Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Folk for Future

Our soul-stirring folk songs are often born out of struggle. Now, these folk music traditions, like Punjab’s Jugni, are being reinvented to connect them to GenNext and how! Nirupama Dutt takes a look
MUSIC is indeed the food for love, as Baba Shakespeare indicated. It is played on not just for love but also for struggle, messaging and change, as the SMS generation would put it. Folk music, a part of the collective consciousness, has the power to connect thousands by just the striking of a few notes or singing out of a verse and it has been a vibrant medium always for the songs of struggle.
Ol' Man River was adapted by the Bard of Brahmaputra, Bhupen Hazarika, to the native conditions in the song,“Oh Ganga behti ho kyun
Ol' Man River was adapted by the Bard of Brahmaputra, Bhupen Hazarika, to the native conditions in the song,“Oh Ganga behti ho kyun
In America, folk music came back to the people’s psyche in the 20th century as workers struggled for child labour laws and drew upon the spirituals that came from the slave fields. Once again, as we are 11 years into the 21st century, the bars, cafes and clubs see the conscious Americans singing for peace as Bush or Obama have made wars. Interestingly, Ol' Man River, a 1927 song from the musical Show Boat, that sang of African-American hardships and the uncaring flow of the Mississippi River, was adapted by the Bard of Brahmaputra, the late Bhupen Hazarika, to the native conditions in his rendering for the teeming millions living below the poverty line in the song: Oh Ganga Behti Ho Kyun.
India, however, has a very long tradition, given the long history of its civilisation, of messages spread through music that connects people. The Indian folk repertoire is vast and varied given the diversity of the country and its people. In fact, many of the numbers in the popular charts have an interesting history. One Punjabi song of Karachi’s Coke Studio, Season 3, which has been on top of the charts for over a year, is the Jugni fusion number by Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi, with the alluring intervention of Dum Gutku. It may just be thought of as the age-old narrative device used in Punjabi folk music where Jugni is used as an observer of events. Others may consider Jugni to be a synonym for a young, pretty lass. However, the oral history that has been recorded by freedom fighters and scholars points out that Jugni, which is so much a part of the Punjabi folk repertoire, came into being only in 1906 and was actually a song of protest against the British imperial rule. That year, a flaming torch toured all over the British empire in celebration of the golden jubilee of Victoria Regina. When it came to Punjab, a pair of young singers, Manda and Bishna, fond of singing tappe and the legend of Mirza, decided to sing the song of the natives and the word ‘Jugni’ was derived from ‘jubilee’ and the target was the jubilee flame. In fact, that’s how the rustic and unlettered youths pronounced the word. The message came out with all its satire in the verses that have the names of the different destinations the jubilee flame was taken to and here is the one on Majitha:
Jugni jaa varhi Majithe
koi rann na chakki peethe
Putt gabhru mulak vich maare
rovan akhiyan par bulh si seete
Piir mereya oye Jugni ayi aa
ehnan kehrhi jot jagaee aa
(The Jugni has reached Majitha, where no woman grinds corn, young men of the country were killed, eyes wept but lips her sealed, My Master the Jugni has come here, what kind of flame is it?)
Writer Karamjit Singh Aujla writes, quoting oral records: "From city to city, Jugni, alias jubilee, went, Bishna and Manda followed and huge crowds gathered. Anger against the oppression rose, and the people became restless. The police arrested Bishna and Manda at Gujranwala and that was the last that was heard of them." There is no document of the Mirasi Manda and Jat Bishna being killed because those times did not necessitate the invention of fake encounters. However, oral histories recount the story of these two unsung lads of Punjab.
The many songs in different languages of India’s freedom movement are well known and the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) had a rich repertoire and many of the songs are still sung. Musicologist Sumangla Damodran, who has documented the revolutionary legacy of the IPTA songs, says: "The protest music tradition in India is largely not documented in any systematic manner. The formation of IPTA in the early 1940s marked a formal adoption of the idea that music and theatre would be used for the conscious articulation of protest. What emerges clearly from a random look at the songs that are available in several Indian languages is the range of styles used as well as experiments in terms of both form and content."
Going back in time, the verses sung by the bhakti poets became the architects of a caste and class-ridden society crying out for social justice, freedom from prejudice and love that transcends all differences. The earliest of the bhakti or path of devotion saints originated in the South as early as 5th century AD. Ramanuja (1017-1137) was the one who influenced Vaishnav Bhakti but north India saw its greater evolved form from the 14th to the 17th centuries, with Bhakti poets like Ravidas, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Kabir, Namdev, Meera Bai, Tukaram and others. This was the time when Guru Nanak (1469-1539) laid the beginnings of the Sikh faith and it also coincided with Sufi saints reaching out to the people with a similar message of shunning caste and creed. A happy coming together of the Sufi and Vaishnav thought in its soulful singing by the wandering minstrels of Bengal, the Baul singers.
The rendering of Bulleh Shah’s verse by Rabbi Shergil has a new-age feel that has even the jet-set crowd tapping its feet
The rendering of Bulleh Shah’s verse by Rabbi Shergil has a new-age feel that has even the jet-set crowd tapping its feet Photo: Pradeep Tewari
Punjab had a rich collage of Sufi poets, beginning with Sheikh Farid and going on to valuable contributions from Sultan Bahu, Shah Husain and Bulleh Shah. It is in Bulleh Shah (1680 to 1757) that Sufi mysticism is celebrated to the hilt, just as a Punjabi would do: Bulleah ki jaana main kaun:
Not a believer inside the mosque, am I
Nor a pagan disciple of false ritesthe pure amongst the impure
Neither Moses, nor the Pharaoh! to me, I am not known.
When sung by Rabbi Shergil, this verse has the power to get even the jet-set crowd to tap its feet. "In fact, everyone is on the Sufi bandwagon in Punjab and outside, but this is a great tradition that has to be understood in spirit and not taken as a mere fad," says Kamal Tewari, chairperson, Chandigarh Sangeet Natak Akademi. He adds: "Music and social change have always gone hand in hand through the centuries. Who could have professed social change as vocally and as sincerely as Kabir did? Kabirvani still plays the role to connect people." Love, despair and joy, or struggle and protest, name the emotion and music is its food. Indeed, some of our sweetest songs, a la poetP.B. Shelley, have a sad history in ways more than one.
Udasi unplugged

Mother Earth! Many more moons to your lap
Keep shining O’ bright sun on the tenements of the labourers 
— Sant Ram Udasi
Sant Ram Udasi’s songs, popularised by (L) Bant Singh, call for justice to the poorSongs of struggle never end because strife is an integral part of human existence and as far as lyrics that have enjoyed immense popularity in post-Independence Punjab go, they belong to Sant Ram Udasi (1939-1986). Udasi was born in a Dalit Mazhbi Sikh landless labour family. He grew up with a strong Dalit consciousness and his poetry blossomed in the Left-wing political stage. His songs are sung all through Punjab, as they call for justice to workers, poorest of the poor and women. In recent times, a new dimension was given to his songs by Dalit activist Bant Singh, who lost both his legs and arms for fighting for justice after the rape of his 17-year daughter. Young Bant, who belonged to a family of Mazhabi Sikhs in Jhabbar village of Mansa district in the Malwa region of Punjab, sings the songs of Udasi, who influenced him greatly in his youth. "They maimed me but could not silence me, for I sing still," says this Dalit icon.

Sant Ram Udasi’s songs, popularised by (L) Bant Singh, call for justice to the poor

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Poet of All Moments

Taj Mahal
Taj tere liye mazhare-ulfat
Hi sahi,
Tujhko is vadiye-rangin se
Akidat hi sahi,
Meri mehboob kahin aur
Mila kar mujhse,
Bazme-shahi mein gharibon
Ka guzar kya mani?
--Sahir Ludhianvi

``Aah! Sahir Ludhianvi,'' say banners at various spots in Ludhiana and these have been painted by his old friend Painter Bawrie, who once roamed the streets of the city with Sahir in the first flush of their youth. Ludhiana remembers its poet as Ludhiana is being remembered by many because of the poet. Abul Haye (Sahir's real name) was born on March 8, 1921. Just a year after the Government College of Ludhiana was born. He enrolled himself in the college on a hot summer day of May 1937 filling the form with a sensitive and delicate handwriting. In the form, which is still preserved in the college records, he stated in the column – which profession he would like to take up --``law''. Well, Sahir certainly became the advocate for the people's emotions and dreams for a better tomorrow:
Jis subah ki khatir jug-jug se ham sab mar-markar jeete hain jis subah ke amrit ki dhun mein ham zehar ke pyale peete hain
Who subah na aaye aaj magar, who subah kabhi to aayegi.
He wanted to disinherit the system, which would aid the foreign rule for the comforts of life:
Main un ajdad ka beta hoon
jinhone patham,
ajnabi kaum ke saye ki himayat
ki jai,
ghadar ki sayate-napakse lekar
ab tak.
Har karhe want mein sarkar ki
Khidmat ki hai.

