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Poet, Singer, and Activist

Lohri Message 2013: Is Punjabi a Dying Language? It may well be!

Posted by on Jan 15, 2013 in Discussion | 0 comments

Lohri 4In 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 :


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Sufi Sensation, Mamta Joshi, Pays a Tribute to ‘Umber Di Shehzadi’

Posted by on Sep 27, 2010 in Discussion, Videos | 2 comments

Dr. Mamta Joshi

Dr. Mamta Joshi Live in Concert

Dr. Mamta Joshi, a Sufi singer with a Ph.D. in music, contacted me through FaceBook after listening to my poem “Umber Di Shehzadi: To the Princess of the Skies” set to images and my voice on the you tube. She is a young woman with a lot of passion and tremendous talent. She wanted to sing my poem at her upcoming concert in Surrey, Canada on October 10, 2010.  As many of you know, I have no classical training in singing, so I am very excited to see, how Dr. Mamta Joshi brings out the soul of a poem I wrote 41 years ago, with Sufi Music.

I am constantly amazed at just how small the world keeps getting. I wrote “Umber Di Shehzadi” 41 years ago, when I guess the world was still too large and communication not so fast. The poem was published in Punjabi magazines and newspapers and I sang it amongst friends, certain party gatherings and local functions. It was only recently when my son Navdeep Singh Dhillon, a NYC based writer and English instructor, helped me to modernize the poem by creating Moving Images: setting the original poetry to images and my voice (as well as translating it into English), which we then posted on the you tube (subscribe to my you tube channel)

Although I received numerous phone calls, emails, as well as wonderful comments on the you tube worldwide, the world really started to get smaller when this happened:  Devinder Singh Saroya, Director North Zone Cultural Center (NZCC), Ministry of Culture Government of India, who shares an interest in other cultures, art, lalit kala, human rights, and happens to be from the same area of India I am from, found me because of this you tube video. He wrote this on my face book a couple months ago, “It is a pleasant surprise that human beings like S. Pashaura Singh Dhillon with such pious feelings and universal appeal can be found on Planet Earth in our times! Discovered him today from the page of an intellectual who in turn was found by sheer chance after two decades… “(Courtesy FB Suggestions).

And somehow, Mamta Joshi, the rising Sufi Maestro herself came to know of it. I still don’t know how she found me. I was logged onto face book one day and Dr. Mamta Joshi got hold of me in the chat box one night, a place I didn’t know even existed before she approached me to chat! During the conversation, she told me that she had watched my poem on the you tube and hadn’t seen anything like it before. “The poetry is so close to my heart,” she said before asking if she could have my permission to sing “Umber Di Shehzadi” with classical taans for her forthcoming concert in Canada.”  I am very selective sharing my poetry, but for some reason, I immediately gave Mamta Joshi permission. Perhaps it was her enthusiasm or the way she spoke about music and poetry that gave me the confidence to let her have a go at a poem I have held in my heart for over 40 years.  I was immediately impressed and even more confident of my decision as soon as I heard her sing on the youtube. In addition to videos on you tube,  she has performed at venues all over India and abroad, with many articles written about her in various newspapers.

SD Sharma, a reporter for the Chandigarh Tribune writes about Mamta Joshi, a young lady passionate and learned in Sufi music. He writes, “Blissfully unaware of the lyrical connotations and deep philosophical and spiritual content of songs, child prodigy Mamta preferred to sing Heer Waris or the utterances of Bulleh Shah and other Sufi saints while her class mates relished popular filmy songs at her school functions at Jalalabad in Punjab. As ordained, Mamta kept achieving excellence in the realm of folk, classical and sufi  music in academics and performances. She was rightly hailed as a golden girl at the GNDU (Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar), winning six gold and silver medals each in various national music competitions. She also won the HRD (Human Resource Development) ministry (Govt. of India) scholarship of Rs. 50,000.”

