Photos by Me.
It was in 2003, when the legendary scholar, Professor Pritam Singh called me from Patiala. He would often call me and say a few blessing-filled notes and that how appreciated the work he thought I was doing. He asked me to promise to agree to what he had proposed. He wanted me to accept the ‘proposed offer’ to become the fellow at the upcoming Gurmat Sangeet Department at Punjabi University, Patiala. I laughed at that and revealed that some people in the university would be horrified at the suggestion for they would be frightened by my presence. So much of my work has been plagiarized: people claim to have ‘revived’ musical instruments just because I used the word ‘revived’ after actually searching the last instrument maker (luthier) who knew how to make instruments and who had actually made these until 1949 – Gyani Harbhajan Singh (1920-2005); the traditions of drums (Jori-pakhawaj); documentation in the field, etc. Professor Pritam Singh was certain that his recommendation would not be denied while I challenged him that it would be otherwise. I had won.
Since then, I would occasionally hear that my name is being opposed (by a certain person) even when proposed for participating in a seminar by non-music departments. So much so that in 2006, weeks before my younger granduncle had faced, with an angel-like dignity, a short ’bout’ of Leukemia, the same person claimed that I was not my own granduncles’ grand-nephew – that I had been lying about being related..! Thus, it should not be surprising that my name does not exist in the books written in the last two decades by a certain university – as if I have not existed or that even if I did, am of no consequence to the field whatsoever. I have never been invited to a Gurbani Kirtan event to perform 😉 Of course, I am not sure if I would have ever accepted an invite in the first place for some of these self-styled gods in the field suggested in the early 90s, and even later, that I accept ‘them’ and their ‘work’ – for “you and I are the only ones in the field”..! Well, the reason I write about some of these issues, and believe me friends I have been very brief, is that as I drove to attend the Gurmat Sangeet Utsav (GSU) 2012, albeit as a member of the Sangat (congregation) only, many instances that happened since 1991 flashed back. I wondered about and weighed the damage done by way of fiction writing and distortions by some of these scholars which have now obviously created a kind of chaos in the field.
Since, September 3, 2012, I have started my tenure as a Visiting Professor at the Centre on Studies in Sri Guru Granth Saheb (CSSGGS), Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. This visit to Patiala was my first official tour – accompanied by one of my research scholar at the CSSGGS, Jatinder Singh. Professor Balwant Singh Dhillon, the Director of the CSSGGS, had procured requisite permissions so I could hire the services of a cinematographer, and professional audio-video equipment to document the event. The cameraman, Jasbir Singh, and his assistant reached just as Pandit Surinder Singh, a Padma Shri awardee and the younger of the Singh Bandhu duo, began his rendition of “thakur aiso naam teharo“, a composition in raga gujri set to medium tempo teen-tala. The other performers to follow, along with raga name in which they made their main presentation, were: Dr. Jagir Singh (raga ramkali); Bhai Harjot Singh Zakhmi (raga bilaval); Dr. Gurvinder Singh of Batala, a dentist, (raga basant); Bhai Gurmeet Singh Shaant (raga todi) – Gurmeet recited his poem in which he counts the names of the “62” ragas “used by the authors to sing their” Gurbani. It is evident that he has no tradition’s perspective for else he would not count bilaval mangal and various dakkhni raga forms among the actual ragas used in Gurbani; Bhai Kanwarpal Singh of Dehradun, a student of Principal Dyal Singh (raga vadhans); Bhai Inderjit Singh of Mumbai (raga jaitsri); Bhai Kultar Singh, the youngest son of the legendary ragi, Bhai Avtar Singh (raga brindabani-sarang); and finally, Bhai Ravinder Singh, a Hazuri Ragi of Darbar Saheb Amritsar (raga brindabani-sarang).
The day before that GSU 2012 event at Punjabi University Patiala, the Gurudwara Student Sangat of Guru Nanak Dev University had organized their award ceremony to confer the Bhai Nand Lal Goya Award. Bhai Baljit Singh Namdhari was the featured Ragi that day, whose performance was as usual, pretty competitive. The following day while listening to the performances, I had the chance to listen to nine Gurbani Kirtan renditions and I wondered – what makes a singer (values or attributes)? (This might perhaps be a bit volatile for some). That merely being able to render a raga, a composition, variations and improvisations therein does not guarantee much it is another thing to be a singer singing a song, with or without improvisations. Sadly, among the lot, only Pandit Surinder Singh seemed a singer. Among all the performers at the GSU 2012, Dr. Gurvinder Singh (followed by) Bhai Gurmeet Singh Shaant, showed promise even though there were question marks about their rendition of the ragas respectively while for others, it was perhaps not to be their day…
It was disappointing that Bhai Balbir Singh wasn’t invited while Professor Kartar Singh and Dr. Gurnam Singh, who were present, did not perform.
O Friends of Anad, I am sharing two images of each singing troupe at the GSU 2012, except Bhai Kultar Singh Ragi whose’ I share three (well, after all he is a cousin mates 😉 a chacha at that)