The mood was upbeat in Sandeep Wahal’s east Delhi residence where guests had gathered to attend the ladies sangeet on the eve of his daughter’s wedding.
The singers had also arrived. But even before they could begin their performance, there was demand in one voice for them to sing Sadda Chiriya Daa Chamba Re Assi ud Jaan…, Kala Doriya Kunde Naal… and Latthe Di Chadar Utte Saleti Rang Maiya…
When the main singer of the musical group told the demanding Punjabi audience that they would sing these songs only after a couple of other Punjabi songs, they (guests) refused to budge.
Naturally, he had to bow to the wishes of the audience.
“All these songs, sung by Surinder Kaur, are immortal numbers and Punjabis identify with them greatly. They have the fragrance of the land of five rivers, which is Punjab. When they listen, they are transported back to their roots,” says Trilok Deep, noted Hindi and Punjabi author.
It goes without saying that no Punjabi wedding in Delhi, Punjab, the other side of Radcliffe Line, and even other parts of the world like Toronto, is complete without the songs immortalised by late Surinder Kaur.
Surinder Kaur has done yeoman service to Punjabi folk music with her deep, soulful voice. Her sister Prakash Kaur was also a very accomplished singer. Both sisters sung together for several decades. Later, Surinder started singing with her daughter, Dolly.
Born in Lahore, Surinder moved to Delhi after partition. In Delhi, she got married to Joginder Singh Sodhi, a professor of Punjabi in Khalsa College, Karol Bagh. They lived in Roop Nagar. For many decades, she was a regular face at marriages of the rich and famous Punjabis of Delhi.
Prior to her marriage with Sanjay Gandhi, Maneka Gandhi’s family invited Surinder to their Greater Kailash-1 residence on the occasion of ladies sangeet. It is said that she was in full flow on that happy occasion.
She started that evening with the all-time favourite, ‘Jutti Kasuri, Paeri Na Poori, Haaye Rabba Ve Sanu Turna Peya, Haaye, Haaye Rabba Ve Sanu Turna Peya…’
Those who were there attending the function went wild over her memorable performance. Of course, she had to sing her other popular numbers like Lathe Di Chadar Utte Saleti Rang Mahiya…, Kala Doria…, Sarke Sarke Zaandiye Mutiyari…
The audience did not let her leave the stage without listening to these songs.
Late Sagar Suri, a known businessman of Delhi, who was present in Menaka’s ladies sangeet ceremony once recalled that Kesar Singh Narula was the music director there.
Narula, father of noted playback singer Jaspinder Narula, who sang Pyaar to Hone Hi Thaa, and his wife, Mohini, were the second choice for affluent Punjabis of Delhi when it came to inviting them on wedding or other functions.
“The Narula family had a big house in Jheel area of east Delhi. They also taught sangeet to youngsters. Jaspinder also learnt sangeet from her parents. Later, she used to accompany her parents to various functions,” recalls Prem Bhutani, a former General Manager of BHEL and an old resident of east Delhi.Punabi
Tryst with music
Surinder made her professional debut with a live performance on Lahore Radio in August 1943, and the following year, she and her elder sister, Parkash Kaur cut their first duet, ‘Maavan Te Dheean Ral Baithian…’, for the HMV label, emerging as superstars across the Indian subcontinent.
According to Punjabi poet Harmit Singh, who was the colleague of Surinder Kaur’s husband in Khalsa College, “If Surinder Kaur became a real celebrity in her field, credit should also be given to her husband Joginder Singh Sodhi.”
Recognising her talent, Joginder Singh became her support system, and soon she started her career as a playback singer in Hindi film industry in Bombay, introduced by music director, Ghulam Haider. Under him, she sang three songs in the films Shaheed (1948) and Shagan (1951).
However, her interest was in stage performances and reviving Punjabi folk songs, and she eventually moved back to Delhi in 1952.
Sodhi continued to guide her singing career.
“My husband was the one who made me a star,” she recalled later.
“He chose all the lyrics I sang and we both collaborated on compositions.”
Together Kaur and Sodhi arranged for her to sing such Punjabi folk classics as Chan Kithe Guzari Aai Raat, Lathe Di Chadar, Gori Diyan Jhanjran and Sarke-Sarke Jandiye Mutiare.
These songs were written by various well-known Punjabi poets but were made popular by Surinder Kaur. The couple also served as the public face of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), an arm of the Indian communist party in Punjab, spreading messages of peace and love to the most remote villages of east Punjab.
She also travelled to many parts of the world performing Punjabi folk songs, and gaining rapid popularity.
Surinder was also a regular at the Chelmsford Club, which is considered as the bastion of Punjabi business community of Delhi. It is here that she and Mohammad Rafi sung many Punjabi songs together to mesmerise the audience.
Invited by Punjabi Kala Kendra to perform at an event to celebrate Baisakhi in 1964 at Chelmsford Club, Surinder had another show on that day, in Patiala, so she reached the venue in Delhi a little late.
When she reached, Rafi was already singing. The moment he saw her, he stopped singing and announced that Surinder Kaur has arrived. The announcement received a thunderous applause.
It was a treat for the capacity crowd as both Rafi saheb and Surinder Kaur sung many popular songs starting with Hum kaale hain to kya hua dilwaale hain.
According to Sharad Dutt, a well-known writer and authority on Indian classical music, “As Rafi saheb was also a Punjabi, both knew that the Punjabi audience of Delhi would love to hear Punjabi songs. Hence, they sung mostly Punjabi film and folk numbers.”
Though Surinder passed away in 2006, her voice still reverberates in every Punjabi wedding. No Punjabi wedding is complete without her songs, which along with her voice are considered auspicious.
Her songs are evergreen even in Pakistan. Once Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had invited her to his family home in Raiwind near Lahore, for a programme.
“From weddings to heartbreak, Surinder Kaur’s songs covered the whole range of human emotions,” says IPS Bawa, a former Hindi newsreader of Doordarshan and himself a very accomplished Hindi-Punjabi singer.
Surinder Kaur drew inspiration from the Sufi Kafi of Bulleh Shah and poets like Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Nand Lal Noorpuri, Amrita Pritam and Mohan Singh.
“The wedding songs of Surinder Kaur like Lathe Di Chadar, Suhe Ve Cheere Waliya, and Kaala Doriya are now integral part of Punjabi culture,” concludes Bawa, who anchored a couple of her shows in Delhi in 1990s.
Bawa recalls her show at Defence Colony organised by a rich Punjabi family on the occasion of their son’s wedding. Over 5,000 people thronged a hall with a capacity of less than 500 people, just to hear her golden voice.