Children, with handsful of revri, peanuts and gajjak roam around the neighbourhood, singing songs. Elders gift them sweets and token money. Dholwallahs go door to door, playing drums and dancing all the way. Lohri, the festival of warmth and joy, is celebrated with a lot of excitement by the people of Punjabi origin.
Marking the winter solstice, Lohri is a prayer to the Sun God to bless the land with sunshine and hope of warmer days. People light a communal bonfire and celebrate with family and friends. It’s not just women who dress up in festive finery. Men wear elegant kurtas in earthy tones of brown and charcoal, shawls in warm oranges, rusted reds and blazing yellows and colourful juttis. Bright colours, signifying the ethereal glow of the bonfire, dominate the palette. The crowning glory of Punjabis, the turban, is decorated with love. A kalgi becomes the jewel in this crown. The traditional latth finds place of pride in the able hands of the strongest, bravest man in the village.
As you dress up for the occasion, take inspiration from this shoot featuring men of substance who, in their own special way, have contributed to making this world a happier place.
Spreading smiles, click by click
The charismatic actor-photographer and stand-up comedian Raviraj Kande, from Mumbai, has a gift of capturing human faces through his camera. You can call it anthropology through the lens. What makes Raviraj a man of substance? It’s his ability to create beautiful memories for those who have been ignored by the world. He sets off on the streets of Mumbai, capturing the unknown faces of street hawkers, daily wage earners, and village folk, and making them known in the process. He says, “Art helps us empathise... when I click people on streets, I make sure I show them their picture. I share it with them and the world. It gives them and me immense joy, for they know that there are people who know what it feels to be in their shoes.”
Comforting force in the face of crime
Storyteller to children, empathiser of the oppressed, a daring cop— IPS officer HGS Dhaliwal is all this and more. This top cop from Delhi finds fulfilment in being a facilitator of justice. “The way I have been brought up, I can step into the shoes of the other person, and know how they feel. If they feel helpless at judicial trials, they come back to us. They know that their grievances will be addressed. It’s not difficult to do this. If you are working in earnest to bring criminals to justice, then nothing is a deterrent. It is about doing your duty not just in letter but in spirit, also. Being empathetic to the victim is a huge victory,” he says.
Flagbearer of optimism
Keshav Suri’s positivity is inspiring. This suave hotelier has courageously turned around the lives of many from the LGBTQ community. He has instilled the confidence in them to live their dreams. In a country where the community faces extreme ostracism, this hasn’t been easy. But Suri is not the one to worry about being judged. “I am from a privileged background. For me, everything in life was so easy. Being born gay in a country where homosexuality is a crime, I decided to help the under privileged rise and shine. I want to tell those from the LGBTQ that they can excel with their talent and live a respectful life. In my company, there is no discrimination in terms of gender. People have been fired in India for undergoing gender change. Because of this, many are forced to let a part of them die every day...we have to change this forever, ” says Suri
Real life hero
For actor Vikrant Rai, being a man of substance is all about giving it back to the society. Rai, who has acted in popular TV shows and has played the lead role in a Bollywood movie, has been associated with several old age homes over the years. When he is not shooting, he loves spending a day at old age homes. He says, “It’s so sad that the young generation has stopped caring for their parents. When parents get old, they are treated as discards. If by spending time with the old, I can put a smile on their face, I feel lucky.”
Painting the world happy
Conceptual artist Harinder Singh has always believed in the words ‘Kar Bhaala toh ho Bhaala’. He says that goodness won’t let you down even in the wildest of storms. Singh has brightened the lives of many through his design studio. One such artist is Jaideep, the son of a Granthi, (one who reads Guru Granth Sahib, the religious scripture of Sikhs). At the age of 17, Jaideep was forced to quit studies and work as his father was losing his eyesight. Jaideep started painting walls in his village to eke out a living. Singh spotted him, and brought him to Delhi. Today, Jaideep’s paintings depicting rural Punjab are sold worldwide, and his folks in Faridkot, Punjab can’t be more proud of him.
Dullah Bhatti, the Robin Hood of Punjab
As with folk festivals, there are many legends and anecdotes around Lohri, too. One of the most famous story is that of Dullah Bhatti. Born Rai Abdullah Khan Bhatti to Ladhi and Farid Khan in Pind Bhattian near Lahore, Dullah was brought up with emperor Akbar’s son, Salim (later, emperor Jahangir). Legend has it that both Dullah and Salim were born on the same day and breastfed by Ladhi. As he grew up, Dullah started a rebellion against Akbar for his land revenue system. He was against the class divide. He took from the rich and gave it to the poor. He also helped rescue and rehabilitate girls abducted by the Mughal forces, two of whom were called Sundri and Mundri. This became the basis of the popular folk song, Sundar mundriye, sung on Lohri. After a feisty battle, he was captured by Akbar’s army and executed.
Years on, the legacy of this Robin Hood is alive and thriving and reaffirms virtues of generosity and benevolence. Notes of sundar mundriye linger in the air long after the embers of the ceremonial fire cools and the dreary winter becomes a distant memory.
CONCEPT: Shara Ashraf
Photos: Shivam Saxena and Nigel Faleiro; Styling: Abhishek Chandra, Prerna Gauba, Akshay Kaushal; Wardrobe: Shantanu & Nikhil, 1469; Jewellery: Apala by Sumit; Production: Kaif Shaikh, Amigos Communication, Sakshi Gupta; Hair: Rajab Ali, Makeup: Roshan Patil & Naina Arora
Text: Akshay Kaushal, Abhinav Verma, Prerna Gauba