Pushing 50 but with no sign of slowing down, Gurdas Maan, the original accepted paji of Punjabi popdom, still zips around the globe with his dhol

I've never been part of a crowd. And even if I have been, I've always stood out Gurdas Maan He's from that generation that refers to a singer as a kalakaar. And he's a Punjabi with a mutation of the music genre. Gurdas Maan still sings Sufiana and Punjabi pop, but with a point to it and soulful poetry in it.Take his latest album Vilayatan, a ballad for all those young girls from Punjab's heartland who get married and go abroad. "It's a reality. A lot of our girls marry here and go abroad and then vanish. What happens to them there? Some go and learn to live there. This is the story of a gaon ki ladki and how she adjusts in a foreign land. I have packaged this with entertainment. Nahi to sachchai hazam nahi hoti (otherwise the truth isn't digested)," offers Maan. In Bangalore on invitation of the Punjabi Sabha and Motorsports Inc. to perform on the eve of Lohri, Maan's in tears. From a cold and fever. But agreed to meet the media after some persuasion. So we flock around him in his hotel room like the devout around their guru, with a large painting of a tusker hanging over his head. "I'll exercise and get better for the show," he assures us between sniffles and a hoarse voice, the physical instructor in him taking charge. The "Dil Da Maamla Hai" man who shot to fame in the 1980s, is one of the few Punjabi folk singers who stayed around and still holds his own in a swarm of reggae-rap-groove-remix-Punjabi. "Mere geet bematlab nahin hai (My lyrics are not meaningless)," is the reason Maan gives for his popularity across generations who have accepted him. He has done a tortoise act when everyone was busy being the hare. "I've never been part of a crowd. And even if I have been in a crowd, I've always stood out."He got noticed when back home someone spread word that there was a boy who "exercises and sings". He was invited to sing at a wedding where he rent his heart out till three in the morning and the next thing he knew, he was on Doordarshan for a New Year's Eve programme. Since then he's cut around 30 albums, and sung in both Punjabi and Hindi films. But his stage shows, charged with energy and live singing (never playback), remain his favourite.He's still at heart a small-town man. Rustic and poetic in his everyday talk, the very way he sits legs folded up and crossed, full of stories, expressing his indebtedness to the force above for his success, and pointing reverentially skyward. Only, his look has changed with time.Skull caps, denim jackets, track pants and sweatshirts dominate Maan's new look and wardrobe, otherwise associated with colourful Punjabi kurtas, lungis and jackets. That's now strictly for stage shows. "I was fresh from the village then. With time, even my dressing style changed. The way audiences looked at me changed, and that showed," says Maan.Having brought unadulterated Punjabi folk and Sufi influences on a national platform, Maan explains the magic of Punjab. Why Punjabi lyrics and music sets every heart racing. He quotes a poet who describes Punjabi as the language of honey that slips comfortably in between Urdu and Hindi, melding well. Rhythm and style only lend themselves well to the language. "Jab dhol bajta hai, to fakir bhi naach uthta hai (When the dhol plays even the saint gets up to dance)," is how Maan describes the bewitchment of the sound of the percussion instrument. "Yeh to murdon ko zinda karta hai, to zindon ko kya hota hai sochiye (It brings the dead back to life, so imagine what it can do to the living)."He steadfastly believes that poetry is lost not just in today's lyrics but in our lives too. "People catch onto a line in a song and the rest is just rhythm. They are so involved in dancing and having fun at a party or disco. At home they keep music that they listen to. Any kalakaar who reaches a listener's bedroom is lucky. People must be listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali and Jagjit Singh there."There's a flood of music and any flood only brings destruction, says Maan. A lot of musicians from Punjab just want a single hit. "They want to get their rozi-roti from it. One hit means you are called to perform at programmes. If you don't have a second hit, you head back home."Maan's also dabbled in films both Punjabi and Hindi with Shaheed-e-Mohabbat Buta Singh, Zindagi Khubsoorat Hai, and Des Hoyaa Pardes being the most popular and recent ones. He's acted and produced, and is set to start shooting in Chandigarh in February for his next venture based on what is considered the bible of lovers - poet Waris Shah's Heer-Ranjha. As usual, this year too Maan is not spending Lohri at home. Because he's always travelling on shows. "I love travelling. And when you travel, you learn from experience. You feel the world has shrunk, and feel a brotherhood with those you meet. Otherwise it becomes a frog-in-the-well existence. And then sums up his axiom with the existential Sufi question that Bulle Shah epitomised: "Bulla ki jaana main koun?"BHUMIKA K.