City’s first guitar maker leaves a void

By Willie Gordon Suting

Most Shillong musicians of old times will fondly remember Chedingstar Kharbhih, affectionately called Bah Che.
Born on January 5, 1943, to Lokhen Kharshandi and Prisidian Kharbhih, Che was one of nine siblings. He is known to Shillong musicians as the first guitar maker of the city.
It is sad that most of Kharbhih’s creations are not with his family. His customers from the 70s, 80s and 90s were many. But his family failed to keep in contact with them.
As a teenager, Kharbhih started his career working in a bakery in Nongkseh. He figured out the intricacies of carpentry when he shifted to making wooden bodies of buses and trucks. This was from the year 1961 when he worked in a workshop in Jingkieng Mawlai.
Kharbhih was a conscious experimenter when it came to work. He would return home and try to make different things. It was in 1967 that the idea of making guitars came to his mind. Rebecca Lyngdoh, his daughter, recalls the time he made his first guitar.
“It took him many months. But he was very stubborn and determined. He wanted to grow as an artist.”
Kharbhih went into details with making guitars. From the hollow body with the bridge to the neck and complete headstock, everything had been made by him.
He would order diengrai (wood) from border hamlets, and also used plywood. Rebecca says that he would possess even the smallest of blades and wooden nails to accompany his saws for making guitars.
“As I served him dinner at 12 one night, he told me that he received a very difficult order. But he said he would never give up. He had that headstrong mentality,” she says.
After Kharbhih left his job in the workshop, he made guitars full time. Nongkseh locality seeing that he would always voluntarily fix leaked pipes in the footpaths, appointed him as plumber.
Kharbhih’s six-string hollow guitars came at Rs 70 in the seventies. This gradually increased to Rs 200 in the eighties and Rs 1800 in the nineties. He also made electric and 12-string guitars.
Kharbhih was an active and hardworking man. He would be awake by 4 in the morning, would have breakfast and start work. He married Prelticy Lyngdoh and have seven children with her. “Pa made dining tables, cabinets, folding beds, and little things like the shangkwai (a small basket) and smoking pipe,” says Esthelda Lyngdoh, his daughter.
Kharbhih’s prominent customers were musicians Headingson Ryntathiang, TT Mukhim and the Rumnong Brothers.
“There were days when I had to serve 40 cups to his customers. All loved him dearly,” says Rebecca.
Being a school dropout, Che was not well versed with researching. He did not refer to encyclopaedias for diagrams, but was a very good observer.

“He played the acoustic guitar. So he deeply felt its rich sound quality,” says Esthelda.
Kharbhih’s gift, as his daughters tell Sunday Shillong, was innate. He did not inherit it from his parents who were both involved in business.
“It was a process of perpetual self-discovery for him,” says Rebecca.
Esthelda says Kharbhih had taught them guitar making “but it was very difficult for us”.
The guitar maker passed away last year on May 8 at 78. “He was not very strict to us because he saw we treaded the right path,” says Rebecca.
Looking back on his life and career, Esthelda says, “We miss him as he is no more with us.”
“We are saddened by his demise. May his soul rest in peace,” says Rebecca.
Singer Headingson Ryntathiang, who was not aware of Kharbhih’s death, remembers him as a humble man who was gifted with artistic talent.
Ryntathiang first visited Kharbhih’s house when his uncle went to take his guitar.
“We were waiting in the living room and Kharbhih entered dressed up like a cowboy with a hat on. He had a western taste when it came to dressing.”
The singer also wanted a guitar but one with 12 strings that Kharbhih did not make. Ryntathiang gave his own design and shape and asked Kharbhih to make it. “When I got the guitar, I was very happy with Cheding’s work. It was exactly how I wanted it to be,” he recollects.
After that, Kharbhih started using the design and the format and even mentioned Ryntathiang’s name in interviews. “He informed me that he was using the design and format that I gave him,” says the singer, adding, “he started getting guitar orders like people would order cakes from Mahari.”
“It is hard to find people like him in today’s world. His talent was god-gifted. However, he never lost his humility. It is sad that I did not know about his demise,” says Ryntathiang.

(With inputs from Olivia Lyngdoh Mawlong)

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