Skipping on Air

Fun though it was to make Singh giggle over my misreadings, I didn't call to ask about lyrics. I was trying to get some hard bio. For years he played down his personal details, even hiding his last name, because, unbelievably, his religious parents didn't know what exactly their son did, even after he became a star. Tjinder Singh was born in 1968, in the Midlands city of Wolverhampton, the same year anti-immigrationist demagogue and Wolverhampton MP Enoch Powell delivered his infamous Rivers of Blood speech. Wolverhampton was also the location of a news event that impressed me more in 1969 than Neil Armstrong on the moon: the successful conclusion of a two-year strike by the city's Sikh busmen to wear turbans on the job. I remember the photos in the London papers—after all that suit-and-umbrella malarkey, these guys looked so tough it would have signified even if they hadn't won.

When I brought the subject up, Singh paused for so long I was afraid he didn't know what I was talking about. Then he said tersely, "My father was a busman." Later, Singh went on, his father became a teacher. As for the son, well—dholkis are one thing. He wears his hair short. It's the old dialectical mystery of generational succession. Not that one throws away what the other fought for, but that the fight defines it as a choice. Who knows how redefinitions like Cornershop's will play out from here? In a full and reasonable life, maybe that heady trip to a sensibility between worlds could be the road home.

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