It was on him on him to make amends for the betrayal by his forefathers. If they had let down the people their descendant would not and this commitment broke out in violent social protest in his verses. The first seeds were sown by a personal love for a girl of a different religion. A love which in those days could never hope to find a destination. But this love went beyond the personal tragedy which allows the romantic vision to imagine it as a paradisial pit. Love for him with his progressive cut look became the emotion of all social relations. Sahir had inherited a whole tradition of Urdu poetry and when Sahir blossomed as a poet Iqbal, Firak, Faiz and Majaz had already made a name for themselves. It would be impossible to envisage that Sahir remained uninfluenced by them. If Faiz had said ``Aur bhi gham hain zamane mein mohabbat kesiva'' we have from Sahir -- ``Tumhare gham ke siva aur bhi to ghum hain mujhe''. But Sahir cannot be accused of voicing an unfelt emotion and his personal experiences authenticate feelings. What brought his ``talkhian'' Published on inferior newsprint instant recognition was his ``andaze byan''. Here was a poet with a down-to-earth approach intermingling with his romantic vision and the words handpicked as it was. And there was a boldness which at that time would have needed great courage. Painter Bawrie recalled, ``I read the poem and was overwhelmed by the fact that here was a man calling a prostitute the daughter of
"Havva Yashodha and Zulekha''.
Among the early years of Sahir as a poet, his friends were Painter Bawrie. Harkrishan lal, Ajaib Chitrakar, Madanlal Didi, Mohan Sehzal.,Hamid Akhtar, Ghulam Murtaza and Faiz-ul-Hasan. There were the long evening walks the discussions and poetry in the evening culminating with a cup of tea at the railway station. Incidentally, Sahir those days got a rupee daily as pocket money. It is less if you go by his jagirdar background but more than enough for those days. One day when they were sipping tea they saw the railway station contractor beating up an employee mercilessly. They stopped him and went to the police chowki to file a report but the contractor was more powerful and the whole lot were in the lockup for a night for ``taking the law in their own hands!''
On the notice board of the college are written the lines from the poem ``Nazare-college'', which Sahir wrote when he was expelled or rather asked to migrate from the college. His sins were perhaps those of love and poetry, progressive at that, Sahir writes about it with the generosity which comes only when we have risen above our petty prejudices. But the irony is there:
Yahin seekha tha phan-e-nagmagari
Yahin utra she’r ka ilham
Main Jahan raha yahin ka raha
Mujhko bhoole nahin yeh darobaam
Ham inhi fizaon ke pale hue to hain
Gar yank ke nahin yan se nikale hue to hain.

It was years later when the college celebrated its Golden Jubilee that Sahir came. The college gave gold medals to two friends – who were born on the same day, same time, samecity, both remained bachelors but one was taken away by death. They were Sahir Ludhianvi and Harkrishan Lal, the world famous artist, who is in Ludhiana these days and shattered by the death of a friend with whom he remained in close with who he remained in close association till the end. Harkrishan lal recalled that Sahir had been the one to tell him of the death of the death of Shiv Kumar Batalvi. Sahir was sitting with Jaidev and other friends when Harkrishan walked in Sahir said ``he has become a star'', taking one from the celebrated poem of Shiv ``Joban rutte bhi marta phul bane ya tara.'' When Harkrishan asked who, Sahir replied. ``Wohi Shiv, phhol ban gaya hoga ya tara. Ham to mareinge to karele ke phool hi bane, Kyon ki jawani mein nahin marne wale.'' After his mother's death, Harkrishan said, Sahir was a broken man. She had been the motivating source of his life.
Sahir said to Harkrishan Lal, ``My home is like a hotel now. It is no longer a home.'' And one cannot stay indefinitely in a hotel! Sahir's home in Ludhiana was no longer his, the house which had seen Sahir pen down his first lines. Sahir was forced by circumstances to go to Lahore after partition where his mother was. But when he returned a year later, his house had been declared evacuee property and allotted to someone else. Now the owner of the house is in Canada and is wanting to sell it. The admirers of Sahir are trying that the Government should acquire it and turn to into a memorial.
Sahir never married and got a wife who would have turned any house into a home. Thus his palatial bungalow in Bombay named ``Parchhaiyan'', after his long poem too remained a hotel. It was not that love did not come his way again. Many women loved him. Love came to him to the form of pure devotion, musical overtones and poetic passion. Sahir too returned the love but some psychological barrier prevented him from taking love to the destination of marriage. Later one could see in his poems a faint regret:
Kisi ki ho ke to is tarhan mere
Ghar aaye!
Ki jaise phir kabhi aaye to
Ghar mile na mile''
``Yeh jaan kar tujhe kya jaane kitna gham pahunche
Ki aaj tere khayalon mein kho
Gaya hoon main.

