‘Hamraz Ahsan’s Third Eye’ by Arif Waqar

Hamraz Ahsan is a well known figure in the Asian circles of England: an experienced Urdu journalist and columnist, a trusted researcher for documentary film producers, and an authentic Punjabi poet who is equally respected in the Muslim and Sikh communities of the UK.

His first Punjabi collection ‘Tibyan uttay Chhawaan’ (Shades on Dunes) got good response from general readers as well as skeptical critics. He wrote several short poems on various aspects of the life of Pakistani immigrants in Great Britain and these poems were collected in a book called ‘Paar Samundraan Wallay’ (Trapped on the Other side of the Ocean). His most recent work is a collection of Punjabi quatrains: ‘Meki Kujh na Aakh’ (Don’t Scold Me)

These short poems draw on the Sufi tradition of Punjabi poetry and they are composed in the traditional four-line format. Before we proceed further let’s have a look at some of these quatrains… in English translation, of course:

Don’t scold me
The worthlessness immersed in my soul
I took the leash of the beast within
And collared myself instead

Don’t scold me
I left both mammon and mother
To take a peek at the firmament
I returned disenchanted, Adam’s brood once more

Don’t scold me
I have wept in my dreams
Churning the vat of my heart
Hot tears my only curd

Don’t scold me
I have worn out my soul
For each act I was given a different costume
Made by the designer, I simply put it on

Don’t scold me
In the dust before me glint particles of sand
In my sky only darkness reins
Stars are trodden underfoot

Don’t scold me
My mantra neither Rab nor Rama
I seek benediction without supplication
Clutching neither Koran nor Gita

Don’t scold me
I have forged eternal bonds with fire
Red embers caress my palms
I, the baker, whose hand is married to the burning clay oven

Don’t scold me
I met my groom in my dotage
My ear rings hang loose from my ears
My nose cannot bear the knobbing ornament’s weight
Translated by the poet

These quatrains are preceded by a detailed, and rather philosophical preface, titled ‘Khraabkaar di teeji akkh’… The Third Eye of the Subverter… masterfully written by Professor Amin Mughal, who firmly believes in the Subversion Theory of Herbert Marcuse, and without referring to him directly, Professor Mughal says, “Authentic poetry, indeed all authentic art, is subversive. Hamraz Ahsan is subversive, and his subversion is directed against his (inner) self. Let’s not forget that ‘self’ is constituted by man’s relations with the universe, of which he himself is a part. Hamraz seeks to break his self, that is, his relations with the rest of the universe and his self, in order to identify all those relations that stand in the way of his self becoming, or moving continuously towards becoming, an authentic self!’

To describe the subversive nature of an authentic artist, Prof. Mughal uses the term ‘kharaabkaar’. This Persian word denotes a destroyer or a saboteur, but traditionally this expression has been reserved for qalanders, or the wandering dervishes. Some of the quatrains in this book have direct references to qalanders.

Hamraz negates class and cast, and the lust that is caused by them. But a distinctive feature of Hamraz’s poetry is his negation of gender distinction. This aspect may easily be overlooked because it forms the base of Punjabi poetry and is therefore not obtrusive and hence not visible. The obliteration of the category of gender turns the poet and the sufi into the woman, and not merely a woman but, following Dostoevsky, they become the prostitute the dust of whose feet they kiss with reverence.

To become a fallen woman is not enough; to think and feel like her is the ultimate test of the negation of gender, and Hamraz tries to do precisely the same.

A major role in the formation of inauthentic relations is played by the way that man employs to see the universe. The way is empirical, rooted in rationalism, and ultimately the senses. The metaphor for the senses in Hamraz’s poetry is ‘the two eyes’ The third eye is needed to authenticate one’s self. The failure of the third eye to open causes the elusiveness of what is missing. The poet starts from negation and reconstitute his self and ultimately affirms life and the universe, but on his own terms. It is no accident then, that Hamraz’s patron saint is Madho Lal Hussain and the 101 quatrains dedicated to his murshid have grown on soil of the Punjabi folk tradition.

‘I did not follow any particular genre of Punjabi poetry’ says Hamraz, ‘the four-line structure came naturally to me, but the words of the first line (me ki kujh na aakh) were uttered by a woman in Pothohar. I heard them years ago and somehow they stuck to my mind’.

One unique feature of this poetry book is its dual script: it’s printed both in Persian and Gurmukhi scripts. It’s worth mentioning that the Lingua Franca of the pre-partition Punjab was divided into two separate languages, in 1947, on the basis of Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi (Persian) scripts. Speakers of the same language, ironically, are unable to read each other’s ideas in the written form, and thus the Punjabi literature is mutually unintelligible across the borders in Indian and Pakistani Punjab.

During my recent visit to London, I had a chance to see the poet in person and discuss the situation with him. ‘How do you compare the situation in Southhall, Nottingham, Birmingham, Leeds or other diaspora centres in the UK?’ I asked Hamraz, ‘Do you think there are better chances, in this more educated and liberal atmosphere, of breaking the script barrier?’

‘I don’t accept the premise that Punjabi communities are more educated and liberal in the UK than in the Punjab’ comes the answer from the poet, ‘I migrated to this country as an adult, but all my children were born and brought up here in Britain, and the willful lack of integration between diverse groups meant that while Hindu, Sikh and Muslim children may have been friends at school, intermarriage between these religions means ostracism for both parties, or even worse, rather than creating a need to understand and communicate across the divide. Certainly anecdotally most of the young Punjabis I know – Sikh, Hindu or Muslim – do not read either script, even if they’re fluent orally. The similarities of language mean a close bond of friendship but friendship is not the same as a desire to read extant literature of either group because this would require a level of educating oneself that is barely there for the English language, let alone for either scripts of the Punjabi’.

If that’s the case, why did he take the trouble to publish his poetry in both scripts? ‘Just because most of my friends and readers in East Punjab, Europe and North America, cannot read Persian script’.

The status of Punjabi language in the Pakistani Punjab is quite enigmatic: there are hundreds of Sindhi medium and Pushto medium schools in Pakistan but not a single Punjabi medium school in the whole country. ‘What’s your take on educating Punjabi kids in their mother tongue?’
Hamraz looked at me rather helplessly, as if I had put him a very unexpected question. ‘well, I’m a Punjabi poet, but not an activist; this question should be asked of those who have been working for the cause of Punjabi’.

Alright then, let’s come to a less political question:
Shahmukhi (Persian) script is not hundred percent phonetic and Gurmukhi is associated with the Sikh religion; in this situation, can Roman script be a way-out? If not, what else can be done to enable the Punjabis across the borders to read each other’s literature?
‘I think that would be an inelegant solution’ comes the answer from the Punjabi poet, ‘to me, the best approach is straightforward translation. While it is easy to become dazzled by the thought that it is the same language in two distinct scripts and want logically to bring about one that crosses borders, it isn’t resolved by learning a third set of phonetic symbols. Before long each group would be bemoaning the endangerment of their own scripts as youth are always game for learning the easiest way out, in this case Roman script. In a lesser form, good publishers edit books for American English and idioms when presenting a UK or Australian text in the States. Publishers should just accept the need to pay translators to do the same for texts crossing borders within the Punjab’.

From Saqib Maqsood (http://puncham.com/) at Pancham Sulaikh SaNg

Book Launch: ‘Naal Sajjan de Rahiye’ by Afzal Saahir – Surrey March 4 and 6/2012

‘Naal Sajjan de Rehye’
Punjabi Poetry by Afzal Saahir
Shahmukhi edition: Sanjh Pulications, Lahore PK 2011
Gurumukhi edition: Uddari Books, Surrey CA 2012

Poet and Radio Host Afzal Saahir has published his first collection of Punjabi poetry titled ‘Naal Sajjan de Rehiye’ in both Shahmukhi and Gurumukhi scripts, and is launching it this week.

The first launch is organized by Aarsi Punjabi
On Sunday March 4, 2012
12:30 – 4:30 PM
At Grand Taj Banquet Hall
8388 128 Street, Surrey
(604) 599-4342

The Second launch is organized by Uddari Books, Surrey Muse and Committee of Progressive Pakistanis
On Tuesday March 6, 2012
6 – 9 PM
At Newton Exchange branch of Surrey Public Library (SPL)
13795 70 Avenue

‘Afzal Saahir de andar Sultan Bahu apni chambay de bootti laa geya ae’. Amrita Pritam

Download PDF Poster

In the Memory of Pash – Greenford UK – Sept 10/11

The UK Committee of
Pash Memorial International Trust presents
In the memory of Punjabi Poet Paash
On Saturday, 10 September 2011
At Greenford Park Residents Hall
18 Queen’s Ave (Off Windmill Lane)
Greenford, Middlesex UB6 9BX

Free Parking on Windmill Lane

4.00 pm – Refreshments
4.30 pm – a Discussion Paper by Avtar Uppal
A brief look at Women’s situation in Indian Society
6.30 pm – Break – Refreshments
7.00 pm – 8.30 pm – Poetic Symposium

Poets and Writers from the UK and abroad are expected to participate.

