call to violence, guns, misogyny? I plead.

Do you even watch Bollywood, southern films? he asks.

And so it goes, until one of us puts down the phone. A perpetual stalemate. The Jatt soul hasnt finished churning. And while its on, make peace with the status quo.

And things change...

Status quo. It suits silver foxes like me, whove gone around the sun a few times. Whose insecurity about their identity has calmed down somewhat. Who are reassured by courtesies afforded by grey hair. Who have less to prove. Whose chip on the shoulder is now a crumb. But what about the young man, the spring chicken, the gabhroo, the young buck? How does he prove his mettle, his worth to his farmer-warrior forefathers, to the Jatheraa in a time of unviable agriculture, shrinking farms, eroding topsoil, depleting groundwater, trans-Yamuna emigre hordes, a deformed language, the lure of immigration, the abject paucity of role models, the easy availability of a fix?

What does he do? The vaar his Daadi whispered into his ears is playing nonstop. The tales of Jiiuraan Mor, Jagga, Mirza and Shaheed Singh Sahibaan are calling out to him. Where is his war, the blaze of glory, the battle that will define him? You better bet your last aanaa he will find it. Even if it means slashing at the windmills, even if it means collateral damage, even if it means self-destruction.

Those dont scare him. Hes seen it all before. Dont tell me the child of ancient farmers cant tell agriculture from ecocide; the waaris of Waris Shah poetry from crudity; the heir to Bade Ghulam Ali, Salamat/Nazakat Ali music from travesty; the builder of Harappa, dignified existence, from a rats nest; the child of Vaisakhi 1699, true revolution, from lip service. Dont worry, hes just tripping, riding out the bad trip. And when he wakes up, everything will be accounted for the dead, the living, the comatose. Till then, we all play our parts. Shore up your version of Punjabiyat. Look at your kids faces. What would you like to pass on to them? Pass that. Whose light do you want them to reflect? Cast that. Which song do you want them to remember you by? Sing that.

The SM saga

I really gave my full attention to Sidhu Moosewala only after his death, I should be honest. But in those last few videos, I revisited my youth and the curse of Jatthood. The tyranny of a character that must be played ad infinitum once invoked. Its a heavy character that we all need from time to time, but if you cant put it down, come out of it, it starts to lead you, take you places you never planned to. And in those videos, I saw him weighed down by this character. Because really, it is but a character. That is not the only suggestion shaping us. The culture is much more porous now, although you may not want to admit it. But the seduction of it, Ah! the seduction. Ive seen better men fail before its charm, what to say of the young engineer kid whom I think desperately wanted to remain one.

Of all the characters in this saga, its the death of that kid that gets me the most. In the death of his innocence, you could if you wanted to, see the death of your own innocence. Deja vu.

Grieve Sidhu Moosewala all you want, but extend its circle to all Punjab. Because theyre joined at the hip. Grieving one without the other is meaningless. Perhaps, even a disservice to a brilliant young life cut down in its prime and Us. Dig deep, for were in it now. It is not going away in a hurry. Its going to take all Punjabis to play their love radio at its loudest. A big games afoot. Forces larger than we can comprehend have been unleashed. This is just the beginning. No time for imported lifeboats, check your gharaa, Sohnhiye! Let Farid be your guide:

Farida gale chikar dur ghar nal piare nehu

Chala ta bhijai kambli rahan ta tutai nehu

(Farid, lane is muddy, house is

far, love seeks the beloved

Walk and see the blanket soak

or stay and watch love break)

The writer is an acclaimed singer

#rabbi shergill #sidhu moosewala

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Rhythm of an ominous beat: Rabbi Shergill on what ails Punjabi music - The Tribune India

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