A few months ago, I finally got a professional scanner with an aim to scan thousands of negatives, transparencies and prints that had been lying around unattended. Two of Anad’s volunteers, Akshay Sharma – a neighbourhood kid, and a computer engineer with serious photography interests, Gurliv Singh, a nephew, had very kindly accepted to do the ‘job’. Every now and then, my heart quivers at ‘re-discovering’ and perhaps in some way, revisiting, moments of my life when I had the privilege of being mentored and tutored by some of the finest ‘farmers’ of the 20th century South-Asia.
Maharaj Bir Singh, the younger brother of the Maharaj Jagjit Singh (1920-2012) by two years, the previous head of the Namdhari Sikh Darbar, Bhaini Sahib, was an extraordinary – a beautiful man —what a mentor – what a philanthropist..!
As he introduced me once to some of the Haryana State political top brass and aides of a certain political party, who had to wait for two extra hours because he and I, were singing and playing on the second floor: “Do not be fooled by his humble appearance – by his loosely tied turban, kurta and kashehra“, he had surprisingly said, “he does photography – so did I, he did flying – so did I, he plays pakhawaj – so do I, he sings dhrupad – so do I..!” One of those present was the young and promising Kumari Shelja, who has since served as Cabinet Minister, Government of India.
He was as if humility, compassion, love and generosity incarnate. For a few years, the first stop he would make after reaching Nizamuddin Rail station from Bangalore, where he would be visiting his son, would be at my Nizamuddin residence – be it any hour of the day or night. We would take turns – playing pakhawaj, singing, playing dilruba. Sometimes, he would recall a few compositions and teach them (as in image-I, below). He would sometimes write a letter with notated down compositions – saying I learnt this from so-and-so ancestor of yours or from another maestro.
Reviewing some of the recent scans the two volunteers at Anad have recently done – I found these images (Photos by Maria Maurizia Costanzo from January 1997), which I share as I eagerly await for more, and more…
Shortly after, I visited him at his place in Jeevan Nagar, District Sirsa, en route to Ganganagar where lived Bhai Ratan Singh from our village. Those years, I traveled with my cameras, instruments, a/v recorders all loaded (in the station-wagon).
The evening session we had, past dusk, is etched in my memory – perhaps my finest raga sri rendition till then, with Maharaj Bir Singh playing some scintillating stuff on the pakhawaj —was perhaps one of those times when, under the stars and skies, just about everything clicks. He also played some dilruba that evening with the honour to accompany him on the Jori all mine. Here is an image I took as he played: