Dedicated to Dulla Bhatti here is my Punjabi Poem for Lohri . . . .
Who was Dulla Bhatti and his relation with Punjabiat & Lohri. . . .
Dulla Bhatti was a Legendary Hero of Punjab, who led a rebellion against the Moughal King Akbar. . .
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This poem was written and sung by me on the first birthday of my first grandchild in Morgan Hill, California. The poem is from the point of view of a child asking mommy to speak to him (or her) in her mother-tongue: Punjabi. The implications of "mother-tongue" go beyond simply the language of Punjabi, but of the Punjabi culture.
I was very happy to see a young Sikh American named Gurpreet Singh Sarin nicknamed ‘ Turbanator ’ on American Idol. He has set out to spread Sikh Awareness in his own artistic way. I had recently watched him on American Idol. Gurpreet appears to have decided to sing it all the way! As I watched this video, I couldn’t help but think back to a few months ago when I attended the Western Scholars Conference 2012: Sikh journey in America, hosted at University of the Pacific, Stockton, California. In celebration of the centennial anniversary of Stockton Gurduara, founded in October 24, 1912, the conference was organized by the Sikh-American Research Center of the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society and Stockton Gurduara Centennial Committee. I had driven down to the conference with my wife and we were both very appreciative of the Sikh American youth volunteers from local schools, colleges and universities, who welcomed the guests at the registration front desk with a genuine smile, and conducted and moderated presentations in a timely and professional manner. It is very uplifting to my spirits to know that this generation is taking up the mantel and does not run everything with Indian Standard Time!
The conference understandably, revolved around the founding of the Stockton Sikh Temple and the formation of the Ghadar Party in 1912/13 in California. We were delighted to see the conference hall packed and well attended with more than a dozen distinguished speakers, who made thought provoking power point presentations. Although I did not agree with some of the scholars who in their own dramatic way, tried to redefine the Ghadarites, their motives and thus rewrite the history as if it were. My attention was specifically drawn to the presentation by Dr. Harold A. Gould, of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Referring to the Oakcreek Sikh Temple tragedy, he said that no one could even pronounce the name of our religion properly when the news first came out that an unidentified gunman had murdered five members of the Sikh faith within the confines of their temple in a Milwaukie suburb in Wisconsin. He went on to say that most Americans, and even most members of the press, had no accurate idea of who and what the Sikhs are. Media reporters couldn’t pronounce the community’s name properly-calling them ‘Seeks’ or some variation of that. “At most,” he had said, “they probably knew that Sikhs are originally from some part of India, who came to this country, God knows how and when, as immigrants of some kind. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney more than once called them “Sheiks”(a Muslim term for an Arab leader) instead of “Sikhs”(the name of their cultural community)!” These words repeated in my head as I watched the Turbanator very funnily charm Nicky Minaj by telling her he had a turban the color of her hair!
Following a huge backlash of Oakcreek, where many condemned this heinous crime at Milwaukee with pouring in of sympathy and goodwill from all quarters –from marching down City Hall to the White House. There started to be a lot of talk about the Sikhs in America in the media, and an honest look at who we are. A significant legislation pertaining to Sikh Awareness and to include necessary information about Sikhi in the Public School Curriculum in California which had been kept at the back burner for years was swiftly passed by the legislature, largely because of this media attention. Equally swiftly it was signed in to law by the California Governor Jerry Brown last year in November 2012. There is a long way to getting it all right but at least, American press and general public now can finally pronounce the name right.
It takes a century, tragic and ironical as it is, the proverbial Duddu (frog) is finally out of the well and well into the main stream America. The Sikh journey in America and beyond is now on the move. But where did it all begin? As Sikhs living in the Diaspora especially in America, do we really appreciate it or are we really even fully aware of it? That has to go back to the Ghadrites era or even before, when the circumstances drove ordinary field and saw-mill Indian workers (called Hindoos) to become radicalized and began to turn to human right activists and Ghadrites. But that is the subject of a separate post.
