Monthly Archives: August 2012

Punjab’s Pride: Lal Chand Yamla Jatt

No list of the most famous Punjabi folk musicians is complete without the name of Lal Chand Yamla Jatt in it. Yet the man who gave the city one of its most cherished musical traditions – the tingling music of the single-stringed Tumbi – forgets him in his death. The illustrious singer passed away on December 20, 1991, leaving behind a legacy that continues to flourish even after two decades. But a visit to his house in Jawahar Nagar and his statue nearby in Tikona Park, Model Town, lays bare the public indifference and disregard to the memories of this musical great.

While the house is a cramped, run down structure bereft of any modern facilities, the statue situated inside the badly maintained Tikona Park presents a paints a picture of government neglect. For a recipient of several coveted awards including the National Award (he received a Gold Medal in 1956 by the Indian Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru), the state of these surviving traces of his life evokes both shock and pity. Suresh Yamla, son of Lal Chand Yamla’s eldest son Kartar Chand, rues the fact that the state has not bothered to build a single memorial or academy in his name.

“He is counted among the greats. His fans the world over remember him by organizing festivals and meets in his name. But what he gets after his death is just fake promises from the state,” says Suresh, who also plays Tumbi and performs at various cultural festivals, in India and beyond.

Ustad Lal Chand Yamla Jatt, born in 1914 in village Tobha Tek Singh, now in Pakistan, moved to Ludhiana after partition with his two younger brothers, stopping temporarily at Batala in Gurdaspur District. Coming from a family of musicians, Yamla Jatt would accompany his Guru Narayan Singh Dardi to mushairas. The latter encouraged him to sing, shares Suresh. Yamla’s first composition was ‘Mainu Le Chal Nadiyo Par’.

He couldn’t write, so his disciples did the writing for him in later years as he narrated. Over 8000 cassettes have been brought out in the name of Yamla Jatt so far. Interestingly, it was in a film by I S Johar that the term ‘Yamla Jatt’ first entered Hindi cinema. It has been used several times since in movies and songs.

“People used his name and money. His disciples continue to do it for their own benefit by lying that they hail from our family and getting work in return. My grandfather did not believe in making money and lived only for his music for family. By his end, he had successfully settled down his brothers in the city. People come from far and wide tracing his roots and talk to us, make films and documentaries on him. But his own place ignores him” he says.

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When Ludhiana had a Film Studio

Ludhiana, that is today known for its hosiery market, could well be Northern India’s cinematic hub if an ambitious project started six decades ago had survived.

Spread around the modern day Kartan Bhawan, adjoining Punjab Agricultural University’s Gate no 1, existed a film studio in early fifties. Unfortunately, the venture that held the potential to be home to several film productions fell to bad times. Today, few are aware of its existence but the old timers recall nostalgically the buzz it had created then.

It was 1956 when a local transport company owner Ujagar Singh, a resident of village Dhandra, decided to take a plunge in cinema that had caught the fancy of the masses as the popular source of entertainment. Buoyed up by the potential that this part of the state threw, Ujagar Singh, along with a partner, built a studio named ‘Vishva Vijay Kalamandir’ in an area spreading over to three acres. “The studio was replete with all the modern facilities. There were camera equipment, 12 rooms and a hall constructed in the basement, fancy sets and buses at the ready. Spot boys and cameramen were especially called in from Mumbai,” says Tejpal Singh, Ujagar’s son and resident of Dhandra.

Until a few years ago, the family had preserved rare photos dating back to that time when the studio was inaugurated. But, finding no use for them, the family eventually gave away some to relatives and threw away the rest. “Well-known actress Kuldeep Kaur, hailing from a rich Sikh family of Attari, had come to the city to formally open the studio,” shares Tejpal, who was born in the studio and was only nine when it eventually closed down in 1966. Notably, the visit of Kuldeep, who had acted in films like Kaneez (1949), Afsana (1951), Baiju Bawra (1952) and Anarkali (1953), had spread excitement among the denizens.

