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Song of the Singhs

By ANJANA RAJAN

Surinder Singh met Padma Sachdeva at All India Radio, Jammu. "She was an announcer and I was duty officer. I asked her to marry me. There was a scandal. In those days they frowned on colleagues falling in love. You should fall in love with someone else," he says.



TWO'S SPLENDID COMPANY: Vocalist Surinder Singh with his wife poetess Padma Sachdeva in New Delhi. — Photo: R.V. Moorthy

MENTION THEIR names alone - Surinder Singh or Tejpal Singh - and you might ask, "Who Singh?" But together, this pair spells limelight: the Singh Bandhu, internationally renowned Hindustani vocalists, disciples of the late Ustad Amir Khan. Today, Surinder Singh is a soloist, and Tejpal Singh is reclusive at his West Delhi residence. Then, there is Surinder Singh's wife, the Dogri poetess Padma Sachdeva. By heredity or wedlock, this is a family with a story to tell. For the Singh Bandhu, it all started in childhood, when their elder brother, G.S. Sardar, taught them music.

"He had gone blind at 13. As a toddler, I would sit in his music room listening. One day, I was fiddling with the harmonium. I told him I was playing raga Bhupali, having discovered that if you play the black keys starting with the third black, you would get the notes of Bhupali. He was very pleased and started teaching me. Then my mother said I should sing along with Tejpalji, who was a very quiet boy. In those days, if your mother said to do something, you had to say yes. Nowadays, you have to say no!" relates Surinder Singh.

Both brothers did their Masters in music from Allahabad University. Then Surinder Singh joined All India Radio, Jammu. That's where he met Padma. "She was an announcer and I was duty officer. I asked her to marry me. There was a scandal. In those days they frowned on colleagues falling in love. You should fall in love with someone else," he says.

He left AIR x "I was a bit of a vagabond" - and appeared in a competitive examination in Delhi, which landed him a job in the Foreign Service. Meanwhile, Padma had come to the Capital too. "She was in a working girls' hostel on Curzon Road while I was in Hyderabad House. We were opposite each other, and we have been opposing each other ever since."

How they achieved this state of blissful loggerheads is another tale. "I had a horrible scooter, and one day, we were on the road with a truck in front of us. I accelerated and threatened to drive into the truck if she didn't marry me. She agreed. Yash Chopra was a good friend. He took the entire scene for his film Chandini. It was a case of bad are following a bad life!"

After marrying in 1966, Singh continued being "dishonest" to all his Government jobs. He left the Foreign Service x "We wanted to go on a holiday in Kashmir" - and began writing for The Indian Express and the Navbharat Times. Another competitive exam brought him the offer of a job as an Income Tax officer. With his mother threatening to fast to death if he did not accept the post, he joined service in Mumbai, though he felt miserable at being unable to pursue music full-time. It was after her death that he gave up the job.

Meanwhile, the Singh Bandhu had become disciples of Ustad Amir Khan. They were singing both solo and duet, but the guru advised them to stick to duet performances to avoid professional rivalry. "Tejpalji is sedate. A music teacher, he has an instinctive fear of transgressing the Lakshman Rekha of ragas, whereas I consider myself a genius! I don't know if I influenced him, but he influenced me. My fiery temper was tempered somewhat. I feel I am a more complete musician because of singing with him. My success as a soloist is in part due to my partnership," says Surinder Singh of his illustrious brother whose health prevents him from performing now.

As Padma Sachdeva serves refreshments with homely warmth, it's not as if this Dogri poet and novelist, born into a family of Sanskrit scholars, is content to be the quiet wife. She is in every way a match for her husband, starting from the Padma Shri both have received in their separate fields. Both being artists helps manage the matrimonial front. "He sings for three or four hours in the morning and two or three in the evening. Then, I go out for my work. Seven hours are spent on sleep. Arre, is hi liye to nibh rahi hai," she declares. "Otherwise, I would have left him long ago!"

As she prepares to go out, their Pomeranian Naughty gets agitated. "He loves me a lot even though I don't give him much of a lift," says Padma.

The parting shot is by Surinder Singh. "There are two people who don't trust my wife: my dog and me!"

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