While it may not seem like Gurpreet Singh Sarin, “The Turbanator,” is a cultural or religious ambassador for Sikhs or Sikh-Americans, I believe he is presenting a wonderful message to all Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. That we are all human and you should never judge a book by its cover. During the time of Guru Gobind Singh and during the struggle for Independence, it was time to take up arms. In the 21st century, today, may be it is time to pick up the ‘Rabab’ again and sing! Let us wish American Idol hopeful, Gurpreet Singh Sarin “The Turbanator,” the best of luck in his creative endeavour and for presenting a loving and wonderful image of Sikhs to the world! As always let me know your thoughts on my face book or on my website:
In view of the intense debate started about the future of one of the most ancient languages and associated cultures i.e. Punjabi and Punjabiat and as a concerned citizen who watches this debate closely, I wrote an article titled, “Is Punjabi a Dying Language? and posted it on April 2, 2012. As usual I received some very interesting comments. One of the most recent comments that I received in the new year a few days ago was by Jehanzeb Mahar from Pakistan and I quote, “A few months ago, in Pakistan, parliamentarians from Sindh forwarded a bill calling for giving the status of national language to Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto and Balochi, to a parliamentary committee. Amazingly, the members from Punjab, alongwith Urdu members, came out to be the most vocal opponents of the bill. So, the bill was rejected and couldn’t even be presented in the parliament for voting.” Vow! You should read that again and ponder!!
The question arises if the goodwill is any better on the eastern border of the Indus Valley?
Tradition has it that all Punjabis celebrate Lohri as a festival in their own ways, families get together and exchange good wishes. Not intending to water down the jubilations, I wonder how many of us really know the sober history behind it all. Reflecting on this and to bring it to the forefront of all concerned Punjabis living at home or in the Diaspora, I thought it appropriate to publish again the article as well as my Punjabi poem, ” Ma Boli Punjabie Tera Kon Vichara”, which I had written and posted on the website. Celebrating this ‘Lohri’ will not be complete unless it rekindles the spirit of ‘Dulla Bhatti’ of yesteryears who laid down his life saving the honor of a daughter of Punjab. From the ongoing it appears now the honor of Punjabi Ma is at stake!
On this note I leave you with the links to read my article as well as my poem and ponder :
2012 has been a dramatic year, from Malala Yousafzai to Damini to mass murders and unrelenting violence, especially against women and children in places where they are most vulnerable. Having received a lot of good wishes for the new year, I was thinking hard how to reciprocate to all of my friends. Then came along an email written by Prof. Chaman Lal of Jawahar Lal Nehru University Delhi addressed to Kuldip Nayar, copied to me. I could not have found better words than this to wish you with the year 2013 and I partly quote: “May the year prove to be little just, with less violence, reviving more humaneness. There would be no lasting peace till society becomes just with equitable distribution of natural and social resources to all human beings on earth without reference to class, race, caste, nation, gender or age. Where there are no crimes or fewer crimes with fast justice.”
I leave you my Punjabi Kavita,”Dheeaan” (Daughters) and you can read the Kavita di Kahani if interested.
Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), an Italian explorer who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in the 15th century, with mighty ships propelled by the might of no less than the King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Spain travelled around the world and discovered America; the country that was always there. For this, Columbus got a place in the framework of World History & Social Science in the School Books.
Early in the 16th century, in less than ten years, one fevered German monk named Martin Luther (1483-1546) plunged a knife into the heart of an empire that had ruled for a thousand years, and set in motion a train of revolution, war and conflict that would reshape Western civilization, and lift it out of the Dark Ages. Martin Luther became an important figure of the Protestant Reformation was rewarded with a prominent place in the World History Books.
