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Punjab Di Goonj: 27 and still No 1

Kuldip Deepak has carved a niche by singing only literary songs, writes Gurmukh Singh in Canada Diary.

india Updated: Sep 10, 2005 18:08 IST

Not a day goes by when you don't have some pop singer or film star from India performing in some North American city these days.

Ethnic newspapers, and TV and radio programmes are full of advertisements about these programmes.

Some artistes come here with the mission of entertaining their overseas brethren with desi fare. Others come here just for their annual pheri to collect dollars, so to speak. Still others come to leave behind a few "kabutars''.

As our readers know, the term "kabutar'' became famous when Daler Mehndi was arrested for allegedly taking money from Punjabi youth promising to take them abroad.

In a nutshell, the Indian cultural scene in North America is really hot these days.

And one man who has been on this cultural scene for a quarter of a century is Toronto-based Kuldip Deepak.

This man is a rare breed. The likes of Gurdas Mann and Daler Mehndi may have made a name for themselves because of bhangra, but Deepak has made a global niche for himself by singing only literary songs.

Literary songs?

"Yes, the poems of Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Amrita Pritam, Surjit Pattar and SS Misha are my literary songs. I have given voice to their works,'' he says laconically.

 
 Singer Kuldip Deepak at a concert

Why did he take up this so-called literary singing at a time when there were not many Indians in North America?

Responds Deepak: "I immigrated to Canada after completing my Masters in history from Punjab University, Chandigarh, 27 years ago. It was 1975 and I was 21 at that time.

"Upon arrival in Toronto, I started working as a management trainee with the Consumers Distributing Head office. Later I became supervisor, office manager and system technical analyst. But I was never satisfied with what I was doing. Music and poetry were in my blood. As a boy, I had taken to reading and singing poetry after reading Shiv Batalvi. It was around 1973 when Shiv died at the peak of his literary life. It was then that I decided to devote myself to singing poetry of literary giants.''

But his move to Canada put a halt to this passion for a while. "To give vent to it, I decided to start a Punjabi radio programme called Punjab Di Goonj. To begin with, it was a weekend programme. Then we extended to a nine-hour show on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. These days, we do a five-hour show on Saturdays alone,'' he beams.

After establishing Punjab Di Goonj as Canada's premier Punjabi programme, Deepak took time off to record North America's first Punjabi - rather Indian - album in 1980. Titled Kudip Deepak Singh - Shiv Batalvi, the album became an instant hit in the North America Indian Diaspora as well as in India.

"My second album was also about Shiv Batalvi's poetry. Jagjit Singh did the music for it. Till date, I have done eight albums, with 25 songs of Shiv alone. Two more albums are in the works. Three years ago, HMV India released an album of mine with 10 songs of Shiv,'' he claims.

Interestingly, he was the first Indian to sing poetry with a guitar. "Because the guitar gives you the rhythm and sur. Because the younger generation likes it. That's why I use guitar.''

He narrates how once he was mistaken for a pop (rather rock) singer when he walked on to stage to sing. "It was in Chandigarh. People thought I would sing some rock stuff, but when I opened my mouth they were shocked,'' he laughs.

Thanks to this charismatic host-singer, Punjab Di Goonj is still the longest-running and most popular show in Ontario.

"We have over 250,000 Punjabi-speaking immigrants in our area. About 150,000 tune in each week. We give news, views, talk shows and music. And we are proud to say that we have stayed out of any controversy all these years,'' claims Deepak who has also produced and hosted an Indo-Canadian entertainment show for over eight years on CHEX.

And he proudly says how his radio and television shows have contributed over $3.5 million to the economy of his adopted country over the years.

"And we at Punjab Di Goonj have never flinched from conducting fund-raisers for community centres, temples and hospitals and other community-related causes. To date, we have raised over $2 million for these causes. This January, we raised over $56,000 for tsunami victims.''

In addition, he is also one of the founding members of the International Punjabi Chamber of Commerce of which he is currently the director and general secretary.

"Since its formation, the International Punjabi Chamber of Commerce has played a key role in promoting trade and cultural ties between India and Canada,'' he says.

For his services to Canadian society, this Punjabi radio producer in the country was honoured by the Canadian Ethnic Journalists & Writers Club on June 27, 2003.

And he, more than anyone else, deserves it.