No list of the most famous Punjabi folk musicians is complete without the name of Lal Chand Yamla Jatt in it. Yet the man who gave Ludhiana one of its most cherished musical traditions – the tingling music of the single-stringed Tumbi – forgets him in his death. The illustrious singer passed away on December 20, 1991, leaving behind a legacy that continues to flourish even after two decades. But a visit to his house in Jawahar Nagar and his statue nearby in Tikona Park, Model Town, lays bare the public indifference and disregard to the memories of this musical great.
While the house is a cramped, run down structure bereft of any modern facilities, the statue situated inside the badly maintained Tikona Park presents a paints a picture of government neglect. For a recipient of several coveted awards including the National Award (he received a Gold Medal in 1956 by the Indian Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru), the state of these surviving traces of his life evokes both shock and pity. Suresh Yamla, son of Lal Chand Yamla’s eldest son Kartar Chand, rues the fact that the state has not bothered to build a single memorial or academy in his name.
“He is counted among the greats. His fans the world over remember him by organizing festivals and meets in his name. But what he gets after his death is just fake promises from the state,” says Suresh, who also plays Tumbi and performs at various cultural festivals, in India and beyond.
Ustad Lal Chand Yamla Jatt, born in 1914 in village Tobha Tek Singh, now in Pakistan, moved to Ludhiana after partition with his two younger brothers, stopping temporarily at Batala in Gurdaspur District. Coming from a family of musicians, Yamla Jatt would accompany his Guru Narayan Singh Dardi to mushairas. The latter encouraged him to sing, shares Suresh. Yamla’s first composition was ‘Mainu Le Chal Nadiyo Par’.
He couldn’t write, so his disciples did the writing for him in later years as he narrated. Over 8000 cassettes have been brought out in the name of Yamla Jatt so far. Interestingly, it was in a film by I S Johar that the term ‘Yamla Jatt’ first entered Hindi cinema. It has been used several times since in movies and songs.
“People used his name and money. His disciples continue to do it for their own benefit by lying that they hail from our family and getting work in return. My grandfather did not believe in making money and lived only for his music for family. By his end, he had successfully settled down his brothers in the city. People come from far and wide tracing his roots and talk to us, make films and documentaries on him. But his own place ignores him” he says.