Air Commodore Mehar Singh, DSO, MVC
Maverick of the Skies…Air Cdre Mehar Singh, DSO, MVC
Very few people in Patiala know about Mehar Singh after whom are named the sprawling Mehar Singh Colony towards the north of the city and Mehar Singh di Kothi on the Patiala-Sirhind road. The colony and the house are on the land allotted to the late Trilok Singh, father of Air Commodore Mehar Singh, in lieu of the agricultural land left by him in Pakistan. This kothi, which enshrines the ashes of the Air Commodore, at one time the hero of the Royal Indian Air Force, is at present in a state of neglect.
The life story of Air Commodore Mehar Singh DSO, MVC, speaks of human valour and complete devotion to duty. Here was an air fighter who knew no fear, who saw no peril in the performance of his duty even when dangers stared him in the face. Courage and sincerity personified, Mehar Singh was the hope and inspiration of the Royal Indian Air Force in the 1940s.
Born in a well-to-do family of Lyallpur district (now known as Faisalabad in Pakistan) on March 20, 1915, Mehar Singh was selected for the RIAF in 1933 while he was in the final year of B.Sc. During his nearly three years of training at the prestigious RAF College in England, he impressed the college authorities by his single-mindedness, discipline and spirit of comradeship. His Commandant Air Vice Marshall H.M. Grave wrote about him: “Keen, cheerful, hardworking and popular. His work compares favourably with that of English cadets. A creditable effort! And exceptionally good pilot, keen on games and has represented the college at hockey of which he is an excellent player.”
During the next 12 years that Mehar Singh was in the RIAF/ IAF, he gave an excellent account of himself. One can imagine how hard were the times and how demanding and trying the situations in the country during World War II and after it when he was called upon to play his role. Mehar Baba, affectionately called so by his colleagues and friends, came out with flying colours. This brave, yet unassuming and modest air officer, won the admiration and affection of his seniors as also of the men under him. Asghar Khan, an officer under him who later became Chief of the Air Staff of Pakistan, said about him, “With the solitary exception of Sq Ldr Mehar Singh, a pilot of outstanding ability, no one was able to inspire confidence among us.”
After his training in England, Mehar Singh joined No 1 Squadron. In the operations in the wild and mountainous North West Frontier Province, he flew in one month as many as hundred hours. Mehar Singh, being fully adept at piloting fighters, bombers and multi-engine transport planes, was asked to rescue women and children from a beleaguered Air Force station of Habbaniyah in May, 1948. He did the job so commendably that the next year he was called upon to evacuate refugees from Burma (Myanmar). A similar duty was entrusted to him during the Partition when non-Muslims were being forced to leave Pakistan.
In 1942, the Commander-in-Chief presented Mehar Singh a Commendation Certificate in recognition of his operational flying in Sind during the Hur disturbances in that province. A few months later, Mehar Singh accomplished a feat which, as per Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, “any air man of any air force in the world would be proud to accomplish.” Mehar Singh also took over the command of the Arakan area of Burma. There, too, he displayed his unique qualities of leadership and daring.
Under the leadership of Mehar Singh, Squadron No 6 with its Hurricanes came to be known as the Eyes of the 14th Army, commanded by Gen William Slim. After the war, Field Marshall Slim recorded, “I was particularly impressed with the conduct of the Squadron led by a young Sikh Squadron Leader (Mehar Singh). They were a happy and efficient unit.” Remembering Mehar Singh, Lt.Gen Harwant Singh (Retd) observed, “Mehar Singh was one of the most celebrated fighter pilots of the Second World War. A pilot par excellence and a dare-devil, and once in the cockpit, he became a part of the machinery.”
For his work in Arakan which he accomplished with great skill and success, Mehar Singh was awarded DSO (Distinguished Service Order) in March, 1944. In fact, he was the first and the only officer of the IAF to have won this award.
Soon after the war, Mehar Singh was called upon to assist in the task of reorganising and strengthening of the RIAF and the training of personnel. In 1947, as a Wing Commander, he was appointed a member of the Armed Forces Nationalisation Committee and Deputy President of No. 7 GHQ Officers’ Selection Board, Dehra Dun. Promoted as Air Commodore in November, 1947, he took over Command No 1 Operational Group in Jammu and Kashmir.
