Harbans Singh Sidhu [BCS Rivaz 1947-1949]
2nd November 1933 – 29th October 2010
He had come to visit us from Delhi, as a suitor to marry my elder sister. A friendly and obviously intelligent person, he left me with mixed emotions because he told me he studied in “BCS” before B.Tech, Electrical, at IIT Kharagpur and a career in Siemens.
1957-58 had seen the worst of BCS-Sanawar’s traditional rivalry. We juniors were strongly influenced by the extremely jingoistic atmosphere during inter-school contests, which actually had to be cancelled for a while. And here was a Cottonian in our home!
Harbansji and my sister Gursharan were married on June 21, 1959 and soon after went to Germany for a year at Siemens headquarters. I got to know him only on their return in 1960 and subsequent years of interaction with him, his relatives, school/college friends and colleagues.
The family lived in Lahore where his parents were both established doctors. They left for Delhi in 1947. Harbansji and younger brother Gurdeep were admitted to BCS. He finished schooling in December 1949. A BCS classmate of his later told me, Harbansji topped the class in the school-leaving exam and carried that on to Kharagpur.
With his first year prize money at IIT he bought a Rolleicord camera, thus beginning a long and accomplished relationship with photography. He loved to travel by road, driving his family for vacations from Kashmir to Coorg and from Gujarat to the East. Always with two cameras, loaded with colour and b&w film respectively. He participated in exhibitions and won awards.
From 1960, the Sidhus (Harbansji and my sister) kept a beautiful home in Defence Colony. Music was another major interest. I first heard many of my favourites at their house – from classical to Broadway – on his radiogram and tape deck, amongst the many German electrical gadgets he maintained. He was also an exceptionally good ballroom dancer (Delhi Gymkhana Club members and others remember this). And he loved plants – in home, garden or wild, even cacti and specially trees. I imbibed much by watching and listening to him, gaining insight into photography, colours and music.
He constantly guided me on subjects, courses and hobbies. In my final year of school, he took leave and drove up my mother and siblings to attend all days of Founders. Small wonder then that most of my friends in college were Cottonians and I became totally comfortable with them.
In 1970, having experimenting in courses and career options, I visited the Sidhus in their home in Bombay. He told me about Advertising, then an obscure career in North India. I was hooked. I asked him to get me an interview with an agency head and that started a fascinating professional career. I stayed on with the Sidhus till they left Bombay in 1973, sharing interests in road holidays, photography, plants and wildlife.
He was then Divisional Head for cables, but left a promising future at Siemens Head office to shift to Delhi to look after his aged father as both his siblings had migrated to USA. I caught up with him again when I too moved to Delhi in 1977. He had a wide circles of friends at Delhi Gymkhana, Rotary, photography, Max Mueller, German Chambers of Commerce, OCA, IIT alumni, WWF, etc while building his career, bringing up his kids and looking after the wider family’s interests. We consulted each other on improving our respective OCA and OSS organizations.
The Sidhus’ two daughters grew up to successful professional careers, marriage and kids. The elder one, ex-NID, now runs People Tree out of her late grandfather’s old laboratory in Regal Building, Connaught Place. The younger, after years in Salomon Smith Barney is now with the American India Foundation in New York.
Harbansji finally retired from Siemens, did a few advisory stints in areas that interested him – engineering corporates and an NGO that helps maintain the Corbett National Park – until the gradual scourge of Parkinson’s surfaced. He read everything there was on the debilitating illness, sourced every medical help available, never complained and fought it all the way until his body could take no more.
During his last year he repeatedly told me to start writing seriously. I made an effort, and despite his condition he was visibly happy when I read out some of my work to him. I will continue to write, but never realised how difficult it is to compose a note on someone so close.
Prabhsharan Singh Kang