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Poet, Singer, and Activist

Know Your Poets: Anwar Masood

Posted by on Jun 5, 2013 in Featured, Know Your Poets | 1 comment

Anwar Masood

Anwar Masood

Many people think about Pakistani poet and singer, Anwar Masood as a very humorous poet and I must admit the first poem of his I heard, “Lassi te Cha,” I initially thought was really funny, but he so skillfully weaved the poem to be about very deep and dark societal issues of caste and privilege. He is a poet that has the rare gift of being able to take a very serious subject and make it light and entertaining. His background is also very interesting to me because although he has a Masters degree in Persian from Oriental College in Lahore and has written poems in Urdu and Persian, he is mainly known for his Punjabi poetry that cuts to the bone.

He made hijrat to Lahore, not across the border but back and forth from Gujarat in Pakistan. His poetry is in Punjabi I really like not only because of how he sings it, but because they always involves Punjabi culture and tradition, often things that either don’t exist or may very well be extinct in the coming years.

He wrote a deeply moving poem about mothers that was so rhythmic. Writing about mothers is the most emotional for us humans and other living creatures alike. Anwar Masood’s Punjabi poem titled as ‘ Maa Di Shan’ is the one which makes me cry every time I watch this  video clip with Noor Ul Hassan’s introduction in the ‘Visale Yaar’ presentation.

It is a very happy feeling to see that a Punjabi poet is able to draw in the crowds and write meaningful poetry as receives standing ovations from men and women, old and young when he reads or sings his poetry. There is little doubt why he is immensely popular in Pakistan and I hope his fame extends to India and more! One of my Pakistani friends tells me that Anwar Masood is perhaps the only well known Punjabi poet in Pakistan where Urdu poetry is systematically promoted, who stands shoulder to shoulder if not taller than Urdu poets in terms of popularity in Pakistan especially in Punjab. He uses metaphors that you wouldn’t think a learned scholar would use that he easily taps into what makes us all connect as human beings: banyan, chah, lassi (undershirt, desi tea, lassi is lassi). He uses these metaphors to press some red-hot buttons in a very poetic way.

Do you have a favorite poet, whose words you find moving? Who is your Anwar Masood?

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Know Your Poets: Zehra Nigah

Posted by on Jun 5, 2013 in Discussion | 0 comments

A poet, whose work I greatly admire is Zehra Nigah, who like me had to cross the border in 1947. Only she crossed into that line drawn in the sand to the other side into Pakistan, while I crossed over to India. She is an Urdu poet and scriptwriter and as you can hear in the video below, she is a marvellous poet. She was one of only two female poets to gain the respect of the country in a time when poetry was completely dominated by men.  A few years ago, Sheraz Khan posted this video of her poem as above on youtube, recited by Anwar Maqsood, who is also a fantastic poet. The lines of the poem are “Suna hai Jnglon ka bhi koi Dastoor hota hai,” where she uses the metaphor of the jungle to talk about larger moral implications. The literal meaning is even in the jungles, there is a social order, something we don’t really think about. That animals, like humans, are rational thinking beings, who are also governed by morality.

Zehra-nigahWhen I decided to pick this poet to write about, the difficulty did not come from what to write, but what not to write. There were so many of her poems that were so beautiful and immersed in variations in tone. Some started off humorous and became poignant, others were poignant from the start and became even more so. One such poem is called, “Mai bach gai, Ma,” told from the point of view of a girl-child, who has escaped abortion. The lines literally translate to “I have survived, mother.” And it is such a moving poem, regardless of whether you have daughters or not. Everyone has sisters and mothers anyway! Watch the video and see what you think!


Tell me one of your favorite poets, and which language?

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My Father’s Day Present: Heer CD Cover Design

Posted by on Jun 20, 2011 in Discussion, Punjabi Poetry | 0 comments

Audio CD for Waris Shah's "Heer" sung by Pashaura Singh Dhillon (artwork by Navreet Kaur Dhillon)

Audio CD for Waris Shah’s “Heer” sung by Pashaura Singh Dhillon

This year for Father’s Day, I received a very nice joint gift. My daughter, Navreet Kaur Dhillon, is a physician in the Bay Area, and also a very talented artist. My son, Navdeep Singh Dhillon, is a Creative Writing/English Literature lecturer in New York City.

Both my son and daughter collaborated via phone and internet from East and West Coast to create a CD cover for “Heer,” an album I didn’t even know I was making! I had recorded one track giving my own interpretation to Waris Shah’s epic poem, and uploaded it to FaceBook after several people requested me. It was (and still is) available for free download in a blog post I wrote, “Heer Forever Stands Tall (ਗੁੱਝੀ ਰਹੇ ਨਾ ਹੀਰ ਹਜ਼ਾਰ ਵਿਚੋਂ )” in addition to Audio Downloads (above in the navigation bar). Many have since asked me to sing some more tracks, which I had said I would do in my own time. Now, it looks like I better get moving!

Below is my daughter’s original drawing:

Artwork for Waris Shah's "Heer - Ranjha" by Navreet Kaur Dhillon

Original Artwork for CD Cover of “Heer” by Navreet Kaur Dhillon

And below is my son’s contribution. Have a listen to this CD, which currently only has one track, but there will more soon! Let me know what you think!

