Artistes and academics of the region are dismayed over the “communal” response to renditions of Punjabi singers Jasbir Jassi and Madan Gopal Singh during the annual Lohri gathering at the India Habitat Centre (IHC) on Wednesday evening.
Madan posted his unhappy response on the Facebook where many have expressed their solidarity with the singers.
The Lohri celebrations have been a hallmark of the centre for over a decade-and-a-half and are marked by Punjabi delicacies being served amidst music and bonfires. The tradition was started by painter Manjit Bawa and singer Madan. The latter kept the show going even after Bawa passed away in 2008.
The musical magic was cast this time with Madan and his ‘Chaar Yaar’ accompanists setting the tone and Jassi taking it to its crescendo. Some Western guest artistes were also present.
However, after the rich applause, an apparently upset young woman walked up to Madan and Jassi and rapped them for inclusive singing. “She told us that we were invited to sing at Lohri and not at Eid. She then specified that Lohri was a Hindu festival and we should have stuck to Hindu references,” says Madan.
“She seemed terribly upset. The lady’s comment shook me for a second but I soon recovered and reminded her that the core narrative of Lohri celebrations concerns Dulla Bhatti, a Muslim rebel who rescued poor Hindu girls and married them off within their religion,” he adds.
Madan said the woman then just walked out in a huff. The singer says he was saddened and left wondering that how the ‘aarti’ of Guru Nanak, ‘anand’ by Kabir or ‘hori’ by Bulleh Shah were not relevant to the celebration of the festival that stands for plurality. “I have sung for nearly 17 years at the IHC Lohri and never got such a communal response. If this is not an example of a new-found aggressive intolerance, then what is it?” asks Madan.
Photographer Ram Rehman says, “I have experienced this more recently. Such comments were voiced at a lit fest in Mumbai recently.”
Many respondents have told the singer not to lose heart and carry on with their music that binds people of different communities. Punjabi poet Navtej Bharati asked the singers to not get disheartened by such incidents and not stop the good work being done by them.
Art historian Subhash Parihar of Kotkapura sums it up with a quotable quote: “A narrow mind and wide mouth go together.”
However, Rekha Chowdhary, an academic from Jammu terms the incident as sad. “These people are real and even we may choose to ignore them, their reality is a challenge to the Indian/ Punjabi ethos of composite culture. Something is wrong at the ground level or how else could have such a compartmentalised understanding of Lohri? And she is not the only one,” she adds.
Others have shown solidarity by posting the Dull Bhatti story.