Food will be served after the poetic symposium

For further information, contact PMIT (UK) Committee Members
Avtar Uppal, Bharat Bhushan, Darshan Bulandavi, Harjit Atwal, K C Mohan, Santokh Singh Santokh & Sukhdev Sidhu

It is an absolute honour to invite you to the Function.

Your participation is sought and is much appreciated to ensure success of the event. We cordially extend our invitation to you and all progressive/secular people to take part in this event.

We look forward to seeing you all on 10th September 2011.

Sukhdev Sidhu
On Behalf of
PMIT (UK) Committee Members

Driving directions to venue

Paash Blog.

Roop Dhillon’s ‘Bharind’ – Book Review by Rajinder Bhachu

Poems and Short Stories
By Roop Dhillon
Lahore Publishers
Ludhiana 2011
ISBN: 978-81-7647-283-8


Roop Dhillon is not a writer. He is an artist. The words one reads, the sentences structured are surreal, rebellious, and against the laws of grammar. Yet they work very well. He is a writer’s writer. The imagination from his pen creates vivid cinematic poetry and imagery, be it describing the stark social realities for Punjabis, or bizarre and shocking alien terrains. This is quite a feat for two reasons. The first is Roop Dhillon is English born and raised and self taught in Punjabi, the second is his first Punjabi book written ten years ago, although an interesting story, was very very poor in terms of correct Punjabi grammar and syntax. Not that any of his current writings hold him back on experimenting. There is a clear difference between the previous novel, where one can say Roop lacked the Punjabi language, and now, where it is in the western raised Punjabi’s idiom, but no longer irritating to read. I have been privileged to see the work he is currently working on, and can say if Neela Noor is Roop’s Grimus, then the next piece may well be his Midnight’s children. That however will remain to be seen. His latest book, Bharind, is a collection of 15 short stories and 22 patriotic poems. Each story is followed by poems before going onto the next story.

Ten years of struggling, learning to read and write Punjabi at home, in an area where there are few Punjabi or Asian people, and no Punjabi language teachers, has not resulted in a vain journey. It has produced an unusually titled book, influenced partly by Punjabi authors such as Amrita Preetum, Ajaib Kamal and Shivcharan Jaggi Kussa, but more so from reading English novels ( including I suspect a host of foreign European translations into English) and writers such as Kafka, Graham Greene and Milan Kundera. I suspect that Roop is a huge Hollywood fan, as all his stories have plots not dissimilar to American films, especially futuristic and fantasy ones. The skill in Bharind is bringing all this together in a Punjabi relevant milieu and producing possibly a new genre of writing in the language. Roop is a pioneer who blends traditional Punjabi techniques and idioms with western influenced ideas and methods of writing. The result is prose that can compete with international languages.

The subjects covered in the short stories cover many contempory social issues facing Punjabis, from farmers who hang themselves, drug addicts to the much denied incest issue. The stories and poems are also unashamedly proud of Punjabi as a language, criticizing those who choose English, Urdu and Hindi over a much maligned tongue. There is also the questioning of identity, by the western born Punjabi. Am I eastern or western? The final story, Speed, compares vividly with minimal effort and description the changing landscape of Punjab and aspirations of the new generation, contrasted with regrets of the old. Let us examine each story in brief.

The first story is Laal Lehar, which is very direct and to the point. It is about the sexual abuse of a girl by her chacha. The story is written in the first person and quickly winds the heart of the reader. It uses a mix of Punjabi colloquialism and short sharp sentence structure seen in modern English literature. The techniques are similar to John Banville’s and sometimes have to be read twice. Roop mixes the regional accents of Malwi, Doabi and Majdi Punjai with Lanhdi and English. There is some use of Hindi and Urdu as well, but an acceptable level. This occurs thorough out the prose, but I think is acceptable as no living languages survives if it does not change to reflect the usage of its speakers or absorbs new words from outside sources. There is a shocking ending literally, which will throw those off that are only use to reading village based literature or like Indian TV dramas.

The second story is Daaj denh daa nateja. As the title suggests this tale deals with the realities of a dowry and the consequences from the view again of the woman. It is familiar and comfortable, which is I suspect why Roop wrote it. The third story is a complete departure from anything that has ever been written in Punjabi. Although again it is an issue based story, Kaldaar introduces a new word into the Punjabi lexicon, Kaldaar which we soon realise refers not only to robots, but machinery with an intelligence that is down trodden and used by man for toil. Influenced strongly by Asimov, this is a story about caste, prejudice and slavery. The Robots as described could easily be the Bhayyias, a disdainful word to describe Biharis, seen as invading Punjab, or they could be the Dalit class, rising against the system. This is quite timely considering what has been happening with the Chammar community in real life in the Jalandar area. But again, the twist is not the retelling of a story already told by a western writer, but a shocking reveal about what could happen to the majority population of India; the poor, as food resources decline. Again, I will leave the reader to find out for themselves.

The next story is Vikaas, an amazing sweep of the imagination that mixes social concerns of the Punjab, with eco-global concerns of the rest of the world. I think the title is meant to be ironic, as the tale shows a world at its end, sending out many spacecraft to look for another habitable planet. The description of the journey and the new world is sublime and beautiful. Traditional Punjabi sentence structure is twisted until it is as alien as the world, but produces beautiful imagery. Vikaas shows how a Pancheyt on another world judges man. Man’s mind is used to project history of Homo Sapiens like a film, showing the true dark nature of the beast. His attitude towards woman, race and war. The ending is truly sad.

As if to provide relief from these fantastical stories, Laash sticks to the real world and an apparent suicide in modern Ludhiana. It is a distraction from the more amazing stories but familiar in its content. It’s like Roop was afraid to lose the typical Punjabi reader, and felt he needed to return back to themes often explored in Punjabi novels. It was a relief for me then, when Dunga Paani, took me back into the crazy and fantastic mind of Mr Dhillon. The title says it all. But this is different from both previous pieces of Science Fiction. It is psychological, dealing with how a woman copes with the death of her drowned child, this time in a futuristic Ludhiana. Like the previous story, it has elements of a detective story. The main character is called Heer after Waris Shah’s heroine. Despite he fear of water since the event she is sent deep into the sea to investigate the death of a Scientist called Kaido, who is part of a team searching for a replacement for oil. The ecological themes mix with Heer’s own feelings. The real twist is that all the characters are named after famous couples and their associates from Qissas. Mirza and Sahiban appear as well as others who have their traditional roles reversed. This Heer’s son in this story is named after the father from the Qissa. The story is good enough and tense enough to be made into a film and is my personal favourite. As before there is an unexpected filmi twist.

Shohdi Istari is perhaps the shortist story, more a mini kahani. Again it deals with the treatment of women, in a very poetic and beautiful way. To say more will be to say too much. It is followed by a similar type of story, Viaah da nateja. Both are set in the real familiar world. The next story, Piaar Da Naa Manjoor Saroop, completes the trilogy about female treatment. However this time it is set in Harrappa in the far past, where Roop re-imagines an open minded society on the verge of its fall into the repressed Indus Valley of today. This story is actually online and has so far had over 4,000 hits, possibly making it his most popular short story. The reason? It is taboo. It is the story of two women in love, a condition deemed unnatural. It is not sexually explicit or exploitative but is erotic.

We race off like Michael J Fox in a time travelling car in the next tale, Chori Da Nateja, which deals with out a thief is punished after his gang rob a post office, followed by Canadian Gangster which is wholly set in reality. The latter depicts the effects of drugs, guns and car accidents on the children of the Punjabi community as they helplessly watch the ‘Brown on Brown’ crime. The next story, Dil Diaah Peerhan, is more traditional, as it deals with a woman’s thoughts on her life and relationship with her children and husband. This might possibly be the weakest tale, and I suspect autobiographical in some way. I understand this was the first story Roop wrote after Neela Noor, so I am not surprised. It is followed by another story set in the real world, Rang. This is an experimental piece about a thief. Roop attempts to use language to paint a picture in our minds by colouring the scenery. The main character may in one scene be dressed in red, in a red room where everything else is red. This should give you an idea of the kind of story it is. I shall leave it to you to judge whether the experiment works or not. Colourful, it certainly is.

Mulakat is the next tale, set in a dhaba, it is an interview of a man’s memories of 1947, and the events in a particular village where Hindus and Muslims lived in relative peace and harmony, except that two criminal families exist. Each is hell bent on destroying the other. One happens to be led by a Muslim, the other a Hindu. The tense environment is strained further when an unnamed Nihang walks into the town and offers his services to the Muslim gang, after being racially abused by the Hindu one. The amoral choices he makes hide his true intentions from both gangs.