Sahir was committed to the society. His friend Krishan Adeeb recalled that not only he but many joined the Communist Party in the early forties after reading the poems of Sahir. But for Sahir it remained only an ideological commitment, he could not become an active worker. Perhaps, he realized his limitations:
Tumse kuvvat lekar main
Tumkoraah dikhiaoonga
Tum parcham lehrana saathi
Main barbat par gaoonga.
Kaifi Azmi felt that this condition in Sahir led to the melancholy in his life. But even singing on the ``barbat'' is not without merit and the role of the intellectual lies in creating an awareness though he may not be able to join the fray.
Some consider Sahir's entry into the film world a loss to poetry. But with Sahir the complexion of film songs changed and he became a significant literary influence on the film industry, though not losing his progressive outlook. He always wrote less but the promise which he showed in the beginning was kept to the end. Much later he gave us poems like:
Khoon apna ho ya parya ho
Nasle-aadam ka khoon hai
This he wrote in the contest of the 1965 Indo-Pak war and his poem on the Ghalib centenary has him at his ironical best:
Gandhi ho ki Galib ho,
Insaf isnazaron mein
Ham dono kekatil hain, dono
Ke pujari hain.

Sahir's death is, no doubt, a loss but one does not mourn a death when the poet leaves to much of life in his poetry. Sahir himself said:
Na muhn chhupa ke jiye ham,
Na sar jhuka ke jiye
Sitamgaron ki nazar se nazar
Abe k raat agar kam jiye, to
Kam hi sahi
Yahi bahut hai ke mashale
jala ke jiye
Sahir will remain with us. We will remember him in so many ways, so many times. Every time we hear on the radio his song''
Main pal do palka shair hoon'',
We will remember him as the poet of all moments.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Writers' Writer

Those days of Nirmal Verma

Nirupama Dutt
Nirmal Verma is another Punjabi writer who has made significant contribution to Hindi fiction. Punjab has given many writers to the world of Hindi letters – Upendra Nath Ashk, Bhisham Sahni, Mohan Rakesh and Krishan Baldev Ved are a few names who have towered over. The Hindi literary scene.
The contribution of Nirmal Verma to contemporary Hindi fiction has been remarkable. He brought a breath of fresh air to Hindi literature and his stories and novels have shown him as a sensitive writer probing the human psyche and viewing human relationships from a new angle.
In the city recently on his way back to Delhi from Manikaran, Nirmal Verma said in an interview that his writings were an attempt to explore the truthfulness and authenticity in personal relationships of the Indian middle class, which he found half emancipated by the influence of the West and half buried in our own ancient traditions.
Though Nirmal's father belonged to Patiala, most of Nirmal's childhood was spent in the Simla Hills. He was never able to give up the fascionation for the hills and he later relived his childhood experiences in his second novel ``Laal Tin Ki hhat''. After having done his M.T.A. in history from St. Stephen's College, he taught for a while. Having an interest for literature, Nirmal started reviewing Hindi novels for an English daily, Reading and reviewing Hindi fiction, he chose it as his medium for creative expression.

Looking back at his youth spent in Karol Bagh, he said, ``We had a group called `Cultural Forum' and we would meet once a week and read out our stories to each other. Some of the writers of our group are now very wellknown. Our forum had among others Bhisham Sahni, Krishan Baldev Ved, Ram Kumar and Manohar Sham. We were sensitive and naïve but we would put attack each others stories with a ruthless and almost cruel criticism.''
The first stories of Nirmal Verma were published in literary magazine like `Kalpana' and `Kahani' his first collection of short stories `Parinde' was published in 1959. In the same year Nirmal went for an advanced course in contemporary Czech literature at Oriental institute in Prague. He stayed there for seven years and later lived in London and Europe for a long period.
It is said of Nirmal Verma that he brought a new phenomenon to Hindi letters – studying the tensions of the relationships in the West, a world very different from ours. His Prague experience led to the very sensitive novel `Weh Din' which has been translated into English byt Ved with the little of `Days of Longing'. When asked how he was inspired to weave the ways of the west in his stories, Nirmal replied, ``In my collection of stories `Pichhli Garmion Mein' I chose many themes from the west and depicted life in a milieu alien to me. It was essentially the concern of an Indian writer trying to grapple with a culture which offered more exposure in individual terms. In our culture many relationships are thwarted by external factors like customs, traditions and family. In the west there is more freedom to work our emotional relationships on an individual level and yet see them coming to their own logical and bitter end''.

In 1980, Nirmal Verma went back to the Delhi of the sixties where he had spent his youth and blossomed as a writer and wrote his novel `Ek chithhra Sukh'. It is the story of the young people the artists, writers and ideologists who are hungry to seek out experiences and look for just a tatter of authenticity. It tells of a generation idealistic about their role in a free India and the shattering of their dreams
Three of Nirmal Verma's stories `Weekend'. `Dedh Inch Oopar' were dramatized by the national school of drama under the title of teen ekant'. These plays were staged in the city by a local group. These three stories are written in monologue. Kumar Shahani has filmedhis story `Maya Darpan'. When asked how did he find writing novels for he is essentially a master of the short story, he said ``A novel requires more work and I find it a taxing job. In a short story I work out the frame in my mind and I knjow how I am going to put it down on paper. But in a novel, which has a much wider canvas. I start writing and sometimes the situations turn out very different from what I intended them to be''.
Recently he had done more non-fiction work – travelogues and essays. But he is working on a novel of which he says it is too early to talk yet.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Tale of two Coutries

War And Verse

The strange saga of animosity between India and Pakistan is not without strong bonds of shared language, literature and culture. Will these bonds survive the clouds of suspicion that hang heavy after Kargil, asks Nirupama Dutt

GULZAR: ``For the third generation, Pakistan will be Pakistan and India will be India. It will last as long as the memory of grandparents lasts.''

