Legendary Pakistani folk singer of Jugni fame, Arif Lohar, was in Chandigarh recently. He was in the city to perform at a wedding function, to be followed by a performance in Bathinda at the World Kabaddi Cup final. While many of us may crib about the big fat Punjabi weddings, one cannot sideline the fact that such events, other than providing patronage to folk music, contribute immensely to keep the people to people contact alive between India and Pakistan.
And just as kudos should be given to people who burn a hole in their pockets to invite artistes from across the border, it is equally important for the media to pick up stories of hope and peace with the same enthusiasm as it picks up the war-mongering ones.
Arif Lohar, since he was in Chandigarh agreed to come on a TV show that I host and what a rocking interview it turned out to be.
Best described as a freewheeling one, Arif talked about his music career, folk music, his father the great Alam Lohar and the role artistes played as harbingers of peace.
So, what message did Lohar bring from the people of Pakistan each time he crossed to over India? “I bring lots of love, affection and hope,” replied Lohar and narrated a story explaining the importance of keeping the people to people contact alive.
“Once there was a blazing forest fire. One bird in her attempt to extinguish it would fly to the nearby pond and collect water in her beak to sprinkle it on the fire. When asked by other animals that did she seriously believe her effort would make any difference, the bird simply replied that, ‘Whenever this fire burns out, her name would figure among the top ones who tried to douse it.’ An artiste was one such bird, and whatever little effort they could make, they were trying at least.”
And what kind of experiences and memories did he take back to Pakistan after every Indian visit? “Indians have opened their heart to my music and have adopted me like their very own,” said Arif. He said he was indebted to the late Manveen Sandhu, former principal of Springdale Senior School, Amritsar, who had invited him for the first time to this dharti to promote cultural interaction between Lahore and Amritsar.
Talking about his music career, Arif narrated anecdotes about how he would accompany his father to music akharas (assembly of people in a town square to watch a musical or martial arts performance) and where people would gather in large numbers to listen to the great Alam Lohar.
“There would be people sitting on rooftops and kikkar trees to listen to him.” According to Arif, his father had gone against his grandfather’s wishes and chased his dream of becoming a musician. “My grandfather was a panchatiya and had 25 villages under him and thought of music as below the family status. In fact he would tell Arif not to follow his father’s footsteps. “Bau tu nahi eh karna,” he would tell Arif whenever Arif would go to press his grandfather’s feet.
Arif, was however smitten by his father’s voice and would frequently imitate his father’s style of folk singing. The first song Arif imitated was, Ghara doleya sohni ney moohon boliya, mahi noon zarra, mahi noon zara tak len dey.
His father was highly impressed by his singing and Arif soon released his first album, Puttar Alam Lohar da. Arif would later tour villages competing in singing competitions. “In those days, when you won a village singing competition you were given a turban so the house was full of turbans. However if I didn’t win a turban, I wouldn’t be disappointed but would try to improve my music,” said Arif.