Before Punjab votes, Navjot Singh Sidhu is serving it a heady cocktail of cricket, comedy and politics. The show is on and Sherry (his nickname), a teetotaller himself, is on a high.
From laughing all the way to the bank with comedy shows, Sidhu, 53, is now tickling the funny bones of Punjabis as Congress star campaigner and candidate. At Tanda in Hoshiarpur on Tuesday, the former Indian batsman starts his speech by licking his fingers, like a spin bowler.
“I used to hit boundaries as a cricketer. Now I will hit Badals (the ruling family of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal) for a six. Bhukha teh raaj janda, bhookhad nai rajhda. Bhaaj Badala bhaaj tere liye mein kala hi kaafi aa (a hungry man gets satiated not a greedy one. Run Badal run, I alone am enough for you),” he says. Lest the crowd forgets to cheer, he adds, “Thoko taali (clap in earnest)”.
After Badals, he guns for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). He calls it “a baraat without a dulha” (marriage procession without a groom) and “khaas aadmi party”. He takes a “dig” at Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, calling him a “hand pump which is four feet above the ground and 120 feet below it”.
With a helicopter waiting to take him to Amritsar, he rushes through anecdotes at another rally, ending it with a “Khattaak!”
Next day, it starts pouring and we wait for speaking to Sidhu outside his plush residence in Holy City, a stretch of luxury within the Holy City of Amritsar, lined with palm trees. Sidhu had to cancel his day’s roadshow at Tarn Taran.
Sipping tea, he talks about his resentment over being called a “hard bargainer” by the media and says he doesn’t read newspapers or see news channels. “People are hearing me on social media. My speeches are getting lakhs of views.” As he settles in to talk, 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.”
After lunch, there is jaggery for dessert and Sidhu can’t help throw yet another analogy. “The Badals hatch conspiracies to finish people politically. Gur de ke marde ne (They kill you by serving jaggery).”
He talks on the phone and tells someone he would welcome anyone from rival camp who wants to join him willingly. It’s time for him to leave for office to discuss his campaign in Amritsar East, the seat of his wife Navjot Kaur, which he is contesting.
Sidhu goes by the stars 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.”
Asked if his children are campaigning, Sidhu smiles. “My daughter Rabiya is doing fashion designing in London and my son, Karan, is a lawyer in Delhi. Even when a traffic police official challans him, he does not tell them whose son he is.” Modesty may not one of Sidhu’s virtues but gift of gab surely is.
But on pride, you cannot blame Amritsaris. The famous Bharavan Da Dhaba in the city tells you why. “Namak swaad anusar. Aakad aukaat anusar (Salt as per taste. Attitude as per your stature),” reads a placard at the dhaba.