Mehar Singh was deeply attached to the Air Force, which he said taught him to fly aeroplanes, made him an engineer, enabled him to gain experience in administration, offered him opportunities to fly and fight with the fellow members of the air crew in good and bad days and understand their difficulties and problems, and above all made him humane. He wished to leave it with honour but unfortunately that did not happen.
In the interests of the Service which he wanted to grow from strength to strength, he came to differ with some of his seniors on matters as purchase of equipment, standard of discipline, programme for effectiveness, appointments, postings, and certain practices and trends in the administration. Instead of getting involved in any controversy or confrontation that might have affected discipline in the Service, he chose to resign. He wished to be considered as one of those several hundreds of airmen who had joined and served the RIAF and had been written off. At the same time, this patriotic air fighter did not forget his obligation to his motherland. In the event of any emergency, he said, he would like to be the first to offer his services.
Thus went away from the Indian Air Force a legendary hero on September 27, 1948. When the gallantry awards were instituted, MVC (Maha Vir Chakra) was conferred upon Mehar Singh. An honour well deserved, indeed! But unfortunate as it may seem, it is, nevertheless, a fact that this nation soon forgets her sons who play heroic roles. Should not courage and integrity, professional competence and commitment to duty, love of the country and supreme sacrifices to uphold its honour ever remain worthy of grateful recognition and remembrance? What do we really do in this regard is a question to be pondered upon.
After his retirement, Mehar Singh was personal adviser of Maharaja Yadvindra Singh (of Patiala), the Rajparmukh of PEPSU. At times he would fly the Rajparmukh to New Delhi and other places for important conferences and meetings. He flew the Rajparmukh to New Delhi for the conference of Governers and Rajparmukhs for the last time on March 11, 1952. He was to take the Maharaja back to Patiala on March 17. An aircraft of the Escorts Ltd. that he was flying from Jammu to New Delhi on the night of March 16 was caught in a storm, killing Mehar Singh. A worthy life was thus cut short abruptly!