While you wait for “Heer” to be completed, check out my e-books, available in Punjabi (both Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi scripts) and English. You can also download/listen to completed digital albums/CDs at


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Sufi Sensation Mamta Joshi’s Maiden Concert in Surrey, Canada

Posted by on Oct 22, 2010 in Discussion | 0 comments

As many of you know, Dr, Mamta Joshi, a well known Sufi singer from Punjab, is singing one of my most prized poems, “Umber di Shehzadi: To the Princess of the Skies” that I wrote 41 years ago. She specially invited me to attend her concert in Surrey, and with such a special invitation, I couldn’t refuse. Besides, I was excited to hear her interpretation of my poem. Even despite some hiccups, it was a fantastic show and an equally great honor to attend Dr. Mamta Joshi’s maiden concert Mehfil-e-Sufi in this very important part of the concert world Surrey on October 10, 2010.

My wife, Inderbir and I flew to Seattle from San Francisco on Saturday and stayed overnight with relatives. We drove from Seattle to Surrey across the border in Canada, the next day on Sunday with my cousin sister, brother in  law and my nephew Navtej, an Aircraft Engineer behind the wheel using Highway 5. We were there right on time and the Bell Art Center Auditorium with a capacity of 1200 was nearly packed.

Canada Tour: Chetan Joshi, Dr. Mamta Joshi's husbandIt was dark inside and the stage was so beautifully designed and decorated with Sufiana ornaments. The subtle lighting arrangement on the stage made it glow like a jewel in the crown of surrounding darkness. Equally subtly, the musicians touched the strings and the tabla, the violin and other instruments mingled to make a very melodious sound. Suddenly Chetan Mohan, the MC announced Dr. Mamta Joshi’s arrival as she bowed to her admirers who were sitting waiting for her to show up and got seated, settling down in front of the multi-microphones.

Perhaps very few of the audience members, except myself, knew that the comfortably seated looking orchestra was hurriedly assembled as she could only bring less than half of the musician team with her from India and had very little time to rehearse with all of them as one team.  So I was kind of nervous to think how she will pull them all together in such a complicated classical music composition. But it was fascinating to watch her in great shape against all the odds of her distress and discomfort she encountered due to visa problems for her husband Chetan Mohan, toddler son and the musicians. Since they  had arrived at the eleventh hour, there was not much time to relax and get in shape.

Canada Tour - Dr. Mamta Joshi LiveCanada Tour - Dr. Mamta Joshi's StageSo the show began with the Sufi prayer and then gradually progressed in a very melodious way to cover everything the audience had asked for nonstop for nearly four hours. The Singing Doctor proved her metal and leadership qualities; the newly met musician’s team from two different countries proved their professionalism by playing and singing it in one tune in such a short time. Everyone seemed to have loved it which one could judge from the applause. Talking about the applause, interestingly it was much prolonged after she sang “Umber di Shehzadi: To the Princess of the Skies” or it seems so to me because I was there. The young doctor was very kind to have us seated in the VVIP first row and stopped her show to say some very kind words about me, how she found me on the internet and then asked me to identify myself before she sang “Umber di Shehzadi: To the Princess of the Skies” with the most beautiful ta’ans.

This Mehfil-e-Sufi was perhaps one of the few mehfils of its kind in an environment which is currently so used to Bhangra and dancing beats everywhere. Mamta managed to pin some of her more enthusiastic younger admirers down to their seats for nearly 4 hours to listen to some serious stuff such as Sharnjit Fida’s written “Dili vilkdi te Tarhphda Lahor vekhya” and “Umber di Shehzadi: To the Princess of the Skies” written by Pashaura Singh Dhillon of California (yes, that’s me!).

Gurmant and Nina Grewal, MPAlso in the audience, the most famous couple of Surrey, Gurmant Grewal and Nina Grewal MP, graciously stopped by us and congratulated us for attending and be a part of the Mamta show across the border. It was a very thoughtful gesture. Nina Grewal made me feel even prouder when she specifically mentioned to me that her parents are also Dhillons and that she felt very proud that I had written“Umber di Shehzadi: To the Princess of the Skies.”

We had to return to Seattle across the border overnight and therefore had to leave immediately after the show. Consequently we could not meet her to say good bye. The next morning, they had assumed I would still be in Surrey, and were both disappointed to hear that we wouldn’t be able to meet, even though I told them I completely understood how stressful the day of performance can be. And add to that the extra stress of not having all of your musicians and visa problems! I can only imagine how she pulled it off and made it look so effortless to her audience! Besides, I am looking forward to meeting her on the next tour which will be in the United States next summer when she will be incorporating my poem, “Dheeaan,” included below:

Mamta Joshi’s next concert took place in Abbotsford on October 17. As soon as I receive a video and audio of “Umber di Shehzadi: To the Princess of the Skies” in her voice, I will post it on the blog for  my fans and friends to share it with one and all. Meanwhile listen and watch this youtube video of Mamta Joshi singing Sharnjit Fida’s written “Dili vilkdi te Tarhphda Lahor vekhya” about the devastating effects of the 1947 partition:

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Punjabi Poem: Dheeaan

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

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