Dr. Mamta Joshi, Canada Tour

Dr. Mamta Joshi, Canada Tour

In addition to holding a doctorate in Indian classical and vocal music, she also has a gold medal in her MA (Music) and a silver medal in MA (Kathak dance). SD Sharma continues, “Mamta Joshi emerged as a female sufi singer of eminence. After hearing her, acclaimed sufi maestros Wadali brothers Padamshri Puran Chand and Pyare Lal blessed and extolled in their inimitable style saying ‘If Pakistan has Abida Praveen, we have Mamta Joshi to emulate after she attains that age and experience.’ The prophecy proved true as Mamta Joshi became the first Indian female sufi singer to give solo performance of Sufiana qalams at the India Nehru Centre, London in June 2006. She repeated her tradition of excellence to perform at the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Hall later. Earlier, as student artiste she toured UK under Heritage cultural exchange programme giving live performances in Glasgow, Wales, Chester, Cardiff, and Ludlow Castle in 2003 . “The exposure was a good learning experience. I remember that my recital of ornate sufi poetry enlivened the Shiv Kumar Nite at Birmingham in Septmber of 2008,” claims Mamta. Decorated with prestigious awards by legends like Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai, Amrish Puri and Indian High Commissioner in London, Mamta still has her feet firmly rooted to the ground. Mamta owes all the credit to her guru Arun Mishra ji for imparting the best nuances of music and DS Saroya for her promotion in the realm of musical arts”.

And now Dr. Mamta Joshi is going to pay a tribute to “Umber Di Shehzadi” after 41 years of waiting, bringing out its grandeur and soul with Sufi Music. Her first concert is scheduled in Surrey, Canada on October 10, 2010. Mamta wants me to be there so that she and her husband Chetan could meet me and ask how I decided to write ‘Umber di Shehzadi.’ I am still debating if I should cross the Canadian border!

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Punjabi Poem: Dheeaan

Posted by on Sep 20, 2010 in Gurmukhi Poems, Punjabi Poetry | 0 comments

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Discussion:Cradle of Civilization Hit Hard By Ravaging Floods

Posted by on Aug 23, 2010 in Discussion | 1 comment

Flooding in the Indus Valley

Flooding in the Indus Valley

The devastating floods ravaging Pakistan have been written about in various publications, covering aspects such as the displacement of people, loss of homes, lives, illness, and the slow movement of aid. But the particular plight of the farmer is seldom mentioned. I was reading an article by Ashraf Khan in the Associated Press that discusses this matter, “Farmers bear brunt of Pakistans’ deadly floods.” In the article, he points out that in addition to all of the above mentioned problems victims of the floods are facing, farmers have the added pressure of losing their livelihood once they do return to their homes and if they are unable to plant wheat for the winter by September, food shortages in Punjab and Sindh as well as throughout Pakistan will be inevitable.

Floods in the Indus Valley

Floods in the Indus Valley

Indus River to this side of the Himalayas constitutes an integral part of the Indus Valley, “the Cradle of Civilization” and is what The Yellow River is to China and its ancient civilisation on the other side of the Himalayas. The Indus Valley was perhaps the richest in ancient Indian history where man first brought the land under plough.  Like The Yellow River, Indus is both the mother and misery to millions of people who, for their survival, have depended on it for thousands of years since they first inhabited its banks.

Map of Indus Valley

Map of Indus Valley

Under relentless rain, the Indus breached its banks almost along the entire route within Pakistan this time. Homes and people, farms and animals alongwith orchards and crops have been wiped out  as they are washed away without a trace in many instances right from Khyber Pakhtunwa province and southern Punjab down to Sindh and Balochistan.

People displaced fight for bags of wheat

People fight for bags of wheat

Also mentioned in “Farmers bear brunt of Pakistans’ deadly floods, one of the victims of this unprecedented disaster, Razaq, while raising a finger skyward, tells Ashraf Khan that “only a prophet could pass a test as stern as the one we are going through now. It is beyond our capacity. It is coming from Allah.”  When everyone and everything else turns its back, the human heart pins its hope on Almighty God. Since human beings are created in God’s image as all religions teach us, I guess it can be interpreted that the opposite is also  true in such situations. Human beings could become the last refuge for each other in times of dire need. That is what  has happened elsewhere in the recent past when the world governments / communities joined hands during disasters of this magnitude and that should happen here in Pakistan now.

