Chandigarh’s Goodfellas: From education to their wedding, ‘Rangila’ is a guardian angel for underprivileged girls
Giving it back From arranging the marriages of underprivileged girls to funding the education and medical treatment of the less-fortunate, Bhai Balwinder Singh Rangila has made giving back his passionpunjab Updated: Dec 22, 2017 19:07 IST
“I have seen my mother and sister die of hunger and lack of medical attention. I try to make sure this doesn’t happen to people around me.” At 60, Bhai Balwinder Singh Rangila’s eyes well up as he recounts his painful past.
Most people know of Rangila as a famous raagi whose music CDs are much in demand at home and abroad, but few know that he is also a philanthropist who helps to arrange the weddings of destitute girls, besides funding the medical treatment and education of the needy.
Shweta Chandel, who lives in Balongi, smiles through the tears as she tells you Rangila is her family now. “He supported me like a father when my brother disowned me after the death of our parents,” says the Class 12 pass call centre worker, who was barely making ends meet when she was referred to Rangila by a neighbour early this year. Two months ago, he helped her get married to Pankaj Kumar, a computer engineer from Jammu. “From taking care of my clothes, furniture and utensils to the wedding function, he and his family did not let me feel the absence of my parents even for a second,” says Shweta, who now considers Rangila’s family her own.
Besides conducting mass marriages for underprivileged girls, Singh holds free medical camps as well. “I have seen my mother and sister die for want of medical care, this is the least I can do,” says Singh, who also funds the education of many less fortunate children.
“I wanted to study but couldn’t as my father didn’t have money to pay my fees,” says Singh, who remembers taking Class VII exam but not the results. That was the last he saw of school.
Lately, he has also taken the responsibility of supplying monthly ration to 21 impoverished families.
Surjit Kaur, resident of a village near Kharar, calls Rangila the guardian angel of her family. Kaur, the sole breadwinner of a family comprising a paralysed husband, sons destroyed by drugs, and an elder daughter with a mental ailment, says she was drowning in despair when she heard of Rangila. “I wanted to get my younger daughter, Bharti, married but had no funds to spare. A teacher in the village told me to send an application to Balwinder Singh ji. I did that, and Bharti was married off in a manner that I could have only dreamt of,” says a grateful Kaur.
Veteran journalist Baljit Balli, who has seen Rangila performing mass marriages for over two decades now, says, “They are a gala event. He also runs an academy where he teaches kirtan free of cost.”
Born at Begowal, Kapurthala, in 1957, Rangila’s troubles started when his father Jaswant Singh started doing sewa at Chandnagar gurudwara in Delhi after being boarded out from the army on medical grounds.
“We were eight siblings, and our parents had to feed us on a meagre income of 115 a month,” says Rangila as he relives the 10 torturous years in the national capital.
Every bride is gifted with a double bed, centre table, dressing table, two sets of bedding, 55 utensils, 11 suits, one trunk, a suitcase, gold ear studs, and clothes for her in-laws.
There were times when they slept on empty stomachs. “I remember a day when I was extremely hungry; I made numerous rounds of a shop that used to sell a samosa for 10 paise, but I didn’t even any money,” Rangila recounts.
Rangila was 15 when his father decided to send the family to Begowal. “My mother was pregnant, so he sent us back hoping that our relatives would take care of her.” His mother fell ill soon after delivering a baby girl and died for want of medical help. “I didn’t have any money and my relatives didn’t care to help us,” Rangila tries to hold back tears as he recalls the most painful days of his life. His newborn sister also breathed her last soon afterwards. “I did not have even 4 annas to buy milk to feed her. She died of hunger,” Rangila breaks down, sobbing like a child.
His relatives were affluent but they refused to offer any help. “My grandfather Hem Singh was called ‘Jawala Shah’ in Pakistan. He needed a horse to take a round of his land. Though the family’s landholdings were reduced after Partition, we were still known as the “Shahs”,” says Rangila, who realised the importance of helping people in distress regardless of their familial circumstances from this episode of his life.
TRIUMPH OF FAITH
Rangila says throughout these years of hardship, the family never lost its faith. “My father, Giani Jaswant Singh Rangila, had undying faith in God. He made sure we learnt kirtan,” says Singh, recounting how they would be woken up at 3 in the morning.“He would ask us to learn a hymn and lock us in the room. He would open the door around 5 only when we had memorised it.”
Rangila gets his moniker from his father. “One day my father was sitting immersed in hymns even though there was no electricity. A member of the congregation saw his radiant face and asked, ‘Rangileo kede rang wich baithe ho’,” says Singh. From that day onwards, people started addressing him as Bhai Rangila, and it stuck.
The raagi says his father’s devotion has paid rich dividends for the family. “We never lost faith even during our darkest days. Today it’s gurbani kirtan that has made me famous. There was a time when I used to hanker after a morsel of food, today I have my own house and so much more that I can give back. It’s all thanks to my faith.”
Jatinder Duggal, former president of Sector 40 gurudwara, says he’s known Rangila since he shifted to Chandigarh. “He has seen poverty, but now he is a well-established raagi, who is paid very highly, especially overseas.”
Rangila says he arranges the marriages of poor girls as a tribute to his mother and sister. “The wedding of my parents was a grand affair. But when the family threw them out, my mother was handed over just a bed, five utensils and some ration. I make sure I give everything a newly-wed couple needs to set up house.”
The raagi, who is much sought-after by Sikh congregations abroad, says he spends over a lakh on every bride. “We buy identical things for all the girls so that no one can complain about quality.”
Every bride is gifted with a double bed, centre table, dressing table, two sets of bedding, 55 utensils, 11 suits, one trunk, a suitcase, gold ear studs, and clothes for her in-laws. Rangila also bears the cost of the taxis in which the brides are sent to their in-laws, and the truck which takes their goods home.
The raagi, who is much sought-after by Sikh congregations abroad, says he spends over a lakh on every bride.
Explaining his obsession with the quality of gifts, Rangila says once an elderly devotee abroad gave him a piece of cloth and insisted that he get it stitched. “When I asked her the length of the cloth, she said it was four metres. I politely told her that a man as tall as me needed at least seven metres. The lesson I learnt was that when you give a gift to someone, make sure the other person can use it.”
Avtar Singh, a sanitaryware contractor associated with Rangila since 2002, says he came to the raagi to learn kirtan but stayed on to help him with social work. “He is always looking for ways to help people. He set up a guru-ghar at Oriavillage in Kalka where many Sikh families had settled after Partition,” says Avtar.
Rangila says he is fortunate to enjoy the support of his younger brother Surinder and his son Gursewak, both of whom perform kirtan with him.
When not busy with music or philanthropy, Singh enjoys teaching his three-year-old grandson Gurvardhan.