JAVED AKHTAR ``The Indian Muslims have reiterated their stand against the two-nation theory. It is for the other side to come out and say so too, for nations should not be based on religion.''

When guns fire, solders die and the wall of mourners pierces the overcast sky in Kargil, it certainly is not the time to write poetry. The brave do not write poetry. They die and they are dead: so said Russian poet Joseph Brodsky. Then one doesn't really write poetry on sad days: a sentiment expressed in verse by a prominent Hindi poet known for his political poetry, Kumar Vikal. When the brave die and the days are sad, one looks desperately for a line of poetry to hold on to as one hold son to life. It could be a soothing verse from the scriptures or an Urdu couplet accompanying the photograph of a young soldier in an obituary notice in a newspaper. Or a marching song, which the sad father recalls at his son's funeral, of flowers blooming where martyrs fall.

Poetry infiltrates with a difference. It comes bringing hope, peace and love. Poetry is not propaganda and it runs far deeper than patriotism, even though poets are often pressed into the service of the nation. A Gulzar giving his poetic message on the radio to soldiers in Kargil or a Javed Akhtar addressing people at Aye Watan Tere Liye, a starry nite organized in the Capital. But this they do in their individual capacity as citizens. When they turn to writing poetry, humanity replaces geographical considerations.

Petry knows not the division of ours and theirs. The dawn of Independence that broke upon India and Pakistan was sullied with blood, rape and devastation. The poet could not but voice his despair. It was Faiz Ahmed Faiz who said that this was not the dawn of freedom that had been looked orward to: yeh dagh, dagh ujala, yeh shab-guzida sehar; Intezar thha jiska yeh who sehar to nahin. Half a moon and a star fluttered on one side and the tri-colour on the other, and there were many who felt, truly, this was not the face of the dawn for which heroes had gone to the gallows. It was Amrita Pritam who invoked Waris Shah to speak again of the sorrows of the land of Punjab torn in two, and the poem was loved on the other side of the barbed wire too. The lot of poets on the other side was often to be behind bars for offending the dictatorial regime. Faiz, undergoing a jail term in the Fifties, sent out a couplet: Badha hai dard ka rishta yeh dil garib sahi; Tumhare naam pe aayeinge ghamgusar chale (This bond of suffering is great even if the heart be imporverished; Just call us and we'll be there to share your sorrows). It at once touched hearts on both sides.

The two countries shared a dard ka rishta (bond of suffering) and Sahir Ludhianvi, one of the finest lyricists of Hindi cinema, explicitly said that be it the blood of the Hindu or the Muslim, it was the blood of humanity. Years later, when Pakistan suffered humiliation and Bangladesh was created, Sahitya Akademi Award winning Punjabi poet S S Misha wrote an empathetic poem even as victory songs were being sung on this side. He described the strange saga of animosity' which brought a tear even to the `victor's eye during the surrender of arms.

But how long will these bonds hold as fundamentalists on both sides seem to working towards an exclusive culture? Ask this of poet and film-maker Gulzar and he says: ``What the two countries share is not just contemporary poetry. We share Baba Farid, who is a part of the Guru Granth Sahib. The question is that will this common culture survive for the generations to come? For the third generation, Pakistan will be Pakistan and India will be India. It will last as long as the memory of grand parents lasts. The breeze has to keep blowing if the shared heritage is to mean anything to those who follow.''

Alas! It is a hot wind which seems hellbent on scorching that which is tender on both sides. While fundamentalism of the Pakistani variety has been only too well known, our side too is now making up for lost time with vengeance. The guardians of Hindutva seem to have found in Kargil a scapegoat for their cultural crusade. The guns were trained on M.F. Husain for his paintings, then on Shabana Azmi for her role in Deepa Mehta's Fire and now on the Dadasaheb Phalke Award winning actor Dilip Kumar to return the Nishan-e-Imtiyaz award to Pakistan.

Poet Javed Akhtar says: ``What happened at Kargil was unfortunate. But its repercussions in the body politic of Pakistan are significant. For the first time, people have come out openly against the fundamentalists. A showdown is inevitable. If Pakistan goes a more reasonable way, the cultural ties between the two countries are bound to improve.'' And what about this side? Have not the Indian Muslims been called upon to wear the badge of patriotism? Akhtar's answer to these questions is: ``To some extent it is understandable. A section of people may doubt the loyalties of the Indian Muslims. But the Indian Muslim has reiterated his/her stand against the two-nation theory. It is for the other side also to come out and say so too, for nations should not be based on religion.''

