Pages Navigation Menu

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 :


Read More

Kavita Di Kahani: Ghadri Babean Nu Samarpit

Posted by on Sep 19, 2012 in Kavita Di Kahani | 0 comments

Original Printing Press at Yugantar Ashram 1913

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.

Poet and Singer, Pashaura Singh Dhillon singing his poem on the Ghadar Revolutionaries at the Yugantar Ashram (Ghadar Memorial)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.

Please check out the text of my poem, “Ghadri Babean Nu Samarpit”

And below is the video of me singing my poem, “Ghadri Babean Nu Samarpit.” :

As always I will greatly appreciate to have your thoughts about it!

Read More

Kavita Di Kahani: Peenghan Kitthe Panvaan

Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Kavita Di Kahani | 0 comments

Traditional Pipal Tree Being Transplanted in Punjab, IndiaAs I have said before, I am not so sure if every Kahani (story) has a Kavita (poem) behind it, but am pretty sure that each Kavita has a Kahani behind it. The inevitable question that every poet, writer, or anyone attempting something creative is asked is “what inspired you?” It is for this reason that I decided to create the Kavita di Kahani section on my website. I cannot pinpoint it down to one thing, and a lot of the time I find myself watching, listening and feeling the Kahani unfold and write itself inside me and before my very eyes. A lot of my poems have been set in the midst of my people in Punjab and even though I have lived outside of Punjab and India for several decades, my poetry is still very steeped in the‘Land of Five Rivers,’ particularly concerned with its sons and daughters – the Kisani (rural folks), who are also referred to as ‘Reehr di Hadi’ ( Backbone of our motherland).

I read an article the other day in Tribune India with a headline that didn’t pull punches: “In Punjab, three farmers kill themselves every two days.” This heart wrenching news is based on the the startling findings of a state government commissioned survey conducted by three universities of the state – Punjabi University, Patiala; Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana; and Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.

One cannot deny that it has made progress but contrary to the claims that Punjab is on the way to becoming California of India as many have claimed, the survey, highlights the ‘land of plenty’ passing through a tremendous agrarian crisis and has some serious social and lifestyle issues- the disillusion in life devoid of dreams for the younger generation- gradual rise in drug addiction. The news is not new and I am glad that there is finally a survey commissioned and conducted by the State department itself into possible solutions because Punjab really is being hit much harder than other parts of India.

I am not going to delve into the complexities surrounding the issues at stake (check out the Tribune article here), but would like to turn your attention to a poem I wrote a few years ago titled, “Peenghan Kitthe Panvaan.”  The poem uses the Peepal and Bohr trees as a metaphor for what is happening in Punjab. This Peepal and Bohr tree was not just a tree, but a symbol of a cultural tradition that has all, but been depleted, although there are some belated efforts being put into place to revitalize it. People used to congregate under these trees, socialise and spend hot afternoons under the shade  and just engage in conversation. By destroying these trees in the name of development, this culture no longer exists. There are other elements in this poem stemming from the political, social turmoil and tribulations the ‘land of plenty’ has had and is still passing through. The poem was written in Punjabi and was published in the leading newspapers and magazines in India and abroad and was published in my poetry collection,“ Diva Bale Samundron Paar.”

As with my poem, I hope the article by Kanchan Vasdev brings awareness to how dire the current situation is and causes Punjabis to sobre up, and stand together to find a solution. Please read “Peenghan Kitthe Panvaan” and as always, leave a comment here or on my face book to let me know what you think.

Read More

Kavita Di Kahani: Ma Di Surat and Happy Mother’s Day!

Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Kavita Di Kahani | 0 comments

Ghugi te BacheHappy Mother’s Day, 2012!

I have written poems about mothers, daughters, and on environmental issues before, but this Mother’s Day, I was inspired to write something different. It was inspired by the image of a dove cradling her babies under her wing, posted on FaceBook by my friend, Devinder Singh Saroya. I felt so moved by the image because of what it represented. Addressing all the sons and daughters of the world and dedicating this poem to ‘Mother’s Day,’ I wrote “Ma di Surat, Rab di Murat” in Punjabi (Gurmukhi and Roman script).