The penultimate story is Bharind. This is Kafkaesque and disturbing. Wonderful, yet frightening images are constructed in the mind, as the reader is left to decide whether Heera, the protagonist is a victim of some alien bite, transforming into a hornet, or whether he is on a bad drip due to years of abusing drugs. It is not quite like Metamorphosis as it is not so much Heera turning as the whole world around him. His drug dealer, his mother sister and brother – in – law. The story indirectly deals with drug abuse, and shows how it can warp the mind and finally destroy a human being. Heera is from a tragic family, the father having hung himself when he could not pay debts. But instead of working hard to pay them off, he spends all he has on drugs. The result is his sister has to take up the slack and throws him out, despite her mother’s protestations. Heera wonders the streets, ruthlessly even robbing the poor, constantly hearing a buzzing in his mind. He is today’s Punjabi youth, sadly.

The final story, Speed is a masterpiece in skilful writing. Where Bharind relies on detailed imagery, and use of powerful but descriptive words almost filming the tale in ones head, as one sees the horrors that Heera does, Speed is simple short and effective. Where a lot happens in Bharind ( Potentially another film plot), with many gloriously described scenes, helping to create character, all that happens in the last story is two individuals travel in a car from the village to the city. Yet in that time we see both their thoughts as they look out of the car window at Punjab speeding past, with all its changes as it progresses from Pind to Shair. In a few paragraphs we see the lamentations of the old passenger seeing his world wisp away, and the youngster looking forward to the modern world, as mile after mile the scene outside becomes more and more urban. In this idea Roop catches the changes in Punjab poetically.

In addition to the 15 stories there are over a score of poems, lamenting over the under use of Punjabi to the treatment of women. I think it inappropriate to go through each one of these. Needless to say there are some beautiful gems amongst the poems, and one or two that may even become classics.

It would not surprise me if in a matter of months Bharind became a study text. It is truly that good, and quite possibly the best collection of short stories in ten years, sprinkled with many good poems for size. It is at once an issue based book, lamenting the state of Punjabyat, and dealing with gender, caste and abuse; whilst on the other hand offering up a new genre in Punjabi Literature which fits in better with the Harry Potter reading new generation in India, with its I-pods, aliens and drug induced hallucinations. This is quite possibly a beginning of a new kind of Punjabi Genre that may kick start life again in to a language which needs it. The release is timely as their seems to be a revival for all things Punjabi at the moment.

Twenty years ago Alaap and Heera made Punjabi music sexy, resulting in a new kind of sound imported into India from the UK. Now quite possibly the same might happen with Literature. I thoroughly recommend serious readers of Punjabi have a copy of Bharind on their bookshelves. I predict with time, Roop Dhillon may become a significant and recognised writer.


Book is available from
Lahore Book Shop

Book publishers, distributors & exporters
2, Lajpat Rai Market
Near Society Cinema,
Ludhiana – 141008,
Punjab, India.
Phone: +91-161-2740738

Reviewer’s opinions are her own.

Book Launch ‘Passion Fruit-Tahnget Phal’ by Fauzia Rafique

Launching Fauzia Rafique’s
Chapbook of English and Punjabi poetry
‘Passion Fruit-Tahnget Phal’
Readings From her novel
Cover Art
Kanwal Dhaliwal
Event Hosted by
Valerie B. Taylor

Sunday, June 26
1 to 3 PM
Renaissance Books
#43-6th Street
New Westminster
(Columbia Skytrain Station)

‘Passion Fruit – Tahnget Phal’ combines some of Fauzia’s original English and Punjabi poems. Punjabi presented in both Gurumukhi and Shahmukhi scripts.

Published by Uddari Books (Surrey, British Columbia) with support from Author Manolis of Libros Libertad.

A Tribute to Ahmad Salim – Islamabad – June 23/11

A Celebration of Fifty Years of Writing
Thursday, June 23rd, 2011
SDPI Seminar Hall
38 Embassy Road, G-6/3, Islamabad

Nafeesa Shah
MNA & Chairperson, National Commission for Human Development (NCHD)
Tariq Rahman
Professor/Director, National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University
Zafarullah Khan
Executive Director, Centre for Civic Education (CEC)
Abid Q. Suleri
Executive Director, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI)

Ahmad Saleem, Senior Advisor at SDPI, is a teacher, language instructor, archivist, writer, poet, researcher, translator, and editor with the Government of Pakistan, media, international organizations and research institutions.

He has received Presidential Pride of Performance Award in 2010 for his excellent contributions in the field of literature. He has also won many other awards including the Writer’s Guild Award, Masood Khaddarposh Award, Satguru Ram Singh Azadi Award (UK), Punjabi Adabi Sangat Award (UK) and best script for PTV documentary (Cholistan) in 1978.

Ahmad Salim was born on 26 January 1945 in village Miana Gondal in district Mandi Bahauddin of Punjab. This year will mark the 50th year of his untiring services with pen as his first publication was written way back in 1961 during his secondary school education. Since then he has contributed over 200 publications including 95 books, 25 research publications (4 on curriculum/ education), 10 international publications and many articles in reputed newspapers.

From 1996 to June 2007, Ahmad Salim worked as Director of Urdu Publications for SDPI and he continues working with the Institute as Senior Advisor. He has also been associated with the South Asian Research and Resource Centre (SARRC).


Faisal Nadeem Gorchani & Sadia Sharif
Sustainable Development Policy Institute Email: sadia@sdpi.org
Email: gorchani@sdpi.org

More on Ahmad Salim

FREE Tkts to Jahan-e-Khusrau Sufi Festival, 15-16 April 2011‏

Alchemy launch!! Invitation and FREE complimentary tkts to Jahan-e-Khusrau Sufi festival inc Hans Raj Hans and Madan Gopal Singh – 15-16 April 2011‏

Today sees the Launch of the wonderful Alchemy Festival- a major celebration of S.Asian Arts at the World Famous SOUTH BANK CENTRE and there is an unparalleled feast on offer of music,dance visual arts discussion and much more ….

We’re really proud to say that we’re Working Partners for this amazing, now annual event.
Please look at the festival website,for details of over fifty events taking place over the next eleven days at WWW.SOUTHBANKCENTRE.CO.UK/ALCHEMY

This is a direct invitation from the Nehru Centre for FREE complimentary tickets to the SUFI Jahan e Khusrau Festival taking place this weekend as part of Alchemy at the South Bank Centre from this Friday 15th.

This festival marks- for those of you commonly used to us eschewing a commited Panjabi perspective – radical, and highly innovative programming by the legendary Artist and Creative force Muzaafir Ali. Amongst many other noted ventures Muzaafir Ali brought us the exquisite Umarao Jaan, featuring Rekha and Farukh Sheik: an unparalleled modern film classic: he has also worked extensively with the formidable Abida Parveen.

Renowned Panjabi Sufi Singer Hans Raj Hans is leading the opening concert on Friday, presenting the profound work of 13th Century Indian Sufi Amir Khusrau, in Urdu, directed by Muzaafir Ali.

On Saturday, the noted Sufi scholar and singer Madan Gopal Sngh (Dheli) forms part of an unmissable line of Artists including Azalea Ray and Malini Awasthi performing Sufiana Ghazal and Kalaam; poetry by M.Ali and Actor Jaaved Jaffery; Dance featuring Navtej Johar and Malavika Sarukkai; and, a wonderful finale with Qwaali Maestro Wajahat Hussain Badayuni in a soulful recital of Hazrat Amir Khusrau’s poetry. Madan Gopal Singh has chosen, composed and performs the music for Fana’a- Ranjha revisited in which he is accompanying the outstanding Bharat Natyam Dance exponent Navtej Sahota

This is indeed a rare opportunity to see such distinguished artists perform in the UK…

With a Sufi langar, films and talks on Sufism these are just highlights of a weekend long journey into the Sufi Spirit and Soul…. I hope you’ll join us!

Our Panjaby Party on the 24th, featuring authentic, Panjabi women’s folk music by SATRANGI’S Trinnjan, followed by a family Bhangra/Gidha Dance nite !!!

Please also pass this info on to your friends, and family, and let us know what you would like to see in Alchemy next year… See you there…!!!