Says Delhi-based playwright Asghar Wazahat, who penned the modern classic Jis Lahore Nahi Dekhea O' Jamea Nahin, which addressed the issue of communalism, using the shared poetic experience and interspersing the play with the poems of Nasir Kazmi who migrated to Pakistan in 1947 and whose poems reflect the agony of Partition. Wazahat's play, a raging hit in India, was also to be performed in Karachi. But the Pakistan Government did not allow it to be staged. `` It had only two exclusive shows in the Goethe Centre, Karachi, in 1991. But the reviews it got there were similar to the reviews here. This means there are liberal, secular people there too,'' adds Wazahat.

The poem which the liberals are holding on to for dear life in these troubled times comes from Pakistan. It has been penned by Fehmida Riyaz, a poet well-known to India. Having earned the wrath of the mullahs during Zia-ul-Haq's regime, she lived in exilein India for seven years. The poem is a scathing comment on the rise of fundamentalism on this side of the border: Tum bilkul ham jaise nikle, Ab tak kahan chhupe thhe bahi. She says that the folly and bigotry in which they passed a century, is now knocking at our door. With her tongue firmly planted in her cheek she cries out, ``Congratulations, many congratulations to you!''

``This poem'', says Delhi-based Hindi poet Manglesh Dabral: ``is the poem of the times. As long as such poetry is being written, there is no fear of the bonds snapping between the two countries which have shared history over a millennium.'' Such is the bond of suffering between people of the two countries that Faiz spoke of--a bond that could spell the much-needed peace for the subcontinent.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tribute to Giani Gurdit Singh

He captured the soul of rural Punjab

Nirupama Dutt
HE immortalised Mitthewal, an obscure Malwai village of the Malerkotla state of yore in Mera Pind, a book that enjoys the status of a classic today, and the book, in turn, immortalises its writer Giani Gurdit Singh.
He was a scholar of great repute, who made significant contributions in the areas of journalism, politics, Sikh religious studies and Punjabi culture. However, he was best loved and is best remembered today for his little epic that captured the heart and soul of Punjab’s rural life as it was in yesteryear.
This is not to say that his contributions in other areas were any less. He played a pivotal role in the establishment of Punjabi University, Patiala. On the basis of his report filed to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), Takht Sri Damdama Sahib was established as the fifth Takht.
The Giani was the founder of the Sri Guru Granth Vidya Kendras in Delhi and Chandigarh. In fact, he was a towering figure in post-Independence Punjab, who held important posts and received many honours. But what set him apart from others was his integrity and refusal to budge from what he held true, no matter what the political climate of the time was.
A robust and earthy sense of humour and courage of conviction kept him active and alert, in spite of setbacks to his health, to a ripe age of 84. He authored scores of books on culture, folklore and religion, having started his career as the editor of Prakash, a daily Punjabi newspaper from Patiala he started in 1947.
His literary circle in those days included writer Suba Singh and Prof Pritam Singh. A spontaneous essay, written in his daily in 1953 on his village paved the way for Mera Pind, published in 1961. The Encyclopaedia Britannica calls the book ‘one of the most outstanding novels depicting rural life in Punjab.’
Well known writer Khushwant Singh had said of Mera Pind: ‘The book gives a lively picture of pastoral life, written in delectable prose, studded with aphorisms, anecdotes, proverbs and songs. The one thing that will give Mera Pind a long lease of life, if not immortality, is the fact that the author has used the Punjabi language as it is spoken by the common people.’
As the news of the Giani’s demise spread in literary circles, short story writer Mohan Bhandari says: “I have said it before and I am saying it now that even 12 Sahitya Akademi awards for this book would have been less for in it is encased the soul of Punjab.”
The book that defied classification did not win the Sahitya Akademi award but awards never make a book, readers do. Running into its seventh edition, the book is one of the best read in Punjab and commenting on it poet Surjit Patar says: “If you haven’t read this book, you have missed much of Punjab.”
Mera Pind portrays the innocence and simplicity of the Punjabi village before the intervention of ‘development’ and materialism. Paying a tribute to the Giani, Punjabi critic Bhushan says: “Mahatma Gandhi had said that India lived in its villages, and I say that the village lived in Giani Gurdit Singh.”
Published in The Tribune, January 18, 2007.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

On Rajinder Singh Bedi

A creator `Sailing to Byzantium’

