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.
I am sure as an Indian American, Pakistani or Bangla Deshi American, you participated some way in these celebrations on July 4. Since we were visiting our daughter’s family living here, all of us attended the celebration in downtown Morgan Hill. Stretching up to the mountains and beautifully tucked in, Morgan Hill is a small town located on both sides of Hwy 101, south of San Jose.
Nothing pleases human beings more than living in a free country and feeling free. It reminds me of Ghadarite (Founder- President) Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna’s words to Pt. Nehru, as the first Prime Minister of Independent India. When the Desh Bhagat delegation met him in Delhi and congratulated him, Baba Bhakna said something like this “ Pt. Ji you are talking about rejoicing the freedom of India; we are talking about the freedom of Indians”!
When a nation has raised itself to liberty and has finally broken through the shackles of subjugation and slavery, it calls for celebration. Liberty does not come without a price. Patriots have paid for liberty and freedom with their lives, with toil, blood, sweat and tears.
Touching upon the spirit and inspiration that ties them together in a unique relationship, let us briefly revisit The Declaration of American Independence on this day:
The Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, announced that the 13 American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, regard themselves as independent states and are no longer a part of the British Empire. Instead they now formed a new nation—the United States of America.
Abraham Lincoln many years later, not only reaffirmed this declaration in his famous Gettysburg Address of 1863, he made it the centerpiece of his policies. Since then, it has become a major statement on human rights, particularly its second sentence that became the spirit that inspired the modern world: “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.”
This was a declaration not too far removed from the ideals of the Ghadar Party fighting for the Independence of India considering, it was greatly motivated and driven by the American Independence. While we fully celebrate, appreciate and participate in the Independence Day celebrations of our adopted country America, I wish the Ghadrites had won the day in our home country India and had made a similar declaration in 1947 that said: “The war with Great Britain is over. Indian Provinces regard themselves as independent states and are no longer a part of the British Empire. Instead they now formed a new nation—the United States of India,” meaning there would be no Pakistan, Bangla Desh, Kashmir a disputed territory or the noise for Khalistan!
“May I know if you are doing your present job sincerely as a patriot”? “If your reply is ‘yes,’ I feel Motherland should be proud of you. But if not, you are letting down yourself and your motherland both. I call upon you to live like self-respecting, responsible citizens of a free country.”
JFK gave a similar message at his victory speech when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”.
John F Kennedy
This message is more relevant to the youth today than it was then in the times of JFK and Baba Bhakna before him, especially when this terrible debate is going to enrage and engage the Indian nation which is fuelled by the BBC documentary, “India’s Daughter” which covers the tragedy of 2012. It is a second national tragedy and disgrace which brought a great shame to the capital Delhi second only to the Sikh genocide of 1984 in modern times. One’s heart naturally goes to all the affected families.
With sincere condolences to Jyoti’s
Baba Bhakna 2nd from Right in shackles at Amritsar Railway Station
family, debating Delhi Rape Case, she is a victim for some and a dear Bitea (daughter) Jyoti – light and soul for mothers and fathers anywhere else for others. However painful for all families directly affected and how so shameful may be for the Indian nation to debate, it must be debated fully and openly to get at the bottom and the root cause of this retarded mindset. The debate must generate more light than heat. And the lessons learnt ought to go to the drawing board for the builder – architects of the nation as well as to the elementary school education system where it all begins.
Returning to Baba Bhakna’s message: In his sunset days and at his fag end, with a lot of persuasion by others, Baba Ji wrote a number of booklets namely, “Dukh” (Anguish), “Jeevan Kartav,” (Path of Duty), his autobiography, “Jeewan Sangram,” compiled by Prof. Malwinder Jeet Singh Waraich as well as “Meri Aap-Beeti” most recently compiled by Amarjit Chandan.
I knew Baba Ji very closely as a relative and a family member, a husband (His wife Mata Bishen Kaur was the elder sister of my grandfather Baba Jeon Singh of Jandiala – Lahore). I knew him as a farmer, an educationalist and an art lover who loved
Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna
educating children especially the girl child. He greatly influenced my life as I watched him walking the talk at the grass root level during my formative years. I attended the same elementary primary school which he attended 70 or so years ago and was still a primary school. I matriculated in 1956 from the Co-educational Janta High School Bhakna built by him on his own donated land in 1952 in that part of the border area of Wagah-Pakistan.
