Pic & Text: By ANJALI NAURIYAL
From Lahore to Mussoorie and Doon, Ajit Singh’s family did business for over 70 years. In Mussoorie, the family ran their firm by the name of TE Bevan & Co, until Ajit’s father, Gurudial Singh, died in ’65. Today, its sister concern, Pratap Music House, Astley Hall, the store that sells and exports an assortment of musical instruments, both, Indian and Western, is a valuable legacy of the town. That legacy came to an abrupt halt with the death of Ajit Singh of a heart attack on 1 June, 2021. He was 88.
“I am shocked to learn about his death,” says RK Singh, Secretary, REACH, who knew Singh’s value in Doon’s musical kaleidoscope. “He was an institution for Dehradun. He told me how George Harrison had come to his shop, and then his home upstairs for a cup of tea. He was a storehouse of anecdotes and a source for taanpuras and hastily required instruments for any visiting artistes performing for REACH and the Virāsat Festival. I had been asking him to write his memoir, which he had agreed to in a very polite way. I am so disheartened by his passing away! Who will take care of Pratap Music House?” he wonders.
Business for Singh had always been secondary. It was the musical legacy, of which, both, the father and son had been an integral part, made them special.
Ajit Singh was an acclaimed Veena player. In fact, he was amongst the three players of Vichitra Veena in the country, including Rumesh Prem and Mustafa Raza.
Blessed with a pleasing disposition, Ajit Singhiji, as he was popularly known, was the most pleasurable company that any musically inclined person could hope for. Not only was he a wonderful teacher and guide to music aspirants and seekers of musical knowledge, but also provided them with the best of instruments at the most reasonable prices.
Singh was lucky to be born to a rich musical inheritance. His grandfather, Pratap Singh, was a great Tabla player. Till 1920, he was one of the most sought after in North India. He wrote four manuscripts on the Tabla, which were unfortunately left behind when he was forced to flee from Pakistan. Later, Singh’s father published the first musical magazine in Urdu, known as ‘Sasala Raag’. It was last published in 1945. He was a great vocalist and instrumentalist and a director with various music theatres, even before talkies and silent movies made their way into our lives.
Singh learnt the Veena from his father. Later, for years, he crafted instruments at his Patel Nagar situated workshop, and exported many instruments including the Sitar, Tabla, Harmonium, and even some instruments such as the Djembe to the USA, Canada, Belgium, France and other countries.
Singh had attained the distinction of being the only A-Grade Veena artiste of Delhi Radio. He participated four times in national Veena programmes and five times in Radio Sangeet Sammelans that are held for a month and telecast all over India.
This is not all. Singh was bestowed the honorary citizenship of Baltimore by the Governor of Maryland State. He also taught at the American Institute of Indian Music in Baltimore for many years. And his association with them continued even beyond. At many of their American Indian Music Competitions, held every year, Singh was a special performer and judge.
Amongst the highs of his musical career was the occasion when he performed in Geneva at the Festival of Veenas. Three Veena players played on the occasion to show the tonal variations. They included Khan Sahib Asad Ali Khan on the Rudra Veena, Paul Grant on the Santoor and Ajit Singhji on the Vichitra Veena.
Singh also performed at the Lights of India Festival in Lyon, the second largest country in France, at the Teraduciel Centre in 2005, 2006 and 2008. It is an eminent inter-faith enlightenment centre.
In the evening of his life, Singh had settled down to arranging workshops on Indian Music in various universities abroad and giving wings to the dream called Pratap Music House in every possible away.
Singh has left a musically rich legacy that will be cherished for years to come!
Let’s hope his artistic legacy lives on somehow through Pratap Music House!
(Dr Anjali Nauriyal is veteran journalist, author, social worker and actor. Her book ‘Retelling of the Folk Ballads of Garhwal’ has become a regional best seller. As an actor she was last seen in a cameo in the film ‘PM Narendra Modi’, webseries Peshawar).
Ajit Singh was single most of his life. He was the eldest of three siblings. His sister, Brijpal Kaur, lives in Doon and youngest brother, Amrik Singh, lives in Canada. Amrik came here to look after his brother for two months but got stuck here for almost 18 months.
Ajit Singh’s cremation took place at Lakhi Bagh.