Nirupama Dutt

Meeting Rajinder Singh Bedi, writer and film-maker, who came here to receive the honour bestowed upon him by the Punjab Government for his outstanding services to the Indian film industry, brought to the mind the image of a desolate theatre, the players and viewers having fled, and the director sitting alone thinking of what has been gained and what lost. Bedi is no longer the vivacious man known for his wit and humour. A sudden attack of paralysis a year ago rendered his right side almost useless and at 65 he has lost the sight of one eye. He almost apologized for his ailing memory, fumbling speech and regretted that had he been his old self, this interview would have been more interesting and alive, for now he could not even remember the names of all the films he had made. One was reminded of W. B. Yeats ‘Sailing to Byzantium’:

``That is no country for old
Men, the young,
In one another’s arms, birds
In the trees,
Those dying generation--at their song’’

Born and brought up in Lahore, Rajinder Singh Bedi started his career as a post office clerk and during this period published two collections of short stories ``Dana o’ Daan’’ and ``Grayahan’’. These brought him fame and steadily through his literary pursuits he rose to the position of Station Director, All India Radio, Jammu and Kashmir, after the partition of the country. However, the job did not last long and he left for Bombay, the Mecca of Indian film industry, to try his luck. The first film he wrote was ``Badi Behan’’ with the singing star Surayya. The instant success of this movie brought him more work. Bedi wrote the screenplay of some of the most memorable films of the Indian cinema like ``Devdas’’, ``Daag’’,``Rail Ka Dibba’’, ``Basant Bahar’’. ``Ab Dilli Door nahin’’, ``Mirza Ghalib’’, ``Anuradha’’, ``Satyakam’’ and ``Anupama’’.

The first film he made on his own was `Garam Kot’’ with Balraj Sahni and Nirupma Roy, and then ``Rangoli’’ with Kishore Kumar and Vyajanthimala. Both did fairly well but it was his ``Dastak’’, a low-budget film based on his play ``Nakle makan’’, which brought him acclaim at the national level and he was awarded the Padma Shri.
His classic novel ``Ek Chadar maili Si’’, which was a sincere portrayal of the rural life of Punjab, won him the sahitya Adademi Award. ``I had written it in just three months’’, recalled Bedi. After he wrote it, he gave the manuscript to Krishan Chander to go through, Krishan Chander started reading it in the late hours of the evening and was so absorbed that he could not put it down. When he finished it late at night, he ran in his underclothes to Bedi’s house and said, you don’t know that you have written a masterpiece!’’ Bedi tried more than once to make a film on it but somehow the venture was ill-started in 1965, he started making it in Punjabi called ``Rano’’ with Geeta bali as Rano and Dharmendra as mangal. ``Shammi Kapur was against his wife playing such a bold role but Geeta bali was in love with the character of Rano and she lived the role’’, said Bedi. But the film was two-thirds complete when Geeta bali got small-pox. Bedi recalled the last hours when his ``Rano’’ died. ``I was by her side with her husband and father-in-law. She was completely covered with blisters, her face swollen. Geeta had beautiful eyes and she was so proud of them In that state, she asked for a minor to see her eyes but when she could not see them she fell unconscious and never regained consciousness. After her death, Bedi just drew a line across the negatives.

Some years back Bedi started the project once again and the mahurat was performed here in the Tagore Theatre and Kiran Thakar Singh was taken in the lead. Though the film was to be in Punjabi, the Punjab Government did not come forward with any help. Bedi was facing bad days. His ambitious venture ``Phagun’’ having flopped, the project had to be shelved once again. Now, Bedi revealed, Girish Karnad was making it in Hindostani and the cast had yet to be decided upon. Asked if he felt bad that his cherished dream was being realised by another, he replied: ``No, I am happy. I do not have the capacity to make it any longer and very few would take up a project like this. And Karnad knows more about films than I do, so he might do more justice to it.’’ He said that he could never make a Punjabi film because none came forward to help him.

Bedi has received many awards in his life but he was particularly bitter about the recent State honour given to him and S Sukhdev, ``The poor widow of Sukhdev came all the way from Bombay and she was given no money. Neither was I with such treatment, do they think anyone will come from Bombay to make a Punjabi film here? No one will touch them even with a pair of tongs,’’ he said. After ‘Phagun’, Bedi attempted another experimental film ``Ankhon Dekhi’’ on the atrocities on harijans with two newcomers, Suman Sinha and Suresh Bhagat. ``The day I got the censor certificate, I was taken ill and after that all my workers scattered and I was left alone.’’ He is now trying for the release of the film but he fear that it will not be done in his lifetime for he has vague premonitions of death. To a query of what he thought of the pages devoted to him in Balwant Gargi’s book ``the Naked Triangle’’, in which Bedi’s personal life has been laid bare with a vengeance, he answered: ``I have not read the book but I have heard about the much he has churned on. He never sought my permission to write anything and what he has written is in bad taste. If I got involved with one woman, Gargi got involved with 50 but that does not make literature.”

