Babas in Paris - Sikh Research Institute

Babas in Paris

For two weeks in August, I attended an incredibly intense Gurmukhi workshop (Sidak 2012) through the Sikh Research Institute after I initially read about it at TheLangarHall. What made the whole experience so wonderful was of course the well organized curriculum and instructors, but a lot of it also had to do with the other Sidakers there, who I found incredibly entertaining and welcoming. There is a video currently making its rounds on youtube (above) that was conceived and created at Sidak, the result of a running joke involving fake Babas or “Holy Men.” It has already amassed over 10,000 hits and I imagine it will be higher by the time you read this:

When I watch the video, I don’t think of it as any profound social message, but of the kids involved in its creation, who were not in my class, but who I got to know – fittingly enough – at the Langar Hall (Communal Kitchen). It reminds me of the less serious side of Sidak, which I felt was of equal value to what we were learning : the social component of the experience.
The talent show came a week early, which is where what would become the “Babas in Paris” youtube video made its debut, and it was wonderfully awkward. Anoop teamed with Jasmin Singh, who in the entire time I knew him was in a perpetual state of just waking up or coming out of the swimming pool with poofy hair like he’d just been electrocuted.  He is briefly featured at the beginning of the video in bed because as usual, he had just woken up as they were almost finished shooting. At the talent show, Anoop and Jasmin sang a parody of the popular song, “Niggas in Paris,” where they had one mic between the two of them and crouched down to the monitor in the center of the stage, where Anoop momentarily broke into bhangra after putting on sunglasses. It was as hilarious and entertaining a performance as it sounds, and it received a well deserved standing ovation and exactly seven grunts of approval from me and Gurmaher (we had a system).

Sitting next to me at the talent show was Narvir Singh, a very fashionable recent law graduate with zero interest in pursuing law as a career. He enjoyed wearing designer turbans and tried convincing everyone the colorful pajamas he was fond of wearing were in fact trousers. “I wear these on Oxford Street all the time,” captures his entire argument for the pro-trouser position. The last thing I remember him saying to me was, “Man, Navdeep. You tweet too much.” Then when he realized I was leaving, he immediately said, “Oh no, now that’s the last thing you’re going to remember me saying to you. Let me think of something else to say.” Unfortunately, he didn’t think of anything else, so this will now haunt him for the rest of his life. Anyway, at the talent show he decided that “Babas in Paris needed to be recorded.” The very next day, along with Ajmeet Singh, they grabbed the video camera and laptop and got to work. Back in the U.K. both Ajmeet (Brown Voices) and Narvir of Narvision had worked together on different humorous projects, such as a LOST remake, and Punjabi Thugs.  After Sidak, Narvision really branched out in creating music videos for some major players in the industry such as Noyz and Big Taj.

I found Anoop to be an interesting bloke because he was the last person I thought would want to be in the limelight, especially doing something like rapping in front of a live audience. I had spent an entire afternoon walking around with him a few days earlier and made some vague attempt at conversation with zero results. Granted, my attempt had been a bit half-arsed. “So, we gotta go left?” I had said. And he said, “yup.”  That was that. We walked to the left. I never said it was a great attempt. Then out of the blue, a day later at the Langar Hall, he sits down next to me and we have an intense conversation like we’d known each other for years. About writing, philosophy, and race and representation. Then he goes and does this hilarious live rap on stage about fake Babas. That really was exactly how it went down. He’s a fascinating contradiction: he’s studying economics in Oklahoma, is utterly creative, follows basketball and football fanatically, and is moderately shy in normal social settings, but apparently has no problem getting on stage to rap and MC in the most over the top “British”‘ accent. Yes, there was a reason I put that in quotation marks.

Gurmaher is a kindred spirit because of his general grumpiness, biting sarcasm, inappropriate comments, and especially because of his willful antagonistic nature. He is capable of tying a sharp looking turban and has a full blown beard, and yet insists on wearing a patka designed for cute little Sikh school boys, which I contend is solely to antagonize everyone around him. The first time we ever spoke was at the langar hall. His U.K. clique had all left and he was eating at the table by himself. So he came over to where I was eating and said, “yeh, all of dem left me alone at the table. You won’t leave me, right?” “Of course not, “ I said confidently, and finished the rest of my food. Then I got up and said, “Right. Well. I’m off.” He looked at me incredulously, let out a loud and deliberate exasperated sigh, and then angrily drank his water. That moment I think best characterizes our entire relationship: past, present, and future.

I was half-asleep when they were filming the video, but remember hearing Anoop stomping about outside my room with what I would later see in the video was a pillow stuffed under his kurta. While the music video does raise some social questions, what I especially loved about the video is how it primarily does the complete opposite.

In Anoop’s own words, “It was fun and I’d gladly do it again but I’ll be fine if it never happens. I think what I really enjoyed about the process is that it was a bunch of Sikh kids just doing stupid shit and having fun. And we made a video of it. The sangat aspect was key for me. If I ever do anything of this sort, the “having fun with peers” aspect will dominate the “social issues” aspect. Showing that Sikhs in their teens and twenties are normal kids that bullshit and hang just like any other crew of people in their teens and twenties is what I’d deem most important just because, visually, we look like “the other,” to use a popular term.”

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