I am writing this piece today with a heavy heart. This article is a tribute. A tribute to a wonderful and highly talented folk artiste who left us a few days ago to follow a better and more beautiful path. Though this journey came to him a lot sooner than expected, leaving the dancers and artistes world over in a state of shock. Nevertheless, it is said that those who God loves dearly calls them to unite with Him sooner than others.
Sunday morning brought with it tragic news for the artiste community of Rajasthan when they heard about the death of Queen Harish, the famous award-winning folk dancer of Jaisalmer. Harish, 38, famous as Queen Harish, met with an accident during the early morning hours en route Jaisalmer to Jaipur. The driver dozed off and their SUV rammed into a parked truck near village Bilara in Jodhpur district. Harish was accompanied by eight other members who were travelling for an event. Bilara police station reported, “Their vehicle rammed into a stationery truck which left Harish, Ravindra, Bhikhe Khan and Latif Khan dead. Five others were injured in the mishap.”
Queen Harish was known for his Rajasthani folk dance, especially his acrobatic moves and belly dancing. He is survived by wife and two sons, six and 10. Harish started his career at the age of 13 and performed across the globe. He was unique and totally different. His sequinned Rajasthani attire with heavy makeup was his signature style.
Harish also appeared on several TV shows including India’s Got Talent and many Bollywood films as well including Prakash Jha’s Jai Gangaajal starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas and also The Accidental Prime Minister. He mesmerised guests from world over at the most talked about Isha Ambani’s wedding in Jodhpur. Grace and elegance of Queen Harish was totally unmatched so much so that even Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was mesmerised with his unique ability to match steps on high beats. “Dance is my life and children are my inspiration”, Harish often said and he proved it when he made cute Aradhaya Bachchan dance along with him at the Ambani’s pre-wedding celebrations.
Various luminaries including former chief minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje Scindia and chief minister Ashok Gehlot condoled the deaths of the artistes. “The death of four persons including the famous artiste Queen Harish in a road accident in Jodhpur is very sad. Dedicated to the folk art and culture of Rajasthan, Harish gave a new identity to Jaisalmer with his different dance style. His death is a big loss to the field of folk art,” Gehlot said.
A native of Jaisalmer, Harish’s shows comprised various folk dance forms like Ghoomar, Kalbelia, Chang, Bhawai, Chari among others. He was one artiste who had put India on the global map and gained worldwide recognition for his folk dance skills.
I feel truly blessed that just a day before the fatal accident Queen Harish and me had a heart to heart talk where he spoke about his very difficult yet a beautiful journey and of course, his future plans. I also want to thank all his wonderful friends from the world over who came forward and gave me a lot of his photographs and performance images.
Katrinaji, Davey Mitchell and Arnaud Azzouz — this would not have been possible without you all, thanks a million. Today, I want to share with you all the effervescent Queen Harish spoke to me with a smile on his face yet tears in his eyes, here is his last interview ever:
How and when did dance become a part of your life?
When I stepped into my teens is when I got into this magnificent world of dance. I was all of 13 when dance beckoned and it was due to the death of my mother and father a few months apart. My mother died of cancer and my father passed away six months after she left us. I was the only man in the family who could earn and feed others. But no regrets at all.
Tell me more
I belong to the colourful and bright desert city of Jaisalmer. This culturally rich and beautiful city is where many tourist come and folk art and dances are the main attractions for tourists here. Every restaurant and resort in Jaisalmer provides folk music and dance shows for tourists. A friend suggested me to do this job in the evenings to get enough money for the family and that was the only way to continue my school. I would go to school from 12 noon to 5 pm and then dance in the evening till late in the night.
Why did you choose to specialise in Rajasthani folk dances only?
(Smiling) I did not choose the folk dances. The folk dances chose me. I knew dancing but not folk dancing. Learning traditional folk dances was a big challenge but being an avid dance lover, I was happy to face this challenge too.
Why you chose to dress as a women and dance?