One of these days, I will also write about covering my share of Baba Ji’s life since I lived with him in Bhakna from the age of 7 to 21years old. I came to Bhakna after the partition in 1947 when my parents from my ancestral village of Jandiala now in Pakistan came and lived in Bhakna till 1961. I graduated from Khalsa College Amritsar in 1961 and left Bhakna to take up my first job as Horticultural Inspector at Pinjore Gardens. Meanwhile I take pleasure in sharing Prof. Malwinder Jeet Singh Waraich’s compiled book “Jeevan Sangram” with my online readers. On the request of Prem Kumar Chumber, chief editor weekly newspaper, “Desh Doaba, the book “Jeevan Sangram” written in Gurmukhi is being published in installments. Please read on:
Last Sunday, I watched the Punjabi stage drama,“ Komagata Maru Safar Jari Hai” at Sunnyside High School auditorium in Fresno. The Indo American Heritage Forum, one of the two similarly sounding organizations commemorating Ghadrites in Fresno had also invited the Progressive Art Association of Alberta, Canada. The auditorium designed to accommodate 500+ people was fully packed and in spite of the initial hick-ups, the play written and directed by Davinder Daman was received very well, where the audience fell silent at the appropriate moments, and all eyes were intently on the scenes unfolding on the stage.
The painful saga of the historic Komagata Maru is not new information for many of my readers, who are familiar with the history, in some capacity. But the rendering of this collective pain into works of art is a relatively new occurrence, and one I fully embrace (you should too!)
The Punjabi Art Association in Edmonton also performed a play using the Komagata as its main inspiration, written by Ajmer Rode and equally artfully directed by Jaspal Dhillon. The difficulty in creating novels or stage plays that are rooted in historical facts, is the delicate nature of balancing fact with art. The facts cannot be altered, and the sequence of events remains the same in both plays, and the dramatization in Davinder Daman’s play is rendered very interestingly. Daman’s use of powerful dialogues and the way he took the emotional intensity of a scene that may or may not have happened in quite the way it is depicted is truly remarkable. He created new scenes which skillfully strip bare the underlying conspiracy of powers to be as well as the human struggle of trying to overcome the high handedness of the authorities. It has all the characteristics of a tragedy that makes this not just a good piece of history, but also a good play.
Theatre has indeed added a new dimension thanks to some of these innovative Punjabi writers who have successfully revived this age old technique. Judging by the number of people who attended, the well written, directed and superbly played by wonderful actors had educated larger crowd than the number of people who would ever have read it in print.
Understanding ourselves and for our younger generation what really went on these American shores with our pioneer immigrants from the Indian sub-continent 100 years ago, is very important. Important still is to remember that although this difficult voyage or safar has come a long way, it still continues. It continues not only in India as the play appears to conclude but also here in North America our adopted country. Being far from fully accomplished, it would require input from us all. Are we making a positive contribution to make it happen? That is the question we need to be asking ourselves!
As the history of Komagata Maru and the Ghadar Party is evidenced as inseparable in this play, likewise the freedom movement of India and history of North America especially of the West Coast are kind of intertwined. Organizations, activists, historians and supporters such as Dr. Bruce La Brack, Dr. Mark Juergens Meyer, Dr. Harold Gold and Johanna Ogden to name a few, have attempted to keep these stories alive but the overall political achievements and link to Indian independence is largely marginalized in India and their contribution to human rights and immigration reforms is almost forgotten here in America until now. In the recent years especially in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks, significant legislation has been passed by the California legislature when Sikhs were being targeted as terrorists by some misguided patriots due to their outward appearance being confused with the Taliban.
I am not a historian but it seems to me that there is much to be said and written about this story where it really matters and included in the school curriculum books. Simply stated these stories are not an “add-on” to established history but require a rethinking of that very narrative arc which tends to focus on an westward migration from South Asia to North America and then internal to the United States to the West Coast in those times. In Johanna Ogden’s words who is an independent historian from Portland,“ it is impossible to fully understand how Western citizens understand themselves/ourselves without considering the how’s and why’s of the history of other peoples (Chinese, East Indians, et al) which were integral to the region has been sidelined or silenced.”
In the same vein, I had attended the “Ghadar Day 2014”in Berkeley last month. Commemorating the 100th Birth Anniversary of the Founding of the Ghadar Party, the Berkeley City Council became the 8th city in North America after Astoria.
Initiated by Johanna Ogden’s research work, the City Council and the Mayor of Astoria-Oregon, Willis Van Dusen had first designated November as the Ghadar Day last year. The City Council had also organized and paid for a 2 day International Conversational Seminar on 4-5 October 2013. and installed a plaque dedicated to the Ghadrites at the Columbia River Front next to the Finnish Hall site, where the very first meeting took place in 1913. A number of proclamations followed in California including one in Canada, which are covered in more detail elsewhere.
