Featured Kavita Di Kahani

The Chandigarh That Was

Dr. M.S.Randhawa, Hardyal Singh Johl, Pashaura Singh Dhillon

Forty-two years ago, in 1968, I wrote my maiden poem ‘Rooh Mere Punjab Di’ for the maiden Rose Festival in Chandigarh and won special appreciation from the local community, specifically from Dr. M.S. Randhawa, the then Chief Commissioner of Chandigarh. On the simple stage set up at the grassy lawn under a modest tent erected for the occasion at the Sector 16 Chandigarh Rose Garden, I sang this poem with a great passion. In my heart and mind I genuinely felt as if I was singing this poem to that wonder girl of unparalleled beauty sitting right in the front row, who came of the age of sweet 16 that day. Chandigarh, later to be known as “City Beautiful” was born when they laid the foundation stone in 1952.

Dr. Randhawa who was presiding over the function was so moved by the poem that he rose up from his chair, walked up to me while I was still singing and put the perfumed rose garland presented to him earlier, around my neck whispering some kind words which are still music to my ears. That simple gesture must have made a lot of residents think and ponder about their connectivity with their new city. Performing on stage assured me that I didn’t have to choose between my dreams of being a poet/singer and a Landscape Architect (which I did a few years later). Read more about my life here.

Returning to the first ever Rose Festival started in 1968, there was no police security or extra traffic hold ups in spite of crowd control measures, car park overflows or pushing and shoving of any kind. Most residents simply walked to the festival place with families and children, the babus and high officials used their bikes, vespas or lamberettas and a few cars that were tucked away in the adjacent car park. There were no blaring loudspeakers or high volume Dj’s run music system disturbing the next door residents or the serenity of the leisure valley of which the Rose Garden was the focal point.

That Rose Festival of course, has now grown into a national celebration with all of the associated pomp and grandeur, chaos and confusion. They even offer camel rides. It may now be more “fun,” but it must be a nightmare for the traffic police, security officials as well as ordinary local residents especially children and the elderly. Especially the elderly who has seen better days as things were much simpler back then.

The city of Chandigarh was envisioned by Lee Corbusier in human form. As indicated above, I perceived this human form as a wonder girl who at the age of sweet sixteen in 1968, was blossoming into a young woman. The poem describes her unparalleled breathtaking beauty, vibrant youthfulness, exuberance and spirited promise for Punjab, the land of five rivers and for its deserving people. Blessed and protected from the evil eye by the great Himalayas, bathed in Sukhna Lake, the poem describes her decadent adornments as being made entirely of unique landscape plant material used to beautify Chandigarh.

My background in ornamental horticulture certainly shaped my view of the universe and in so doing, my poetry. After graduating from Khalsa College, Amritsar, my first job was working as a Horticultural Inspector at the then picturesque Moughal Gardens in Pinjore from 1962-1966, followed by a brief term with the capital project Chandigarh, before leaving for the United Kingdom. All these years I had the privilege of working closely under the inspiring supervision of Hardyal Singh Johl, now an accomplished landscaper of not only of Punjab but also of north India.

The Chandigarh of 1968 was not just any other city. It was the beautiful brand new capital city especially designed by the world renowned, French Architect Le-Corbusier, for Eastern Punjab. The Punjabis were filled with hope that it would somehow fill the void of losing its old crown Lahore, to West Punjab, now Pakistan, when in 1947 during the partition its soul: its people, land and waters were in fact, torn apart.

The Chandigarh of today is a different ball game for politicians. The curse of division on Punjab, which struck in 1947 does’nt seem to have gone away. Dark clouds of division have been looming large this time on its new capital city, when one of the neihbors, Haryana keep staking its claim also. Besides it is very quickly becoming a commercial hub with name brand stores like Armani and Gucci in Sector 17, overcrowded roads, parks and shrinking roundabouts, which once reinforced the sense of space, as garden city of the north and has already surpassed the population limits envisaged by Le-Corbusier.

People often ask me what inspired me to write ‘Rooh Mere Punjab Di.’ Any poet will find this a difficult question to answer because it can’t really be pinpointed to one specific inspiration. This is obviously a poem about Chandigarh, but it goes much deeper than that. Frankly speaking, I don’t know how and why I wrote it. Let the readers be the judge and arrive at their own conclusions.

If you are interested to listen and download it, do so below:

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