Many people think about Pakistani poet and singer, Anwar Masood as a very humorous poet and I must admit the first poem of his I heard, “Lassi te Cha,” I initially thought was really funny, but he so skillfully weaved the poem to be about very deep and dark societal issues of caste and privilege.
This is my very first poetry book that covers a range of subjects and topics I have written poems and sung about for many decades. I have made this available for free download in Gurmukhi, Shahmukhi, and Hindi script.
Waris Shah's Heer is a tragic love story. Listen and download my interpretation of a very poignant moment in the doomed love story of Heer-Ranjha, when Ranjha makes the difficult decision to leave his ancestral home in Takhat Hazara.
As many of you know, November 2010 was designated Sikh Awareness Month. I wrote and sang "Pag Di Saanjh: A Tribute to the Sikh Turban" as an homage to the rich and colorful history of what a turban represents to a Sikh. This has English subtitles.
A slideshow with English translation in response to Noor Jahan’s beautiful rendition of the popular Pakistani war song “Eh Puttar Hattan te Nahi Wikde” meaning “Our sons cannot be bought in the marketplace.” If sons cannot be bought at the marketplace, what is being implied about daughters?
I wrote Umber Di Shehzadi - Princess of the Skies, a poem about space colonization, 41 years ago. It is a poem about the Earth and Moon personified as sisters, who have had a falling out because of a man. That man has now arrived at the Moon's doorstep. This a slideshow set to images and my voice, with English subtitles for all to enjoy.
I originally wrote and sang this poem when Obama was still in the Primaries. I was drawn to the idea that a change in thought, in politics, in the world, a light when all around us is darkness, is possible.
It always pleases me when I see organizations like SALDEF (Sikh American Legal Fund) stepping up to actively educate people about the the Sikh turban. It seems like it’s an ongoing series of battles, even though we have been living here in America for over a century!
Caused primarily by ignorance and misunderstanding, several community activists and Sikh American organizations are actively engaged to overcome this bias by spreading awareness and educate our fellow American brothers and sisters. They are working with the legislators, educators and other community leaders and organizations. Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, SALDEF has launched a historic new media initiative on behalf of Sikh Americans, with first ever PSA (Public Service Announcement) by a Sikh American – Waris Ahluwalia, an actor, writer, and designer. Please take a moment to view it above and you can read more about the initiative HERE
Under different circumstances and in a different land, the Sikh turban has a long history representing a revolutionary voice against oppression, ever since Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion donned it the first time more than 500 years ago. Below is a video slide show of my Punjabi poem “ਪੱਗ ਦੀ ਸਾਂਝ,” (Pag di Saanjh with English subtitles): a Tribute to the Sikh Turban that I sang to add to this dialogue and hopefully instill pride, respect, and understanding in its history and all it represents.
The importance of not only educating others, but educating ourselves on the history of the Sikh turban and contextualizing it is especially important today when it has become almost a standard part of a Sikh boy’s educational experience to be called “Osama,” or “terrorist,” simply because people don’t know who the Sikhs are or what the turban represents.
Sikhs have been in the United States for over a century. It’s about time our fellow Americans knew!
Recently, my grandson was featured on Huffington Post’s article: 15 Reasons Why You Should Celebrate Father’s Day With A Book (he is number 15!) and it was wonderful to see so many dads and grandfathers actively reading. There is a social media movement called #DadsRead (Read about it HERE) that encourages all Dads to read to their children and grandfathers too. It occurred to me that there isn’t much written in Punjabi about this topic. So I have written this blog post in Punjabi, dedicated especially to fathers and grandfathers of Punjab.
On Friday and Saturday, I celebrated International Women’s Day locally in Madera California with the American Association of University Women (AAUW), where I was kindly invited to introduce my poem, “Dhean,” or “Daughters.” Both events were organized by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which has been empowering women since 1881! It was a matter of great privilege for me to have been invited for both these occasions. The Galloway Hall at the Madera Public library and the conference room at the Methodist church were filled by women and children of all ages. There were 17 other speakers, along with some wonderful children’s dance groups.
AAUW Galloway Room Library Picture
Standing with some of the members of AAUW Madera, including the President
I was the only male speaker present and it was humbling to hear the very personal stories other speakers shared. Ileana Herera shared her story of suffering domestic violence and overcoming it. She was married and pregnant at 18. She endured beatings during her pregnancy by her husband, and is now a survivor, bravely sharing her experience to educate and give hope to victims of domestic violence. Offering her advice she said,” if you don’t do anything, your hope is false. You can’t rely on someone changing their ways. You must act.”