Warm wishes

Third Annual Celebration of Punjabi at UBC, Vancouver, April 2/11

The Third Annual Celebration of Punjabi
at UBC
In honour of the memory of Harjit K. Sidhu
Saturday, April 2, 2011

2 p.m.
Welcome and introductions
Lecture by Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, University of Michigan
“Beyond Secular and Religious Apologetics: Re-evaluating the Concept of Shabad Guru”
Lifetime achievement award for local Punjabi-language writer Ravinder Ravi and
awards for student essay contest winners.
Tea and coffee
Student performances from the Punjabi 200 class at UBC, and short documentary video projects by Punjabi 300 students

Today’s lecture
Beyond Secular and Religious Apologetics: Re-evaluating the Concept of Shabad Guru
Arvind-pal Singh Mandair, University of Michigan

Arvind Mandair is Associate Professor and S.B.S.C. Chair of Sikh Studies at the University of Michigan. His recent publications include: Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality and the Politics of Translation (Columbia University Press, 2009); Secularism and Religion-Making (co-edited Oxford University Press, 2011); and Teachings of the Sikh Gurus (Routledge, 2005), co-authored and co-translated with Christopher Shackle. He is a founding editor of the journal Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture and Theory and is Assistant Editor of the journal Culture and Religion, both published by Routledge.

Lifetime achievement award for local writer Ravinder Ravi
Every year this event honors a local writer either for overall contribution to Punjabi literature or, every other year, for a recent contribution to Punjabi literature. This year, we are proud to honor Ravinder Ravi for his overall contribution to Punjabi letters and the Punjabi literary world both in BC and abroad.

About Mr. Ravi
Ravinder Ravi was born on March 8, 1937 in Sialkot, in present-day Pakistan. His first book in Punjabi “dil dariā samundarõṅ ḍūṅge” or “The River of Hearts is Deeper than the Ocean,” was published in 1961. During his long literary journey, he has written 18 poetry collections, 12 poem-plays, 9 collections of short stories, one travel narrative, and two literary autobiographies, and has written or edited a dozen or more books of criticism or prose. He taught in Kenya, British Columbia and Punjab and retired from teaching in 2003. Today he lives in the British Columbia city of Terrance.
The decision to award Mr. Ravi this honor was made by a committee made up of representatives of the University and the B.C. Punjabi language literary community.

Harjit Kaur Sidhu
This program has been established in loving memory of Harjit Kaur Sidhu (nee Gill), devoted wife, mother, and strong advocate for education, Punjabi culture and language, and women’s issues.

Mrs. Sidhu was born in Amritsar in 1937. She grew up in what is now Pakistan and resettled with her parents, brothers and sisters in Ludhiana after partition. She received both an MA and MEd. She went on to lecture at Sidwa College in 1966 and 1967. She immigrated to Canada with her husband, Balvindar Singh Sidhu, in 1968. The couple lived in the Yukon for 32 years, during which time Mrs. Sidhu’s passion became early childhood education. After the birth of her sons Ravindar (1971) and Rajvindar (1972), she worked as a teacher in multiple early childhood settings: preschool, prekindergarten programs and in kindergarten.

In 2001, Harjit and Balvindar moved to Vancouver where there youngest son was a practicing dentist and where, later, their oldest son started a career at UBC as a surgeon in the Faculty of Medicine. During her time in Vancouver, Harjit rediscovered her passion for Punjabi language and culture. She was a strong advocate for Punjabi culture, and for women in Punjabi society.

After two and a half year courageous battle with cancer, she passed away in her home on July 23, 2007. She is survived by her husband, two sons and their wives, two grandsons and one granddaughter.

Sincere thanks to the Sidhu family for making this program possible, and to the students, writers, and Punjabi cultural enthusiasts who contribute so much to the life of Punjabi in British Columbia.
Special thanks to Ranbir Johal of Kwantlen University; the Punjabi Language Education Association, its President Balwant Sanghera, and all its members; and to the members of the Writer’s Award Committee for their support, collaboration, and for making this event possible.

Organized by
The Department of Asian Studies
University of British Columbia
1871 West Mall
UBC Asian Centre
Vancouver BC V6T 1Z2
Anne Murphy

Sohan Qadri 1932-2011: A pure poet and painter

Sohan Qadri. Copenhagen. April 1991. Portrait by Amarjit Chandan

Punjabi artist and poet Sohan Qadri (real name Sohan Singh Barhing), who has died aged 78 in Toronto after a prolonged illness, leaves a rich legacy of pure poetry and art deeply immersed in Indian tradition. He is one of a few Punjabi painters who have made a mark on the international art scene.

Qadri was immersed in painting and meditation for decades. His dye-suffused paintings on meticulously serrated paper reflect his Vajrayana Tantric Buddhist philosophical beliefs. Dr. Robert Thurman, professor of Eastern religions at Columbia University and director of Tibet House, says: “If words were colours, Qadri’s art would not be as essentially necessary as it is.”

Qadri lived in Copenhagen, Denmark, for three decades but his career took him across Asia, Africa and North America.  He was born in the Punjab, in the village of Chachoki near Jalandhar. At the young age he was initiated into yogic practice first by Bikham Giri, a Bengali Tantric Vajrayana yogi, and few years later he became close to a Sufi figure, Ahmed Ali Shah Qadri, whose last name he adopted. From them he imbibed an ecumenical and a deep spiritual yearning.

He joined the Simla College of Art, in Shimla in 1957, against the wishes of his parents, and after graduating he taught art for four years at Ramgarhia College Phagwara. Soon after he became part of the circuit of the Indian modernists that included M.F. Husain, Syed Haider Raza, Ara, Ram Kumar, and Sailoz Mookherjee. Mulk Raj Anand, was the first to recognise Qadri’s talent and organised his first exhibition in Le Corbusier’s brand new architectural complex in Chandigarh. He was the mentor friend of Shiv Kumar the poet and in 1964 formed the Loose Group a circle of artists and poets in Kapurthala including Hardev, Shiv Singh, SS Misha, Ajaib Kamal and Ravinder Ravi.

Soon after, Qadri departed for Nairobi, Kenya in 1966, where under the patronage of the African cultural figure Elimo Njau, he had a successful exhibition at Paa-yaa-paa, a non-profit art gallery. At the time, the gravitational pull for artists was Paris, where Qadri lived for a few years before settling in Copenhagen, where he was invited by the Danish Ministry of Culture. In the 1970s, he, along with a group of artists and counter-culture figures, illegally occupied an old gun factory, which eventually became the famous free city Christianna.

At an early age, Qadri abandoned representation in a search for transcendence. He wrote: “When I start on a painting, first I empty my mind of all images. They dissolve into primordial space. Only emptiness, I feel, should communicate with emptiness of the canvas.” Despite the fact that he lived in Northern Europe, his work is distinctly Punjabi/Indian. His colours are luminous—Sindhoori reds, peacock blues, intense oranges, along with blacks and grays. A rigorous Scandinavian aesthetic distills these Punjabi colours. The luminous monochrome surfaces of his paintings are repeatedly incised and punctured in an orderly manner, which creates a strict structure. The art critic Donald Kuspit has said: “Using abstraction to convey transcendence, Qadri is the pre-eminent aesthetic mystic of modernism.”

Qadri was friends with a wide array of cultural figures over his long career, including the Surrealist master Renee Magritte and Nobel Laureate Heinrich Böll, who became one of his important proponents. Böll said: “Sohan Qadri with his painting liberates the word meditation from its fashionable taste and brings it back to its proper origin.” Qadri had more than 70 exhibitions across the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Qadri’s unique collections of poems written in classical Punjabi idiom include Mitti Mitti, Navyug New Delhi (1987); Boond Samunder, Lok Sahit (1990); Antar Joti, Navyug (1995). Amarjit Chandan’s long conversations with Qadri in Punjabi were published in Hun-khin (The Now Moment) Navyug, 2000.

Such widely respected poet scholars as Harbhajan Singh and Jaswant Singh Neki greatly admired Qadri’s ‘poetry’ (which Qadri called ‘the other poetry’). Sati Kumar wrote:

Neki approaches Qadri’s creative process from the point of view of the bãni utterances of the Sufis and Nanak. One can surely try to understand Qadri’s poetic accessories from the viewpoint of Indian thought, but to me it seems that this ‘other poetry’ is a specimen of another – a kind of inverted – lore. Only those who know the other lore can read this poetry. It can cause a headache to linguists for its grammar that is not to be found elsewhere and its word-formation that is also rare. Kabir’s language was described as sadhukkarhi – the language of sadhus. Qadri’s language, too, is of his own making. There is no doubt that Qadri has walked into Punjabi poetry like a not so polite sãdh mendicant and there is no match for his crisp and ringing language that sounds like a sãdh‘s chimta tongs. After a very long time an original poet appeared in Punjabi poetry.

Harbhajan Singh wrote on conversations Hun-khin The Now Moment:

The knower of the mystery Kabir had said, jo ghar jare apna chalé hamaré sãth – let him join me who is ready to set his house on fire. To set one’s house on fire means to get rid of one’s words, their meanings, one’s senses, habits and beliefs. It means to come out of the boundaries drawn by them. Only when one renounces one’s parents, neighbours, ancestral heritage, the legacy of untold centuries crystallised in the discriminating sense that judges between good and bad does one the earth as mother, truth as father and the parrot as teacher. The Now Moment provokes one to face such challenges. That is why Qadri does not share anything with the tradition of Punjabi poetry. Even in Urdu poetry, Ghalib is the only one who abides in Qadri’s circle.  …

These conversations cannot be understood if we remain confined to our education. If we wish to understand them, we must first break free of our limitations.

