Praise for My Books


"Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a gifted writer of great promise. I have a gut feeling we have a new star rising in Punjab's literary horizon. She has an excellent command of English and a sly sense of humour."
- Khushwant Singh on The Long Walk Home

"An enjoyable tale of a sassy girl's headlong race up the corporate ladder."
- India Today on Earning the Laundry Stripes


Friday, 13 January 2012

Of Lohri and its good ole Robin Hood

Happy Lohri folks! On the occasion of my bestest most favourite festival, am reposting an old Lohri post - enjoy with some nutty gachak :)


There are few pleasures in life that can compare with huddling around a bonfire on a chilly winter’s evening, munching on sesame seed-coated jaggery sweets, singing hoary songs, warming hands above the flames and testing how close the toe can really get to the burning logs without singeing one's socks!

That was how it seemed to me as a child, and now, twice-removed in time and space, the remembered pleasure still holds.

It arrived yearly on Lohri and now that I live outside Punjab its one festival I miss sorely. Lohri is all about bonfire bonhomie, gachak and gup, mungfali and mazaak. The day would start with a round of the neighbours for gathering out trove of treats for which we would lustily render Dullah Bhatti. Most of us kids knew the tune and some garbled lyrics and yet we delivered a virtuoso rendition for we ended up with full bags! The evening’s bonfire was followed by saag and makki roti – a meal I have always been partial to, unlike my brother with his unavoury comparisons of mustard greens with offal. Now that I am a mother I realize it is also a practical device for bringing children, high on all those sweets, down to earth.

The best Lohri was one where we were celebrating a new wedding or a first-born since such an occasion would warrant some serious singers in the gathering. Jugni was a perennial favourite, especially as it lends itself to raucous chorus from those in the gathering who don’t possess a blessed set of vocal chords. I remember one Lohri where an uncle gifted with a silvery voice and reputed for his rendition of Heer got so carried away that he would not stop singing the high pitched mournful song that is usually reserved for occasions other than Lohri. In time the gathering was in tears, the men weeping into their drinks and it took a forceful grand aunt to hustle the teary men into shape when she rapped the dholi and got the Bhangra beat going. It was after all a celebration of a new bride’s first pregnancy and what were the men getting soulful about? 

Lohri marks the end of winter and the harvest of Rabi crop in Punjab. When we grow up in one place we take our traditions and customs for granted. I saw the harvested fields, the yards with blazing bonfires, the gathering of family and friends and I assimilated that it was a time of celebration, of being thankful, of Agni and Dullah Bhatti, and having a jolly good time in good ole Punjabi style.

But I have been out of Des long enough for my daughter to have grown up in Hong Kong – how then do I convey to her what Lohri is? Forced to articulate what is in my bones I turned to introspection, recollection, and meditation at that fount of omniscience, Google.

As I cohered my thoughts I learnt that Dullah Bhatti, that ubiquitous hero of our Lohri songs was quite a Robin Hood figure. I also gleaned a lesson on the secular fabric of Punjab. Bhatti was a Muslim who rescued a Hindu girl, adopted her and married her to a Hindu boy. Since there was no priest around to chant the hymns required to solemnize the marriage, Dullah lit a fire and composed an impromptu song. Sunder mundriye, tera kaun vichara, Dullah Bhatti wala oye, Dulleh ne teeh viahi oye, ser shakar payi! The bride and groom took the mandatory rounds of the fire as Dullah rendered his self-composition where he spoke of marrying his daughter and gifting her a kilo of sugar!

I love the story. Of course there are several versions of this tale – take your pick – but what is integral to each telling is the secular, chivalrous and joyful character of its hero, an archetype the average Punjabi lionizes.

The reason we light the bonfire is not only because it kills the chill on a winter’s evening – practical! – but also on 13 January the sun begins its northward journey – uttarayan – and winter officially ends. The worship of Sun is intrinsically linked to the Indus Valley, a custom more ancient than the Rig Veda from which comes the Gayatri mantra, the revered verse in praise of the Sun.

Armed with a compelling narrative, I initiate my daughter into the varied charms of Lohri. I tell her about my experience of Lohri as a child, of Dullah Bhatti, the Indian Robin Hood, our Halloweeny tradition of gathering sweets minus the scary masks, the offering and subsequent sharing of gachak with the blazing Agni. Blithely I render Jugni as well in my not so melodious voice, and teach her the chorus. And since Lohri is a good day to ask for blessings, on our way back from my daughter’s horse riding lesson, we stop at the Gurudwara.

She tucks into the pershad greedily, has a question about the keertan – is it always sung or can it be recited – and we walk back home, she skipping ahead of me, helped no doubt by the rich sweet she has relished. I walk behind, her school bag on my shoulder as a crisp Hong Kong winter day is morphing into evening. I see the bonfire in my mind and smile, happy with our singular celebration of Lohri.


8 comments:

  1. Thanks 4 showing me the real meaning of Lohri & Dullah Bhatti.

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  2. Thanks Rajiv, am glad you enjoyed the post! Trust you got to have a great Lohri :)

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  3. happy pongal, happy makara sankranti.....how can cultures so diverse all celebrate this one day....what made this day so special.....happy lohri too

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  4. Just saw my comments & your reply dated last year. How quickly water flows under the bridge. Your article made nice reading. Happy Lohri 2 you & your family.

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  5. Happy Lohri-2014. You have got another bestseller under your belt this year.Nice start to Lohri

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