There are many areas that need improvement, but there is also much to celebrate of the progress made in women’s rights. But it was not always like this. Women’s rights groups have been pivotal in the strides made, and should be commended for this.
In Western countries, when we think of inequality of human rights, gender based violence or the most horrific acts of violence against women around the world, such as acid attacks, female genital mutilation, sex slavery, child marriage, honor killings, feticide, to name a few, we tend to assume these are things that only happen in “Third World” countries, far away from us, or places that don’t have democratic governments or are ruled by religious zealots. But the reality is that it happens everywhere, including right here in the United States. Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Former Secretary of State called gender-based violence “an issue of international human rights and national security.”
Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion understood it as no easy task to change people’s age old mindset. He declared it in no uncertain terms 500 years ago in the poetic verse from the Guru Granth Sahib – the Sikh Holy Scripture, on page 473: “ਭੰਡਿ ਜੰਮੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਨਿੰਮੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਮੰਗਣ ਵੀਅਹੁ ॥ ਭੰਡਹੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਦੋਸਤੀ ਭੰਡਹੁ ਚਲੈ ਰਾਹੁ ॥ ਭੰਡੁ ਮੁਆ ਭੰਡੁ ਭਾਲੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਬੰਧਾਨ ॥ ਸੋ ਕਿਉਂ ਮੰਦਾ ਆਖੀਐ ਜਿਤੁ ਜੰਮਹਿ ਰਾਜਾਨ ॥
This roughly translates in English to: “She is the one to whom we are born. In her womb develops life. She is the one who makes friendships, becomes a lover, a wife and a partner in procreation and it is through her we make relations with others. It is from the woman the creation goes round. If someone loses his wife he looks for another one. After all she is the one who gave birth to the bravest of the brave and king of kings. So don’t say she is a lesser person than a man.”
When I first wrote my poem, I imagined a very small number of people would be interested in it, not just because it was written in Punjabi, but because the subject matter is one that is not often addressed: daughters. My son, Navdeep, convinced me to write an English translation, and soon after that we created a moving image slideshow set to my voice, which we uploaded to youtube. It was wonderful to be able to share this particular poem with the AAUW.
I wrote this poem as a father, brother, husband and as a grandfather. Although I completed the poem recently when the news of feticide and dowry related violence started to get worse in India, I had been thinking about it for some time. I had first listened to the famous singer Noor Jahan’s rendition of a Punjabi song a while ago.
Here is the original video by Noor Jehan:
Starting with the lyrics, “Eh Puttar Hattan te Nahi Wikde, Aven na Takkran Mar Kure” roughly translated in English, meaning: “our sons cannot be bought in the market place, they are a gift from god.” How so very much I loved the tune and the very melodious voice of Noor Jehan, the lopsided message of what was left unsung in this song always irked me. If sons cannot be bought at the marketplace, what is being implied about daughters? Are they not a gift from god? Are they expendable or replaceable? Praising only sons, I thought the lyrics of this song knowingly or unwittingly further reinforce the age old stereotype. Read the full Kavita di Kahani (Story behind the poem).
Through this poem, I wanted to tell that, daughters are an equally a precious blessing.
I wanted to draw attention to the frightening statistics of feticide as well as to the curse of dowry in India.
I also wanted to make this poem stand out as a tribute to ‘daughters of the world’ and make it accessible to those who do not speak Punjabi by adding English sub-titles.
But more importantly, I wanted to slowly make people think and change the age old mindset.
If you like this poem, please share this post with others, and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, or on my Facebook fan page.
Mosque inside the compounds of the Historical Sultanpur Lodhi Fort
I have just returned from a wonderful visit to India, and as usual I spent most of my time in Punjab visiting family and friends, with a day or two in Delhi. The main reason for my visit this time was to attend my nephew’s wedding in Gurdaspur, and then there was a very interesting Parvassi Samelan in Punjab during this month.
Since my time is very limited, I don’t usually venture outside what is familiar. Aside from visiting various historical Gurduaras in Punjab and of course Jallianwallah Bagh in Amritsar, I wasn’t even aware of historical places in Punjab, and even less of a movement to preserve it. I was delighted to have been invited to visit the Sultanpur Lodhi Fort, apparently built in 1 A.D. I am not a scholar or academic with any in-depth knowledge about the history, but it is a place that I am glad some people are taking the initiative to preserve before it is bulldozed to the ground and a mall comes in its place in the name of “progress.”
