Janvi Sikand | February 15, 2022
The kids need some culture.
If I were my Indian grandparents, I’d be shaking my head in disapproval, disappointed in myself for having become too angrezi: assimilated into Western, English speaking culture to a dangerous degree, forgetting my roots. And they’d be right! But I’ve made it my mission to re-culture myself one way or another, and here’s how:
Back in November, I took a chance on a warm Friday night after exams. I’d seen a Facebook event for some sort of techno dance thing featuring an artist called DJ Mohini, and headed off alone down Swanston Street to Miscellania nightclub. Having spent months in lockdown, I forgot that lines exist outside clubs and got stuck at the back of a line that only seemed to get longer ahead of me as groups of people called their friends to join them. Tipsy off one pineapple ale, I pushed to the front and tried my luck with security: “Listen, this set is really special to me, and I’d hate to miss it, you see… Mohini’s my cousin.” The bouncers took a single look at the rhinestone I’d eyelash-glued to my forehead in place of a bindi, and waved me upstairs. I danced the night away to Desi house music, and chased Mohini when the set ended to pay my compliments and divulge how I’d gotten past the line, forming an instant mutual obsession.
Cut to present, February 2022: I arrive at the Malthouse Theatre in Southbank, where Mohini is opening for an album launch by Parvyn, a Melbourne-based Punjabi pop princess. My outfit is a little less than sanskari—a cutout black dress, accessorized with jhumka stolen from my mother and a wide red bindi—but I’m perfectly dressed for the Desi-fusion occasion. Mohini warms the crowd up with their spicy electronic Sheila Ki Jawani remix, while the tables fill with friends, family, and fans of Parvyn. I end up seated with an eclectic mix of South Asian creatives who met while on set for Parvyn’s Irkha music video, and we chat about her distinct Punjabi-English songwriting style until Parvyn and her band step onto the stage. All eyes are glued to Parvyn as the gleaming stage lights make a disco ball of her gold sequined choli, and she welcomes us to the unveiling of Sa, an album about love and family, betrayal and anxiety, written during the pandemic.
The only word I have that comes close to describing Parvyn’s performance is: stunning. An electric current seems to hold me to my chair as she jumps octaves and dips effortlessly between Punjabi and English. She asks: irkha kyun aayi; why does jealousy consume me? I’m transported to a smoky speakeasy during a sultry jazzy piece, then swept into a swingy upbeat heartbreak tune. Parvyn incorporates sargam into each performance, vocalizing with the seven notes that make up a saptak gamut. Tears spring to my eyes as I listen to her wail ragas into the microphone, barely noticing how hard I’m gripping my wineglass to prevent a full-on breakdown.
Finally, Parvyn performs a calming antidote to the wave of emotions overcoming the crowd, telling us everything will be alright: “just breathe, sab theek ho jayega.” I’m compelled to believe her. She begins spinning around the stage, lehenga billowing around her as the band closes with a flourish. All this while, I’ve been observing the mixed crowd around me: white millennials enjoying a drink at a gig; a Chinese girl no older than eight shimmying in her seat while her mother watches with a smile. But right now, I’m looking to the older Punjabi crowd for a reaction. Tables full of aunties and uncles with grayed hair, wearing traditional clothing and keeping their hands folded across their laps, beam up at Parvyn. This is pride, this is love for a culture that spans generations, evolving but never becoming watered down. We’re all whole.
Graphics by Joanna Guelas, Images provided by Janvi Sikand