Saturday, March 12, 2016

Folk Music & the Punjabi Culture that was

Part of the soundtrack of my childhood and adolescence was the rustic notes of Punjabi film and folk music. The great influence here was my mother who hailed from a proudly rural Punjabi Jaat background (from a village near Sialkot). She loved all kinds of popular music including ghazals and Indo-Pak film songs but had a more visceral emotional attachment to the Punjabi folk music that she had heard growing up. It reminded her of her carefree youth and of her days in "Kotli Bhutta" with her mother and her older sisters. My father enjoyed this music as well but his was a slightly more detached appreciation.

Until I started kindergarten at the Sacred Heart School, the only language I spoke was Punjabi. This was quite unusual in the Lahori urban middle class, to which my family belonged. Even when parents spoke to each other in Punjabi, they almost always insisted that their kids speak only in Urdu. Urdu was the respectable language of the educated classes. Punjabi was its crass cousin, fit only for the unwashed masses. After I started school, I switched quickly to Urdu and almost never spoke in Punjabi with my family again. But fortunately for me, given my childhood proficiency, I never lost my natural comfort with the Punjabi language and music continued to re-inforce an otherwise weak link to that neglected native culture.  

My father's record collection (and later tapes) included lots of Punjabi music. I have many favorites from that time by Noor Jehan, Tufail Niazi, Alam Lohar, Reshma, Hamid Ali Bela and others but I particularly love the partition-era folk music of the Lahore-born sisters, Surinder and Prakash Kaur. The language is pure, the melodies beautiful and they represent a Punjabi culture that persisted for hundreds of years before the intrusion of modernity changed it forever in the last half century.

Many common Punjabi words in those folk songs have disappeared from the Urdu-ized Punjabi vocabulary of modern Lahoris. Some of my fondest memories are asking my mother about words I didn't understand and her detailed explanations which often harked back to the stories she had heard from her own mother. Those stories and explanations connected me as a child to an entirely different era of spinning wheels, water wells, milking buffalos, crop seasons, irrigation terminology and the complex web of loving and jealous relationships (daraNiaN, jathaNiaN!) that kept joint families together and tore them apart. It seems astonishing to me that the rural world described in these timeless folk songs, a world that had existed unaltered for countless generations, vanished so quickly in the last half century.

Yesterday, after a long time, I listened again to a song by Tassawur Khanum called "Bari thaani charhya". I remember hearing this song in the 80's and loving it but I don't recall that it struck me as particularly poignant. But listening to it again 30+ years later made me realize that it describes a simple and beautiful rural world that no longer exists. Yes, this is rather clearly a man's world and even the very sweet romanticism has a strong whiff of patriarchy (the last verse in particular galls me), but it has an old-fashioned charm. Today, the innocence and charm are gone but the patriarchy persists.

Now, lets turn to the actual music and words of "Baari thaani charhya". The lyrics and composition are by Mian Shehryar.

Punjabi Lyrics:

Baari thaani charhya
NawaN din arraya
HuN bohti daer na kareeN
Chaiti muR aaweeN gharee

Dudh wee na rirkaN
Sabhna nuN chirkaaN
Duur hoya dil jaaniye
Layee nukray madhaaNiye

KaaN wee nahiN bol da
Dil mera dol da
JeRa wassay watnoN paray
Rab odhi khair karay

KannaN diyaN waaliyaN
Laah kay sambhaliyaN
JadoN mera maahi aaway ga
Aa kay meri kanni paaway ga

Charkha nahiN kat dee
Raah tera tak dee
Jind meri dadhi suk gayee
Charkhay dee nuk muk gayee

VangaN naheeN charohniyaN
GallaN naheeN karoniyaN
Teray baajhoN sunjha vehRa aye
Hor meinooN gham keRa aye

Dupatta vee nahiN rangeya
Sara din langeya
Teri meiN ghulam hoyee
Aaja ghar shaam hoyee

Many of the words and the rhythms of Punjabi life in these lyrics have virtually disappeared. There are almost no 'charkhas' and 'madhanis' anymore and words like 'vangaN' or 'sunjha' or 'jind' have mostly been replaced with their Urdu equivalents.

This piece would be incomplete without sharing two of my favorite pieces by the above-mentioned Surinder and Parkash Kaur. I can never listen to these two songs without thinking of my mother. She still weeps every time she hears these songs as they inevitably remind her of 'ammaN jee", of her 'veers' and a time that is no more. May she live a long, happy and healthy life.

The first song "MaavaN te DhiyaN" is sung by both Surinder and her older sister Parkash. This was the first commercially released duet by the sisters in 1943, and made them overnight stars in the Indian sub-continent.
"KaNkaN lammiaN dhiyaN kyuN jammiaN nee maay"

The second song is "MadhaniyaN" with its plaintive lyrics; "Hai oh meray daadhia rabba kinnaN jammiyaN kinnaN nay lai janiaN". These lyrics are full of long forgotten cultural allusions ("ayna sakkiaN bhaabhiaN nay dola tor kay kachcha dudh peeta") that the vast majority of Punjabis today would find mystifying and there are almost no sources that could help them comprehend a society and culture that existed just a few decades ago.

And here is "MadhaniyaaN": 


Musab said...

Lovely little post Fawad. I've been planning a somewhat similar post on musical hand-me-downs for quite a while now but I'm embarrassed to admit that I can find absolutely no time at all during my specialization residency. I came late to Surinder Kaur but boy did I fall for her instantly. The first song you posted was composed by the late Mian Sheheryar, who was a very interesting personality. One of the many fabulous PTV composers who have sadly remained unknown. There's this lovely little tribute program shown by PTV after his demise which offers an insight into his creative prowess. I have been haunted by the composition at the 5 minute mark ever since I first heard the clip.

Nate Rabe said...

Fawad, What a blog! I had no idea this was your doing! I've loved it for a couple of years! Thanks so much.This is really brilliant! Any chance of geting English translations next time around of the Punjabi lyrics?

Nate Rabe said...

Actually Fawad, I of course know this is your blog! I've been reading it for years. I got sidetrack with the lovely music and thought of the blog 'Punjabi Folk Music
Great bloody post!!

Fawad Zakariya said...

Musab, thanks for the comment and sharing the Mian Shehryar tribute. It never fails to amaze me how much cultural talent we had until about 4 decades after partition. Then it faded rapidly with only islands of "khandaani" competence left intact.

Nate, thanks as always for your kind appreciation. I have come to realize that there are a handful of people I know who share my interest in these increasingly obscure cultural corners. It is such a privilege to be able to communicate with them and know that there are kindred spirits out there.

Gaurav Ail said...

Have you seen Neha Bhasin's rendition of Madhaniya yet ... every bride will connect to it .. do see and post your comments on the video

punjabi song lyrics said...

Thnx for share the useful info about punjabi song lyrics.

sad song lyrics said...

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Berlin Epicenter said...

And I thought I was lonely in this world with my tastes of music in the Western world. Thank you so much for your blog post. I’ll come back. I was searching for music after having seen Midnight‘s children (very highly recommended) and some of the music really struck an accord in my soul. I just bought an album called Shahkar Ghazlein, you might listen to it as well.