STUDENT VANGUARD OPINION: Amar Singh Chamkila – Exploring the Lifelessness of Life

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

By Praniti Gulyani

The most confusing thing about life is a protruding lack of absoluteness.

As opposed to tangible commodities, life can never be looked upon as very good or very bad. It is a diversely-sculpted rock with jagged edges, and as artists we are often fraught with confusion—as we contemplate between covering the unevenness with velvet shreds, or pushing them open before our audience—in exposed nakedness.

While the former alternative guarantees the return of an enthusiastic audience who wants to relive the emotions of joy and comfort all over again, the second option comes with risks and overflowing instability.

After all, falling against a jagged rock is like opening your eyes in salty water, as both the bruise and infused saline leaves the audience with the legacy of an echoing sting.

Sometimes, ‘artistic stings’ exert the ability to garner a loving audience who looks upon them as a mirror that reflects the clandestine truth of their existence. As opposed to hiding from this truth, the audience begins to accept it. Because the truth now has a rhythm to it.

Amar Singh Chamkila, a much-loved Indian singer and musician, whose name when translated to English means ‘Immortal Lion Sparkling,’ shows us how.

Thirty-six years after his assassination, Amar Singh Chamkila continues to persist as a much-loved name in Punjabi culture and music. The lyrics of his songs have been looked upon as rhythmic social commentaries that contained mentions of vulgarity, sexual connotations, drug usage etc.

Irrespective of the controversial nature of his melodies, Chamkila gathered an audience that extended beyond the Indian subcontinent. In a pointedly proud tone, a Wikipedia page mentions how “Amar Singh Chamkila was rumored to have more bookings than his contemporaries.”

I was introduced to Amar Singh Chamkila by way of his Netflix show that is described as a dramatic story of a “humble singer’s brash lyrics that ignore fame and fury across Punjab as he grapples with soaring success and brutal criticism before his untimely death.”

The ironic placement of ‘fame’ and ‘fury’ within the space of the same sentence intrigued me. It was this combination of almost bipolar emotions that facilitated Chamkila’s rise to fame, making him the ‘Elvis of Punjab’ —a force that the youth could reckon with.

Above and beyond his music, the single most thing that drew me to Chamkila is his initial attempt to break into the music industry. Clad in a simple cotton garment, 18-year-old-Chamkila wore a thick cuff on his work-roughened sleeves that was stitched together with the raw fabric of his talent, combined with the soft cotton of his heart. As opposed to arriving with extravagance, he approached Punjabi Musician Surinder Shinde for the first time on a bicycle—and earned a place in the singer’s life as the protege that he was looking for.

When I heard Chamkila’s music for the first time, I was filled with a combination of admiration and fury. As the tendrils of this cold fire wrapped themselves  around the sinews of heart, I was struck with the sharpness of realization. Despite his bold lyrics that caused multiple eyebrows to frown, and several lips to purse in disapproval, Chamkila had the ability to unite the human race.

While most singers brought humankind together with melodies that revolved around humanity and peace, Chamkila dug his social-grime encrusted nails into the heart of whispered conversations and connected mankind by their shared desire to conceal.

He made his audience members bond together by way of this universal need to hide, and instead of berating them for the things that they kept under their wraps—he set their sexual secrets to a melody—almost as though he wanted to tell them, “Here is another human being engulfed by a need to hide. Why don’t you laugh about it together?”

Conclusively, further engagement with Chamkila’s songs made me realize how they were a melodious acknowledgement of the prowling ape that was still contained within the seemingly developed physique of the modern day human. They did not form opinions about the presence of the ape, and label it as good or bad.

With an accepting nod and smiling eyes, Amar Singh Chamkila’s music acknowledged the animal concealed within each human being, almost as though to say, “Just as there is peace and rage within you, I know there is an animal as well. I’m not asking you to let go of it, or keep it close. All I want you to know is that I see it.”

As an artist, Chamkila was not an opinion-carver. He was a seer—of the lilt in life, and the lifelessness of life. He saw it all with the bareness of an unbiased gaze and told us what he saw in honest tones replete with bold admittance.

It is this admittance that constitutes the concluding song of Chamkila’s biopic, which is entitled ‘Mainu Vida Karo’ (Bid Me Goodbye). Written from Chamkila’s eyes, a memorable couplet from the lyrics is— ‘Tum Sabhi Paak Magar, Paap ka Dariya Main’ (All of you are pure, and I am a river of impurity).

Thereafter, the song bursts into an insistence for the listener to bid Chamkila goodbye, as insisted by the chorus ‘Mainu Vida Karo, Mainu Vida Karo’ (Bid me goodbye, Bid me goodbye).

Carrying forth the spirit of the song, even though I came to Chamkila’s life 36 years after his assassination, I felt an impending sense of satisfaction. I had not seen the singer in all his crackling glory, or engaged with crowds that bond over the spitting sexuality contained by his songs.

But, at the very least, I got the chance to say goodbye.

About The Author

Praniti Gulyani is a second-year student at UC Berkeley majoring in English with minor(s) in Creative Writing and Journalism. During her time at The Davis Vanguard as a Court Watch Intern and Opinion(s) Columnist for her weekly column, ‘The Student Vanguard' within the organization, she hopes to create content that brings the attention of the general reader to everyday injustice issues that need to be addressed immediately. After college, she hopes to work as a writer or a columnist in a newspaper or magazine, using the skills that she gains during her time at The Davis Vanguard to reach a wider audience.

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