Bhai Baldeep Singh invited me to visit this historic place for a deeply moving experience. He is the chairman and Founder at the Anad Foundation, which aims to preserve the history and also the artistic culture of that history, especially Punjab’s musical traditions, like the dying art of the Rabab, and artistic traditions like calligraphy. He is also a very talented musician. To find more details of the history of the fort, check out this link and definitely check out the Anad Foundation.
At first, I thought my ignorance that this historic fort even exists was because I live thousands of miles from Punjab, but many of my relatives or friends in Punjab, who lived in the vicinity of it,didn’t know of its existence or significance either. So there is certainly something else going on and the major reason is that Sultanpur Lodhi is not being treated with respect as it deserves as a place of historical significance for Indians, Punjabis, and especially an important part of Sikh history. A similar effort one hears is underway to preserve historic sites in other places in India, so I fully encourage this to take place in the Punjab.
The audience in attendance of the seminar Bhai Baldeep Singh invited me to were calligraphers, painters of Gurbani Ragas, poets, and those with an interest in preserving this important part of our history as Punjabis and Indians, but especially for those who are Sikh. I felt greatly honored to be amongst them and found the entire event utterly engaging and thought provoking.
My son-in-law’s family live in Kapurthala next door to Sultanpur Lodhi, and they insisted I should come visit them first, and then they will take me to Sultanpur Lodhi. I quickly accepted the twin invitation. I never say no to kind hospitality, good food, and great conversation! The road from Chandigarh was in a thick fog and I almost felt like I was back in the Central Valley of California! The fog blanketed the roads and wouldn’t lift for the entire day, which really raised expectations of what this historic site would be like. Even back in California, I try not to drive anywhere when weather conditions aren’t good, but this was completely worth the hazardous road conditions, although I would strongly recommend waiting for the fog to lift before driving!
Just a few miles from Sultanpur Lodhi, I attended Khalsa College in Amritsar. My wife grew up just a few miles in the other direction in Tarn Taran, yet neither of us had ever stopped to see a treasure in the form of a historical place at Sultanpur Lodhi for all Indians, Punjabis, and especially Sikhs. Growing up in Bhakna a few miles away in the west, I heard stories from the Janam Sakhis of Guru Nanak Dev Ji returning from his meditative trance and declaring what would become the foundation of the Sikh religion and resonated with the ideology of the Ghadrites who really tried to put in practice: “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim,” a call to the end of discrimination and a fight for human rights, a fight that continues today.
One often worries and complains about the destroyed history due to ignorance as the marble has replaced our humble yet proud heritage up and down the country over the years. But what about the landmarks still standing by the mere stroke of luck or their sheer resilience and are in the state of complete neglect and encroachment only waiting to be replaced or come down on their own? One such monument of the greatest importance for the Sikhs is the Nawab’s fort at Sultanpur Lodhi! Many people believe that the mosque still standing within the compounds of this fort (Quila) is the same mosque where the Nawab Daulat Khan had invited Guru Nanak to participate in that much talked about namaz or Muslim prayer. Next to the mosque, there remains that ancient narrow brick lined well which is now covered by an iron grill.
All of the photographs you see in this blog post were taken by an incredibly gifted young Punjabi photographer, Anhad Khinda, my son-in-law’s nephew, and I am very happy he takes such care with this art form. Follow him on instagram @anhad_khinda. Below are some more images he took of Sultanpur Lodhi Fort and the last one is just outside it:
Part picture of Sultanpur Lodhi Fort taken from within compound walls
Sultanpur Lodhi Fort Main Entrance
Outside the Sultanpur Lodhi Fort is a ruin called HADERA which is believed to be once the place of rest for the queens on their way to royal gardens.
Have you visited Sultanpur Lodhi? Leave a comment and tell me about your experience.
A few years ago when I published my first collection of poetry, Diva Bale Samundron Paar, I also had the opportunity to work with some wonderful musicians and a recording studio in Chandigarh. On my upcoming trip to India, I am going to take some of my poems and collaborate with more traditional musicians, like tabla and dilruba players. I will post that on here when it is ready in February! In the meantime, check out both versions of my previous album – with musical accompaniment and without. Let me know what you think!
Awaaz te Parvaaz (a cappella – my voice only, without musical accompaniment)
As many of you know, I usually sing my poems a-cappella (without musical accompaniment). My son, Navdeep, helped to setup a recording studio in my home so that I can do more a-cappella recordings, which is more familiar and comfortable to me, but I am interested in experimenting!
