Legendary harmonium specialist in Malaysia: Swaran Singh

Swaran Singh, the former managing director of Sohan Singh & Sons, passed away in February 2016. He was legendary for his skills to repair musical instruments like waja (harmonium). Even a Malay ghazal group from Johor used to visit him annually to get their waja tuned. His grandaughter SUNITA KAUR captures his life and times.

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| Sunita Kaur | Memory | Malaysia | 3 April 2016 | Asia Samachar |

It is late Saturday afternoon. Despite the sun pouring through the windows, the room seems dimly lit. I know this room. As I walk in, I see my grandfather lying on the bed, his head turn towards the window. My heart sank to see him lying lifelessly there with his eyes close.

This is not the man I knew. I have always remembered him as a healthy man despite his old age, sitting and repairing wajas (harmoniums) in one small room in the house.

Where are the wajas? Why is he not repairing one today?

SEE ALSO: Swaran Singh (1922-2016), Sohan Singh & Sons

All of a sudden I felt a hand on my shoulder. My aunt Jasbir was there with tears in her eyes, looking down at her father sleeping soundly, so lifeless and helpless. I hug her and said: “He will be fine. Don’t you worry?”

My parents walk in. My mum, Sir Chit sits next to my grandfather, putting her hand in his. She starts to recite the Rehraas prayers. We, his family, cover our heads and sit around him reciting the prayers along my mum. My grandfather slowly opens his eyes and looks around, trying to recognise each one of us. He glances at me and smiles weakly. I smile back. In this moment, I felt like crying, to see my grandfather in this condition was heart-wrenching. I kept myself strong and continued reciting the prayers. In my heart, praying softly for his speedy recovery so he can go home to his family.

It was time to go home. I touch his hand gently and whisper in his ears: “Dadaji, I love you and will always do. I will come and see you again.”

I didn’t know that it would be the last time I would be seeing him. I wish I could rewind back the time, stayed longer next to him.

A few days later, I receive a phone call that my grandfather has died. I knew he was to be discharged the day after I visited him. However, his condition had worsen and he had to be put on an oxygen mask. The doctors had given their word that he was sinking and it won’t be long. I had just planned to re-visit him the next day. I knew it was coming; yet when I heard the news it felt like someone punched me in the stomach. He had battled with his sickness for 10 months; bedridden till the day he died.

I had the privileged to pay tribute to my grandfather in his memory during the path da bhog in Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya on 27 February 2016.

Here are some kaleidoscope of memories that we – his family – have of him that we will always hold dear. Memories that defined him as an individual; memories that personified him and his life well lived.

My Grandfather

My grandfather, the late Swaran Singh, was born on 16 January 1922 in Rangilpur, India; and so began the life of the man who people remember as the man who could repair any type of musical instruments; you name it; be it the waja, tabla, accordians, organ and many more. He lived his life to the fullest and touched so many people’s heart during his time here.

He was only 9 when his father brought him to Malaysia. At the age of 27, he had finished his Senior Cambridge at Maxwell School in Kuala Lumpur when his mother took him and his younger brother to India and got them married before returning to Malaysia. He married Raminder Kaur, who was only 17 years old in 1947. They have been married for 68 years now.

Swaran Singh was a well-liked and respected man. He had many friends. Although he didn’t see them as often as he used to, they still kept in touch, safe in the unspoken knowledge that they were there for each other if needed. He was then, and always was, a solid, reliable all-round good man, someone you felt at ease with, someone that you instinctively knew you could trust and rely on.

His life was his family. They meant more to him than anything, a home loving family man he was. His mother and younger brother’s died at an early age, but his father Sohan Singh lived to the age of 90 years. His children meant the world to him. Luxury for him was to see his family united together on occasions such as Diwali. And as his family grew, he remained the nucleus of it, a focus of love and affection that radiated out and touched those who knew him. He leaves behind the wonderful legacy of a close-knit, caring family.

His father, Sohan Singh owned a shop, Sohan Singh & Sons, at Batu Road, Kuala Lumpur. While he was studying in the secondary level at Maxwell school, after school, he would go to his father’s shop and assist his father in the making and tuning of the wajas. He acquired this trade at the age of 20 and continued doing till he was 90 years old.

His passion for the harmonium made him the specialist in the manufacturing and tuning of the harmonium. He was the one and the only person in Malaysia in this trade then. Even now, people still say there is no other to compete with him. His customers ranged from all races: Punjabis, Indians, Chinese and Malays. There used to be a time when every year the ghazal performers from Johor will come over by cab to his house to get their wajas tuned. They will hang around the house until he had repaired their wajas before returning back to Johor the same day.

Perfect hearing

He retired from Sohan Singh & Sons as its managing director in 1995 when the rent control shop was taken over by the owner. Despite that, he continued repairing the wajas from his house in Subang Jaya, Selangor. My dad Jasvinder Singh told me that my grandfather’s hearing was perfect despite his old age.  Jasvinder had worked with his father for two years during his school days. He saw the hard times his father went through: repairing and making wajas, refurbishing them as they will get damaged due to poor packaging.

One of my grandfather’s main hobbies was listening to music. He had a wide range of musical taste and appreciation of music. He loved orchestral music and his favourite Western singer was Andy Williams. Indian classical music and ghazals by Ravi Shanker, Ghulam Ali Khan, Bizmillah Khan and Jagjit Singh were some of his favourites. His favourite Hindi singers were Mukesh, Mohd Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. His daughter, Jasbir Kaur, said that even when simply listening to music, it had to be just right. He would adjust the speakers and alter the controls until he got it just right for him to listen and enjoy. He never approved of loud music. He used to say: “Let your ears go to the music and not music come to your ears.” In other words, he was a bit of a perfectionist in everything he did, he liked things to be just so.

Interestingly, my grandfather wasn’t one to make a fuss, but he was always there for everyone. He liked simple pleasures in life like sitting in his living room with a cup of tea and watching Hindi movies. He had taped and kept a library of about 200 movies on VHS cassettes.

It takes someone of extra special strength and character to say something, to mean it, and then to stick by it. My grandfather was a very conservative and a strict father. Punctuality for him was very important. In the early days, he always wanted his children to come home by 7pm.

He was a very healthy person due to his disciplinary nature. When he used to work at Sohan Singh and Sons, his would take along lunch prepared by his wife. He only ate outside food once a week as he felt the food was unhygienic. He used to go for evening walks with his wife every day. He could walk for 3kms daily in the mornings and would grumble if it rained as he had to miss his walk.

I feel privileged to preserve his memories. As the saying goes:

“Those we love don’t go away,

They walk beside us every day,

Unseen. Unheard,

But always near,

Still Loved,

Still Missed

And very dear.”

Sunita Kaur is a Kuala Lumpur-based tax accountant at Kimberly Clark Regional Services (M) Sdn Bhd. 

 

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RELATED STORY:

Swaran Singh (1922-2016), Sohan Singh & Sons (Asia Samachar, 25 Feb 2016)

1 COMMENT

  1. May his soul attain Sadgati. Very nicely written article. I was searching for a place where I can buy harmonium in Kuala Lumpur and came accross this article which gave me insights of legendary Swaran Singh ji’s life.

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