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HomeFeaturesThis Kashmiri Sikh is using music to cross national and religious divides

This Kashmiri Sikh is using music to cross national and religious divides

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Harkrishan Singh Sanam, from the militancy-hit Tral in Kashmir, has received a lot of appreciation from Indian and Pakistani artistes alike.

New Delhi: Harkrishan Singh Sanam didn’t know what he would grow up to be, but his teachers were certain. At a very young age, they dubbed him ‘mini Rashid Jahangir’, after the famous Kashmiri musician.

On 15 September, the 24-year-old took social media by storm with his soulful rendition of 16th century Kashmiri poet Habba Khatoon’s Harmukh Bar Tal. Overnight, Sanam became a social media sensation, with his Facebook video garnering over two lakh views.

Appreciation has poured in from all quarters. “I never imagined would get such love and attention. Senior musicians from India and Pakistan have called to congratulate me on my success. I have also received several requests to sing Punjabi songs,” he said.

Also read: Punjabi singer Harman Sidhu arrested for possessing heroin, the drug he sang against

A 10-year journey

Sanam’s musical journey began by singing at his school assembly in Tral, in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. His sister would pen the lyrics, and he would put them to tune.

“I remember I sang a song called ‘Bye bye’ at one of these assemblies. It was such a hit that my friends and teachers kept requesting encores,” he said.

He idolises the legendary Mohammed Rafi. “It is he who drew me to music,” he said.

His stint at school won him such acclaim that Sanam decided to give more exposure to his musical side. At the age of 14, he participated in the Miley Sur competition organised by Srinagar Doordarshan.

Since then, it has been mix of competitions and performance, and professional training too.

“My teachers told my parents that I would benefit from professional music training. That is how I ended up at Guru Granth Sahib World University in Fatehpur, Punjab,” Sanam said.

I am Kashmiri

Sanam’s family has resided in Tral for three generations now. His father is a retired economics professor, and his mother is a part of the National Cadet Corps (NCC).

“We have apple orchards here. Right now I’m helping in picking them,” Sanam said.

In 2013-14, he was introduced to the music of Ustad Nadeem Salamat Ali Khan, a disciple of the legendary Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Sanam was so moved that he would sing the compositions and send them to him.

“We couldn’t meet, because the situation between the two countries is always tense. But my dream finally came true in August 2018,” Sanam said.

At an event in Malaysia, Sanam shared the stage and exchanged notes with the Ustad. “He told me, don’t limit your art, sing all kinds of music. He asked me to embrace my Kashmiri identity,” he said.

Sanam said he preferred to make the distinction clear.

“I’m not Punjabi, or a Delhi boy. I am Kashmiri. Your art should reflect your culture. Kehte hain na, ek adab hona chahiye,” he said.

Also read: The Hindu & Muslim DJs behind India’s hate soundtrack

However, Sanam glides through the many aspects of his identity. He is as comfortable among his Muslim friends in Kashmir as he is among his college mates in Punjab.

“I was taught by a Hindu, brought up by Sikhs, and at present, I’m being taught by Ustad Ismayil Shah Tral, a Kashmiri Muslim,” he said.

His art too spans the divide. He sings gurbani, kirtan, ghazal, as well as Kashmiri songs.

Except for a few words which he struggles with, Sanam traverses all languages — Urdu, Hindi, Kashmiri and Punjabi — with ease.

“You’ll be able to tell the difference when you’re speaking to me, but not when I sing,” he said.

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