Have a listen to my latest album and let me know what you think:
Welcome address by Col. Hardev Singh Gill – Gen. Sec. SCCC
The Sikh council of Central California celebrated Sikh Awareness month November ACR 25 (Wieckowski) dedicated to Guru Nanak Prakash Utsav at Kerman Unified School District, Kerman, California on November 16, 2013. The conversational type seminar was attended by Superintendents of Kerman and Selma Unified School District, Superintendent Fresno County Office of Education, State Superintend Office of Public Instruction, President Fresno City Council, Chairperson Fresno Council of Governments, Sikh Research Institute, Sikh Coalition and Jakara amongst others. The multi functional school hall was almost filled with School going children, parents and teachers and principals from various schools. The introductory speech given by me as the Sikh Council of Central California(SCCC) Coordinator Education and Awareness Program explaining the relevance of education and awareness month of November to Guru Nanak Prakash Utsav follows:
Me giving introduction re: relevance of Education & Awareness to GNPU
Good morning ladies and gentlemen!
We are celebrating some historic milestone achievements today. The Governor has signed the Curriculum Revision bill last year requiring public schools to teach about Sikhism in California. California law now shares with the Sikh American community the belief and necessity to ensure that California represents the diverse cultures of the world in our textbooks accurately. We at the SCCC strongly believe that is the only way to ensure California’s children may develop an appreciation and understanding of contributions made by groups integral to the rich fabric of California’ culture.
Also November has been signed into law as Sikh Awareness and Appreciation month since 2010. We couldn’t be more pleased and happier to dedicate this month of Assembly Concurrent Resolution, in short ACR 25 on education and awareness to GNPU, as we have been doing it for the past 3 years since 2010. On behalf of the Sikh Council of Central California, whose members have been working very hard along with other like minded organizations and activists to achieve all this, a warm welcome to all in attendance! We greatly value your presence and appreciate your priceless time to join us on this occasion.
The youngest attendee beneficiary trying to make sense of my written speech
November is an auspicious month for Indians of many faiths, including Hindus, Jains and particularly for Sikhs. The founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak, was born in November 1469. Being a great teacher and a keen learner himself, he compared knowledge with light and life and likened ignorance with darkness and death. He travelled extensively, with many stories of his travels compiled in the Janamsakhis. One of my favorite stories is a story illustrating that there is always room for wisdom. One of the places Guru Nanak travelled to was Multan, a city in west Punjab now in Pakistan. It was known for having a disproportionate number of ascetics and holy men, which is why the famous saying about Multan is so popular even today:
ਚਾਰ ਚੀਜ਼ੇਂ ਤੋਹਫ਼ਾ ਏ ਮੁਲਤਾਨ ਅਸਤ,
ਗਰਦ-ਓ-ਗਰਮਾ, ਗਦਾ, ਗੋਰਿਸਤਾਨ, ਅਸਤ| meaning There are four things Multan is known for: Dust, Heat, Ascetics and Graveyards.
When Guru Nanak visited Multan, the holy men felt threatened that he was encroaching upon their territory. They felt there were already enough Holy men in Multan and that they didn’t need any more, so they sent him a non-threatening message by offering him a bowl of milk filled up to its brim, without any room for more milk. Guru Nanak immediately understood the message and instead of feeling threatened, he sensed their concern. He didn’t drink from the bowl; instead he took a jasmine flower from his pocket and placed it on top of the milk. It floated onto the surface. He returned the milk to the Holy Men, who understood the message and respected the method of delivery. The message is still as apt today as it was back then: there is always room for more wisdom and having more information can only serve to make things more diverse and interesting. And that is how the curriculum revision, and education and awareness month November is relevant to Guru Nanak Prakash Utsav .
Another reason November is so important to Sikhs is also rooted in history. We celebrate Bandi Shodh Divas in November when in 1619, the sixth Guru Har Gobind Sahab was released from jail along with 52 other political prisoners who had been imprisoned by the Moughal Emperor Jehangir. We celebrate Guru HarGobind’s actions to the Sikh commitment towards human rights.
