WHEN SURJIT PATAR GOES BACK TO HIS VERSES

Punjab is busy holding world’s biggest meeting, the one that its poet laureate wanted

It needed no less for him to go back and resurrect verses from the past
SP Singh

SP Singh

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GENERATIONS OF PUNJABIS, old, young and adolescents, grew up spewing Punjab’s much celebrated poet Surjit Patar’s verses, memorising his couplets, singing his songs, reciting his ghazals. But this couplet stayed in their minds – etched forever, as if it carbon-dated the times in which it was written:

ਮਾਤਮ, ਹਿੰਸਾ, ਖ਼ੌਫ਼, ਬੇਬਸੀ ਤੇ ਅਨਿਆਂ
ਇਹ ਨੇ ਅੱਜਕਲ ਮੇਰੇ ਪੰਜਾਂ ਦਰਿਆਵਾਂ ਦੇ ਨਾਂ

More sensitive minds among us used to wonder if his couplets revisit the poet the same way they come a-knocking on our mind’s door time and again; or if the poet ever revisits his old verses to ask them if they need a hand again, another touch of his blessed quill.

Sometime during the summer last year, Patar — whose other identity as a social thinker and an organic public intellectual is inherently understood but rarely spelt out so explicitly — wrote a lead article in a national English daily wherein he talked of Punjab’s trysts with separations and meetings, and how it was a melting pot “not only of races, religions and castes, but also stars and lamps.”

Gagan mein thaal ravi chand deepak bane/ Taarika mandal janak moti/ Dhoop malianlo pawan chavro kare/ Sagal banrai phoolant jyoti.” (Upon the cosmic platter of the sky/ the sun and the moon are the lamps/ the stars and their orbs are the pearls/ the wind coming from the sandalwood of the Malyagiri hills is the incense).

He spoke of the “greatest separation” of 1947, of the line Radcliffe drew “through the middle of Ravi, severed Amritsar from Lahore, separated villages from their fields, rivers from their canals, Sikhs from their holy places, and ended at the border of Bahawalpur.”

He wrote of 1984, a numerical figure that brings back images of tanks in the Golden Temple Sri Darbar Sahib, a demolished Akal Takht, tyres around people with long beards and turbans, and streets of Trilokpuri stinking of blood and human flesh.

And he wrote the memorable lines-

ਮਾਤਮ, ਹਿੰਸਾ, ਖ਼ੌਫ਼, ਬੇਬਸੀ ਤੇ ਅਨਿਆਂ
ਇਹ ਨੇ ਅੱਜਕਲ ਮੇਰੇ ਪੰਜਾਂ ਦਰਿਆਵਾਂ ਦੇ ਨਾਂ

Maatam, hinsa, khauf, bebasi te anyaay/ Eh ne aj kal mere panjaan dariyaanva de naam (Mourning, violence, fear, helplessness and injustice/ These are the names of my five rivers today).

Surjit Patar
Surjit Patar

He spoke of Punjab “suffering so many separations” and did not spare his own ilk. “We, the intellectuals, are seeking ways of escape: Panchhi taan udd gaye ne/ Rukh vi salaahaan karan/ Chalon ithon chaliye.” (The birds have already flown away/ Now even the trees converse/ Let us go somewhere else).

He spoke of the “great separation” that was inbuilt in the state’s school system that was skewed against the mother tongue.

He yearned: “Punjab, the land of great meetings and separations has suffered too many separations. Now it needs a great meeting.”

Years passed since ਮਾਤਮ, ਹਿੰਸਾ, ਖ਼ੌਫ਼, ਬੇਬਸੀ ਤੇ ਅਨਿਆਂ / ਇਹ ਨੇ ਅੱਜਕਲ ਮੇਰੇ ਪੰਜਾਂ ਦਰਿਆਵਾਂ ਦੇ ਨਾਂ. Decade after decade slid away, the world changed beyond recognition, and at times it seemed we were giving up on hope.

We rued that we were no more the brotherly people that we read about, we lamented that we no more cared about Mother Nature, we seemed to have become strangely reconciled to our poor marginalised people either committing suicide to die one day, or to die bit by bit every single day as they eke out a living merely for a meal or two.

And then a twig snapped somewhere. Something changed. Someone said something to someone, and it went from one to the other, and then to another. Some day some poet will find that exact moment when it became a wave, but all we know is that a wave it did become. Then another. And then another.

farmersThere were waves upon waves – some on foot, some on tractor trolleys, and all riding the spirits of hope and change and revolution, marching to the music of words the Gurus and Bhagats had uttered centuries ago!

And the poet went back to his couplet. He knew this was the moment the old verse that painted our reality needed to catch up with hope. A poet chronicles our times like no other, and Surjit Patar knew that The Times They Are a-Changin’. He knew he had to take his quill back to the verse, for how else will the verse chronicle our new reality of hope? Read his verse once again now, and you will know why the poets should live far longer than us other mortals!