Looking back at his career, he said that it had been creatively satisfying but what was the use of making good films? There will always be a few to carry out the struggle and never see the fruit of their labour. Though Bedi will never be able to make a film again, he wants to write two novels, which he has already begun Mr. H.S. Bhatti made an offer that he stay with him and write them, but Bedi wants to work for the release of ``Ankhon Dekhi’’ first. Surprisingly, none of the local organizations arranged a get-together of the local writers to meet Bedi, not even some groups in the university, who love to bask in the glory of others. Perhaps they were more busy giving statements to the press about the deep shock Jean-Paul Sartre’s death had left them in!

Bedi’s son, Narinder Singh, is a successful film-maker and his films sell. Bedi said, ``My son realised what was profitable and made such films like `Bandhan’. `Jawani Diwani’, `Rafoochakkar’and `Benaam’. Asked if given the choice once again, would he make such a compromise and the reply, thankfully, was not disappointing. He said, ``No I would not have made such a compromise.’’ If with all the bitterness and disillusionment, this be the answer then hope still not lost and once again Byzantium, Yeats’ symbol for purity and creativity, comes to the mind:
``An aged man is but a paltry
A tattered coat upon a stick
Soul clap its hands and sing,
And louder sing,
For every tatter in its moral

Indian Express, April 20, 1980

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chasing dreams

My dreams
Look for
The real thing
And my
Chases a dream -- Deepti Naval

Nirupama Dutt

This Little poetic confession comes from the second known Bollywood actress who took to writing poetry. And it’s not just poetry for Deepti Naval. Apart from being a painter, this petite actress has recently made forays into photography. In Delhi for her first-ever exhibition of photographs at Gallery Espace, Deepti brings with her the rugged landscape of Ladakh. The wide open sky, the snowcapped mountains, the trees shorn of the last leaf, walls of stone, rounded mud wall of a remote monastery merging with the bare hilltop…. And occasionally, a winterscape peopled with women wrapped in shawls and smiles.
Her dreams have certainly chased the real thing. And the photographs speak of skill and poetry. These stark landscapes are in a way an extension not just of her own poetry, but also that of her celebrated predecessor, Meena Kumari. Their poems speak of their direct communion with nature and of their journey through life alone. For, it was Meena Kumari who had spoken of Chand tanha hai asman tanha, dil mila hai kahan kahan tanha (The moon is alone and so is the sky, where won’t you find a heart alone?)
`Aloneness’, and not `loneliness’, was very much a part of Deepti’s early poems, which she started penning while still in college in New York. These published in an anthology called Lamha Lamha (Moment to moment) a couple years after the young, starryyears Deepti made her debut in Ek Baar Phir. This pahhened a decade after Meena Kumari’s death in 1972.
Interestingly, not only were these two actresses a generation apart, but also a world apart. Meena Kumari belonged to an age when tragedy was what the audience liked and so, with her immense talent and classic beauty, she queened over it. She played the ideal of Indian womanhood, and sadly, martyrdom followed her in life and the only way out seemed to be alcohol. Deepti came from a background in which women were empowered. She had the girl-next door looks. And charm spilling over.
The points of difference between Meena Kumari and Deepti Naval are many, but the common factor remains poetry. Interestingly, both of them gravitated poetically towards Gulzar, in their search for a sensitive man. And Gulzar not only re-invented Meena Kumari’s image on screen in Mere Apne, but also edited and published her poems after she died, for she had left all her diaries with him. Gulzar also paid her a tribute on celluloid though a short film called Shaera.
Deepti, too, found favour. Grapevine had it that the poet character that Gulzar invented in his film ljazat was inspired by her. Yes, that lovely Maya, played by Anuradha Patel, who telegraphs her poems and died strangulated, Isadora Duncan-like. Deepti laughts away the resemblance, though: ``Not really. I am not as erratic as maya was. I just love doing a lot many things.
There’s no rule that says an actress cannot paint or photograph. ``I came from a strictly non-filmi family. Both my parents were academics. I majored in painting and that was the time I learnt photography, too. But then came films,’’ she says. ``It is not a tragedy for me not to be doing films. I can do tother things.’’
For some time now, Deepti has been writing poetry in English and has penned some sensitive poems on the women inmates at the Ranchi mental asylum, which she visited to work on a script. ``Life has not been the same after that. I was so moved by the women and their histories.’ ’She says. The tentative title for her book is Living On The Edge.
On the personal front, Deepti has found a meaningful relationship with Vinod pandit, nephew of vocalist Pandit Jasraj. ``We are companions and for the moment, we do not wish to bring our relationship within the institution of marriage,’’ says Deepti. And one is happy that she has the spirit and the options which her ``older sister’’ Meena Kumari did not have. It is just that the two chased dreams at different points of history.