Growing up, the world was full of rigid boxes upon which labels were plastered like baggage tags. Hindu! Muslim! Sikh! Christian! The labels were used threateningly or apologetically or defensively.
The first inkling that the boxes were not as rigid as I perceived them to be came on a visit to Agra in the early 80s. In one of those absolutely unremarkable encounters that should be long erased from the memory, I found myself in the room of a cheap hotel. Sharing the room were a bunch of local people who I seem to remember as being our auto-rickshaw driver, his sidekick and a bearer from the hotel who had decided to hang out with us after delivering a pot of tea and some TBJ (toast butter jam, that staple of western breakfasts in India).
At some point the auto-rickshaw driver (or his sidekick, I’m not sure) proudly pulled out a picture of an elderly man with slightly closed eyes. “This is my guru,” he told me. He told me his name, “Pir So and so”.
“Are you Muslim?” I asked
“Hindu,” came the reply, “but it doesn’t matter. Pir baba has a very good and strong heart. Everyone comes to him for blessings. You come too! Many Christians follow him as well.”
His heart is good and strong!
I love that.
As I write I’m listening to the Wadali Brothers sing some poetry of Ghulam Farid that great poet of the Punjabi soul. His heart was strong and good too! For Punjabis, regardless of their religious allegiance revere him and hold his mystical poetry true to their own hearts.
The Wadalis are siblings. Puranchand, the elder was a wrestler who also had some talent as a singer even studying at the feet of the giant Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan for some time. Pyarelal, the younger brother, was famous in the districts surrounding Amritsar where they lived, for playing Lord Krishna in the annual folk retelling of his birth, known as the Rasleela.
But so deep and mixed up are the folk traditions of Punjab that when it came to pursuing a singing career they gravitated immediately to qawwali the distinctly Islamic musical form of northern India. Their career did not start well. They were rejected from appearing on stage at local musical jamboree apparently, because they didn’t ‘look right’. Whatever that means I don’t know, perhaps the organisers of the festival themselves were not used to Hindus singing Muslim music. The Wadalis probably didn’t have beards or wear topis. Who knows?
But a few decades on, and now moving toward the latter end of their lives, they are well established and loved for their kafi and qawwali singing. Carrying on the fine tradition of listening to and searching for the good and strong heart whatsoever body it happens to beat within.
01 Tere Ishq Nachaya (Baba Bulleh Shah)
02 Aa Mil Yaar (Baba Bulleh Shah)
03 Sone Yaar (Ghulam Farid)
04 Ni Main Hune Suneya (Baba Bulleh Shah)
05 Bulleya Ki Jana Main Kaun (Baba Bulleh Shah)
06 Saval Morh Moharan (Baba Bulleh Shah)
07 Alaf Allah (Baba Sultan Bahoo)