(This and Sati Kumar’s quote translated from Punjabi by Rajesh Sharma)

Qadri’s poetry in translation is published under the titles The Dot & the Dots, Poems & Paintings, Stockholm (1978); The Dot & the Dots, revised edition, Writers Workshop, Calcutta (1988); Aforismer, Danish translation, Oslashmens Forlag Copenhagen (1995) and The Seer, Art Konsult, New Delhi (1999).

Qadri was generous in designing book covers for his writer friends – Surjit Hans, Sati Kumar, Ravinder Ravi, Jagjit Chhabra, Amarjit Chandan and others.

He family life was unconventional. His two daughters and a son survive him. His Swedish partner Anna Maria bore him son Soham and younger daughter Pooja. His daughter Purvi, now aged 50, is from his Punjabi wife Daisy Rumalshah who predeceased him in 1980.

Sohan Qadri – real name Sohan Singh Barhing – Punjabi painter and poet born 2 November 1932 Chachoki Punjab; died 1 March 2011 Toronto

View Word Doc


‘UmraN langhiyaN pabbaN bhaar’ tackled by Kuljeet Bhamra

From Press Release

A Song For All Seasons…

‘UmraaN LannghiyaaN PabbaN Bhaar’ (A Lifetime on Tiptoes) was sung by Asad Amanat Ali Khan in the 70’s and became a hit in the Punjabi world. Once again, Mazhar Tirmazi’s famous lyric is being re-created by Kuljeet Bhamra, who has worked extensively in the U.K. Film & TV Industry, Hollywood and Bollywood. He has created a unique soundtrack in Mumbai, India, and recorded the song in London. It has been sung by a young British born singer, Shahid Abbas Khan.

The album is being launched around Valentine’s Day by the name of ‘Heartfelt’ on BBC London.

Mazhar Tirmazi, a renowned British Pakistani Punjabi poet and playwright is visiting Lahore these days working on new projects – translations of his poems into English, his next creative workshop using puppets who spout poetry, ongoing collaborative project with Welsh Poets, and audiovisual expressions set to the music of late Salamat Ali Khan, Saira Altaf’s photos and Mazhar Tirmazi’s poems.

Tirmazi’s collections of poetry include ‘Dooja Hathh Sawaali’, ‘Kaya Kagad’, ‘Thandi Bhubhal’, and ‘Jagda Sufna. His poems have appeared in the anthology ‘Mother Tongues’, published by King’s College, London.

This new collaborative effort spearheaded by music director Kuljit Bhamra promises a refreshing take. Bhamra is known to straddle jazz, classical, folk and pop. He has given music for some renowned films like Bend It Like Beckham, Bhaji On The Beach, Alexander, Four Features etc. He has his own percussion band called ‘Taala’.

Mazhar Tirmazi and Kuljit Bhamra remain rooted in their cultural ethos yet take us on an innovative flight which we await with bated breath… A Lifetime On Tiptoes.


‘Rabba Sachiã’ by Faiz in English

Rabba Sachiã My True God

A Punjabi poem by

Faiz Ahmad Faiz

My true God, it was you who said:
‘Go Man. Go forth and be King of the World’
All my bounties belong to you
You shall be my anointed and appointed on Earth.

Having given false promises
Have you ever stopped to ask
What happened to this poor soul?
What this world has done to your king?

Here, the excesses of Police and State
There, the extortions of Revenue collectors
My bones shake in this tortured frame
Like the shrieks of a crane, ensnared.
What a great King you made of me Lord
Insulted, humiliated, beaten with shoes

I don’t hanker for a kingdom my Lord
Just a piece of bread with dignity
I don’t need castles and mansions
Just a nook to shelter my head

Let’s strike a deal
If you heed me, your every command I’ll obey
And if this bargain doesn’t suit you
Then I’ll go and seek another God.

Translated from the original in Punjabi by
Sudha Bhuchar and Amarjit Chandan

For Poet in the City event, London. 17 Jan 2011

Zafaryab Ahmad on Mazhar Tirmazi, Lahore 1998

Lahore activist Zafaryab Ahmad (Late) speaks about UK-based Punjabi poet Mazhar Tirmazi at the 1998 book launch of his collection of poetry ‘Kaya Kagad’ in Pakistan.

We know from watching the video that other than Mazhar Tirmazi, author Mushtaq Soofi is present, and that poet Zubair Ahmad is hosting the event.

More information
Mazhar Tirmazi
Zafaryab Ahmad

‘Aahr 2011’ a Punjabi poem by Fauzia Rafique

TussaN maulviaN nooN
naraaz nahiN kerna
maulviaN fer ve tuhanooN
peyar nahiN kerna

Maut de dur tooN
ya hon hakoomti
kusko bhavaiN na kusko
ehnaN fer ve tuhanooN
nahiN jerna

Khho khhseet
de vailay
zulm de sauRay
apnay ee kam aunay naiN
ehnaN maulviaN tuhada
aahr nahiN kerna


View in Punjabi Shahmukhi

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‘Revealing the Invisible Heritage of Panjab’, Panjab Digital Library

Appeal for Support

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Rich Heritage of Punjabi Dalit Literature and its Exclusion from Histories

By Raj Kumar Hans
Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla

Exploring histories of Dalit literature in different languages of India is to encounter the deserts of neglects, silences and exclusions. The ‘Progressive Punjab’ is no exception to this sub-continental reality despite claims that Brahmanical ideology and its resultant social structures had considerably weakened in the Punjab due to the impact of long waves of religious egalitarianism of Buddhism, Islam and Sikhism. The virus of Brahmanism had so afflicted the Indian mind over the millennium that it would spring back the demon of untouchability from time to time even in the areas of its weakest linkage. After the establishment of Ranjit Singh’s rule and more so after the British conquest of Punjab the Sikhs became easy prey (or conversely speaking, the ‘high-caste’ Sikhs themselves became hunting partners) to the hovering vulture of Brahmanism and its cardinal practice, the ‘untouchability’. The making of Punjabi society, a frontier society, for at least last three thousand years, has been a story of complex paradoxes though the elitist historiography of all hues has denied it its colourful multiplicity. If dalit saint poets as part of this tradition offer paradoxical response of devotion and dissent till the first quarter of the twentieth century, the next eight decades yield a rich harvest of Punjabi dalit literature with clear dalit consciousness. Indeed, the established and dominant literary and historiographical tradition is hardly aware of this rich array of dalit intellectual practice and even when it is known, it is not recognised. The first section of this brief article surveys Punjabi dalit writings while the second part looks at the historiographical practice from a dalit perspective.

The Punjabi dalit literary tradition begins with Bhai Jaita alias Jeevan Singh (c1655-1705) who was very close to Gurus’ household as he was the one who had carried the severed head of Guru Teg Bahdur from Delhi to Anandpur and in his late years composed a devotional epic ‘Sri Gur Katha’ around Guru Gobind Singh’s life somewhere around 1699-1700. Historical significance of this epic lies in the fact that Bhai Jaita provides an eyewitness account to a few centrally important events in the life of Guru Gobind Singh and Sikh history. That he was not just a poet but a thinking poet is attested from his composition when he says:
Jal bin jeevan hohe na kabhun,
Garab maih jeev kau gyan na hohe hain.
Jiv chintan bin cheet na hoye hain,
Ar chintan bin janam na koye hain.
Iv janani dharni chintan ki,
Chintan jeev kai chit ki loye hain.
Ar sab chintan dharan te hoye hain,
Ta kar dharni janani hoye hain.
(There can be no life without water and a human being cannot have knowledge while in mother’s womb. As there cannot be any knowledge without thinking, there can be no life without ‘thinking’. As this earth gives birth to all knowledge, thinking is the light of the living being. Since all thinking grows from the womb of Earth that is reason it is called the Mother.)

Our second dalit saint-poet Sadhu Wazir Singh (c1790-1859) attained the status of ‘Brahmgyani’ and prolifically composed philosophical and cultural poetry, both in Punjabi and Braj bhasha. A small part of his published poetry as selected by Shamsher Singh Ashok in ‘Siharfian Sadhu Wazir Singh kian’ is a window to a wide range of his knowledge, from religious and spiritual to social and political. He questions all religious establishments and argues for a non-dualistic approach to life. Since he was engaged in deep thinking and in giving creative expressions to his thoughts numerous disciples including poets joined his dera. All the five of his identified poet disciples including two young widows came from the high castes. One of them is veer Singh Sahgal while Nurang Devi turns out to be the first Punjabi poetess groomed under his tutorship. His assertion on going beyond the established religions is well captured in his 12th Siharfi where he says:
Kaaf- kade Koran di lod naahin, vekh pothian thothian paarde han.
Rehras namaz di khahash naahin, dharamsal masit nun saarde han.
Gang, Gaya Pryag nun tiyag keeta, gor marhi niyaz na chaarde han.
Hoye aap nirpakh Wazir Singha, pakhan dohan di khed nun taarde han.
(We don’t need Koran as we also tear the empty granths. There is no desire for Rehras (referring here to Guru Granth Sahib), as we burn temples and mosques. We have abandoned the Ganges, Gaya and Pryag as we also do not worship the Dead. As we have become non-sectarian O! Wazir Singh we keep a watch over the game both sides play.)