Punjabi Women in traditional wear.
ਪੰਜਾਬ ਦੇ ਖੇਤਾਂ ‘ਚ ਝੋਨੇ ਦੀ ਲੁਆਈ ਸ਼ੁਰੂ (Planting of Jhona (Rice) in Punjab.)
ਜਦੋਂ ਪਿੰਡਾਂ ਦਾ ਅੱਜ ਵਾਂਗ ਨਵੀਨੀਕਰਨ ਨਹੀਂ ਸੀ ਹੋਇਆ, ਉਦੋਂ ਦੇ ਘਰਾਂ ਵਿਚਲੀਆਂ ਰਸੋਈਆਂ ਬਾਰੇ ਸੋਚ ਕੇ ਬੜਾ ਕੁਝ ਚੇਤੇ ਦੀ ਚੰਗੇਰ ਵਿਚ ਆ ਜਾਂਦੈ | ਕੱਚੀਆਂ ਕੰਧਾਂ, ਗਾਡਰਾਂ ਦੀ ਥਾਂ ਸ਼ਤੀਰੀਆਂ ਤੇ ਉੱਪਰ ਕਾਨਿਆਂ ਦੀ ਛੱਤ ਪਾ ਕੇ ਮਿੱਟੀ ਪਾ ਕੇ ਲਿੱਪ ਦਿੱਤੀ ਜਾਂਦੀ ਸੀ | ਰਸੋਈ ਵਿੱਚ ਹੱਥੀਂ ਬਣਾਇਆ ਚੁੱਲ੍ਹਾ, ਹਾਰਾ ਤੇ ਹੋਰ ਸਭ ਕੁਝ ਹੁੰਦਾ ਸੀ | ਕਿੱਲ ਗੱਡ ਕੇ ਉੱਪਰ ਫੱਟੇ ਰੱਖ ਦਿੱਤੇ ਜਾਂਦੇ ਤੇ ਇੰਜ ਬਣੀ ਸੈਲਫ਼ ਉੱਤੇ ਪਿੱਤਲ ਦੇ ਭਾਂਡੇ ਟਿਕਾਏ ਹੁੰਦੇ | ਰਸੋਈ ਵਿਚੋਂ ਕੋਈ ਚੀਜ਼ ਲੈਣ ਜਾਣਾ ਤਾਂ ਚਿੜੀਆਂ ਦੀ ਚੀਂ-ਚੀਂ ਨੇ ਮਨ ਮੋਹ ਲੈਣਾ | ਉਹ ਵਿਚਾਰੀਆਂ ਛੱਤ ਵਾਲੇ ਸਰ ਕਾਨਿਆਂ ਦੀ ਫੋਲਾ-ਫਾਲੀ ਕਰਕੇ ਆਪਣੇ ਆਲ੍ਹਣੇ ਬਣਾਉਣ ਵਿਚ ਜੁਟੀਆਂ ਰਹਿੰਦੀਆਂ ਸਨ |
ਅੱਜ ਜ਼ਮਾਨਾ ਬਦਲ ਗਿਐ | ਹੁਣ ਪਿੰਡਾਂ ਵਿਚਲੀਆਂ ਰਸੋਈਆਂ ਸਹੀ ਅਰਥਾਂ ਵਿੱਚ ‘ਕਿਚਨ’ ਬਣ ਗਈਆਂ ਨੇ | ਹੁਣ ਏਥੇ ਪਿੱਤਲ ਦੇ ਭਾਂਡੇ ਨਹੀਂ ਦਿਸਦੇ, ਸਗੋਂ ਨਵੇਂ-ਨਵੇਂ ਡਿਜ਼ਾਈਨ ਵਾਲੇ ਸਟੀਲ ਤੇ ਹੋਰ ਧਾਤਾਂ ਦੇ ਭਾਂਡੇ ਦਿਖਾਈ ਦਿੰਦੇ ਨੇ | ਮਹਿਮਾਨਾਂ ਲਈ ਭਾਂਡਿਆਂ ਦੇ ਵੱਖਰੇ ਸੈੱਟ ਹੁੰਦੇ ਨੇ ਤੇ ਘਰ ਵਰਤੋਂ ਲਈ ਵੱਖਰੇ | ਪਿੱਤਲ ਦੇ ਭਾਂਡੇ ਪੇਟੀਆਂ ਵਿੱਚ ਪਹੁੰਚ ਚੁੱਕੇ ਨੇ ਜਾਂ ਫਿਰ ਭਾਂਡਿਆਂ ਵਾਲੀਆਂ ਦੁਕਾਨਾਂ ‘ਤੇ ਤੋਲ ਕੇ ਵੇਚੇ ਜਾ ਚੁੱਕੇ ਨੇ | ਪਿਛਲੇ ਦਿਨੀਂ ਇੱਕ ਪ੍ਰਦਰਸ਼ਨੀ ਦੀ ਤਸਵੀਰ ਦੇਖੀ ਤਾਂ ਪਹਿਲਾਂ ਵਾਲਾ ਬੜਾ ਕੁਝ ਚੇਤੇ ਹੋ ਗਿਆ | ਪਿੱਤਲ ਦੀ ਪਰਾਂਤ, ਡੋਲੂ, ਵੱਡੇ-ਵੱਡੇ ਗਲਾਸ, ਥਾਲ, ਬਾਟੀਆਂ ਤੇ ਹੋਰ ਕਿੰਨਾ ਹੀ ਕੁਝ ਦੇਖ ਇੰਜ ਲੱਗਣ ਲੱਗਾ ਜਿਵੇਂ ਇਹ ਸਾਡੇ ਹੀ ਪੁਰਾਣੇ ਘਰ ਦਾ ਸਮਾਨ ਹੋਵੇ | ਇਹੋ ਜਿਹੀ ਪ੍ਰਦਰਸ਼ਨੀਆਂ ਵਿਰਸੇ ਨਾਲ ਮੁਹੱਬਤ ਕਰਨ ਵਾਲਿਆਂ ਵੱਲੋਂ ਥਾਂ-ਥਾਂ ਲਗਾਈਆਂ ਜਾਂਦੀਆਂ ਨੇ, ਜਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਨੂੰ ਦੇਖ ਮਨ ਗਦਗਦ ਹੋ ਉੱਠਦੈ | ਅਤੀਤ ਨਾਲ ਮੋਹ ਪਾਲਣ ਵਾਲੇ ਲੋਕ ਇਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਚੀਜ਼ਾਂ ਨੂੰ ਨਿਹਾਰਦੇ ਨੇ, ਛੂੰਹਦੇ ਨੇ ਤੇ ਇਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਵੱਲ ਤੱਕ ਲੰਘਿਆ ਵੇਲ਼ਾ ਯਾਦ ਕਰ ਛੱਡਦੇ ਨੇ |
