By Gurmukh Singh
MISSISSAUGA: Kuldip Deepak is a familiar Punjabi radio voice among Indo-Canadians. He is the man who runs North America’s longest-running Punjabi programme called Punjab Di Goonj.
“We have completed 37 years and we could possibly be the longest-running Punjabi radio programme outside of India,’’ says the man with the booming voice.
In fact, before he became the radio face of the Punjabi community, Deepak had already made a name for himself as a Punjabi singer in Canada.
“I became the first-ever singer to record Shiv Batalvi in North America in 1978. The album was called Kuldip Deepak Sings Shiv Batalvi, and it was very well received in India. In all, I did 10 albums with the songs of Batalvi, Amrita Pritam, S.S. Misha, Surjit Pattar and Gurcharan Rampuri and I worked with Asa Singh Mastana, Pushpa Hans and even Jagjit Singh.’’
He says he was persuaded by friends, including Jagjit Singh, to return to India and pursue music full-time. “But I had a family and a career here, so I never thought of going back to India.’’
Deepak, who comes from Kahma village near Banga in Punjab, says when he landed in Toronto in 1972, there were very few Indians here.
“If you saw anyone from India or Pakistan, you ran to meet him. I just landed here as a visitor because my elder brother had shifted to Toronto from the UK. Within a couple of months, I got my permanent residency status.’’
Like any now immigrant, he struggled with odd jobs. “Finally, I became a security guard and started studying for my business administration degree. I was hired as a trainee by a consumer company, and I stayed with that company, finally becoming a computer analyst.’’
But since music was his passion, he says he and his friends formed a musical group called Indian Tops.
“There was a little of Hindi radio at that time, but it was all for promotion of films. So, in 1980, I started the one-hour programme Punjab Di Goonj on Saturdays. I paid from my own pocket as there were no Indians businesses to give you ads. I did it to promote the Punjabi language,’’ he says.
Today, his Punjab Di Goonj runs for hours and hours every week, covering just about every topic under the sun.
“I never thought the radio show will become a business for me, but it has because the Indian community has grown exponentially since we started,’’ he says.
Deepak has used the radio to not only entertain and inform the community but also raise funds for charities and natural calamity victims in India.
“Over the year, we have raised millions for charities, gurdwaras, temples and victims of natural disasters such as tsunami, the Gujarat earthquake, etc. I have also raised Rs 50 lakh so for the Kurali-based NGO called Prabh Aasra which takes care of the destitute, orphans, handicapped and abandoned people,’’ he says.
And, each year on Guru Nanak’s birthday, Deepak joins other Punjabi radio producers to host the day-long Gurpurab Radiothon to raise money for the local Sikh-run Seva Food Bank that serves the needy in Canada. “We raised over 500,000 dollars last time,’’ he says.
The show goes on. (This article first appeared in the Times of India on March 27)