ਮਾਤਮ, ਹਿੰਸਾ, ਖ਼ੌਫ਼, ਬੇਬਸੀ ਤੇ ਅਨਿਆਂ
ਇਹ ਨੇ ਅੱਜਕਲ ਮੇਰੇ ਪੰਜਾਂ ਦਰਿਆਵਾਂ ਦੇ ਨਾਂ
ਜੋ ਹੁੰਦੇ ਸਨ ਸਤਲੁਜ, ਬਿਆਸਾ, ਰਾਵੀ, ਜਿਹਲਮ ਅਤੇ ਝਨਾਂ
ਪਰ ਜਿਹੜੇ ਇਕ ਦਿਨ ਹੋਵਣਗੇ
ਰਾਗ, ਸ਼ਾਇਰੀ, ਹੁਸਨ, ਮੁਹੱਬਤ ਅਤੇ ਨਿਆਂ
ਮੇਰੇ ਪੰਜਾਂ ਦਰਿਆਵਾਂ ਦੇ ਨਾਂ

On the 31st day of farmers’ agitation at Singhu Tikri borders, the poet wrote – ਇਨ੍ਹੀਂ ਦਿਨੀਂ ਮੈਨੂੰ ਲਗਦਾ ਹੈ ਕਿ ਪੰਜਾਬ ਦੇ ਸ਼ਾਇਰਾਂ ਦੀਆਂ ਨਜ਼ਮਾਂ ਵਿਚੋਂ ਨਵੇਂ ਪੱਤੇ ਫੁੱਟ ਰਹੇ ਹਨ, ਪੰਜਾਬ ਦੀ ਸੋਚ ਸੰਵੇਦਨਾ ਵਿਚੋਂ ਵੀ ਨਵੇਂ ਪੱਤੇ ਫੁੱਟਣਗੇ।

PM Narendra Modi

On this day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi read out his team-written Mann Ki Baat and thousands were banging thalis and vessels to make sure their voice was heard over the din created by a loudmouth politician, Surjit Patar wrote poignantly –

ਇਸ ਵਿਚ ਕੋਈ ਸੰਦੇਹ ਨਹੀਂ ਕਿ ਇਸ ਅਨੂਠੇ ਅੰਦੋਲਨ ਤੋਂ ਬਾਅਦ ਦਾ ਪੰਜਾਬ ਇਕ ਵੱਖਰਾ ਪੰਜਾਬ ਹੋਵੇਗਾ। ਸ਼ਾਇਦ ਇਹ ਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕ ਬਾਣੀ ਦੇ ਵਧੇਰੇ ਕਰੀਬ ਹੋ ਜਾਵੇ। ਅਸੀਂ ਸਾਦਾ ਪਿਆਰ ਭਰੀ, ਦਇਆ ਭਰੀ, ਨਿਆਂਸ਼ੀਲ ਜਿੰਦਗੀ ਜੀਉ ਕੇ, ਖੇਤੀ ਦਾ ਕੋਈ ਨਵਾਂ ਮਾਡਲ ਲੱਭ ਕੇ ਪੰਜਾਬ ਦੀ ਪੁਨਰ-ਸਿਰਜਣਾ ਕਰ ਸਕੀਏ। ਸ਼ਾਇਦ ਅਸੀਂ ਖੋਟੀਆਂ ਸਿਆਸਤਾਂ ਤੋਂ ਵੀ ਪੱਲਾ ਛੁਡਾ ਸਕੀਏ।

What more can we say? ਰਬ ਕਰੇ ਸਾਡੀਆਂ ਰੂਹਾਂ ਦੇ ਇਤਿਹਾਸ ਦੇ ਐਸੇ ਪਾਤਰ ਸਦਾ ਸੁਰਜੀਤ ਰਹਿਣ, ਨਹੀਂ ਤਾਂ ਕੌਣ ਪੁਰਾਣੇ ਨੂੰ ਜਾ ਇੰਝ ਸੁਰਜੀਤ ਕਰੇਗਾ ਸਾਡੇ ਸਮਿਆਂ ਲਈ? ਸੋਚ ਕੇ ਵੇਖੋ ਜੇ ਸੁਰਜੀਤ ਪਾਤਰ ਦੀ ਉਮਰ ਹਜ਼ਾਰ ਸਾਲ ਹੋਵੇ ਤਾਂ ਅਸੀਂ ਕਿੰਨੀਆਂ ਕਵਿਤਾਵਾਂ, ਗ਼ਜ਼ਲਾਂ, ਗੀਤਾਂ ਨੂੰ ਮੁੜ ਮੁੜ ਨਵਾਂ ਜੀਵਨ ਪਾਉਂਦਿਆਂ ਤੱਕਾਂਗੇ?

To read his extremely poignant piece on people’s movement, Punjab, please click here 

To read his earlier poem, ਮੇਰਾ ਦਿਲ ਹੈ ਟੁਕੜੇ ਟੁਕੜੇ, pl click here

If we have refrained from translating a few sentences in this piece into English, it is because we want you to read them in Punjabi so that you are able to sniff and smell the whiffs from its soil, listen to the sound of its rivers and enjoy the delectable fare that its poet laureate offers, made of words, feelings, tears, joy and lost days, garnished with hope and simmered over times immemorial.

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(All translations of verses are by Surjit Patar himself. – Editor)
SP Singh

SP Singh

The author is a Chandigarh-based senior journalist, columnist and television anchor, with interests spanning politics, academics, arts, and yes, even trivia.

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