Last week I was made aware of a new song and music video that has been released by rising Punjabi vocalist Ammy Virk titled ‘Khet’ (embedded further below). Having reached 300,000 views in it’s first week on Youtube, I’m clearly not alone in marvelling at both the visual and auditory story that is being told in this record, but what has stood out for me most is just how many different contemporary issues from Punjabi life are covered in the short 3 minutes and 55 seconds.
The haunting music of ‘Khet’ has been ably produced by Bhinda Aujla, whilst folk-lyricist Matt Sheron-wala is responsible for the nostalgic words. Throughout the song the convincing Ammy Virk laments the relationship that rural Punjabis once had with the land and depicts a particular occurence of how this has been eroded. The stunning video is the work of Virsa Arts who have created a touching narrative to accompany the words. The theme as a whole is based on the work of the 20th century poet Sant Ram Udasi, to whom the video pays tribute in its conclusion by featuring one of his couplets.
Briefly, the narrative of the song and video traverses the enforced auction of farm land belonging to the character portrayed by the singer. We learn that his father passed away from cancer with considerable debts that were secured by the land. The uncaring money-lender rejects the many pleas of the farmer’s partner in the land – the siri – who as a Dalit is reliant on the success of the farm, just as the farmer is on him to help work the soil. In flashbacks, the singer recalls moments from his childhood in amongst the fields, and the day his father died, before the piece ends with him committing suicide as the land is successfully sold at auction.
Punjab suffers from many problems, but few artistic endeavours have been able to reflect them so succinctly or with such passion. There is an astuteness in the simplicity of this story which connects the many strands to an overarching notion – one of disaffection from the land we inhabit. The father who passes away from cancer is residing in a State ravaged by the disease which many are linking to the increase in environmental pollution and water contamination; the son who can see no alternative career or source of income who then commits suicide; and the role of financiers and banks in “destroying all value except that which serves the marketplace” (as activist and campaigner Vandana Shiva once put it). These are the results of rampant globalisation and specifically a modernisation in agriculture that moved too fast for the people to stop and consider the consequences. Whether in Punjab or in the Diaspora, revenue has become the driving force for Sikhs which goes against the philosophy of the Guru – even a cursory read of the Japji Sahib’s salok indicates what our relationship with nature and the Universe should be like.
To reinforce this notion of a change in our practice, the video showcases a number of wholly positive happenings from the childhood of the singer, ultimately to mourn their non-existence today. The trees which grew tall and strong alongside the same child who planted the sapling; the summer months spent on a manja (Punjabi bed) underneath the natural shade of these very trees; the fields through which a child was carried on his father’s shoulders… These elements of ‘Khet’ will resonate with many Punjabis wherever they reside and can therefore help to instigate conversations to resolve problems that continue to afflict The Punjab. Perhaps not so obvious but just as relevant is the juxtaposition of oversized European vehicles travelling through the unpaved fields at the beginning of the video – is this modernity, or excess and disconnection?
Times change and we all move on generation to generation. My love for this song and the video is not to look back nostalgically on a World that once existed, a World that should remain as it was, but to consider whether we have moved forwards, or backwards in our development. When so much has been gained, it is all too easy not to see what we have lost. Ammy Virk’s ‘Khet’ is a song and video that brings that sharply into focus.