Untold stories of those who make baraatis dance with wild abandon | punjab$dont-miss | Hindustan Times
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Untold stories of those who make baraatis dance with wild abandon

How do you know that a baraat is at your doorstep? The sound of the lively dhol of course. We all know that a baraat is incomplete without a band. As the dulha rides on a horseback, his entourage of revellers makes for a perfect shaadi picture.

punjab Updated: Dec 04, 2015 15:07 IST
Aishwarya S Iyer
Poverty of the instrumentalists is most evident through their last source of income, which is the money thrown up towards the sky, when the baraat is in motion.
Poverty of the instrumentalists is most evident through their last source of income, which is the money thrown up towards the sky, when the baraat is in motion.(HT Photo)

How do you know that a baraat is at your doorstep? The sound of the lively dhol of course. We all know that a baraat is incomplete without a band. As the dulha rides on a horseback, his entourage of revellers makes for a perfect shaadi picture.

But have you ever wondered about those who play in wedding bands for a livelihood? Are their lives as perfect? Most of them adorn uncomfortable uniforms and hold heavy instruments. And their lives are a conundrum of sorts driven by innumerable hardships.

Waging a war

Talking about the wages of a regular instrumentalist in such bands, Dharamveer Singh (37), owner of Durga Bands in Sector 16, says among those working for him are immigrants from Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

The salaries of these people aren’t fixed. It depends entirely on their kalakari (skill). They’re paid anywhere between Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,000 a month,” says Dharamveer.

Madan Lal, 46, who owns the New Shastri Band in Sector 37, says his family has been in this profession for 45-50 years. Lal says, on an average, the band members are paid between Rs 5,000 and Rs 7,000 a month.

“I am sending my kids to a government school so they can bring us out of poverty,” says Sanju (32). (Gurminder Singh/HT Photo)

Sanju, 32, is an immigrant from UP who lives with his wife and two sons, aged nine and seven. He says the most he has earned in a month is Rs 6,000. “I get Rs 300 to Rs 400 per night. Other than this, on some nights, when the wedding is slightly bigger the families give us sagan. They give the band Rs 1,500 or Rs 1,000 which is further divided among us. Some families don’t even do that,” says Sanju.

Their poverty is most evident through their last source of income, which is the money thrown up towards the sky, when the baraat is in motion. The band master collects the money and ensures no one else picks it up. He has to hand over half the amount to the band owner. From the remaining part, one portion goes to the dholwallahs and other is again divided between band members.

No food, stinky uniforms

“I am not literate, so I can’t apply for any job. My kids will be different though,” says Rajkumar (65). (Karun Sharma/HT Photo)

Rajkumar, 65, an immigrant from Yamunanagar in Haryana, makes an ironic revelation. He says there are no arrangements for food for the band that escorts the groom on his wedding day.

“The families don’t invite us in to eat and the band owners don’t arrange for food either. We go without food for the night,” says Rajkumar. The band members say their uniforms are almost always dirty. “When we have work on consecutive days, for say three to four days, the clothes aren’t laundered for us,” says Agner, 35, immigrant from Karnal district in Haryana. He also adds that uniforms are dirty because of the sweat and pollution from playing on roads.

Vijay (36), an immigrant from Farmana village in Haryana, says, “No one appreciates our efforts or values us in any way. It is very disheartening.”

A lesson in music

Sanju says his ustad in UP taught him to play instruments. “I wasn’t very particular, but when I turned 15 my father asked me to learn. Little did I know it would be my only source of income one day,” he says.

Agner also learnt the instrument from his ustad in Haryana when he was 13. “In smaller villages there are ustads in every village. I learnt for six to seven months only.”

Along with this band owners like Sandeep Kumar (28), who owns Sandeep Band in Manimajra, also spend time going over the latest songs. “We have a 10-15 day rehearsal organised with the band to new tunes so they can play the favourites at the wedding,” he says.

Seasonal employment

A band performing during a wedding. (HT Photo)

The band workers don’t have a regular salary, therefore they resort to quick-work jobs to make up for lost money for most of the year.

Agner has two kids to take care of. “The wedding industry isn’t a reliable one. When I don’t work in bands, in majburi I work at construction sites around Chandigarh and Punjab. I also paint window panes and doors,” he says.

Sanju, on the other hand, doesn’t know anything apart from playing instruments. “When the wedding season is off; I go play instruments in bhajan-kirtans at gurdwaras and mandirs. I also play at birthday parties. Sometimes I assist my friends in electrical work,” he says.

On being asked why they continue to work in bands, Rajkumar says, “This is all I know and I am not literate, so I can’t apply for any job neither do I have that understanding. My kids will be different though. I wish I earned more money sometimes. I could have provided for my daughters better.”

A diminishing business

Band owners are facing heavy losses. Band contractors who provide the services in the tricity complain of less work. Lal says, “The work has reduced by a good 50 per cent from five to six years ago. Every year the work reduces.” Their expenses include expensiture on lights, the horse, the generator, musical instruments, food for his employees and their salaries.

He wants to ensure both his girls and one son don’t have to join the family business. He says, “I’m making sure three of them get a good education and make their own future. It is too late for me but not for my kids.”

Jagdish Nagar, owner of Jai Hind Wedding Planner in Sector 30C, says one reason there are less weddings is the paucity of dates picked up by the pandits. “Hindus are very religious and get scared when a pandit says a certain time to marry is bad due to the saaya or mahurat. And everyone follows his advice. This year there are no marriages from December 15 to January 15,” he says.

The traditional touch

Gurjeet Kaur, 46, whose son got married in January 2015, says, “We didn’t call for a big baraat as we didn’t want the girls side to be overburdened,” she says.

However, most people want to maintain the age-long baraati tradition. “The wedding would seem so incomplete without a baraat,” says Sanchita Sharma (25).

Geetika Garg, 25, a bride-to-be says there is definitely going to be a baraat on her wedding day. “One has so much fun doing things the traditional way. I wouldn’t change a thing for my wedding.”