Devinder Singh Saroya sent me a link for an Editorial in The Hindu – Mitigating Pakistan’s Miseries on FaceBook. The editorial goes like this:
“. . . the fury of the floods having subsided, Pakistan still needs help to deal with the aftermath.  A U.N. appeal for $459 million has evoked a disappointing response from the international community. The pledges made so far total only 47 per cent of the target, with the United States and United Kingdom making the most substantial commitments.”

Map of Gujarat Earthquake

Map of Gujarat Earthquake

As the region’s biggest economy, India should have been first off the blocks in offering help to its beleaguered neighbor. Its belated offer of $5 million in relief assistance is a pittance compared to what it has done for other neighbors. At the time of the 2004 tsunami, India went out of its way to provide Sri Lanka with an assistance package of nearly $200 million. Prime Minister Mamohan Singh took the right step by calling his Pakistan counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani on Thursday to express India’s readiness to do more for the relief effort. This rectifies New Delhi’s earlier position that it would give more only if Pakistan responded positively to the “initial offer,” which was as narrow-minded as Islamabad’s response that it was yet to decide whether or not to accept Indian assistance.

Despite strained political relations, there have been instances in the past of spontaneous solidarity such as when Pakistan sent relief materials after the Gujarat earthquake and India did the same after the Kashmir earthquake. It is unfortunate that the two countries are letting present animosities come in the way of addressing a humanitarian situation. If Pakistan can accept assistance from other countries, there should be no problem taking it from India. For its part, New Delhi must unreservedly raise the assistance amount, and provide it to Pakistan, if required, as part of the United Nations fund.”

Pakistani Flood Survivor

Pakistani Flood Survivor

Floods caused by an unusually heavy monsoon since July have jolted Pakistan to the hilt . The initial death and destruction as reported may follow with even bigger disasters by the spread of diseases and famine, usually associated in the aftermath if help is delayed from the outside or does not reach all the needy inside the affected areas on time due to mismanagement, politics or whatever reason. Time is running out fast for those millions marooned in Pakistan. My heart goes out to the honorable, hard working farmers and their families who have lost all they had and are reduced to destitutes, begging for food and shelter overnight through no fault of their own.

When all is said and done, there has to be a silver linning to this dreadful dark cloud of awful human tragedy brought about by these out of control rain waters as opposed to the havoc caused by the salty seas during the tsunami. Fresh water is the most precious commodity; even more precious than the oil as the time goes by. The fresh water is disappearing fast beneath the surface in this part of the world; as fast as oil is in the Middle East . By overcoming this mamoth human tragedy and moving  past this nightmare caused by the excessive rainwater, if managed properly through imaginative river management policy / plan as a national priority, it almost guarantees the replenishing of its tired soils and recharging its exhausted aquifer for the future. That way, the Indus valley civilization can go on being supported as it has been for the past thousands of years.

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Indian Independence Day Celebration at California State University, Fresno.

Posted by on Aug 17, 2010 in Discussion | 0 comments

Pashaura Singh Dhillon at Independence Day Celebration, Fresno

Harry Gill, Linda Haldermann, Mike Villines and Me at Independence Day Celebration

As soon as we arrived at California State University, Fresno’s Satellite Student Union Hall to celebrate Independence Day, an interesting conversation began. Was it the 63rd or 64th Independence Day celebration? After a few more people around us joined in the conversation, we quickly calculated that it was the 63rd Indian Independence birthday, but the 64th Indian Independence Anniversary.

But putting aside this minutia, it was a great show of Indianness by the community of Indian origin living in and around the Fresno area 10,000 miles away from “home.” In a show of solidarity, Indians with origins in east, west, north and south India, organized, performed, sang, mingled, and enjoyed the celebration together.  The whole event was very well organized, a rarity for functions such as these, and a special congratulations goes out to The Independence Day Celebration Committee for their tireless effort.

