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Pakwan over music and melody

HE IS surprisingly soft spoken, Harbhajan Mann of Haaye Meri Billo and Oye Hoye fame. Over lunch at Le Meridien's Pakwan he gets rather emotional when he talks about Punjab and shares the pain of separation with parents, whose children have gone abroad in search of new pastures. "Punjab ki mitti se khushboo aati hai" - nostalgically Harbhajan remembers and longs for his beloved Punjab.

Born in Bhatinda and educated in Vancouver, 36-year-old Harbhajan has been performing for over a decade and caters to a mixed audience ranging from children to adults.

What does he sing? In Punjab, "anything goes, as the language is fully understood, while in Delhi, I have to turn to Indipop, more dance like music and abroad it is always pure Punjabi," he informs us while ordering his food at Pakwan, Le Meridien's Indian restaurant.

Pakwan's North West Frontier cuisine is rather popular, more so for dinner and ghazals, Chicken Tikkas and Lamb Chops, Tandoori Prawns and Masala Fried Fish, Roghanjosh and roti. But given a choice Harbhajan prefers vegetarian food, so we opt for the restaurant's vegetarian preparations.

Vegetable Jalfarezi and roti seems more than enough for Harbhajan, though as an afterthought, the Shahi Paneer and Masala Mushrooms are added on.

The slim and trim pop singer likes to keep a check on his food intake and doesn't believe in binging. "With a hectic travel schedule like mine, I just cannot eat heavy rich food," he says. Harbhajan tours with his dedicated 13-member band of musicians be it in Amritsar or Australia.

An average concert performance is anywhere between two to four hours, finishing late into the night. Often he drives into the night, not waiting till daybreak, in case he has a show the next day. On such occasions, Harbhajan is pretty much at home and content with dal-roti at a Meerut `dhaba'.

He recalls his tour of Andhra Pradesh, where he noticed `North Indian dhaba food' signs liberally sprinkled across the highways.

Woolgulga, a six-hour drive out of Sydney is famous for its humungous growth of bananas, in fact the largest amount in Australia.

Harbhajan remembers it for another reason: This has been his most memorable concert till date. "It was during the early days of my career, after three hours I ran out of songs to sing, but the delightful I500 strong Indian community didn't give up to go home. They repeatedly asked for more, more and more! I ended up repeating everything, performing for five hours instead of three."

Harbhajan's versatile lyrics have a lot of depth and meaning in them, violence and trashy crowd pullers are a definite no-no for him. Some of his songs spread the message against dowry and drugs. True Indian culture and tradition, language and land are what people miss, so this singer belts out catchy Punjabi lyrics that have turned out to be extremely popular in India as well as abroad. Harbhajan is bent on globe trotting, specifically to places where there is a sizeable Punjabi community. Canada, US, UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Norway are some of the countries where his concerts have taken place.

"Jee Aayan Nu", the love story and sentiments of two families, one living in Canada and the other in Punjab is Harbhajan's highly successful debut Punjabi film. Just like his lyrics, Harbhajan's films are also clean and enjoyable family dramas. "My dream is to see Punjabi cinema achieving its place in Indian regional cinema."

Harbhajan is to shortly commence shooting for his second film, again based on the NRI community and their peculiar problems. In between concerts and movie shooting, Harbhajan likes to take out

time to spread a few social messages in Punjab's schools and colleges. "I would like to give something back to society which has given me so much, I speak to children at length about the danger and distress caused by drugs, also dowry which is very prevalent in Punjab." He is fond of keeping in close touch with the news - Harbhajan reads close to eight newspapers daily.

After the meal, there is a choice of sweets at Pakwan - Shahi Tukda and Kulfi with Fallooda. Harbhajan declines the offer, saying that it is far too rich to digest. Does he ever venture into the kitchen? Laughingly he tells us, "I cannot cook anything, only make a cup of tea." Wife Harmandeep likes to cook and eat Chinese, North Indian as well as South Indian food. But

Harbhajan's two children take after their dad, small eaters, pecking at their food!


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