Songs of Resistance - Kanwal Grewal, Sharry Maan, Guru Nanak
It is a fact universally acknowledged that a crowd composed of a Sikh majority is usually crackling with electric energy. I remember being at Ram Lila maidan, where the farmers’ march had come to a halt last year at Delhi. The crowd was getting restless and there were some performances lined up for the evening. Suddenly, I heard the sound of bullets being used as percussion in the introduction to a song.
It could only mean one thing, the Punjabi farmers had decided to let the Bhangra do the talking. I remember how the evening was transformed into a colourful celebration of identity (barring percussive bullets, of course), how, in one musical burst, the movement became more than just about the farmers’ demands. The songs performed were a living archive of a people, and a time; about seasons and harvest, about a mother plaiting her daughter’s hair before a festival, about young love, and of course, about revolution. My eyes welled up that evening thinking about the nuanced and poignant engagement of this vibrant group of farmers who had been driven to leave their homes and walk thousands of kilometres for their voices to be heard. They well up again today, as I see musicians, actors and even cricketers come out in support of the farmers.
A number of songs have been released that not only stand with the movement, but embody the fierce spirit of the farmers. Aditya Menon of The Quint writes about how singers have “amplified the farmers’ stir” picking examples from various songs and giving both historical and cultural context and illustrating the particular impact of this art during these protests. I want to share a couple of these excerpts as part of today’s offering. Amandeep Sandhu, the author of Punjab: Journeys through Faultlines writes, with reference to these songs of revolution and the spirit of dissent: Defiance of power, resistance to hegemony, has been in Punjab’s blood through innumerable generations. This is what the rest of India - blinkered by modern maps of nations and states - sometimes does not get about the people of the state. Their survival instincts are high. hey smell oppression in the air and take their stance. Sometimes, the stance is in conflict with the maps of modern nation states, at other times the stance enables the oppressed to articulate their voice and stand up to power.
How beautiful that the farmers, surpassing obstacle after obstacle are in Delhi, their voices resounding across the country, on the day of Guru Purab. It is Guru Nanak’s birthday, and I want to share with you an excerpt of his poetry, too. The poem I’m sharing is a kind of “anti-arati”. Guru Nanak, through his life and his teachings became a living example of much of the spirit that defines this movement today. His belief that God rested not only in temples and shrines, but in acts of care and kindness is what shines through images of Punjabi farmers giving food and water to policemen, the same policemen who were tearing at them with water cannons and tear gas.
Hopefully there will be more to come in this same strain, but for now, Happy Birthday Guru Nanak Saheb. May the spirit of the Guru guide us, give relief to the farmers, drive the message home, and overturn these “anti-farmer” laws. May the movement be successful.