The next dalit intellectual writer Giani Ditt Singh (1852-1901) emerged as a poet, teacher, polemicist, journalist, orator and ardent Sikh missionary who turned out to be the pillar of the Singh Sabha movement. Ditt Singh’s scholarly talents came in handy for the Sikh movement. Lahore Singh Sabha floated a weekly newspaper, the Khalsa Akhbar in 1886. He assumed editorship of the paper in 1887 that he continued till his death in 1901. Meanwhile, he was also appointed as a professor of Punjabi at the Oriental College, Lahore. He wrote more than fifty books and pamphlets on wide-ranging subjects, from love-lore to Sikh traditions, from history to ethics, from heroes to charlatans as he also produced polemics. Even being a leader in the limelight he could not escape the overt and covert assault of untouchability from his fellow and follower Sikhs.

Our next dalit intellectual poet is Sadhu Daya Singh Arif (1894-1946) who came to master the Gurmukhi, Urdu, Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit scripts and languages with the help of several non-formal teachers who were stunned by his sharp intellect. Not only that he had studied Vedas, Puranas, Smritis, Granth Sahib and Quran during his teenage, he also had read wide range of secular literature and as also reached the stage of ‘Brahmgyani’ through meditation and contemplation like Sadhu Wazir Singh which is apparent from his assuming the title of ‘Arif’. His first poetical work ‘Fanah-dar-Makan’ was published when he just turned 20. This was written in sadh bhasha and emphasised the quintessential element of mortality in human existence. Due to somewhat difficult language and style of composition he was advised by Baba Sawan Das, his Sanskrit teacher, to revise it and write in simple language. He was bursting with so much of creative energy that he altogether produced another kissa entitled ‘Fanah da Makan’, first published in 1915, which became very popular throughout the Punjab while a household reading in his own region of Malwa as it was sold in several hundred-thousand copies. The work which made Daya Singh a household name through the width and breadth of the Punjab was Zindagi Bilas which was completed on 23rd August 1916. It is in this work where his vast religious, spiritual and secular knowledge is manifest. Following the ancient wisdom that average human life is of 100 years, Daya Singh composed lyrical poems on each year. Overall it is a touching didactic poetry that caught masses’ imagination which became the most published, read or heard poetic creation next only to Waris Shah’s ‘Heer’.

Daya Singh comes to the theme of prevailing communal division again and again. Listen! What he says in his discourse on 56th Year in ‘Zindagi Bilas’:
Unity I see all around, wherever my eyes rove
Superior claims of faith, Hindus and Muslims fight over
Mere jugglery of words, Essence of Ram and Rahim the same
Of Castist belief untouchability born, both made of the soil same
Children of same parents, if they just see Origins
Forsaking God, they worship false objects, get astray into aimlessness
Give up evils for salvation, devils you remain sans praxis
Daya Singh has left partisanship, in every sector, every deed

Daya Singh was aware of all the competing revivalist tendencies and religious polemical wars around the turn of century as he says in the ‘Fanah da Makan’:
Varnas and religions all, exclusive claims of purity
Hindus with Har Narayan, hold their principles True
Pastors and Dayanandi Aryas pronounce, no deliverance without them
Exclusive rights in Heaven say Muslims, no place for Hindus there
God has no enmity with Hindus, keeps no exclusive place for Muslims
Fight they all over religion, without knowing the Unknown
Filthy n empty sans good deeds, paupers they are, without a penny
Daya Singh false claims the world may make; no recognition without actions

He holds Brahminical ritualism with same contempt as did bhagats and Sufis. He is deadly against idol worship. The Islamic influence on his mind is quite obvious as he has used 18 aayets in his 3 kissas. Similarly, Sufi influence is manifest in his insistence on murshid, guru without whom the seeker cannot reach the Divine. The concept of ishq is present at several places in Daya Singh’s works. Towards the close of ‘Zindagi Bilas’ in ‘Uttam Updesh # 39’ he says:
Creator is happy loving his Creation, be happy in the service of that creation
No knowledge without guru, beseech murshid for the purpose
Death is premium for lovers’ union, emboldened you be like true lover
Be reformed thoroughly before counselling others with confidence
Elated be not with worldly joys, be soaked in ishq’s spring
Reads He your heart’s letters, send your sweetheart an urgent telegram

The importance of Sadhu Daya Singh is manifold. First and foremost, he is the first Dalit Punjabi poet to attain the widest possible popularity, the kind of popularity enjoyed by Waris Shah, in the undivided Punjab. Secondly, he reinforces what was moral and what was ethical when it was desired most. Thirdly, Daya Singh’s poetry is free from any kind of sectarianism and is thoroughly secular in the prevailing communal environment. His concern and message was universal in content; it is libertarian rather than restraining. Lastly, Daya Singh not only produces good poetry but emerges as an intellectual of his age. Through the study of scriptures and traditions of major religions of the land, he arrives at his own understanding of human existence that he corroborates from his practical life and keen observation. He lays great stress on practice than theory, on deeds than the scriptural knowledge. Here his background of labouring class provides him insights.

The rise of Ad Dharm movement in Punjab in the 1920s unleashed the most virulent opposition to caste under the leadership of the Gadharite Babu Mangoo Ram Mugowalia. The autonomous movement drew inspiration from the Dalit poet-saints Ravidass, Kabir, and Namdev and assailed the brahmanical structures of social inequality and domination. The Ad Dharm movement aimed at securing a distinct identity for the Dalits, independent of both the Hindu and Sikh religions. In addition to political mobilization, the Ad Dharm movement brought about cultural transformation in the lives of Untouchables in Punjab by its emphasis on moral principles for bringing a sense of self-respect among them. It also attempted to forge unity among the different Untouchable castes by bringing them under one banner of Ad Dharm emphasising they were the original inhabitants of the region. Two weekly newspapers played a significant role in raising Dalit consciousness in Punjab: Adi Danka in the 1930s and Ujala in the early 1950s. Gurdas Ram Aalam and Chanan Lal Manak set the trend of radical Dalit poetry in Punjab via Adi Danka’s prestigious columns.

Gurdas Ram Aalam (1912-1989), who was born in a poor Dalit family of Bundala village in Jallandhar district, happens to be the first Punjabi poet with dalit consciousness. Aalam was not able to go to school and learnt basic Gurmukhi letters from his friends. Even though illiterate, Aalam emerged as one of popular folk-poets of stage before the Partition. All the four books of his poems were full of social and economic issues of the deprived and oppressed caste-communities. On political and social issues, Aalam wrote like a revolutionary. No wonder, even Pash (who has become symbol of Punjabi revolutionary poetry) considered Aalam the first revolutionary poet of Punjab.

Hazara Singh Mushtaq (1917-1981) was different from his predecessor dalit poets. He was an ardent nationalist, flag-bearer of Indian National Congress and was also jailed a few times during the late-colonial rule for his nationalism. Of his seven books published, Kissa Mazhbi Sikh Jodha (1955) directly reflected his dalit concerns. Though he does not chide ‘Independence’ in the context of the poor dalits like Aalam, he expresses his disillusionment with the post-Independence developments, brings in socialist ideology to disparage the social and economic disparities, and calls the dalits for a revolutionary rise in his 1977 Noori Gazal.

The revolutionary rise that Punjab witnessed in the form of Naxalism in the late 1960s produced two dalit poets with revolutionary as well as dalit consciousness. These were Sant Ram Udasi (1939-1986) and Lal Singh Dil (1943-2007). Sant Ram Udasi was born in a dalit Mazhbi Sikh landless labour family. He grew up with a strong dalit consciousness and had tried to see dignity in Sikh religion, but soon he experienced that caste discrimination and untouchability had struck deep roots in the Sikh religion. During 1970s he emerged as one of the powerful radical poets and published three books of poetry, viz. Lahu Bhije Bol (Blood-soaked Word), Saintan (Gestures) and Chounukrian (the Four-edged). He was arrested, jailed and tortured for his Naxal connections. The tortures to him were far more severe than were meted out to the high-caste Jatt Naxals only because he happened to be a dalit. Another dalit Naxalite poet Lal Singh Dil was born in a Ramdasia Sikh (Chamar) family in 1943. He was training to be a basic school teacher when Naxalbari sucked him in. In the dream of a society free of caste and class, Dil saw a new dawn for the oppressed. He was arrested, incarcerated and tortured, more tortured because he was a dalit, while his tormentors belonged to the dominant high castes. Dil was a sensitive poet and his poetry was true to life and the experience of poverty, injustice and oppression was so real and told so well that he was hailed as the bard of the Naxalite movement in Punjab. A great poet he was undoubtedly, and his collection of poetry Satluj di Hava (1971), Bahut Saare Suraj (1982), and Sathar (1997) as well as his autobiography Dastaan (1998) enjoy an exalted place in Punjabi letters. It is remarkable that Dil’s Dalit consciousness and identity was free from feelings of hatred, vengeance and malice. Though he remained and died a faqir, Dil has come to be acknowledged as the one of the few best Punjabi poets of last half a century.