Baba Nanak (1469-1539) on the other hand and in a distant land almost at the same time in the dark and foggy ages of the East, not only lighted up the path and walked on this earth but literally walked the Earth, with his two feet and a ‘Rabab.’ He set out to achieve and did what was never done before or after. He gave rise to nine more Nanaks and a new philosophy now known as Sikhi enshrined in Sikh Scripture called Guru Granth, the eternal Guru adding to the family of world religions along the way in 239 years that followed . Few if any men have changed the course of history like Baba Nanak did. Illama Iqbal a great Muslim poet (philosopher) of all time, said it all when he wrote, “
Phir Uthi Aakhir Sada Tauheed Ki Punjab Se,
Hind ko Ek Mard-e- Kamil Ne Jagaya Khawab Se.”
(Again from the Punjab the call for monotheism arose,
A perfect man roused Indian sub continent from slumber.)
But Baba Nanak is known somewhat in the East only and is waiting to be discovered by the western world.
There have been many visionaries, explorers, and revolutionaries well documented in history books, which remain in our consciousness many years after we leave school. That is where it all begins. Growing up in Bhakna, I remember listening to stories of heroism by Ghadarites like Kartar Singh Sarabha and revolutionaries like Shaheed Bhagat Singh from Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna. I had also heard sakhis of Baba Nanak and stories about Sikh Shaheeds like everyone else growing up in a Sikh family. It wasn’t until many years later however, that I began to fully understand about Baba Nanak, Sikhi and Gurbani better by reading more of it and about it in academic articles in obscure magazines or books that contained more concrete historical facts. While the achievements of the Ghadarites have been usurped by others, nobody could ever lay claim to anything Baba Nanak has been documented to have achieved. Since Baba Nanak’s revolutionary act of defiance by rejecting the threading ceremony, the caste system, and making the radical claim of monotheism, human rights that all men and women are created equal, he exposed and confronted the hypocrisy of Mullah and the Pundit who were either silent or working in cahoots with the powers to be which were not only dividing and exploiting the common man under the garb of religion but were downright cruel and ruthless to them.
My son and daughter, who are now married with children, grew up in the west reading history books full of names such as Martin Luther, Christopher Columbus, Vasco-da-Gama, kings and queens. Baba Nanak is only mentioned in certain history books and still remains an enigmatic figure by those who are not Sikh. In the west, he is not known at all. Talking of religions, in the constitution of the United States of America where my family now lives, religion and politics are kept separate. But there is basic information about all the major religions of the world incorporated in the curriculum Framework of History & Social Science taught in the public high schools except the Sikh religion, although we have been here for the past 100 years and have made valuable contributions to make this great country greater.
Recognizing this fact and in order to rectify the situation, the California Legislature celebrated Baba Nanak’s Birthday by dedicating November as Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month. A senate bill was also passed which will enable to include basic information about Sikhi in the public school books at par with other religions. More recently, a Northern California congressman honored the state’s longstanding Sikh community by formally acknowledging the Stockton temple’s 100-year anniversary in the Congressional Record. His statement read into the Congressional Record says there is “no religion more attuned to the principles of the American Declaration of Independence than the Sikh religion.”
Celebrating 543rd Guru Nanak Prakash Utsav which was dedicated to Sikh Awareness, dozens of people met inside Lincoln Middle School in Selma, California on November 10, 2012 to listen to the state superintendent of schools, Tom Torlakson. Incharge of 6.3 million students, 10,000 Schools and 1,100 School Districts in California, Torlakson informed folks that changes are coming to the history and social studies curriculum being taught in our public schools due to the recent passage of senate bill. California Textbooks will feature images and information which tell the story of the Sikh community, “Their contributions over the last 100 years to the economy of California and bringing their strength of values to California,” Torlakson concluded. To read more about this please check it out at: http://www.cbs47.tv
There are countless documentaries of Shah Jehan and the romanticized vision of Taj Mahal and such likes built on the backs of the common man, detailed documentaries on Jesus Christ, wide coverage of the voyages of Columbus and Vasco-da-Gama but not a single one on the life and travels of Guru Nanak that uses scholarly sources, rather than presenting the same information on books, by Dhadies, Ragis, Kirtanias, Singers and Preachers reading the same old stories.
