HYDERABAD: Amber turbans. Shabad Kirtans. The songs that liquefy borders tuning vignettes of life through mysticism. The strength that binds roohs, bringing alive ruhaniyat. The essence of music cultivated through years is what makes Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa’s musical trajectory beautiful, soothing to ears as he travels from one region to another. From the fields of Punjab to the rocky terrain of Deccan. He is performing at Taramati Baradari on Sunday evening as part of Ruhaniyat Music Festival organised by Banyan Tree. And this is not the first time that he’s been here. Other than the tehzeeb and peace it’s the warmth of people which keeps him bringing back here.
As the angst against the biased Citizenship Amendment Bill rises, the priestly singer from Punjab narrates the horrid tales of Partition which witnessed the largest exodus in human history. His parents used to live in Montgomery District, Pakistan before Hindustan was divided. After the 1947 riots, they escaped and came to Mandala village, Punjab as refugees. “My family settled as farmers battling extreme penury. It’s much later that we got a small piece of land,” says the mystical singer in his late sixties. But how did his tryst with music happen? “At the outskirts of our village, a lot of nomad singers called Mirasi would erect their tents and settle for a few months before moving elsewhere. They would light a fire in the evenings and sing with their harmoniums. After working in the fields the whole day, I’d sneak out at dusk and listen to their songs. The rhythm really soothed me,” says Nirmal Singh.
Later, the family acquired an old radio and the young boy would keenly listen to Radio Lahore tuning his ears to programmes like Shaam-e-Ghazal and Punjab Durbar. He liked listening to one particular ghazal singer without realising that it was Ghulam Ali the legendary ghazal singer of Pakistan. “Later I met him in England for a concert, he listened to my music and agreed to take me as his disciple,” says the singer who has performed in 71 countries.
But how did he become a priestly singer at the Golden Temple, Amritsar? “When I declared to my father that I wanted to pursue singing and not be a farmer he didn’t take it nicely. I left home and took admission in Shaheed SIkh Missionary College, Amritsar and studied music,” says the Padma Shri awardee. He used to get a meagre wazifa of `70 those days. After he finished the course he taught music in colleges in Rishikesh and Rajasthan. But realised that he didn’t want to be a teacher and later joined Golden Temple. Then he went on creating his own compositions. It’s on airplanes during long flights mid in the air that he finds it convenient to write. “It’s the maqam in music that brings ‘you’ to yourself. It’s this continuous quest which keeps the cup full and each time you connect with it, you become closer to this maqam,” he says before beginning his riyaz.