Ujagar singh had great plans for the studio and had even arranged for the company to go public. To promote it, budding actors and singers were called to the city. Jagdev Singh Jassowal, noted culture personality of the state, recalls the starry event held the same year. “Popular names from the film industry such as Dharmendra, Sunil Dutt, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Mahendra Kapoor and Inderjeet Hassanpuri had performed at the studio. It was a niche gathering from the city to which I had been invited,” recalls Jassowal. “Had the concept worked out, the city would have been a different place today,” he says.

Ujagar’s wife Gurdeb Kaur, an octogenarian, remembers her seven-year stay at the studio fondly. “Initially, there was quite a buzz around as the shooting of a film ‘Maa ki God’ started there. It starred Kuldeep Kaur as the lead actress,” she recalls.

The film never released as the owner Ujagar Singh developed illness. This combined with poor management of finances slowly ensured that the studio stopped functioning in a matter of years. The funds ran out soon and it shut down eventually.

Ujagar’s children were still very young and none could carry forward the venture.

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Ludhiana and its Kites

Come Lohri and the dusty, noisy lanes of the old city burst into an activity quite unlike the regular days. The chaotic calls by the roadside vendors touting their wares and the creaking vehicles plying the narrow streets take a day’s rest, and a boisterous indulgence in kite flying takes its place.

Denizens, young and old, flock to rooftops and partake in this annual rite of winter season. Most begin as early as 6 am and go on till light supports. As the day picks up, the sky is seen dotted with these colourful tissue-paper jewels, in bright pinks, yellows or green, striped or polka-dotted, some even flashing images of Bollywood stars. Sensitive to the lightest of tugs of the master’s fingers, the kites seem dancing to the tunes of loud Punjabi music blared from giant speakers on the rooftops. On the streets, kids clamber to hold the vanquished kites. In the days to come, those that do not make it to ground can be seen limply hung on trees and wires.

Interestingly, the sport goes beyond an idle pastime on a sunny winter afternoon, for it’s a battle of sorts. A kite high up in the air beginning from one’s roof is an unsaid unchallenge thrown to the neighbour. And the neighbour obliges, as can be seen from the army of kite aficionados present on almost every rooftop in the area, some handling the taut strings and some holding the spool, trying to outdo one another.

Fingers wrapped with duct tape to protect from the sharp, glass-powder coated strings, and tapes to fix the torn ends of a kite at the ready, people tug at the strings and maneuver their flying machines in a bid to mow down the opponent’s kite. The sudden hoots and cheers from a direction hint at victory.

The preparation begins weeks before the festival. The markets in Daresi, Field Gunj, and even the posh areas such as Ghumar Mandi and BRS Nagar begin hoarding kites and strings at least a month in advance. Laddu Patang Wala, Iqbal Ganj, a 50-year-old venture and of the few shops who sell kites all year round. The owner Bhim Chand, who runs three branches of the shop in close vicinity, informs that his kites come from Amritsar, Kolkata, Rampura and other places, available from Rs 2 for a small, simple, diamond-shaped kite to Rs 200 for a fancy and huge (a little less than six feet) one. People in the city are so passionate about kite-flying that they shell out even Rs 2000-3000 on kites and strings, he shares.

However, old-timers will tell you that the kite craze, though strikingly huge for a new eye, has dwindled significantly over the years. “Around 10-20 years ago, the kites would fill every inch of the sky. They have become fewer. Also, the tradition has now reduced to the day of Lohri alone,” says Basant Lal, another kite seller in the area. “People don’t have the time now. But the hardy and the passionate still make it a point to indulge at least on this one day,” he says.

Residents also rue that the sport has become all about slicing the other person’s string, by hook or by crook. They ask for the deadly Chinese plastic strings rather than the much-safer cotton ones.

Notably, the Chinese made strings, that have come under fire often for their harmful effects on skin, costs around Rs 60-65 per 1000 metre while a superior quality cotton string comes at around Rs 150 for the same length.

