Punjab: Folk singer and sarangi maestro Sharif Idu passes away at 80

Divya Goyal

He was conferred with the country’s highest honour for performing arts — the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2006 in dhadi folk music category — by then President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

Legendary balladeer and sarangi maestro from Punjab, Sharif Idu (80), passed away at his residence in Manimajra of Chandigarh Tuesday.

He was conferred with the country’s highest honour for performing arts — the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2006 in dhadi folk music category — by then President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

Born in the village Lalodi of Nabha in Patiala, Sharif Idu leaves behind the legacy of being among the few sarangi maestros left in the field and was known for his melodious dhadi (ballad) singing. Among his most revered presentations were Heer Di Kali and Dulla Bhatti Wala.

After shifting in Manimajra in Chandigarh, he even resorted to pulling mule-cart (khacchar rehda) for living and feeding his family.

Though he started performing at an early age, it was only in 1990, when he was around 50 years old, that two of his ballads — Heer Di Kali and Dulla Bhatti Wala — were officially recorded by Music Today. It was only after this that he got recognition and popularity among masses.However, for the past eight years, Sharif Idu was bedridden after suffering from paralytic attack and family was struggling financially. His son Sukhi Khan, also a balladeer, speaking to The Indian Express, said, “For eight years my father was bedridden but we three brothers have kept his legacy alive. We continue to sing ballads and play sarangi.

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Sharif Idu also used to play harmonium. Since he got bedridden, he had stopped singing or playing sarangi.

He also used to play harmonium. Since he got bedridden, he had stopped singing or playing sarangi. It is our ancestral heritage as my grandfather and great grandfather were also blessed with this art.”

He added that his father’s condition deteriorated Tuesday and he passed away. Eminent Punjabi singer Pammi Bai, who was associated with Sharif Idu since 1981, talking to The Indian Express, said, “Sharif’s father Idu used to sing ballads and play instruments in the darbar of then Maharaja of Patiala.

He too was blessed with this talent but he was struggling financially. So after shifting to Manimajra in Chandigarh in early 1980s, he started pulling a mule-cart to feed his family. However, we introduced him in folk music industry and motivated him to continue. Later, his two ballads- Heer Di Kali and Dulla Batti Wala- were officially recorded and they were superhits.”

However, it was in 1986 when Idu Sharif was invited to perform at Apna Utsav at Delhi, that his performance was noticed by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. “Sharif then played sarangi for nearly an hour continuously and then PM Rajiv Gandhi at Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Delhi were among the audiences. He noticed him and appreciated his performance,” said Pammi Bai.

Among Sharif Idu’s other legendary ballads and creations were Zindagi De Rang Sajna, Dholan, Heer etc. In 2017, Punjab’s then Cultural Affairs Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu had visited Sharif’s place and given him financial assistance of Rs 2 lakh but the family continued to struggle to bear his medical expenses and other daily needs.

“We still sing and perform but our father was our backbone even if he was bedridden. He would guide us. For the past eight years however, he was suffering and couldn’t even speak properly. Now if someone calls us to perform it is fine but otherwise we three brothers are unemployed. We do not know anything except this art. It is painful that artists are left to die this way,” said Sukhi Khan.

He also claimed that the pension of Rs 5,000 a month, announced by former administrator of Chandigarh and Governor of Punjab BKN Chhibber, was never received. “Chhibber saab announced Rs 5,000 monthly pension for my father but it was never received,” said Khan.

Punjabi poet Gurbhajan Singh said, “The cultural affairs department needs to conduct a survey of all such ailing legendary artists and provide them assistance because they have kept our heritage and cultures alive. When we lose them, we lose a part of our heritage which is never coming back. With them, eras die.”