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A Kumaoni Dalit sings Qawwali in Delhi, they are not bound by caste like folk music. TT News

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New DelhiTen years ago, a 16-year-old Dalit boy from Kumaon left his home because his father refused to buy him a harmonium to sing qawwali. For this fan of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, moving on to folk music was not easy. Today Sarvajit Tamta has his own qawwali band named Rehmat-e-Nusrat and will be performing at Sundar Nursery in Delhi tomorrow.

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His journey, which began at the age of 15 when he first heard the song ‘Saanu Ik Pal Chain Na Ave’ sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, has not been an easy one.

Sarvajit’s father had great fears about the fate of his son as a musician. Folk artists don’t get good money or respect in society – a situation that hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years – and so he wanted his son to become an engineer. But Sarvajit had set his mind on music.

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A few months after leaving home, Sarvajit got a job teaching music and painting to children at a private school in Pant Nagar, 100 km from his hometown of Almora. But one day when Sarvajit was asked to clean the toilet as he was a Dalit, he left the job. Now penniless, he was somehow keeping himself alive by sleeping on the streets. This self-taught qawwal took refuge in the homes of luminaries like the Wadali brothers from Punjab and Manganiyar singer Fakira Khan from Rajasthan.

‘I didn’t eat anything for a whole day,’ Sarvajit recalled when he first met the Wadali brothers, ‘They (eldest brother Puranchand Wadali) fed me with their own hands. He asked me in Punjabi, ‘Where are you from? From Nainital? Eat cheese too.

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