As T.V. ads, FaceBook updates, and every other form of marketing media tells us, Mother’s Day is fast approaching; it is this Sunday. These ads constantly remind us that we should buy this, that, or the other to show our mothers how much we care. But instead of thinking of Mother’s Day as just one day to give her flowers, jewelry, or chocolates, why not do something more meaningful? And why is it that mother’s day is restricted to just our mothers? Sharing it with my readers, here is what I think:

Mothers all over the world have it difficult, especially when they have husbands who think the old way, that things like cooking, cleaning, or taking care of their own children are not their responsibility and should rest only on the mother alone. This is not necessarily a generational idea. I (and many other men I know) adamantly refused to take dowry when we were married and took an active role in the raising of our children. But men of my generation by and large did the bare minimum (if that) in household duties. The new generation of men appears to realize that anything you do to help your wife – the mother of your children – like cooking or doing the laundry is much more appreciated than a vase of roses or a box of chocolates on mother’s day, despite what your television ads tell you and especially when both of you are working. And we should all show our appreciation for what mothers have done for us, often times unnoticed and underappreciated, by doing something more meaningful and long-term than a quick trip to the mall.

There are mothers all over the world, who are victims of domestic abuse, and in countries like India, Pakistan, and across Africa, not only do mothers have to worry about the usual things mothers worry about, but they have to worry about malnutrition, disease and in many countries suffer most, the repercussions of war and/or famine. 1 in 16 women in countries like Niger die in pregnancy/ childbirth, or have children who don’t even make it past a few years because of malnutrition. There are mothers in war torn countries like Rwanda, Somalia, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq to name a few, who don’t even have access to basic human rights, let alone to a medical doctor or nutritionist.

A mother’s life is made even more difficult in these circumstances.

Surfing through the Face Book, I saw a particularly moving image of a dove sitting under a tree, while sheltering her two young ones under each of her wings. Looking close, it is much more powerful than that. The image shows her strength and power as a mother, and how much she loves her offsprings. It reminded me also of my extensive visits to the famous Wildlife National Parks of East Africa during my service to Tanzania in 1979 and triggered my memories of watching the animal kingdom from close distances undisturbed, that had made a great impact on me.

We often forget that animals have emotions and express their love and care in very similar ways to humans, and we could all relearn something from observing these animal kingdoms of which we were once an integral part of. The inhabitants of wildlife – be they animals, birds, reptiles, or insects, inhabit a social system, much like we humans do, where the mother comes on top as the creator and protector of the creation, often times risking her life to protect her young ones. In many instances, it appears as if mothers have no choice than to do what they have to do to nourish, protect and care for the young ones when they need it most in order to survive, while the male partner has no choice, but to distance himself at times. See the video of a lion documentary below:

Yet in others and there are many instances of the male being much more engaged in the life of his children than his human counterparts. The male penguin, for example, shares in the incubation of his child. After producing an egg, the female goes to feed in the open ocean, while the male keeps the egg warm. When the female returns from the ocean, the male is ravenously hungry, and it is now his turn to go feed in the ocean. The children, in turn, leave the parents at a very young age, but return home after 5 years to become parents themselves. This is the cycle of life.

Continuing on the subject of parenting, it is not one or the other who is less or more important. Both parents are important in their own right. It is like denoting a higher importance to water or food. They are both important, but in different capacities, and simply cannot be compared with one another, and should share equal responsibility and command equal respect.

Besides, roles are reversing in the world we are living in today. There are more and more women who work outside of the home, often in professions where they are the breadwinners, and there are more and more stay at home dads. According to the latest PEW studies 57% college students are women seeking PhD and higher education giving more opportunity for women to earn more. This is another emerging phenomenon and merits another blog post, perhaps under the title, “Downfall of men?”

This Mother’s Day, it is my hope that you all celebrate everything your mother has done for you, and to show your love in a meaningful way, but don’t forget about all of the other mothers out there. So, please take a good look at the image posted by Devinder Singh Saroya at the top of this post that inspired me to write my poem, “Ma di Surat, Rab di Murat” in Punjabi (Gurmukhi and Roman script), and as always, I would love to hear your thoughts on my poem. If you are interested in reading an English translation or in Shahmukhi or Hindi script, let me know through your comments and I will gladly oblige. Once again, Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

Read More

What Inspires a Poet?

Posted by on Apr 29, 2012 in Kavita Di Kahani | 0 comments

People often ask me what was it that made me a poet and how did I begin to write.

This question is not new or specific to me. People often wonder about what inspires creative types – actors, dancers, artists, musicians, and of course, writers and poets. The one question that is inevitably asked is how they became what they became. But the answer is not a simple one and there can never be only one particular reason for it. This question must have been around since the ‘Rig Ved’ was written 5000 years or so ago.