People only wanted to see women dance. Having a fully decked up women on stage was in great demand for a show. For me, wearing women’s costume for the first time was a memorable experience. The smell of makeup and lipstick. I just loved it. After I was dressed up, I felt like the most beautiful person in the world (laughs). The costume of Rajasthani bride was very heavy and since it had so much shine and glitter, it reflected on me and I felt like a bride. The heavy ghunghroos were really hard the first time. I remember my legs shivering and in deep pain while people clapped and cheered.
And then the struggle began didn’t it?
Yes. I had to face a lot of struggle for making it in the world of dance. Seeing a man dressed in a women’s avatar is comic for many people. Films have made it even worse. I must say to top it all I am living in small city, it was even more difficult. I guess people in bigger cities have it a bit easier. I was from a middle class family and nobody was a dancer in my family so it was a shock after shock for people around me and to add to the grief, I was dancing for tourists at night that was a kind of ‘shame job’ and looked down upon by one and all.
I was an intelligent student but that was not enough to get my family and me food and to stay alive. No one came to help me in my hard times (smiles). I was totally disheartened and hurt so I decided to only bring money at home and give a good life to my sisters and continue my school. But I would often hear people laugh and make nasty and bad comments about me because of which I did not really want to go to school. I found solace in music, dance and the artiste community only. I felt upper and middle class people were not for me. My place was with the poor and so called low-class people only.
How nasty did people get and when did you realise that dance was more than a passion for you?
I would daily hear bad words and experience people making jokes on me. First, it began people talking behind my back but soon they started insulting me on my face. Abuse, rudeness, insults became a part of my daily life almost like a prayer (laughs with tears in his eyes). Hijra, Meetha, Chhakka, Gud — all these comments became so common for me that these words echoed in my ears all-day long. In the evenings, I would find peace. That is when I realised dance became my passion, my life and I could not live without it.
Within a short time you became a dancing sensation?
About two years into dancing and I starting getting a lot of work. Shows in big cities but when time came for my first international tour, I had to say no because I could not leave my sisters alone for long. They were alone with no man in the house and it is unsafe to keep young girls alone at home for long. But many of my artiste friends told me I was making a wrong decision because very few lucky artistes get a chance for international tour of six month. But thank god for my luck, the event got postponed and the company again offered me to join the tour and this time I asked my maasi and bua (aunts) for help to take care of my sisters and took up the first Europe tour and then there was no looking back for me.
(Laughs) Acche Din Aaye (good times came around). When I returned, people looked at me differently. Suddenly there was respect, dignity, admiration for the same. Thanks to the news coverage and media, I was all over Rajasthan and peoples’ minds started changing.
Now you have students from world over who come to learn from you isn’t it?
I feel fortunate people come from far and wide to learn from me. I feel truly lucky and blessed. I also travel to many countries to conduct workshops and try my best to popularise Indian folk dances. I always request students to come to India, to Rajasthan, to Jaisalmer and experience the rich culture and tradition of my country. This is the least I can do for my country and towards the roots of my art.
From films to television to the Ambani wedding — you have danced almost everywhere but which has been the most memorable show so far?
(thinks deeply and smiles) Most memorable experience was performing for World Cup football in Paris. It was the worst one too because the same day my knees got hurt while dancing and I was terribly sick yet dancing while on tour.
What’s next for Queen Harish?
I request all to always keep supporting Queen Harish. I want to see myself in the next season of Bigg Boss sharing my wonderful life with the people of India and I really wish that one day a movie is made on my life.
Before we bid goodbye, Queen Harish said, “Sandipji, God who is sitting above is always watching and observing each and every one of us. I have always believed that if we have a good, clean and clear aim in life. God will always help us and I have seen that happen to me. You know, a few times I have seen him and heard him talk to me while I danced, the experience was divine.”
Well, I am sure today Queen Harish is dancing, performing mesmerising and enthralling at a better place and in front of the most divine audience, we surly won’t be able to see this super talented artist in Bigg Boss house but I do hope that a film is made on his eventful life. Here is wishing Queen Harish peace and may his creative soul keeps dancing forever.
Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore, is a World Book Record holder, a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with three National Excellence awards and one National Achievement Award by the Government of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]