The two powerful revolutionary dalit poets were an upsurge on the Punjabi literary stage which had remained dominated by the upper-caste, upper-class litterateurs and they became a major source for the bursting of dalit literary energy in 1990s. If their poetry was looking for a revolutionary class change, it had the vivacity of dalit identity which was capable of challenging the hegemonic discourses. Sukhdev Singh Sirsa puts this change in perspective:
The question of dalit identity has given a new ideological context to the contemporary Punjabi literature. The new Punjabi poetry has given a new expression to the dalit concerns of existential and social identity. This new perspective disentangles itself from the class-conflict approach to the understanding of dalit identity in the varna system and looks at the changing dalit philosophy. Hence, this poetry does not only reject the established assumptions and hypotheses but also produces an alternative. (“Dalit Punjabi Kavita: Itihasak Paripekh” in Hashia, I, 1(Jan-March 1908), p. 27 (my translation)

Contemporary poets include Balbir Madhopuri, Siri Ram Arsh, Sulakhan Mit, Gurmeet Kalarmajri, Madan Vira, Manjit Kadar, Bhagwan Dhilon, Buta Singh Ashant, Manmohan, Mohan Tyagi, Mohan Matialvi, Jaipal, Iqbal Gharu, Harnek Kaler, Sadhu Singh Shudrak. They are assertive about their dalit identity as dalit political assertion in the past few decades has empowered them to re-read historical traditions and situate themselves by providing a pride of space in the otherwise historical trajectory denied to them. This is obvious from the following lines of two contemporary dalit poets.

Manmohan in ‘Agaz’ raises his voice:
It is said to me
The colour of your poem is black
Flat features
Tattered dress
Full of patches
Asymmetrical rhythm….
Sorrow appears before pleasure does
Pains peaks before peace….
Tell me now
If i don’t write poems like this
What should i do?

Listen what Balbir Madhopuri has to offer in his ‘Bhakhda Patal’ (Smouldering Netherworld):
For smoked skinned people like me
I do want
My poems
Should be part of that anthology
That contains
Stories of Eklavaya and Banda Bahadur
Struggle of Pir Buddhu Shah
Sensitivity of Pablo Neruda

The Punjabi short story had remained a story of the dominant Jatts or the urban elite for long time, although stray empathetic notes could be seen in the second generation of story-writers in the 1950s-60s. It is only in the 1970s with Attarjit’s ‘Bathlu Chamiar’ that Punjabi short-story weaves a complete dalit character from dalit perspective. His collections of story ‘Maas-khore’, ‘Tutde bannde Rishte’, ‘Adna Insan’, and ‘Anni Theh’ construct the assertive dalit consciousness. Similarly if Prem Gorkhi and Bhura Singh Kaler bring vitality to the dalit short story, Lal Singh and Nachhatar’s stories give a distinct personality to dalits. During the 1980s and 90s dalit story consolidates itself with Makhan Maan, Bhagwant Rasulpuri, Ajmer Sidhu, Des Raj Kali, Jinder, Gurmit Kadialavi, Sarup Sialvi, Gulzar Muhammad Goria and Mohan Philoria who declare themselves as dalits with pride and élan as they are inspired by Ambedkar’s ideology.

The Punjabi novel was the product of the early twentieth century and its nature was religious in context and content. It is only after independence that its scope gets widened. From Gurdial Singh’s dalit character Jagsir who is still seen in the dominant-subordination landed relations, the novel enters into different terrain of dalit consciousness. Gurcharan Singh Rao’s ‘Mashalchi’ (1986), Karnail Singh Nijhar’s ‘Sarghi da Tara’, Surjit Sokhi’s ‘Aurat te Aurat’ (1983), Karamjit Singh Aujhla’s ‘Ooch Neech’ (2000), Nachhatar’s ‘Buddhi Sadi da Manukh’(1988) and ‘Nikke Nikke Asman’ (2004), Gurmel Madahad’s ‘Dulla’ and Des Raj Kali’s ‘Parneshwari’ (2007) have chartered a speedy journey of producing the fulsome dalit novels. Gurcharan Rao’s Mashalchi holds untouchability practiced by high castes responsible for educational backwardness of dalits. Nachhatar’s weaves a progressive story of dalit march onward as compared to some of the jatts who sometimes come to them to borrow money. Even on the question of sexuality one finds role reversals where girls from upper castes fall in love with dalit boys especially the educated ones. Madahad’s protagonist in ‘Dulla’ is a dalit woman Tej who does not consider herself less than any man. Not only that she adds to the meagre family income but by igniting the dead body of her mother to cremation, otherwise prohibited to women by social practice, she raises the status of women in general. Tej emerges as a courageous, strong and intelligent woman who shows independence of character. She is conscious of good living, struggle to progress in life and does not succumb to anybody. In Parneshwari, Des Raj Kali looks deep into the Dalit past, seeking to lend them an identity when the contemporary social realities fail to respond to their aspirations. His work is rooted in Punjab’s legacy of Sufism and Buddhism and challenges the cultural hegemonies of Sikh religion. The novelist creates his own style of writing and one needs to discard the old practises of reading Punjabi literature when one reads Kali.

One important genre used by dalit writers that becomes an explicit expression of dalit consciousness is autobiographical writing. It authenticates the real world of exclusionary orders and practices; of social ostracism, caste discriminations, economic and sexual exploitation, and political subordination; of wants, miseries, insults, humiliations but also the world of dalit dreams, aspirations, struggles, sacrifices and rise. Understandably, the dalit autobiographies appeared late on the Punjabi literary horizon. The first such work happens to by Pandit Bakshi Ram’s Mera Jeevan Sangharash [My life Struggle], hardly known and referred to as it was not published by any established publisher but by Punjab Pradesh Balmik Sabha, Jalandhar, a caste-community organization, in 1983 and Balmiks happened to be the lowest of the low, mainly working as scavengers in the towns and cities. Lal Singh Dil’s Dastan is a poignant account almost poetic (essentially being a poet, his prose in Dastan reads like a poem) of his life as a dalit, as a revolutionary, as a person on the margins of every facet of life. He goes into those issues of everyday life where he felt humiliated, neglected, ignored, despised, dismissed and tortured as he also records those who befriended, encouraged, stood by, helped and consoled. Balbir Madhopuri’s autobiography Chhangia Rukh (The Lopped Tree) appeared in 2003 and stirred the Punjabi literary world by baring the real rural social life the way it was not done before. It is a powerful portrayal of dalit life-world. Equally important is the 2007 autobiography by another dalit writer Gurnam Aqida called Kakh Kande: Nij ton Haqiqat Val [Blades of Grass and Thistles: from Self towards Reality]. Said in a novel stylistic prose it is a poignant account of rural-urban continuum as far as the dalits’ position is concerned. It challenges the dominant strains and takes dalits’ story forward in a progression. He looks at the changing times with a positive glare where a silent ‘revolution’ seems to be taking place with the dalits’ movement from villages and getting free from the upper-caste’s day-to-day exploitation and oppression. His account hints at the steady rise of dalit consciousness and assertion. Being an upright and honest journalist he had to face the caste prejudice and attacks where he came to be considered as a kanda (Hindi kanta-thistle) by his corrupt superiors and jealous colleagues. The autobiography of Attarjit adds another dimension to the dalit life-world of Punjab where dalits match the dominant jatt community on the question of self-respect even engaging them in fights including murders. It was known in the surrounding villages that people should be careful confronting dalits of Attarjit’s village especially his own family. Thus, the dalits have come a long way.

The essay had begun with a comment on state of literary histories that how the elitist approaches in history writing have systematically excluded dalit writers only because of their caste and social marginalisation. We have seen above a rich heritage of Punjabi dalit writings, the vitality of dalit creativity and the best informed in Punjabi literary circles and historians are either just ignorant of these fascinating figures or they feign ignorance. Even when one can understand ignorance about writings of Bhai Jaita and Sadhu Wazir Singh as they came to light only in the last three decades how one makes a sense of this neglect when one talks of Daya Singh Arif’s poetry which ruled the Punjabi minds for a century? This section would take account of writings on histories of Punjabi literature even while focussing on Daya Singh’s case.