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A Village Sleeps on History

It’s been over a year of my stay in Ludhiana, Punjab, and there is a certain route I traverse almost daily. Lined up on the kilometer-long stretch are beauty salons, departmental stores, a single-screen theatre, Gurudwaras, a gym and various small eateries selling pizza, ice-creams and momos. Yesterday, I chanced upon an article on the internet and discovered that a huge fenced ground at a turn on that route – that barely catches attention and looks like a piece of commercial real estate property waiting for construction – buries in it remnants of a civilization that existed 3,800 years ago! The story said that during excavations carried by National Department of Archaeology, Punjab, in 1984, the site threw up thousands of coins and seals dating back to the times of Yaudheeys, Hermaeus, Gondophernes, Chandragupta and Samudragupta. The land has been declared protected by Archaeological Survey of India ever since, the instruction announced by a small rust-eaten board in a corner.

This was incredulous to me. I wondered how a site of such massive historical importance could lie in total disregard. No friend who accompanied me to that area for evening strolls had mentioned this. To my shock, it emerged they had no clue and, in fact, didn’t show much interest either. Those few who did know had only a vague idea about the excavations and were more like – “Yeah, there was some talk of rare coins back then.”! In this city of flashy cars, deep pockets, colossal houses and a long roster of successful home-grown industries, history is neither preserved nor bothered about.

Curious to know more, I met a family today, with the help of a local, living in the area for more than 60 years. The eldest member, an ever-smiling male Sikh, though hard of hearing, chatted with me happily and offered me such glimpses into the land’s recent history that my eyes popped out. It was 1965 and the family began construction of a new pucca house in the area, moving from a rundown tenement only nearby. As the masons dug the earth, the family discovered a seven-feet deep pot – a matka – buried underneath. As the digging continued, they found eleven similar pots hiding underneath in a row! What did they do with the pots? “One or two were cracked so we broke them down. The ones that were in good shape, we used them to store grains. But they burst in a few months. Until a year ago, I had one of those pots,” he said with childlike excitement. While I sat stunned regretting it all, he saw my disappointment. “Nobody like you ever came to me asking anything about those things. My children and grand-children never valued them and eventually I too began to think little of them.

Anyway, he showed me three coins he had saved over the years. Interestingly, people from faraway places in the country used to visit the village asking villagers about the rare coins and artifacts. The innocent villagers would barter the rare possessions for what they thought was a princely sum. There are quite a few elderly people in the village who have safeguarded these artifacts in cupboards, he said, but with little hope that their children will take care of their prized possessions. Not that they understand their real value either.

Sadly, owing to uninhibited commercial activity in the village, the historical site has been reduced to the fenced ground spread in 10-12 acres of land. Further excavation work on the site has not commenced since 1984, archeological department blaming the inactivity on the lack of required technology.

This village has the potential of being declared a tourism site. If only the city wakes up to its roots.

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The Old Cinemas of Ludhiana

They were the talk of the town when they came up, here and there, years ago. Like newly wed brides, they were thronged by visitors who admired their beauty. Today, they lie in total disregard with some even in ruins. These old cinema halls of the city that once gave the denizens some of their most-cherished moments are on the verge of death. While some of these dating back to pre-independence era have been demolished and given way to swanky buildings, others are a shadow of their former selves.

If video piracy had not done them enough bad, the rise of the multi-screen multiplexes have ensured they have few takers.

The city has over 20 single-screen theatres. Of these, only three – Preet Palace, Aarti and the relatively new Orient – screen new releases. Priced lower than the multiplexes with tickets ranging from as low as Rs 50 to Rs 100, they attract college-goers and a section of the society that is unwilling to spend over a thousand bucks to watch a movie with family. The comforts these theatres offer are modest compared to those in the plush multiplexes but suffice the needs of many.

