Before Punjab votes, Navjot Singh Sidhu is serving it a heady cocktail of cricket, comedy and politics. The show is on and Sherry, a teetotaller himself, is on a high.
From laughing all the way to the bank with comedy shows, 53-year-old Sidhu is now tickling the funny bones of Punjabis as Congress star campaigner and candidate. At Tanda in Hoshiarpur on Tuesday, the former Indian opener starts his speech by licking his fingers, like a spin bowler before a cricket match.
“I used to hit boundaries as a cricketer. Now I will hit Badals for a six. Bhukha teh rajj janda e, bhukkhad nahin rajjda. Bhajj Badala bhajj tere layi main kalla hi kaafi aan (A hungry man gets satiated, not a greedy one. Run, Badal, run; I alone am enough for you),” he says. Lest the crowds forget to cheer, he adds, “Thoko taali (Come on, clap!)”.
He then belts out funny anecdotes from Punjabi folklore to prick the Jat Sikh pride. “Ek billa Jat da duddh pi gaya. Jat ne bille te bhaanda maareya. Naal de bande ne puchheya duddh te pi hi gaya si, mareya kyon? Jatt kehnda billa duddh pi ke muchhan nu tav denda si. Chori, upar se seena-jori (A cat drank milk from a Jat’s home. He threw the vessel at him. When a neighbour asked him why throw the vessel when the cat had already drunk the milk, he said the cat was stoking his moustache after drinking the milk. ‘First he steals, then shows attitude too’).”
He adds, “Pagri sambhaal jatta, pagri sambhaal, Badala ne tera sara lutt leya maal (Save your turban, Jat. The Badals have looted your state). Ki mein jhooth boleya? Nai taan, thoko taali (Have I lied? If not, cheer out loud).”
After the Badals, he guns for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). More analogies follow. He starts by calling it “a baraat without a dulha” (marriage party without a groom). He takes a dig at AAP boss and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, calling him, again, “a handpump which is four feet above the ground and 120 feet below it”. Another round of “thoko taali”. More cheers.
He is not done with Kejriwal yet. Sidhu goes on to shower some more adjectives. “This Kejriwal is a very cunning man. Heads he wins, tails you lose! He wants to break the partnership of Sidhu and Maharaja saab (reference to erstwhile Patiala royal and state Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh) by tweeting, ‘Sidhu will be CM.’”
And then mimics Kejriwal in Hindi. “CM face announce karna humari policy nahi hai (We don’t have the policy to announce a CM face, he told me). Yeh kaale angrez hain. Delhi se Punjab paar raaj karna chahte hain (They are dark-skinned British. They want to rule Punjab from Delhi).”
With a helicopter waiting to take him to Amritsar, he rushes through the same anecdotes, epithets and analogies at the third rally at Sham Chaurasi on Tuesday. He refuses to talk to the media as he reaches for his Toyota Land Cruiser surrounded by a security ring by staff that follows him in a Toyota Innova.
Next day, it starts pouring and we wait for speaking to Sidhu outside his residence in a colony named Holy City, a stretch of luxury within the holy city of Amritsar, lined with palm trees.
His best friend Bunny (Rupinder Singh Sandhu) remains noncommittal on an interview. Two hours later, his private security men come out of two cars and we rush back to the gates. Sidhu had to cancel his day’s roadshow at Tarn Taran and we finally get to sneak in.
OF SOCIAL MEDIA, AND A ‘JAINI’ LUNCH
Dressed in a khaki Pathani suit and matching sleeveless jacket, Sidhu is sipping tea, Punjabi style, in a glass tumbler. He talks about his resentment over being called a “hard bargainer” by the media and says he doesn’t read newspapers or watch news channels. “People are hearing me on social media. My speeches are getting lakhs of views,” Sidhu says. Then there is no stopping him.
Recalling his first speech as a school captain, he says he had to go on stage and say two words, “School dispersed”. “I fainted after saying those two words. I was a very shy child. When I scored a century, I used to dread the press. But now I don’t prepare my speeches. Even if I have not watched cricket for a while, I start the commentary after reaching the ground,” he adds. As we talk on Punjab and Congress, Sidhu hands out a file of how Badal businesses have grown over the years “at the expense of Punjab’s coffers”.
Over lunch — three sabzis without onion and garlic, and chapatis with no ghee — Sidhu says he is a teetotaller and has ‘Jaini’ food. He says he follows the ‘early to bed, early to rise’ regime. “I need six hours of sleep. I go to bed by 10 and get up at 4 in the morning. I do meditation for hours after I get up. I go into a trance. I have no internet in my house. I sleep a sound sleep as I am answerable only to my conscience,” he says.
There is jaggery for dessert and Sidhu can’t help throw yet another analogy as he eats it. “The Badals hatch conspiracies to finish people politically. Gur de ke maarde ne (They kill you by serving jaggery).”
ON HOME TURF
On the phone, he tells someone he’d welcome anyone from the rival camp to join him willingly. It’s time for him to leave for his office to discuss his campaign in Amritsar East, the seat of his wife Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu, which he is contesting this time. As he reaches for the door, his dog, Poochi, a French breed, Petit Basset Griffon, comes running and Sidhu shouts as she pees near a sofa. He fondly says his other dog is named Batman.
At one end of Sidhu’s house is a room where Guru Granth Sahib is placed. On the first floor, there is a “rare” crystal Shivling. Sidhu calls himself a devotee of Mahadev (Lord Shiva) and also a devout Sikh.
And, not just the clock, he goes by the stars too for luck. So much so that Congressmen now joke he leaves home only at a time that’s auspicious. He is wearing four rings studded with gemstones -- pukhraj and rubies -and a gold bracelet of rubies. Does he believe in astrology? Sidhu nods a yes. “I do.”
His wife is out campaigning for the seat and, other than the two pets, the palatial house with a swimming pool in the basement seems empty.
Ask him if his kids are campaigning, and Sidhu smiles, “My daughter Rabia is doing fashion designing in London and my son, Karan, is a lawyer in Delhi. Even when a traffic cop challans him, he does not tell them whose son he is.” Modesty may not be one of Sidhu’s virtues, but the gift of the gab surely is.
But, on pride, you cannot blame Amritsaris. The famous restaurant ‘Bharavan da Dhaba’ in the city tells you why. “Namak swaad anusar. Aakad aukaat anusaar (Salt as per taste. Attitude as per your stature),” reads a placard there.