The first ‘path-breaking’ ‘A History of Punjabi Literature’ in English was written by Dr Mohan Singh Dewana in 1932. Dr Dewana was a sound scholar with facility in Gurmukhi, Urdu, Persian, Hindi and English languages besides being a creative writer. Sadhu Daya Singh was Dr Dewana’s contemporary and by the time the latter wrote his history the former had made a mark as one of the most popular poets of his times. It is unlikely that Dewana would be ignorant of Daya Singh’s work, and yet he does not mention his name even in his chart of minor poets of the British period. One can give him the benefit of doubt in his first edition. But omitting Daya Singh in the second edition of his history published in 1956 is not easy to understand. Here, Tejwant Singh Gill’s observation seems to be apt about “his haughty temperament that led him to deal arrogantly with his contemporaries.” (“Studying Punjabi literature of the Past” in Muse India (e-journal), http://www.museindia.com/showcont.asp?id=67) In the case of Daya Singh, Gill’s further assessment of Dewana appears to be problematic when he continues: “So much so, while dealing with the modern period, he had the audacity to ignore them altogether, and mention only those who wrote in the commonplace idiom and did not have claim to literary achievement worth the name.” One does not know whom he has in mind when he talks about Dewana’s ‘ignoring them altogether’ because Dewana talks very highly of Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957), Dhani Ram Chatrik (1876-1954) and Puran Singh (1881-1931) and celebrates them as ‘three pioneer Lyricists-Intellectualists’. He surely accommodates several such who to Gill ‘did not have claim to literary achievement worth the name’. Daya Singh could surely be counted among ‘those who wrote in the commonplace idiom’, and yet he does not even get mentioned in Dewana’s list where only writers’ names and their works are given.

Dr Mohan Singh Dewana was a pioneer, the trend-setter in the historiography of Punjabi literature. While he wrote in English, the English the English would write, those following him in this respect and writing in Punjabi followed him literally as a revered authority. If Dewana included or excluded someone in/from the history, his successors would not do otherwise. This is remarkable for the culture of history writing in Punjab. After a decade of Dewana epitome, Gopal Singh came up with ‘Punjabi Sahit da Itihas’ in 1942, Surinder Singh produced the same title in 1950, Piara Singh Bhogal wrote ‘Punjabi Kavita de Sau Saal (from 1850 to 1954)’ in 1955, Heera Singh Dard came up with the tried out title ‘Punjabi Sahit da Itihas’ in 1976 while Jeet Singh Seetal produced ‘Punjabi Sahit da Alochnatmak Itihas’ in 1979, to count only the major ones. And host of scholars of Punjabi literature paid their attention to the developments in the history of Punjabi literature. Most of them have followed the Master of the genre and have not bothered to look at poor Daya Singh in their histories. Tejwant Gill says that they “were so overawed by his scholarship that they did not acquire confidence to gaze critically at the nomenclature, methodology, explication and evaluation provided by him.” Selection, of course, is a necessary methodological device and also a prerogative of the author that could also be called ‘subjectivity’ which incidentally is in abundance in literature. Dr Dewana quotes Andrew Lang of ‘History of English Literature’ in the first edition of his history:
The writer would indeed have willingly omitted not a few of the minor authors in pure literature, and devoted his space only to the masters. But each of these springs from an underwood, as it were, of thought and effort of men less conscious whom it were ungrateful and is practically impossible to pass by in silence. (History, 1956, p. V)

Dewana adds to what Lang was saying: “The reader has his orthodoxies and heresies; so has the writer and it will be much good if both recognize…” Surely, Dr Dewana had right to his ‘orthodoxies’. But if he was pitching in Lang as an authority on history of literature one would expect him to follow the master of the game in spirit if not in details. Even if Daya Singh was a ‘minor’ poet in Dr Dewana’s eyes, which he was not as highlighted above, Daya Singh certainly wielded capacity to ‘spring from an underwood of thought’ not to be bypassed ‘in silence’. Yet Daya Singh was indeed silenced as if popular lips who sang him in bazaars and in the fields were being stitched together.

It is in 1971 that Kirpal Singh Kasel in the 2nd volume of his ‘Punjabi Sahit da Itihas’ takes some note of our neglected poet. At least he writes 3 lines about Sadhu Daya Singh. The historian admits that Daya Singh wrote so well that he has been very popular among common people. But even in these 3 lines Kasel errs on the titles of both the works that he cites. He writes ‘Jindagi Bilas’ as ‘Jindagi Vilas’, a minor error, and ‘Fanah da Makan’ as ‘Fanah da Muqam’.

Dr Diwana’s exclusion is carried through decades to an authoritative work of historiography of Punjabi literature produced by Sahitya Akademi in 1992. Sant Singh Sekhon and Kartar Singh Duggal like Dewana do not mention Daya Singh even as a minor poet in their ‘A History of Punjabi Literature’ although in the interregnum a well-researched monograph on the poet had appeared in two prints (Atam Hamrahi’s Sadhu Daya Singh Arif was published by the Publication Bureau of Punjabi University, Patiala in 1970. The book was out of print in the late-1980s; hence a second print was brought out in 1990).

There should be no doubt that Sant Singh Sekhon was a towering Marxist figure of Punjabi literature. In the last phase of his life, he also turned to writing history of Punjabi literature. There is a gap of nearly 60 years between Dewana’s and Sekhon’s histories. Much water had flown in the river of Punjabi literature in the interregnum. Sekhon in his 2nd volume of ‘A History of Punjabi Literature’ (1996) shows no less generosity than Kasel had done in 1971, a gap of 25 years towards our poet under discussion. It is another matter that he seems to have just picked up from Kasel and commits the same errors in the titles of two works of Daya Singh. It is surely an improvement on the 1992 volume jointly edited with Duggal produced by a national body on Indian literatures, viz Sahitya Academy. A slightly better space is given to Daya Singh in the most recent work in this trail of histories on Punjabi literature since the appearance of Dewana’s path-breaking work. Rajinder Pal Singh in his ‘Adhunik Punjabi Kavita da Itihas’ (2006) (which is 8th volume in the ‘series of History of Punjabi Literature’ brought out by Punjabi Sahit Akadmi, Delhi) gives 8 lines information on Daya Singh. It is a remarkable correction over the earlier histories in the sense that he gives full name of the poet, viz. Sadhu Daya Singh Arif and that also with correct dates of his birth and death and also with correct titles of all his works including ‘Sputtar Bilas’.

This in short, is the history of ‘coverage’ of Sadhu Daya Singh and his works in the 70 years of historiography of Punjabi literature. Indeed, it is a history of selective ‘silence’, of neglect and above all of exclusion. Not that Daya Singh’s contemporary ‘minor’ poets and writers get the similar treatment at the hands of historians. In the first place, Daya Singh is not a minor poet as discussed in this paper. He is one of the most popular poets of the first half of the twentieth century. But obviously he gets shadowed by the much lionised and valorised trio of Bhai Vir Singh, Puran Singh, and Dhani Ram Chatrik. Undoubtedly the three were towering literary figures, and are held at high pedestal not without foundation. But all of them also happened to be very rich as also they hailed from ‘upper castes’. On the other hand, Sadhu Daya Singh was born in an ‘untouchable’ poor family of labourers where social stigma and heaps of insults in daily life were surely detrimental to any comfortable creative activity. Being born a Dalit was a sufficient reason to be excluded from the charmed circle of high-caste writers. And surely, this treatment was not only ‘reserved’ for Daya Singh alone. Another popular Dalit poet chronologically following him has also been treated in the same cavalry fashion, in this respect without discrimination. Gurdas Ram Aalam was born in a poor Dalit family of Bundala village in Jallandhar district. Even though illiterate, Aalam had emerged as one of popular folk-poets of the stage before the Partition. He used to share the stage with the better known names in the Punjabi literary circles, viz. Kartar Singh Ballagan, Vidhata Singh Teer, Nandlal Nurpuri and Dhani Ram Chatrik. Unlike Daya Singh who focussed on moral and spiritual crises confronting the universal man, Aalam clearly grew up with Dalit consciousness and composed his poems and lyrics on the working people. All the four books of his poetry were full of social and economic issues of the deprived and oppressed caste-communities. He wrote with commitment and convictions and publicly presented his poetry powerfully on stage. On political and social issues, Aalam wrote like a revolutionary. Such a widely known, popular poet like Daya Singh was also written off from the pages of histories. There must be social structural and psychological reasons for their exclusion. An attempt needs be made to unravel the sources of such silences, neglects and exclusions.

First published in

    Beyond Borders: the SAARC Journal

, Vol. 6, No. 1-2 (2010)

Raj Kumar Hans

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