When a chef stirs the cultural pot

Updated: 23 March, 2020 11:13 IST | Phorum Dalal | Mumbai

In times of social distancing, Ranveer Brar takes a break from his chef whites by offering us a mix of desi music and poetry with #BeHomewithRB

Ranveer Brar goes turnip-picking with a local farmer in north India.  Pic courtesy/Facebook
Ranveer Brar goes turnip-picking with a local farmer in north India. Pic courtesy/Facebook

This is not me," Ranveer Brar laughs on the phone when we ask how he is dealing with social distancing. "I am usually travelling, working long hours and meeting people. The lockdown feels strange. Actually, on the brighter side, it feels like a summer vacation while growing up where parents asked you to stay indoors to avoid the scorching sun outside. I have been revisiting my Amar Chitra Katha collection; retuned my flute and harmonica, and have been trying my hand at origami," he shares.

Social media has become the go-to medium of expression, and Brar has been using the time with live chats on Instagram under the title #BeHomewithRB. Here, he steps out of chef mode to dedicate one day each week to share an undiscovered slice of India, and shares story exchanges from music, poetry, movies, wellness, cooking and other genres.

Last week, followers saw 25-year-old Yusuf Mewati, a bhapang (a rare single-stringed percussion instrument) player from the Mewati community in Rajasthan's Alwar district, on his first live session. "As with our food, there's a lot of detail in our traditional music. On my travels, I often meet musicians who are working hard to carry forward a heritage and keep it alive over generations, much like lost recipes. I feel a strong need to give these artists a platform and collaborating with them over my #BeHomewithRB Insta lives is one such endeavour," shares Brar, who is now saving the content on his IGTV. The line-up for the coming week includes Zakir Khan — the stand-up comedian will recite his Urdu poetry — apart from Clinton Cerejo and Mewati, who was on the first live last week.

Here's what two artistes from upcoming sessions have to say:

'My aim is to save dying folk songs'

Saurav Moni

Saurav Moni, a folk and River Baul singer from Hingalgunj in southernmost Sunderbans, West Bengal, sings the traditional songs of riparian Bengal delta and adapts the rustic singing style of a village fisherman. The 39-year-old, who has featured on Coke Studio, says, "I am not a regular on social media due to my schedule." Moni, who studied history and did theatre in his college days, says the radio he got in Class 7 was his window to the world of country music. "One day, I heard a radio station of Washington DC where the radio jockey played 'O poraner majhi, amar katha loiyo, jhor tufan aaile re, dingaa kinare lagaiyo,' a song by Abbasuddin. This means, 'O dear boatman of mine, please pay heed to me, upon onset of storm, steer my boat ashore.' It lit a fire within. Someone in another country knew the music of my country better, while I was listening to the West. We don't document our songs which has led to so many folk songs being lost. My aim is to document rapidly vanishing folk songs."

'I had to learn how to use social media'

Yusuf Mewati

Yusuf Mewati is the 19th generation in his family to play the bhapang, a percussion instrument that resembles the shiv damru. Due to the coronavirus lockdown, many of his shows are cancelled. But the 25-year-old from Alwar sang his Bhaya kaiya der lagave, bhajle ram naam on Ranveer's live last week. "We have forgotten to remember god in our days, and are focussing on a materialistic world. I wrote the song to inspire people to pray."

He asks us if we have heard the song De data ke naam tujho Allah rakhein. "My grandfather was one of the bhapang players. He, as well as my father, have earned national awards. I have received state awards. We even made it to the semi-finals of India's Got Talent in 2010," he says. The family plays for government-funded programmes. "We have travelled to 20 countries. We perform the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Krishna Leela in the Mewati dialect. We also write folk songs to create social awareness. I am on not active on Instagram but Brar sir taught me how to come on the live session."

CHECK OUT #BeHomewithRB (Instagram); 4 pm onwards for 45 mins (Wednesdays for music); poetry, cooking, wellness and films will be on other days

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First Published: 23 March, 2020 10:25 IST

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