ਪਿੱਛੇ ਜਹੇ ਜਦੋਂ ਮਾਲਵੇ ਦੇ ਇਕ ਸਕੂਲ ‘ਚ ਲੱਗੀ ਪ੍ਰਦਰਸ਼ਨੀ ਦੇਖੀ ਤਾਂ ਭਾਂਤ-ਸੁਭਾਂਤੀਆਂ ਚੀਜ਼ਾਂ ਦੇਖ ਰੂਹ ਖੁਸ਼ ਹੋ ਗਈ | ਪ੍ਰਦਰਸ਼ਨੀ ਲਾਉਣ ਵਾਲੀ ਕਲੱਬ ਦੇ ਸਾਥੀਆਂ ਨੇ ਦੱਸਿਆ ਕਿ ਉਹ ਇਹ ਯਤਨ ਸਕੂਲੀ ਵਿਦਿਆਰਥੀਆਂ ਨੂੰ ਆਪਣੇ ਵਿਰਸੇ ਤੋਂ ਜਾਣੂ ਕਰਾਉਣ ਲਈ ਕਰਦੇ ਹਨ ਤੇ ਜਦੋਂ ਬੱਚੇ ਸਾਥੋਂ ਪੁੱਛਦੇ ਨੇ, ‘ਇਹ ਛੰਨਾ ਕੀ ਹੁੰਦੈ, ਏਨੇ-ਏਨੇ ਵੱਡੇ ਕੰਗਣੀ ਵਾਲੇ ਗਲਾਸ ਕਿਉਂ ਹੁੰਦੇ ਸੀ’ ਤਾਂ ਸਾਡਾ ਹਾਸਾ ਵੀ ਨਿਕਲਦੈ ਤੇ ਹੈਰਾਨੀ ਵੀ ਹੁੰਦੀ ਏ ਕਿ ਇਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਵਿਚਾਰਿਆਂ ਨੇ ਜਦੋਂ ਇਹ ਸਭ ਚੀਜ਼ਾਂ ਕਦੇ ਘਰਾਂ ਵਿਚ ਦੇਖੀਆਂ ਹੀ ਨਹੀਂ ਤਾਂ ਇਹੋ ਜਿਹੇ ਸਵਾਲ ਹੀ ਕਰਨੇ ਨੇ | ਧੰਨਵਾਦੀ ਹਾਂ ਉਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਲੋਕਾਂ ਦੇ, ਜਿਹੜੇ ਘਰਾਂ ਵਿਚੋਂ ਅਲੋਪ ਹੋ ਰਹੀਆਂ ਚੀਜ਼ਾਂ ਨੂੰ ਸੰਭਾਲ ਕੇ ਰੱਖੀ ਬੈਠੇ ਨੇ ਤੇ ਗਾਹੇ-ਬਗਾਹੇ ਉਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਦਾ ਪ੍ਰਦਰਸ਼ਨ ਵੀ ਕਰਦੇ ਰਹਿੰਦੇ ਨੇ |
In August 1991, when I first saw it, the house was in perfect fettle. This was surprising for it was constructed around the year 1830 and was then fully 160 years old. The marble plaque on the façade, fixed by some thoughtful British civil servant after the annexation of Punjab read, “Summer residence of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, AD 1830-1837”.
Inspired by European architecture, the house was unlike a traditional vernacular residence. It had verandas on two sides with rooms on the remaining two and a central atrium. The side rooms and the verandas had lower roofs while that of the central foyer’s was higher. The rafters, door and window frames and every other timber fixture were first class teak.
The house sat on the east bank of the Chenab River, just outside Rasulnagar (Gujranwala district), right by the ancient ferry where a young Ranjit Singh had deprived the Afghans of the Zamzama that now sits outside Lahore Museum. Here, long after he had defeated the Afghans and put an end to their predatory raids, the Maharaja would have reposed with his customary glass of strong drink, watching the brown waters of the Chenab roll past forever and ever.
This house became part of my book Gujranwala: The Glory That Was (1992). It also featured in one of the episodes of my PTV documentary series “Nagri, nagri ghoom musafir” produced during 1998-1999. I returned to the house a number of times thereafter when I was pressing for it to be taken over by the district administration to turn it into a library or a museum so that it may be preserved forever.