There were nineteen local organizations, predominantly of Punjabis, who all rallied together for the occasion. This was the first time when almost all of the various Indian organizations in the central valley channeled their differences in language, regional ties, and religions, and focused on the unifying factor: Being Indian and celebrating this fact together.

Ghadrites, 1936This, in a way, was a reminder of the days of the Ghadrites in the early 20th century. According to some estimates 35 organizations of Indian workers and students big and small, assembled in Astoria, Oregon in April 1913. The Hindi Association of the Pacific Coast was formed with Sohan Singh Bhakna as its President,  Lala Hardyal  as Secretary and Pandit Kashi Ram elected as its treasurer. Later renaming itself after its slogan, “Ghadar” meaning rebellion, this Hindi Association became better known as the Ghadar Party.

The Ghadar Party exemplified itself in fostering nationalism to the extent that they returned to India with one purpose in mind: to convince other Indians, regardless of what part of the country they were from, what religion they practiced, or the language they spoke, to rebel and oust the British colonizers by the use of arms. By not just talking the talk, but actually walking the walk, despite the repercussions (including jail, exile, and death), the Ghadrites humbled the sleeping Indian giant out of its 700 year long slumber to wake up and free itself. While their story is a part of history now, their legacy lives on.

President Obama and Priminster Manmohan SinghThe United States today is a very different place than it was in the time of the Ghadarites and it is because of them that we are able to live like human beings and are treated with dignity. The United States of America that greeted the Indian workers and students in Astoria, Oregon in 1913, by contrast, was not so hospitable. They were constantly ridiculed because of the food they ate, the way they looked, the clothes they wore, and even their names, all elements of their Indian identity. They were called Indian coolies, and worst of all, a nation of cowards who, numbering millions, were ruled by a handful of British living 10,000 miles away? There were degrading signs at restaurants and other public places that read ‘Indians and dogs not allowed,’ and laws enacted to prevent Indians from owning property and even getting married.

The celebration in Fresno however, was a great celebration of the progress we, as Indians, have made both in India and in our adopted country through the heroism shown by the Ghadrites. There were great speeches from all of the guests which included mayors, assembly members and senators from all over California. The speeches, one after another, genuinely conveyed their admiration of how the Indian community has made a difference by their positive contribution to American society and how proud they were in having us here.

Pashaura Singh Dhillon at the Indian Independance Day Celebration

Indian Independance Day Celebration

But the most powerful speech was by Mrs. Susmita G. Thomas, Consulate General of India, who traveled by road from San Francisco to attend this celebration. Standing like a rock and addressing the packed hall from the podium, apart from saying the niceties usually said on such occasions, she dedicated a large part of her speech to the Ghadrites’ role in Indian Independence, a fact rarely mentioned by politicians. Standing on the land where the Ghadrites had their century old footsteps still visible, however fading fast, she paid them a glowing tribute on this auspicious day that they deserved. She even went on to read a Ghadrite poem from one of the Ghadar magazines, a weekly paper which began publishing with its first issue in Urdu on November 1, 1913 from 5 Wood Street, San Francisco. She also promised to open to the public, the Yugantar Asharm, the then headquarter of the Ghadrites, named after a Bengali revolutionary paper Yugantar in San Francisco.

Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna

Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna

Mrs. Susmita G. Thomas’ speech was very Nehruesque speech to say the least. At least, I haven’t heard anyone mentioning the name of the Ghadrites on such occasions, with such a passion since Pandit Jawahar  Lal Nehru. India’s first Prime Minister, I believe, had a great respect for the Ghadri Babas. As the story goes  when Nehru came to attend a public meeting at Lahore during the days of struggle for independence, he saw Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna sitting among others on the floor mat in front of the chair he was to be seated and address the meeting. As soon as Pandit Ji saw him, he went straight to touch Baba Ji’s knees as a sign of respect. And grabbing Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna by the arm, he requested him to sit on the only chair which was brought for Nehru. Of course Baba Bhakna thanked Nehru for showing him that kind of respect but politely declined to sit on the chair. Nehru wouldn’t sit on the chair either. So another chair was brought for the Ghadri Baba before the meeting could start.

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