Narinder Chanchal, darling of the masses who sing to the mother goddess, tells ANJANA RAJAN about work as perennial worship
I feel we are as spiritual as we are materialistic. Earlier, jagrans were organised on a dari, then they came on to the stage, and now it’s an industry
PHOTOS R.V. MOORTHY
KNIGHT OF THE NIGHT Narinder Chanchal in a relaxed moment
The rains are late this year, but the festivals on the lunar calendar are early. Dussehra, for example, will be here at the end of September, bringing to a close nine days of Devi worship in homes and outdoor locations across the city. Think of the Mother Goddess, and one of Her ostensibly favourite sons comes to mind: Narinder Chanchal. Think Chanchal, and think “Mata Ka Bulawa Aya Hai” — the bhajan he belted out many years ago in Avtaar that still wrenches at the heartstrings of the devout and blares from street corners across the city. Chanchal, famous for singing praises of his beloved “Mata Rani”. Chanchal, the flamboyant face of the Bhagwati jagran — a nightlong session of songs about the goddess. The age-old tradition has been transformed into a glamour industry in the hands of Chanchal, who soared from local fame to international stardom via this route, with a little help from Bollywood.
Stands to reason that the approaching Navaratri season must be busiest of all for the West Delhi-based Chanchal. However, the idol of all jagran singers — and plenty have cropped up in his wake — points out, “Jagrans are no longer seasonal. Devi is the deity of the Kaliyug. A jagran is no longer associated only with festivals. I often go to America to give performances.”
Jagrans may not be paired with festivals any more, but surely they are linked with the spiritual side of life rather than the material. One wonders if that ever poses a dilemma to Chanchal, well known for his love of branded goods and sporting a watch whose size seems to say, “Watch me!”
“I feel we are as spiritual as we are materialistic,” notes Chanchal matter-of-factly. “Earlier, jagrans were organised on a dari (cotton carpet), then they came on to the stage, and now it’s an industry. Even playback singers are singing in them.”
As for the glamour he sports on his person, he is even clearer. “This is a passion with me. I used to work in a dry cleaner’s shop and look at the clothes hanging there. I worked there for only 10-15 days, but that time passed in looking at and stroking those suits.” And although “Mata Rani” has generously fulfilled his childhood desires, he admits to remembering those days with irritation. “I spent much of my life barefooted. Mujhe bahut chidh hai un dinon se.” That was obviously before his playback song in Bobby, “Beshak Mandir Masjid Toro”, catapulted him to the attention of deities both temporal and spiritual. “That’s why our Ekta Mission, of which I am Chairman, has started a clothes bank,” he continues. “We collect clothes, and I also donate, sometimes clothes with their price tags still attached.”
But clothes do not define the heart, he maintains, and that is where one finds the real person. “Policemen take bribes in uniform. Then what kind of policemen are they?” Similarly, he feels, fancy clothes don’t say anything about a devotee, because “renunciation is in the heart.”
And Chanchal’s heart is with those who have next to nothing. “I know what it is to be bebas (alone in the world),” he says. He has also started a Narinder Chanchal Institute for Non-Formal Education. “It is in Subhash Nagar, and we charge a fee of Rs.5 or 10,” says Chanchal. “We also have an ambulance that gives out free medicines and can be used to take people to the hospital when required.” At his institute, says Chanchal, he arranges for children from slums to get training in music and dance.
“The Ekta Mission gives a platform to lots of people,” he says, noting that children from economically weak backgrounds can’t make it to the televised talent hunts, and that is where his organisation steps in. “Sunidhi Chauhan has performed at Ekta.” She does not come from such a background though. “True. Talent can come from a jhuggi and also from a palace,” says Chanchal, unfazed.
Ekta may not have produced a rags to riches star yet, but Chanchal continues in his efforts to “give a voice to the voiceless”. He is in the process of organising a home for the elderly and orphans, which will be called Mamta Ka Mandir. “It will be implemented soon. It will be in the Delhi area.” As for funds, he says he gets donations in kind from companies, as well as in cash from his followers in India and abroad. “I try to give the maximum from my earnings,” he explains.
A voice for the voiceless is okay, but what about neighbours who don’t want to spend the night listening to songs blaring from loudspeakers? “I avoid jagrans during exam time,” says Chanchal. “I am now in a position to do so. But I was the happiest to know the Supreme Couirt had banned loudspeakers after 10.30, because people used to call me only at midnight!” That’s not the only concession he makes to modern times. “I sing a song on the girl child. And when I’m abroad I end with a song to Bharat Mata. Everyone stands up and joins in. I feel Mother is the universal principle. She doesn’t come into any religious confines.”
Chanchal quotes a line: “‘Mother O Mother, if you are with us phir kaisa fear’, and link it up with Bharat Mata.”
Kaisa fear? Mother is here.
A day in the life of the midnight singer
In a photo from his biography, "The Midnight Singer" by Georgy Bhaala and Pratichi Mathur
When not performing, he likes to read and watch TV
Whether performing or not, he rarely goes to sleep before 2 a.m.
He gets up at 7 a.m., reads several newspapers and goes back to sleep
He avoids eating out, taking food cooked by his wife even on plane journeys
He loves all kinds of dals, and his travel food is bitter gourd with parathas
When in the mood to relax, he goes back to Amritsar and meets old friends, because he finds the metro cities too fast-paced
He has maintained his routine for the past 40 years
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