In this Google age, where books are now read on the internet, a young Punjabi filmmaker, Nawalpreet Rangi, who I got to know through FaceBook is coming out with a documentary film I am looking forward to seeing when it comes out. What I am especially intrigued about him is that it is the first time that someone has attempted to compile the full spectrum of Baba Nanak’s travels of his lifetime in a visual form, which might give the humanity some inkling how he discovered what he discovered that is so unique to Baba Nanak and his Sikhi that should benefit us all. ‘Der Aiye, Darust Aiye’ (Better late than never).To get some idea what Rangi is attempting to tell in this documentary, please watch his interview on Harpreet Singh’s Show at:
Above is a video I made back when Obama was still just a senator with the lofty goal of running for President. I was very happy when he won again, and has been given the opportunity to continue the work he has been doing. There were criticisms of his first debate against Romney and he humorously quipped that he had taken a nap, but then woke up for the second and third one. Finally the time came to tell the story of all the groundwork he had accomplished in his four years and that he needed another four years to continue to do this great work. America heard him loud and clear and he was re-elected. Waiting are a whole range of issues demanding urgent attention and collective wisdom from across party lines, to build support from the most obvious fiscal cliff to the not so obvious environmental concerns, the dwarfing and shrinking of the middle-class income (Aamm Aadmi’ in Punjabi language), the ravages of war, greed, and the national issue of bullying and gun violence.
From the famous evergreen hit, Yeh hai Voh Sitara. Barack, you are that star. Lift your eyes to the horizon. You have won the re-election with a mandate to level the playing field, feed the hungry not by giving them fish but with a commitment to handing down the secret of catching fish. As Warren Buffet the prosperous man said the other day, “America needs the prosperous world around us.” You have reappeared not from the blue skies or the mythical heavens many have been waiting for; you are a son of the soil, breathing the same air others breath, living in the same streets and neighborhoods, eating the same food, doing the same community service, feeling the same joys and pains. Power did not come to you in a hallowed crown; you built this, people built this, we built this –all of us, together. Yes, we built that.
As someone else put it more succinctly, “At a deep level, this election was about our notion of community in times of need.” And that is why Hurricane Sandy was such a vital metaphor. That is why Middle East Conflict is threatening the world peace again and again. America knows and the world appreciates you have won re-election and with it the power of the pulpit. They expect you to use it. Good Luck!
By now we have become used to hearing about Sikh boys in schools being bullied and harassed, but it is rare to hear about the bullying of Sikh girls, especially those who wear the turban. My son sent me a link to this video from May of 2012, three months before the Oak Creek Massacre and Hate Crime. I have not seen this make any of the national news, in fact if you do a google search you won’t find anything except this one video. A 12-year-old Sikh girl is constantly called things like “Osama,” “terrorist,”and other students have said something like “let’s shoot her before she blows up the school,” and now the bullies have taken it a step further by following her after school and throwing rocks as well as putting graffiti on the house they think she lives in (it’s actually where she babysits). In the video, she says, “I feel sad.” I also feel sad that her story is not being heard and that bullying no matter who is being bullied, whether it is because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, is not seen as a genuine problem until some poor son or daughter finally has enough harassment and commits suicide. Here is the video and if anyone has any more information, please let me know through the comments below or by contacting me.
The hand-cranked printing press used at the Yugantar Ashram by the revolutionary Ghadar Party to print The Ghadar Akhbar, the first Punjabi-language newspaper ever published in the USA from 1913 to 1948.
Imagine yourself standing inside the Yugantar Asharm, now referred to as the Ghadar Memorial or Ghadar Smarak in Hindi. It is a place where the Ghadrites, affectionately known as ‘Ghadri Babas’ once stood. The Yugantar Ashram on 5 Wood street, San Francisco, was their head quarters. Kartar Singh Sarabha, (who incidently came to Berkley for higher studies) and his associates manually operated this old fashioned rickety press shown above to publish the revolutionary newspaper, the Ghadar.