But we, the people of Pakistan, have no connection with the dharti. We have severed the umbilical that would bond us with the motherland to give us a sense of belonging and pride. Without the connection, we drift aimlessly in a wasteland harbouring vague and false notions of Arab or Central Asiatic ancestry. The disconnect is so strong that nothing that belongs to this land turns us on. We simply do not care.
Last August, I returned to Rasulnagar again to digitally preserve Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s house. What I beheld left me in tears. The house that had withstood every vagary of nature until about 2004, was a ruined hulk. The roof was gone; every single door, window and ventilator removed. What was once the interior of the house was now a pile of debris.
Until 2004, the house stood in open fields. But this time round, there was next to the historical building, a semi-permanent house inhabited by what seemed to be a family of gypsies. They had plastered the walls of the Maharaja’s house with cow dung patties.
No one seemed to know who had laid low this historic building. Neither the gypsies nor the men minding the nearby tube well. In fact, one man even ventured that the building had been in that state since the time of his ancestors!
Though I do not know who to blame for the crime, I know the teak fixtures of the building now adorn the house of some well-connected thug. When he or his men started to dismantle this historic building which should have been part of the national heritage, the DCO and his minions simply looked away. No one bothered as it went down bit by bit.
Rasulnagar is historically a very interesting place because it sat on a busy ford. An elderly ferryman once told me that until well into the 1950s, there used to be fully 100 boats catering to the back and forth traffic. Moreover, this was the very place where Ranjit Singh, just 19-year-old and leading a small force, had routed a much larger Afghan army to bring their periodic raids to an end.
This also is the place where the Sikhs under Sher Singh Atariwala, 15,000-strong, fought a desperate battle against the British in November 1848. The British prevailed, the Sikhs withdrew to the west of the river to fight and lose their final battle two months later at Chillianwala.
All this — and more — makes Rasulnagar a tourist destination for the history buff. But we do not belong to this land, so what do we do with our heritage? We destroy it.
By Salman Rashid.
Phulkari has and will always stand out as the true epitome of Punjab’s cultural heritage. It has moved ahead with time and been innovated to perfection…
Punjabis have a boisterous lifestyle and it is best reflected in their folk tradition. Believed to be a dying art till some time ago, Phulkari fascination was brought to the ramps in Manish Malhotra’s collection, where actors Jacqueline Fernandez, Sidharth Malhotra and Esha Gupta walked as the showstoppers donning phulkari-embroidered saris, floor-length Anarkalis and angarakhas. Although the exact origin of Phulkari remains ambiguous, the earliest mention was made in the famous love story of Heer-Ranjha, which was written by Waris Shah. Traditionally gifted to the girl on her wedding, Phulkari has come a long way.
“I have always been fascinated by Phulkari because this is not just an art, it’s the embroidery that preserves the heritage of Punjab. This, probably, gives me all the more reason to experiment with it,” says Pavit Sidhu Puri, who is presently based in Delhi and has exhibited her works in Chandigarh many times. “We have come up with a creative concept of introducing Phulkari in articles that are of daily use, for instance i-Pad covers, Blackberry covers, wine bottle covers (Rs 600), clutches (Rs 3000 to 4000) and shoulder bags (Rs 1,850),” she shares while adding, “We also have a lot of dupattas and kurtis.” Pavit gets her Phulkari material from the Malwa belt in Punjab, especially Nabha. The products are available on a number of e-commerce sites and she brands her products on the name — Desi Fusion. “I use khaddar and cotton as a base for Phulkari. We also have a Facebook page, desifusionindia, where you can place an order for the products that you like,” says Pavit.
Manila Jain, 28, Amritsar-based designer, refurbishes the traditional Phulkari. “I see that Punjab is suffering from the Western hangover that has in many ways acted as a deterrent for the traditional embroidery. I wanted to give Phulkari a very global appeal that the Punjabi masses could relate to. So the suits, dupattas and saris that I do have a very international designer appeal to them,” she says. Manila uses handloom fabric as the base for her Phulkari because she does not want to tamper with the ‘traditional’ value attached to this heritage art. “I use a lot of handloom fabric, including Chanderi, silk and malmal as a base for the Phulkari. While the dupattas are available within the range of Rs 2,000 to Rs 3000, the saris are priced from Rs 4,000 to Rs 9,000. Also, the salwars are priced at Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,500,” says Manila while adding, “I have a page on Facebook by the mane of Piro’ee and those who like the designs can place the orders there.”