Interestingly and in the same vein the City Council and the Mayor of Astoria-Oregon, issued a अproclamation last month commemorating the centennial celebration of the Founding of the Ghadar party, when the Punjabi Sikh pioneers in the early 20th century, along with other fellow Indians working in the Columbia River Basin, met at the Finnish Socialist Hall in Astoria in 1913 and formed the Ghadar party. Thousands of its supporters living in America and Canada at that time returned to India and inspired the countrymen to fight for the independence from Britain which was achieved in 1947. The Astoria proclamation recognizes the Ghadrites, who fought and died not only for the freedom of their home country India, but also for the innate rights of the immigrant worker to lead a dignified and discrimination free life here in America. So this year 2013 was also the 100 year anniversary of this historic meeting which recognizes the universal right of sovereign nations to independence and self rule. The Astoria City Council and Mayor Willis Van Dusen organized a seminar for two days on 4-5 October last month that included panel discussion, film screening and walking tours and concluded with the dedication of a plaque installed in the name of the Ghadrites at the Columbia Riverside walk in a park situated right in front of the historic Finnish Socialist Hall site in Astoria, where the Ghadar party was born in 1913.
The spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s speech as reaffirmed in his famous Gettysburg Address of 1863 that inspired the modern world and the Ghadrites at that time said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These American ideals then inspired the Ghadrites who were predominantly Punjabi Sikhs, as these are not far removed from the Sikh ideals which incidentally, are the fundamentals of human rights anywhere in the world.
Brief history for the benefit of those who may not be familiar with these Assembly Concurrent Resolutions in short called (ACR’s): How did they come about?
In the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, those perceived to look like the enemy, included South Asians, Arabs, Muslims of all nationalities, with the brunt of the attacks placed on the Sikhs with turbans and beards. It has become a normal part of a Sikh boy’s school experience to be called “Osama,” or “terrorist,” along with other religious based bullying. Several Sikh men have been murdered or attacked in hate crimes, starting just a few days after September 11th, and continuing even today. California has signed the curriculum revision into law and proclaimed November Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month in a valiant effort to educate people about who the Sikhs are, and to introduce some of our core beliefs.
This year ACR 25 (Wieckowski) was authored and presented on the Assembly floor by Assembly member Bob Wieckowski from the Bay Area with Assembly member Dan Logue as its principal Coauthor. Our local Assembly members from the Central Valley Henry Perea, Jim Patterson, Frank Biglow and several other Assembly members supported the Resolution with powerful speeches on the Assembly floor and became its Coauthors when asked by the Speaker of the House. With a powerful support from the Senate Majority leader Ellen Corbett, it sailed through the senate the next day. So the ACR 25 was passed with a unanimous vote across the party lines as members from both parties became its Coauthors and strongly spoke in its support. It is worth mentioning here that the pre-runner of ACR 25 was also the Resolution passed by your own Sikh Council of Central California last year in its annual celebration of the Sikh Awareness Month November 2012 which was celebrated at the Lincoln High School in Selma.
Question now is how to take this law on to a next level:
While we greatly appreciate this initiative that the State of California has begun, an area of improvement is to create more of an impact through education in public schools and city administrations for the general public. The big question is:
1. Who should take the responsibility for implementation?
2. Most importantly, what more is expected from the community?
On the other hand, one of the strengths of these ACRs is that it is linked to the politics of post-9/11 America: notably the targeting of those who vaguely look like the enemy, and ironically none of the hijackers look like bearded or turbaned Sikhs, who are victims of hate crimes as a matter of routine.
Finally, awareness efforts through events such as this one in Kerman or last year in Selma and in Caruthers the year before, cannot in and of themselves change the continuing mindset and offset harm of designating its minorities as outside the American nation or as suspect or foreign, and thus dangerous. But it starts with a platform to be heard and for the conversation
to deepen and be ongoing, to educate not just others about who we are, but to educate ourselves, our children, and others. Whenever tragedy strikes, we often scramble to find ways of telling the world who we are not, rather than who we are. And that is a good place to start. And this is the best venue to meet.
On this note, I ask the first speaker to please take the floor and make the presentation.
The conversational type seminar including power point presentations lasted with a pin drop silence for almost three hours. Paraphrasing Fresno County Curriculum Advisor Dr. Catania, representing the Fresno County Office of Education, ” I am going back with a lot of valuable information from the enlightening presentations and I commend the SCCC for organizing such events.” Dr. Catania had attended a similar event organized by the SCCC last year at the Lincoln Elementary Middle School in Selma. If you are still reading this and are interested to read more, a full report of the event will be posted in due course with more pictures.
I am a Punjabi poet and singer in my 70s. My blog is about sharing the beauty of Punjabi poetry with the world. I sing about gender equality, environmental issues, loss of tradition. Read my book, listen to my music , and watch my music slideshows. While I have lived and worked all over the world, from Nigeria, Tanzania, the U.A.E., England, and America, Punjab and Punjabiat is at the core of my poetry Read More.