John Lawrence Ashbery, an American poet published more than twenty volumes of poetry and won nearly every major American award for poetry, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1976. Raised on a farm, Ashbery was educated at Deerfield, an all-boys school. He read works by poets like W.H. Auden and Dylan Thomas and started writing himself. When he was asked the question of what inspires to write his poetry, John Ashbery replied, “I don’t know really. I just want to.”

Sultan Bahu, the all time great Sufi stalwart poet, sums up his response in this way : “Allah Chambe Di Booti, Murshad Man vich Lai Hoo. Undr Booti Mushq Machaia, Jan Phulln te Aie Hoo. Jive Murshad, Kamil Bahhu, Jein Eh Booti Lai Hoo.” With the grace of God, there is a miraculous plant (Chambe Di Booti) growing inside you, and when it blooms its fragrance spreads all over, for which the poet is forever grateful to his spiritual master, who enabled him to do it!

Eminent Punjabi writer and Sahit Academy Award winner Gurbachan Singh Bhullar elaborates on the idea of “Chambe Di Booti” when he says that one has to have the mind and soul as a prepared ground to strike the roots of ‘Chambe Di Booti’ (Miracle herb) and that is if Murshad (Spiritual hand) wills it to plant it there. Otherwise, why is it that out of five siblings born of same parents, living under one roof, exposed to the same environment, living in the same culture, only one becomes a writer? In one of his interviews answering this question in a greater detail, Bhullar sums it up by replacing the word “Mohabbat” (true love) with “Sahit” (writing) from Bismil Saidi’s famous sher about the intense emotions associated with Mohabbat that not everybody is endowed with: “Sahit (Mohabbat) Ke Leeay Kuchh Khaas Dil Mkhsoos Hote Hain, Yih Woh Ngma Hai Jo Her Saaz Pe Gaiya Nhin Jata”

When renowned Punjabi writer, Jasbir Bhullar, was asked by Amrita Pritam why he writes, Bhullar answered that he wrote a long answer explaining every reason he could think of, and finally concluded it in a single sentence. When translated in English it meant,“I don’t know any other way to live.”

In Shiv Batalvi’s last interview on the BBC, which I watched live in London, Mahendra Kaul succumbed to the same curiosity and asked Shiv the same old question, “What was it that turned you into a shayer, a poet: was it a deprivation, lack of love, failed relationship, betrayal, frustration in life and or escapism from it all that drove you to write?” he asked Batalvi almost in one breath.  “I was the son of a Tehsildar (Revenue Officer), there was no depravation,” Batalvi replied. “Lack of love? No. On the contrary. There has been plenty of love around me.”  In fact he was the most loved and revered Punjabi poet of his time in that sense. “It is not just one or none of those things; it is more than that, perhaps all of them and more in some way.”  Batalvi struggled to satisfy Kaul the best way he could.  At the end of his lengthy answer, Batalvi looked Kaul in the eye ending it in a one liner: “Was my answer to your question a complete one or not”? Kaul simply smiled and moved on.

I find it hard to put my finger on any one thing that might have inspired me more than any other thing or one particular poet that I read who inspired me to start writing poetry myself. I believe there were many factors that contributed to it, but as someone once wrote in a poetry magazine: “We are born as poets from a wound that is inflicted upon us by other poets’ poetry.” This is the most eloquent way I have ever heard anyone describe it. And that is really how I see my own journey into being a poet: at some point I had that wound. For a more detailed answer to the question at hand, check out my About Page, or read Kavita Di Kahani.

In addition to my overall inspiration to being a poet, there are various sources of inspiration for all of my poems. Sometimes an image comes to my mind from my garden, or a newspaper headline, or simply from an image. My latest poem, for example, Kanwal Phull (Lotus Flower), was inspired by an image of a lotus flower posted to my FaceBook wall by photographer and writer, Janmeja Singh Johl. The image was striking, not just for its beauty, but because this particular flower grows in places where nothing that spectacularly beautiful grows: swamps, marshes, and mud ponds. To put it another way literally it grows out of mud or chikker in Punjabi language. It reminded me of an actual human being, who can flourish and radiate beauty, both inside and out, regardless of his or her environment. Please read my poem, Kanwal Phull in Gurmukhi and Romanized Punjabi. If you are interested in reading an English translation or Shahmukhi script, let me know through your comments and I will gladly oblige!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger... Read More