Around the Lahore Central Railway Station, narrow alleys are like a maze, with hotels and restaurants for passengers coming in from across the country. The visitors from Cholistan were staying in one such building. Their common attire said nothing about their significance. The assertiveness is in their eyes spoke of the hardships they face in the middle of the uninhabited deserts. Through the music they make, they bring their world to life with songs of love, mysticism and sad partings.
A group of singers from the Bheel community were my hosts in one of the rundown hotels where they were staying. A few moments after I entered the room and greeted them, there was music all around, the sadness of the room shattered by the elaborate melodies they made from the stringed Yaktara and the colorful Raanti instruments. Such was the beauty I found in that tiny, unfamiliar room that came to life with music and lively stories, in spite of interruptions by the hotel manager who kept asking us to tone it down.
The members of the Hindu Bheel community are mostly landless, and they are known for their melodies and beautiful traditional musical instruments, ornamented by elaborately embroidered bright colored fabrics. They make their stringed instruments with animal hides and wood, hollowed pipes that are magic for the ear. They are known for their distinctive voice quality and the art of story-telling. Their women wear glass bangles all over their arms and wear colorful Cholis and Ghagharas.