logo Burngreave Messenger Issue 30 - April 2003

The Interview

Kalambir Singh Nandra moved from India to England in 1981. In the 1980s the NHS were not encouraging foreign doctors and for a number of reasons Kalambir was unable to complete British registration. He moved from London to Sheffield in 1988 and ran a grocery shop. Since 1991 he and his wife Bobbi have managed Ellesmere Post Office. Kalambir is an accomplished musician, and plays both the Sarangi and the violin to traditional Indian Music. He has two daughters aged twelve and seventeen.

What is your idea of happiness?
Happiness is something you can find anywhere. You don’t have to chase happiness – you find it inside. Some people never find happiness, wherever they go they always find fault in the system. We try to mix with everybody here and respect them – they respect us back. That’s where I find my happiness.

What is your greatest fear?
At the moment I have different fears. My fears change. I fear the way government is attacking the Post Offices. The Post Office is the heart of the community. Older people, people who speak all the different languages, people come in and look for me because I can talk in Urdu or Hindi – I can understand them better. I want to carry on but if all the services end up with the banks, our business goes down and down.

What do you dislike about yourself?
Apart from my appearance, I have a disappointment. I qualified as a doctor and it is very hard work to get this degree. I can’t do this work, not because I’m not good enough to do it, but because I was branded ‘not good enough’ because I came from a different country. Working in India you see so many diseases and so many patients – there is a demand to diagnose quickly and accurately.

What do you dislike about others?
I don’t think I have a disliking for any other people. I think everybody is living to their own ability, whatever their own cultural and social background. So if anybody is doing anything good or bad it’s probably because they have been pushed into that. I don’t think crime is their fault. I think it’s the way they have been brought up in this society and they can’t see any other way.

What makes you sad?
Sometimes in the Post Office you are helping somebody, and they end up shouting at you.

What is your earliest memory?
When I was 3 and a half I fell down the stairs, (concrete stairs – they are not carpeted in India). I fell right from the top, about fifteen steps, and cut my head. I still have the scar on my forehead. About six months later, on 15th August, (the Independence Day of India), we were going on the parade. Because my dad was the Director of Archaeology we used to get special seats for the parade in New Delhi. I woke up feeling really dopey and went in the kitchen where my mum was boiling milk. I tripped over something and put my full arm into the milk. My whole arm was burnt really badly and all my fingers were individually bandaged for months. I have a lot of good and bad memories

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Obviously, my family and my mother and father. As I am a musician I have a few musical idols: my teacher Pandit Ram Narayan is one of the highest-ranking Sarangi players in India. Whenever he comes to England I try and get some more lessons from him. He is my idol and I love him.

What is your greatest regret?
Only that if I’d tried harder for another six months or so I would be a successful doctor earning a lot more money.

How do you relax?
Very easy – I just sit down, pick up my violin and play it for one, maybe two hours, and this is complete relaxation.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
A very successful career in music.

If you could change one thing about Burngreave, what would it be?
I would try and bring the communities together, try and break down the barriers so people understand each other. This would bring an end to the clashes and the hatred. It is the single thing I would like to do for Burngreave.

How would you like to die?
I’d love to die in my own home. I wouldn’t like to die on an aeroplane because they couldn’t trace my body. I’d like my family to take care of me.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
In your career, when you are choosing, you should have one track, not two or three things in mind. I missed it with the medicine – if I’d concentrated a bit more… although it worked well for the music side. It was money – I didn’t have enough money to concentrate on my medicine.

What is your favourite journey?
In childhood, when I was in India, my journeys were entertaining. My father used to have a jeep from the office and we would visit monuments like the Taj Mahal for his work. We used to stay in guesthouses. Getting in the jeep, stopping in villages, cafés at the side of the road – interesting journeys.

Which living person do you most admire?
Alongside Pandit Ram Narayan, there is also Jagjit Singh Ghazak – another legend in India and a famous Ghazal singer. He is the best that Pakistan or India has ever produced.

How would you like to be remembered?
As a musician.


Kalambir Singh Nandra.

Interview between Kalimbir Singh Nandra and Steve Pool, 21st March. Photography by Richard Hanson.