Desi Crowds Flock to New Houston First: a Punjabi Mela for Summertime Fun

Photo: Najam Ali

Photo: Najam Ali

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By Jawahar Malhotra
HOUSTON: Summer in the city can be hard on people who try to find wholesome entertainment in between family vacations, pool parties and running to see blockbuster movie releases. Our desi community’s calendar is booked solid most weekends during the Spring and Fall seasons with events that range the gamut from religious to charitable galas but apart from the Bollywood flavored shows that promoters bring during the hot months, community activities usually dwindle down to smaller venues and scope.

Until this past weekend when the Punjabi Sports and Culture Club of Houston, a new organization led by Manohar Singh Mann, a key activist in the Bayou City’s Sikh community, stepped out with its first event, an ambitious Punjabi themed Sabhiacharak Mela this past weekend on Saturday, June 21. Equally ambitious was the venue – the Sam Houston Race Track, which is across the Beltway from the community’s Sikh National Center site on which a gurudwara is being built and is nearing completion with other buildings planned.

With the tireless efforts of Aman Sidhu, Gurbir Singh Boparai and Bhupinder Singh, Mann with other volunteers Gurminder Singh Padda, Hitpaul Singh Sandhar, Satbir Singh Rana, Raghbir Singh Pancal and Harbhajan Singh envisioned an event which would be completely Punjabi, focusing on the songs, music, dance and food as well as the businesses which are run by Punjabis. They sought out sponsors for the event and most quickly agreed to do so to varying levels of support.

The end result was a Punjabi mela on a scale which had not been tried before. The turnout was so heavy – over 4,500 people came to the event which had free entry – that it both stunned and delighted the organizers. Said one volunteer, “I have never seen such a fine program focused on our community,” after the event had ended. Another added that the mela brought in people from across the desi community – Pakistani and North and South Indians – who enjoyed Punjabi culture.

It was not without its share of challenges though. Even after all the equipment and stage had been set up outside, it had to be quickly protected twice when brief but heavy rain passed over the race track. This forced the program to start a couple of hours later than the original 6pm schedule and continued on till past midnight. Many people enjoyed the outdoor affair under the bright lights of the race track and from which they could see the Beltway traffic.


Five different local restaurants provided food and another half a dozen service vendors lined up around the mela area. Special seating was set aside for all of the sponsors and their families and friends, while general seating was available for the rest of the public, all of whom were served by roving volunteers and serving staff. Some compared the food, service and dining experience to being in the gardens of a sumptuous hotel.

But what made the evening so special was the entertainment that was provided by three local talented artists – Priya Nijjar, Kulwinder Kally and Gurlez Akhtar all of whom are well known Punjabi singers and have CDs and music videos of their music, many posted on Youtube – and the two artists who flew in: Sarabjit Cheema and Surinder Shinda.

Kally hails from Houston where his parents – his father is the much respected Bhai Amar Singh – and extended family live and left for India almost eight years ago to make his mark in the recording industry there. He is well known for his hit Shamm Di Gaddi and has also released a new CD Singh Saviors which was available at the event. Akhtar has been widely popular in Punjabi music circles in India – her video Main Nachdi Aa Tere Karke is a Youtube hit – and she has also been featured in several movies.

With their connections in the music business, Kally and Akhtar were able to bring in Priya Nijjar – one of her famous songs and video is Dil Nahio Lagda – and also the seasoned singer and comedian Surinder Shinda who has been an entertainer for many years. Shinda is considered “legendary” and “the grandfather of moc” and has numerous hit Punjabi songs like Putt Jattan De, Truck Billiya, Balbiro Bhabhi and Khar Singh Di Mout and has appeared in many Punjabi films, including Ucha Dar Babe Nanak Da. His song Badia Le layeen Sohneya is considered one of the greatest hits of Punjabi music ever.

Also appearing onstage was Sarabjit Cheema, the Canadian-Indian singer known only as “Cheema” who can rivet audiences with his voice and get them on the dance floor. Cheema’s has a smash hit in Rangla Punjab but also has sung many Boliyan and has 2 religious albums and 12 studio CDs.

These five artistes kept a non-stop musical show going throughout the evening, mesmerizing the audience and pausing only for a 30-minute awards ceremony which recognized the singers, sponsors and organizers for putting the unique Punjabi Nite together for the community to enjoy.