The other old cinemas, however, are running to seeds. While Shingar alternates between screening new Bollywood and Bhojpuri film releases, many like Basant, Arora, Surjeet, Surya, Deepak, Nirmal and Sitara are dedicated patrons of Bhojpuri movies. Others like Laxmi, Society, Manju and Raikhey thrive on either old action or sleazy flicks. The prices are dirt cheap starting from as low as Rs 8 and going not above Rs 30. These screens attract huge numbers of migrant labourers from states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, for whom these theatres are perhaps the only source of entertainment.

The single-screen theatre owners rue that their revenues have fallen to just 20-25% compared to the past. And, despite the crumbling structures, plaster scraping off the walls and poor hygienic conditions, they feel reluctant for repair.

Considering that the state once boasted of the largest number of cinema houses in Northern India (176 at one time) with Ludhiana home to a big chunk, these aged structures have evidently fallen to bad times due to indifferent audience, “faulty tax policies of the government” and the general tendency to disrespect anything aged. “While the new multiplexes enjoy total tax holiday in entertainment tax to multiplexes, we struggled to pay the tax levied on us in the recent past,” says Dr Ashish Hora of Chand Cinema.

Meanwhile, multiplexes are mushrooming in various parts of the city with the current five totalling 22 screens. The ticket prices for most begin at Rs 150 for a weekend show.

History

The first cinema hall to come up in the city was Minerva build in pre-independent days and shut down years ago. The second to come up was Raikhey in 1933, which showed Alamara as their first film, and is the oldest surviving cinema hall in Ludhiana. Muslim-owned Naulakha, that was demolished last year, came next in 1938 but remained dormant until 1950. By 1957, the city had six running cinemas including Society, Kailash and Deepak. As the population grew, cinemas mushroomed in the city and soon people had more options in Society, Lakshmi, Kailash Pictures, Aarti and so on. Sangeet, which is now closed, was opened in 1975 by Namdhari Sadhu Singh as a symbol of love for music; Ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh is said to have performed here twice. Chand, the biggest theatre in the state then, opened in 1976; Shingaar too opened at the same time. These, along with Arora, had introduced the concept of multi-screens in city. Dr Ashish Hora, the grandson of Kundan Lal Hora who built the Chand cinema, says, “We had Chand and Mini-Chand with a seating space for 1300 and 400 respectively. We brought the multiplex concept years ago,” he says. The hall, situated in three acres and boasting of fine architecture from a well-known architect in Delhi, has been closed for a year now and Dr Ashish says it is under renovation. Will it go the Malhar way that was demolished to have the existing PVR in place? “No,” says Ashish. “We would not kill our theatre by turning it into a multiplex. Only the sound system, furniture and screen will be modernized and structure repaired,” he says.

Legacy

The huge popularity of these meant that streets and intersections in the city came to be unofficially named after them. In the fifties, Cinema Road was so called due to the presence of Raikhy and Naulakha. Directions like Malhar Road, Kailash Chowk and Aarti Chowk are still popular. Legendary Raj Kapoor had visited Society cinema during the premiere of ‘Bobby’. This theatre also boasts of screening the maximum number of silver jubilee films in city. After the bomb blast at Shingar Cinema in 2007 had left the city shocked, Bhojpuri star Manoj Tiwari had visited the theatre to attend his movie’s screening. The cinema owners recall how famous dignitaries would come to watch films with their family. “I remember the time when Zail Singh came to watch a film accompanied by family. We seated him in the box provided with an attendant for service,” recalls Dr Hora.

Nostalgic Movie Buffs

It was a different movie experience altogether, recall old-timers. The movie timings were fixed and did not involve the tedious task of looking up the websites and newspapers every time, say a retired professor who stays in Agar Nagar. “We would dress up to the nines to watch a movie. While there are burgers, popcorns and colas available, hawkers selling everything from tea to break pakodas to groundnuts thronged the place during the interval when the silent hall would burst into frenzied activity. Those were the times!” he says, adding how he finds difficult to find his way around the workings of a multiplex.