So now if you are wondering how to get your Phulkari right, here are some fashion tips that will add grace to your style. “I think achkans, waist-coats and jackets with Phulkari work are an instant hit as far as the fashion mantra is concerned. You can team up an urban rustic look with a Phulkari unisex salwar,” says Sahiba J. Singh, a fashion designer.
Just in case you like experimenting, Rohit Verma, a Mumbai-based designer says, “I think that the best way to team up a Phulkari is to keep everything else subtle and let the Phulkari item stand out. For instance, you can wear a black t-shirt with black denims to highlight the Phulkari item that you are wearing. This can be a perfect evening casual look and if you want to make it formal, you can wear an achkan or a formal jacket.”
Sikhs make makeshift tents along the road, keep water in ice buckets and serve lassi to all passing motorists. Chabeel is part of the grand langar organised on the hottest day of the year, in remembrance of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth Guru of Sikhs.
A Religious Procession (Nagar Kirtan) being held in a village in Punjab.
A painting showing Punjabi farmers at work in the fields.
Working hard a Punjabi farmer.
For more than the past two decades, the dusty village of Baddowal, Punjab, has been the hub of pipe bands, a British colonial legacy that conjures up images of the chilly terrains of Scotland. The skirl of the bagpipes might be ridiculed in contemporary times, but these pipe bands continue to be invited from all around the state – and even beyond – to dispense their music on happy occasions, big or small. While almost every male member of the village today, roughly between the age of 20 and 50, earns his living by playing some role in a pipe band, all this stands to change as the village’s youth seems to abhor the idea of following in their fathers’ footsteps.
The fathers are more than encouraging in their decision to break out of the pipe band culture that is steeped in the village. “Study harder or you’ll be left to do nothing better than playing pipes or drums” is a school teacher’s favourite threat here. The mothers pray their sons are employed in a “proper” job and bring out the families from the life of penury they are leading.
This might surprise you, considering how colourful the whole thing about nine men in military-like uniforms, gawdy gold, embellished belts and chic turbans belching out music with bagpipers, drums and dhols has been made out to be. Signs of this obsession with pipe bands are very much visible as billboards flashing the bands’names and contacts dot almost every street. A close look at the life of the villagers, however, reveal that for most people there is little money in the profession to make.
Notably, it was in the late nineties when armymen from Baddowal cantonment began to perform privately at the local weddings or nagar kirtans. Slowly, to share this workload, they began to teach the art to the unemployed youth of the village who then formed private bands of their own. Initially there was work to be found for the few bands in place. But soon the pipe bands became a fad with almost every youth jumping into it. Rising from a mere four to five bands around twenty years ago, the number in this village – that today is home to around 5000-6000 people – touched 100 in a decade. The competition increased significantly but the demand has not kept pace.
Even when the invites keep coming, as in any business, the bulk of the revenues reach only a few people – those who own the musical instruments, uniforms and other paraphernalia, the cost of which ads up to around Rs 45,000-Rs 50,000 for a band. The “owners” of the band usually hire from the village to complete the band. While a band is booked at anything between Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 for a day in the lean season (from June to September) and Rs 6,000 to Rs 9,000 in the peak season (from April to October), the hired members get a small share in the pie – no more than Rs 250-300 a day. The work is irregular which translates into an unsteady income. “My husband gets work only twice or thrice a week. He is free on other days, wasting time in idle banter or playing cards with fellow villages. He has no other skills to bank upon either,” rues Dasri, who runs a small general store in the area, and supplements the income by taking up stitching and embroidery work.
The young is no more flocking to the trainers – who charge around Rs 15000 for the three-month course – to learn to play the instruments. HS Khalsa, employed with the Indian Army, who was part of the only pipe band in 1990 in Baddowal that pioneered the trend, says, “I used to get pupils in dozens eager to learn the art. Boys would come in groups, learn from me for three months for a couple of thousands and form their own bands. But today, I have not a single student,” says the 55-year-old.
This is not to say that the business is dead yet. For some like Hasda Punjab, an umbrella group of three pipe bands, has flourished significantly in the last decade. It has an office, car, online presence and even a cameo in an upcoming Punjabi film. “We are here to stay,” says the manager Kuldip Singh. Most of the others, however, are looking for alternative options.