Round About | The Mirasins of Patiala
Fondest of all the wanderings in a heritage city was a visit to home of the Mirasin sisters Sugran and Bhagi in the Doomanwali Gali, near Adalat Bazar; that evening in early 1990s was something to remember.columns Updated: Oct 29, 2017 14:56 IST
Readers of the ‘Kitab Trinjan’, a community page on Facebook catering to Punjabi ethos on both sides of the border, as well as the diaspora, were surprised when a feature on a documentary film on the Mirasins of Punjab was posted. The reason being that the 40-minute documentary ‘Mirasins of Punjab: Born to Sing’ made by Shikha Jhingan dates back to 2001. However, it made me rather happy and nostalgic seeing the post because it brought back fond memories.
Patiala was the destination of bygone culture living and writing in the westernised, planned and somewhat sanitised city of Chandigarh. The Patiala peg was indeed a heady one and a visit there was sure to yield a story with a difference: be it a long session with late Laali the savant, a professor of anthropological linguistics in Punjabi University, the blowing up of a metal statue of a bathing beauty in the days of militancy, or a home at Sheranwala Gate, where the landmark Punjabi film ‘Chann Pardesi’(1981) was planned.
The reason for recalling the film on the Mirasins was recently screened in Delhi as a heritage film and newspapers took notice of it. The Kitab Trinjan anchor justified the post by saying ‘It is history!’ Well, I was a part of the history in small way. I have had Patialvis giving me guided tours of their cherished city, with singer Kamal Tewari taking us there at night and showing the by-lanes of his childhood, Laali making us walk through the pre-1947 courtesans’ street or my comrade friend Manmohan Sharma making me walk miles to reach the ‘halwe-wala chowk’ and I did so in the hope of getting a good story and some tasty halwa. Alas! I reached there and asked where the halwa was? Manmohan told me in all cool, “The halwe-wala died many years ago and no one has made such delicious halwa since.” You see, in a heritage city past and present are so intertwined that one quite forgets that what happened was long ago.
But I should not blame my friend for tickling my taste buds with the hope of the halwa that was a legend of the past. In all truth, the yield was greater than expected most times. So it was in the festival of ‘Bawan Dawasi’, a pageant still led by a dwarf, a lucky mascot of Maharaja Bhupendra Singh. But the fondest of all the wanderings with him was a visit to the home of the Mirasin sisters Sugran and Bhagi in the Doomanwali Gali, near Adalat Bazar, where Manmohan’s ancestral home was also there as he belonged to a family of traditional Raj Purohits of the Maharaja. Of course, he deviated from the family calling to have a tryst with the Left.
The two sisters had sonorous voices and sang so well the earthy rhythms of the Punjabi soil. Bhagi the older one was the fairer one but dusky Sugran, wearing dark glasses to cover an ailing eye, was the superior singer. That evening in the early 1990s was something to remember. We heard them sing, pamper their Pomeranian dog and look at the pictures of their nephews and nieces doing well in Pakistan and Canada. These two sisters were the last ones who had held onto the family calling of music.
Some years later when I had moved to Delhi, Shikha, a young filmmaker, called me to say that she had read my story on these traditional singers and wanted to make a film on it. Of course, I said and it was forgotten until Shikha turned up at my flat there wanting me to translate the songs by the mirasins in the film. I hummed and hawed about an ailing mother, a young daughter and little time for relaxing and translating poetry. At this she turned up again with a bottle of Old Monk rum and an honorarium and there was no way I could get away.
When the film was shown in Delhi in 2001, it created quite a buzz. Shikha had done her homework well and included the ageing mirasins of Malerkotla villages. Sugran was of course the star of the film as Bhagi was no more when the film was shot. Shikha now teaches cinema at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and her film on the mirasins is still alive. I am glad that I did manage to translate the songs, courtesy the Old Monk!
(The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)