The owners too attached sentimental value to their enterprise. “Idols of various Gods and a statue of Venus especially brought from Rajasthan then greets the visitors in our hall. We also had a diya burning in the hall at all hours of the day at all times of the year and I know most of the other owners too did that,” says Hora.

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Punjab’s Pride: Malkit Singh

UK-based Punjabi singer Malkit Singh, globally recognised for his legendary contribution to music and who gifted the music lovers the chart-busting ‘Tootak-tootak…’ and ‘Gur Nalo Ishq Mitha…’ is essentially a humble man who never forgets to thank God in all moments of success and happiness. “When I recorded my first album in ’86, it was an outcome of my love for music. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would reach where I am today. All has happened with the grace of God,” says the 49-year-old singer.

Malkit (photo from http://www.malkitsingh.com/)

Singh, who created history in 2008 as the first Asian to be honoured by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in London with the award of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, politely says that the honour means a lot to him. “It is a matter of immense pride for a Punjabi and an Indian to be recognised in an alien land. For somebody hailing from an obscure village Hussainpura (Jalandhar) to walk away with such a great honour in the UK, it is all the more special,” he says. “I fondly describe my journey as ‘Balle, Balle, Hussainpura to Buckhimgham!’” cheekily adds Singh, who shifted base to the UK in 1984.

One of his favourite places to perform is London’s prestigious nightclub Ministry of Sound. Having performed here a couple of times in the past, Malkit says the experience each time is  memorable for him. “UK, besides many European countries, loves Punjabi music. They find Tumbi (a musical instrument) extremely intriguing – understanding it as a “Punjabi guitar’ – and go crazy on the foot-tappping Bhangra beats,” Malkit says. “They hardly understand the lyrics but our music is good enough for them to break into a jig,” adds Malkit who has performed in as many as 54 countries so far.

While Malkit continues to enthrall music lovers all over the globe, his heart lies in his homeland. “Every time I visit Punjab, it feels as if a part of me is still living here, quiet but breathing. I miss everything about the place – people, friends, culture, food, the very air…” he shares. “It is winter and I can’t have enough of makki ki roti,” he smilingly adds.

Malkit (Photo from http://www.malkitsingh.com/)

Malkit has always been vocal about his dislike for “violence, hatred and foul language” creeping into the lyrics of Punjabi songs these days. While talking to us, he mentioned the subject again, urging the youth to “sing the glory of our land and its culture” instead of succumbing to the sad trend. “I, on principle, have tried to creat music that one can sing and enjoy with family. If my achivement means something, the young singers should take my advise and compose music that brings joy and peace, and heal masses of the many tensions they have,” Malkit says.

Malkit was in Ludhiana for a short visit. In between, he also shot a video in Chandigarh, for an upcoming album “Nachne da shaunk” produced under the collaboration of several Punjabi singers. Malkit has sung the title song.

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Whimsical Artist

An artist works on a whim, not on calculation.

Ludhiana resident Ashok Goswami had a dream a few years ago that he was painting the Golden Temple of Amritsar. He

saw that as a message from the God. A class IV employee at the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation then, earning a modest Rs 1000 a month, Ashok embarked on the journey to fulfill the “God’s wish” and bought a 56 X 15 feet canvas worth Rs 48,000, the money raised from donations and his savings.

The painting, which Ashok claims is the world’s biggest painting of the revered Sikh temple, has used around Rs 4-5 lakh on over 1300 pencils, 2600 small and big brushes, and gold dust. Having survived on help from a few local patrons so far, the painting needs at least Rs five lakh more to see completion but Ashok says he has been struggling to find sponsors to finish his long-pending project. The painting, he says, is almost in its last stage.

“When I began, I was highly encouraged by people, and I assumed I would carry on with their help. But I can’t survive on compliments alone,” he says.

Apart from finances, Ashok has been facing the problem of finding a suitable space to keep the huge painting. The painting has seen many temporary homes such as Gurudwaras and schools. Today it is lying rolled over with him.

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