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Fiddler In The Next Street


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
For most of Harcharan Singh's neighbours in Dugri, he is a timber trader. But catch the 80-year-old in a quite moment and he will reveal a talent that very few around him can compare. Harcharan is a master fiddler, who in his younger days chose to leave the more lucrative family business and pursue playing the violin professionally.

His prized possessions are two antique violins that are over 200 years old and were handed down to him by his father who had bought it from some Britons.

Harcharan knows he is an oddity in a state known for farmers. Recalling the reactions he drew from people when he started working for All India Radio (AIR) at Kanpur in 1953, the violinist smiles. ''People used to be taken by surprise seeing a Sikh man playing the violin because they used to think Sikhs only know how to farm land or the most they play is a 'dhol','' he said.

For Harcharan, playing the fiddle was a ''hereditary'' talent. His father Suraj Singh was also a violinist though he did not pursue it professionally. The first one in his family to make a career of playing the instrument, Harcharan learnt both from his father as well as Ustad Taba of Lahore, Pakistan.

He is a master of playing the violin in 'Gayaki ang', which Indian musicians consider as the purest form of music, but prides himself in never selling his art.

''Art is not for sale and it is not possible for everyone to attain the patience of an artist. They have different features that common man don't have and the receptive cells of an artist grooms the art,'' he said.

Harcharan said he never even went around looking for a job but people approached him after hearing about his talent. In 1958, he taught music at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi, which was also a learning ground for him as he spent time with the likes of Pandit Omkar Nath Thakur, Rang Nath Mishra and Pashu Maharaj.

In 1961 he joined the cultural wing of Northern Railways where he trained many violinists till 1990. Since then, Harcharan has been concentrating on the family business but never at the expense of spending some time with his first love ' the violin.

The maestro has two sons ' Anoop and Gurmeet. Though both are involved in the family business they also play the violin for leisure. ''I admire my dad's talent. At our timber store we have a music room where my father and I practice violin,'' said Gurmeet, who was conferred the national award for young artists by the President in 1996.

He added that the Punjab government is not promoting classical music because of which the art is dying.

Roop Sahir, a resident of Shivpuri who is one of Harcharan's disciples, was all praises for his 'guru'. ''I have never heard such a violinist in the country. He has a heart of gold,'' Roop said.



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