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Poet, Singer, and Activist

Is the Earth Just Old And In The Way? Maybe It’s Time to Move to Mars!

Posted by on Oct 9, 2014 in Discussion | 0 comments

India-Mars-OrbiterIndia’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.

1240811773377The 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:

Man on Moon 1According 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:

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Fighting Our Own Battles: Using Technology to Educate People on The Sikhs!

Posted by on Jul 28, 2014 in Discussion | 0 comments

safe_image.phpIt 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!

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Happy International Women’s Day From Madera, California with the American Association of University Women and my Punjabi Poem with English subtitles: “Daughters”

Posted by on Mar 14, 2014 in Discussion | 2 comments

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

AAUW Galloway Room Library Picture

Me with President AAUW Madera

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.”

300px-Guru_nanak_sri_lankaGuru 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.


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New Album: Toon Sathon Mukh Na Morhin (a-cappella)

Posted by on Dec 8, 2013 in Audio Download | 1 comment

As many of you know, I usually sing my poems a-cappella (without musical accompaniment). My son, Navdeep, helped to setup a recording studio in my home so that I can do more a-cappella recordings, which is more familiar and comfortable to me, but I am interested in experimenting!

Have a listen to my latest album and let me know what you think:

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It Began With A Spark, Now Let There Be Light !

Posted by on Sep 26, 2013 in Discussion | 1 comment

Finnish Socialist Hall Astoria

Finnish Socialist Hall Astoria


Yugantar Ashram San Francisco

2013 is the year of the Centennial Celebration of the Ghadar Movement. This is the Finnish Socialist Hall in Astoria, Oregon State in America where it all started in 1913. In a distant land 100 years ago Sohan Singh Bhakna along with his coworkers working as mill workers, laborers in the River Columbia basin and around Portland, Oregon organized a meeting on April 30,1913 in the Finish Socialist Hall seen at the left hand corner here.  Lala Hardyal from Stanford University was the keynote speaker invited. Hindi Association was formed with Sohan Singh Bhakna as President, Lala Hardyal General Secretary and Kanshi Ram  Maroli Treasurer. It moved its Headquarters to Yugantar Ashram in San Francisco, California shown here right hand side the same year and began publishing a weekly newspaper called’ Ghadar’. Shown below is the Press that was hand operated by Shahid Kartar Singh. The first issue of “Ghadar” Akhbar was ready to roll on November 1913  . The members, who came from all parts of undivided India, came together to fight injustice not only in their homeland India, but also in their adopted home: the United States of America. In the true spirit of the American Revolution, the Ghadrites sacrificed their lives for India’s struggle for freedom, as well as for the innate rights of the immigrant worker to lead a dignified and discrimination free life here in America. Indian-Americans from across the country are celebrating the Ghadar Movement’s 100th Birth anniversary in every town and city they happen to live in America.

Printing Press

Printing Press That printed “Ghadar”

As Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India  put it succinctly in Kochi, South India in a recent public address that the Ghadar Movement of 1913, created a “luminous spark” that awoke India, which had been a sleeping giant. The heat thus generated ignited the fire needed for the struggle for Indian Independence that was achieved later in 1947. But the irony is that the light produced by the same spark machine has yet to reach all four corners of the Indian nation!

As Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, the Founder President of the Ghadar Party  pointed out to the first Prime Minister of India Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru in one of the Ghadrites’ meetings with him when he said something like this; Pundit Ji you are thinking about the independence of India, we are talking about the Independence of Indians! That is the difference which still remains only it has become even wider since as the powerful became more powerful and the poor more disenfranchised!

Best Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna Courtesy Sita Ram Madhopuri

Best Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna Courtesy Sita Ram Madhopuri

In order to fulfill the Ghadrites  dream, the process of reawakening the giant may again have started in Astoria, Oregon by  the seemingly small act of Dr.Johanna Ogden and Prof. Bruce La Brack.  Dr.Ogden wrote, “ Ghadar,  Historical Silences,  and Notions of Belonging: Early 1900s Punjabis of the Columbia River.”  In the article, she writes about the historical significance of the Ghadar Movement and its place in Oregon’s history for the Oregon Historical Quarterly in the summer of 2012. And after reading it, Dr. La Brack, and Dr. Ogden teamed up and collaborated with the Astoria’s City Council and the Mayor of Astoria to bring about a Proclamation and celebrate a 2-day event on October 4-5, 2013. This has already had a ripple effect with Indian-Americans around the country collaborating with their local governments to commemorate this footnote in India’s freedom movement and American history.  In the central valley California, for example, a similar Proclamation recognizing the Centenary of the Founding of the Ghadar Party has been passed by the City Council and the Mayor of Fresno. Other cities may follow suit.

It takes a century but it may very well be the beginning for the Light generated by that spark to shine not just on India but on all Indians big and small as contemplated by the Ghadrites a century ago! Astoria may have done it again. Time will tell as it did in the case of the Ghadar Movement!

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