99 years ago in 1913, the ‘Ghadar’ newspaper began to be published, packed in bundles and smuggled out of Yugantar Asharm to its destined readers far and wide. Igniting the spark of patriotism, in a very short span of time, ordinary workers who came abroad to enrich themselves and their families like they do today, became Ghadrites. Ghadrites in turn raised a brigade of extraordinary brave Hindustani men and women with a charge no less than the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ who rode to the valley of death. When called upon in 1914-15, they all converged from as far as America, Canada, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Malaya, Burma and last but not least from Argentina. If the resources at their disposal were that much meagre, their patriotic ferver was that much higher. They had such a fire in the belly that they gave their all to free the motherland. Approximately 150 of them got killed or sentenced to be hanged, hundreds sentenced for life in Kale-Paani’s draconian jails, Properties confiscated and who could fathom the grief and misery that the powers to be brought to bear upon their immediate families, near and dear ones.
The only difference was that it was not charge of British cavalry led by Lord Cardigan against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava. This time, it was charge of undivided India’s ‘Cry for Independence’ against the British Empire itself, where the Sun was said to have never set. The rest is a history now….
Ghadrites wrote exciting poetry from the heart. Although the Ghadar Party was comprised largely of Punjabis, they chose a Bengali name for their head quarters, “Yugantar Ashram,” meaning the Beginning of a New Age. Membership was open to all who opposed the foreign occupation of their motherland. Ghadarites came from all regions and walks of life of undivided India. For example Sohan Singh Bhakna was a Punjabi Sikh, Tarak Nath Das was a Bengali Hindu, Maulana Barkatullah a Muslim from Madhya Pradesh to name a few of the numerous stalwarts which includes Kartar Singh Sarabha, Pt. Kanshi Ram Maroli, Vishnu Ganesh Pingley who were hanged. They were one people with one cause: Independence from foreign rule.
Coming back to Kavita di Kahani, Although those patriotic poems were written in other languages, I was drawn to the Punjabi poetic behr in which these were usually written. And that behr was of Heer- Waris Shah and of some other popular Punjabi folk songs. I imagined the articles from the Ghadar newspaper were read, re-read and poems hummed and sung as they were being printed at the Yugantar Ashram. Although, the poems were written under pseudonyms, the poets paid a very heavy price for writing them. But they secured those rights for future generations – so that I can write my thoughts without fear. As I stood inside of the Yugantar Ashram, ready to present my poem dedicated to the Ghadarites, I was overwhelmed and teary eyed with the feelings that I owe all of this to them.
As I have said before there is always a Kahani (story) behind each of my Kavita (poem). That Kahani could be about anything I read somewhere, watched, felt, heard or simply imagined, that inspires! When and if put to paper before losing it, why is it usually in a poetry form and not in a prose, is a good question? A question I would have liked to ask to those great souls who preferred to express their feelings in poetry instead of prose ages before me.
I had never imagined, while growing up in village Bhakna, Amritsar in Punjab half a century ago, that I will keep this Kahani for that long within me before it turned into a Kavita. This Kahani of the Ghadrites was told to me by no other than Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna (Founder-President of the Ghadar Party) himself, when I was only six or seven and lived with him in Bhakna. Who would have known then that one day I will be standing here in “Yugantar Asharm,” in San Francisco where it all began, singing this Kavita dedicated to him and his comrades, after they had long gone!
The Yugantar Ashram, which is kept locked most of the time was opened by the Indian Consulate to celebrate the August 15, 2012 Indian Independence Day dedicated to the Ghadrites by inviting community organizations and local community leaders at the Yugantar Asharm. “Der Aie Darust Aie”: Better late than never. Here I presented my poem ‘Ghadri Babean Nu Samarpit’ inside the Yugantar Ashram main hall packed with men and women who came to pay their homage.