Organized by the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour, the Ghadar Day event that I attended was a rare public conversation with 3 generations of activists continuing the Ghadar tradition. Shwanika Narayan, a young reporter describes the event in her report published in QUARTZS India on December 4, 2014. Titled, “A century later, these Indian freedom fighters are finally being embraced—as Americans”, please read the report and leave your comments at: http://qz.com/306003/a-century-later-these-indian-freedom-fighters-are-finally-being-embraced-as-americans/
India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is all over the news, from the BBC, to the New York Times, and of course, every major newspaper and media outlet in India. It has broken many well deserved groundbreaking records:
The first first Asian country to accomplish this feat
It is the ONLY to accomplish this on its first attempt
It is TEN times cheaper than the U.S. mission to Mars.
On September 30, 2014, an agreement was drawn in Toronto between India and America, to launch a joint Earth-observing satellite mission and establish a pathway for future joint missions. India, it seems, has joined the elite superpowers, and this partnership between two large yet vastly differing democracies with economic models on earth symbolizes a strange common thread: the hurry to abandon Earth and ignore talk of Human Rights, Climate Change, or environmental issues, and simply find a new planet to inhabit.
The idea of people abandoning Earth and colonizing Mars might seem far fetched and in the land of science fiction, but not according to many businessmen, such as British Billionaire Richard Branson, who bought the world’s first commercial space line several years ago, Virgin Galactic, in hopes of populating Mars by 2024.
“In my lifetime, I’m determined to be a part of starting a population on Mars. I think its absolutely realistic. It will happen,” he said.
If you have the financial resources, you can even book your flight to Mars when it becomes available at the Virgin Galactic website.
The MOM mission being so cheap is the talk of the industry and the world. Responding to this someone however, quickly expressed his wonderment by writing that Indian government can swing mission to Mars on time and under budget, yet fails to accurately forecast electricity needed for most of the states, every year. According to this CNN article, it claims that a huge part of the reason for it being so cheap is the labor: “For example, highly-skilled aerospace engineers in India might receive a salary of $1,000 per month, a fraction of what they could earn in Europe or the U.S.” During the media frenzy over MOM, I read an interesting article in a local newspaper published here in California:
”The 57 year old writer argued that living to be 75 years of age was long enough for anyone. After 75, we are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.” Conveniently forgetting, how our present lives would be poorer if we take away history’s 75 year olds, it goes on to say that aging is more costlier than youth,. Not surprisingly, this argument was to attack the Medicare bills of Obama Care. Although, I wouldn’t agree with any of this, nor would I expect anyone else with no axe to grind would believe this, yet I found a relevance here of some sort. Read this:
According to a United Nations Report freshly launched this week, population will reach 9.6 billion. The already exhausted and over taxed Earth will run out of food by 2050. Food prices will inevitably spike with a rising demand for protein foods such as meat, milk, fish and eggs. Growing shortages of fresh water are already adding to the catastrophe. The two major food baskets of the world namely: California in America and Punjab in the Indian sub continent, are already half empty because of the seasons being out of gear and due to Climate Change/ Global Warming. Subjected to continued exploitation and pollution over the years, both are at the verge of an environmental disaster.
In California, the Central Valley agricultural landscape for instance, is already changing for the worse. In a prolonged drought and due to the shortage of irrigation water, thousands of acres of farmed land are left as fallow and hundreds of acres of mature almond orchards have been abandoned and left to die. The environmentalists and the farmers are already fighting each other for their rights to water and the government is caught in the middle of it all. Situation in Punjab wanting to be California so to speak, is even worse, since they don’t seem to be aware of its coming or where they are going. In many studies, a recurring hypothetical is regarding potential wars involving more than 50 countries on five continents all over water rights, unless something is done to control how to share reservoirs, rivers, etc.
Rather than look towards the skies for a new planet to colonize, our focus should be on helping to make this one livable. In the late 1960s, I watched Neil Armstrong taking those momentous steps on the moon, and I remember the same feelings of amazement mingled with sadness and fear for this planet. Our home. I wrote my poem, “Umber di Shehzadi de Naa,” (To the Princess of the Skies) in 1969. I imagined the Earth and Moon as two sisters. Man has taken all he wanted from Earth and is now knocking on the Moon’s door, intent on doing the same to Moon. Earth writes a letter to her estranged sister, warning her not to open the door. To read more about the story behind this poem, read my Kavita di Kahani.
Please listen to my poem and I would love to know your thoughts in the comments, either here, or on my Facebook Page.
Sufi singer, Mamta Joshi, also sung a beautiful rendition of my poem, which you can listen to below:
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.
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.