There is an Urdu/Punjabi/Hindi word, zindadil, which is regularly used to describe a person or people who are full of life, or “lively”. “Good natured” or “fun loving” are other ways to define zindadil, but like many foreign words, most translations never quite grasp the essential and unique cultural meaning of the original. The people of Punjab are, in my estimation, excellent examples of what it means to be zindadil: hard working, brash, extroverted, social, confident, out-going, colourful and lovers of jokes, dancing, cursing, music and fighting.
I have mentioned nautanki, the lively form of non-religious folk theatre of rural north India, in previous posts. This form of entertainment, which prior to the movies, was the main source of fun for millions of rural people, is a non-stop all-evening-and-all-of-the-night gala of drama (comedy and tragedy), displays of magical prowess, practical joking and live music. In addition, to the touring nautanki company, small towns and sacred places play host to chaotic tented fairs called melas and circuses. Live music is always a big part of these fairs and this evening we share some very zindadil music of the sort that is especially popular in rural or small town Punjab. Music that you would definitely hear at a local mela or throughout a long nautanki performance.
Much of the music is performed by a man and woman team, who are able to play off each other and poke fun at the foibles of the opposite gender. One of the premier singing teams of the 1970s and 1980s was Mohammad Sadiq and Ranjit Kaur. Sadiq was born into a non-observant Muslim household in which an uncle made a living as a folk singer. Somewhat unusually, after the Partition in 1947, Sadiq’s family moved further into India rather than towards the new country of Pakistan and by the late 1950s Mohammad was following in his uncle’s footsteps. Though he sang with many women at fairs and shows across the Punjab, his greatest popularity came with the many songs he sang and recorded with a Sikh singer and actress, Ranjit Kaur. Their work together, during which Sadiq played the tumbi (iron tongs with cymbals), was widely popular on the radio but especially live. Their songs spoke to the issues and drew on the daily references of their largely rural audience. Their songs are full of references to country hootch, buses and trucks, winning the lottery and of course, the grief caused by unfaithful lovers. Much of it is upbeat and light hearted the perfect elixir for hardworking farmers and labourers.
Surinder Kaur, also known as the Punjabi Gem or the Nightingale of Punjab, is another outstanding Punjabi folk artist. Gifted with a beautiful voice, she was born into a Sikh family from Lahore in 1929. Her debut came on the radio in 1943 and after the Partition, which saw her family take refuge in Indian Punjab, she had some minor success as a film singer. And even though she had the backing of some figures of influence in Bombay, her passion was folk theatre and live performance. Married to a very supportive husband, a University lecturer, Surinder Kaur, set about in the early 50s touring Punjab as a performer. Her repertoire included the sufi kafi of Bulleh Shah and similar poets, folk songs, wedding boliyan and her own compositions.
Though she sang with others, including her sister Prakash, and Mohammad Sadiq, her greatest collaborator was her husband, Professor J.S. Sodhi. She credited him with her success and together they not only wrote many songs that live on in Punjabi culture but served as the public faces of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), a project of the Indian Communist party that sought to raise the political and social consciousness of India’s rural poor.
When she passed away in 2006, Punjabis all over the world, mourned the loss of true gem of the Land of Five Rivers.
So it is with a very lively heart that I commend to you just a few tracks of this zindadil country music of the Punjab.
Try not to enjoy it too much!
01 Ashiq Dukh Denge [Mohammad Sadiq and Ranjit Kaur]
02 Bitti Chanan de Ole (Suhag de Geet) [Surinder and Prakash Kaur]
03 Ghar di Botal Wargi [Mohammad Sadiq and Ranjit Kaur]
04 Kurti Meri Chheet di [Surinder Kaur with Ripu Daman Shally]
05 Kut Kut Bajra Mein [Surinder and Prakash Kaur]
06 Loudspeaker Wale [Surinder Kaur with Rangila Jatt]
07 Main Sharbat Wargi [Mohammad Sadiq and Ranjit Kaur]
08 Mitran da Chaliya Truck [Surinder Kaur]
09 Motar Mitran di [Surinder Kaur]
10 Ni Main Kattan Pretan [Surinder and Prakash Kaur]
11 Ranjha Wehde Aa Wad Mere [Surinder Kaur]
12 Saari Rat Tera [Surinder Kaur]
13 Sajna Bekedra [Surinder Kaur]
14 Untitled [Mohammad Sadiq and Ranjit Kaur]
15 Dhokebaaz ho Duniya [Surinder Kaur]
16 Mere Mirze Naal Viah [Mohammad Sadiq and Ranjit Kaur]
17 Pehle Lalkare Naal Main Dhar Gai [Surinder Kaur]
18 Chithi Kishne Nu Paai [Mohammad Sadiq and Ranjit Kaur]
19 Aa Gai Roadways di Lari [Mohammad Sadiq and Ranjit Kaur]
20 Hal Ve Bachia Rabba [Mohammad Sadiq and Ranjit Kaur]
21 Akh Maar Surma [Mohammad Sadiq and Ranjit Kaur]
22 Boliyan [Mohammad Sadiq and Ranjit Kaur]