Tuesday, December 14, 2010



Is anything wrong with the media, the Fourth Estate and the people’s watchdog on the misdeeds of the state? Has the media wandered far away from its basic objective and become more a political tool, a profit driven big business, an expression of the megalomania of the pretentiously self-righteous journalists? Has news become a commodity? Lots of questions need to be answered. Why is the media not interested in discussing openly the role it is expected to play and its present deviations? Are the journalists always above board and deserve the moral high ground they have appropriated for themselves? Has the media entrenched itself as the mouthpiece of particular class interests? Is the media so sacrosanct that it can tear into any reputation but in itself  it is above public scrutiny, ridicule and censure? How to deal with journalists who are dishonest and corrupt? How to expose  the media misdeeds? Who will expose them? Aren't the journalists alway fighting shy of criticizing their  fellow journalists?  

Well, people have there own views about the media, but here are four poems of mine that  present an image of the media shared by many. You may or may not like this image. But, here are the poems for you to read and comment on.


Just as a dog returns to its vomit
I turn again and again
To listen to the woodwind orchestra
Every Sunday morning

It’s a seven member ensemble
The pick of players
Engaged by the capital’s select newspaper bands
To reach out to their Sunday listeners
With their tunes on ‘the state of the nation’

The orchestra can play across seven octaves
From the sinking bass
To the screeching treble
From a funeral adagio
To the machinegun staccato
The symphony the ensemble plays
Is one of pure discord
A concert of squirty notes
Always tuned to assault
The ears like washroom music 

I wonder 
What’s wrong with the players!
A bowel disorder
Stomach flu
Sexual dysfunction
That brings out
An uninterrupted flow of gases
That fills the air with sewage stench

But perhaps
Their stomachs are stirred up
By their sense of duty
As members of the Fourth Estate,
And they can’t help
Opening their Pandora’s box
To cleanse the air
Of all the stink
The rulers constantly let off

It is wisely said:
‘Diamond cuts diamond.’
And consequently,
‘Stink drives out stink,’
Is the motto of this seven member ensemble.

That’s why I turn
Again and again
To this woodwind orchestra
Every Sunday
Like the dog that returns to its vomit


Hey, what’s this?
What’s the problem?
Why are you kicking up
This cloud of dust?

Raising another smoke screen?

Another exposure
Another scandal
Murky deals
Money laundering
Match fixing
Tax evasions
Late night orgies
Money! Money! Money! Money!
And all that money can get!

Hold on
You news mongers
You dealers in branded truths
Waving the flags
 Of transparency
Of probity
Of uprightness
Of accountability
Of public service
Of national honour

Hold on
Who’re you?
The voice of the people?
High minded whistle blowers?
Washers of dirty linen?
Drain inspectors?
Sniffer dogs?
Compulsive voyeurs?

But the people are 'loving it’
From top to bottom
From end to end
Here’s everything they enjoy

Cricketing gladiators
Hired from four corners
Complete in their battle gear
Engaged in deadly combats
Hurling their missiles
Flourishing their truncheons
The cannon balls
Tearing along the ground
Sailing through the air
Crashing through the legs

Bollywood Shahan Shahs
And Malikas
Blowing kisses
Waving their arms
Revealing their smooth armpits
Scattering their smiles all around
Breaking millions of hearts

The cheer girls
Rocking their bodies
Their chest swells
Flinging their bare arms and legs
Extending the limits of frenzy

And the stadium crowds
Cheering, dancing, screaming
Haa-ing and hoo-ing
Partying to the accompaniment
Of pipes, bugles, drums…
Waving flags, placards, messaging
Now ecstatic, now dejected

The corpo-opulent giants
Surrounded by the glitterati
Backing up their boys

And, add to this the jokers
The string pullers, the game changers
The betters, baiters, abettors
The backseat drivers

There’s everything in it
And everyone neck deep
In this carnival of desires

You self-righteous bums
Rooting for carcasses
Like vultures
Tearing apart bodies
Splattering limbs
Baring entrails
Hollowing up eye sockets
Spreading the stink…

Stop this charade
Take off your squeaky clean mask
Of purity and sainthood
Of chastity and coyness
Leave it to the saffron-clad babas
We know
You too are in it
Behind the smoke screen

Let the show go on
Without full stops
Leave it to the gods above
To judge
( This poem was written soon after the IPL scandal broke out.)


We all agreed
We needed a washing machine
To wash our dirty linen
And lo we are now blessed not with one
But a whole array that’s always on
Sixty into sixty
Twenty-four into seven
All the three sixty-five days of the year
Busy ceaselessly
In the act of cleansing

After all we have so much of dirt to wash
After all we have no sense of cleanliness
And keep on piling heap upon heap
Of dirty, stinking, blotchy linen and undergarments
The heavenly Ganga working for millennia
Having failed to clean up the muck
And in turn having sullied itself beyond redemption
Its task is now taken over by these machines
That promise to clean up every black spot
Like the magical skin lotions, dish-washers and toilet cleaners
And restore the pristine shine and the day-of-creation purity
They are a great blessing, these machines,
Without them we won’t ever know
We have so much washing to do
Without them we won’t ever know 
The cupboards that should be ripped open
Without them we won’t ever see
The bed linen that has been sullied
Without them we won’t ever inhale
The stink rising from the soiled unders
Without them we won’t ever know
How squeaky clean we need to be
Without them we won’t ever know
That cleanliness is next to godliness

Their passion for laundering
Is so intense so overpowering
They never miss any blot or yellow spot
Not even a speck of dust
And they never stop
Being ablutomaniacs, these wondrous machines
Will, rest assured, never stop
Until the end of the world
So they go on and on and on
Sixty into sixty
Twenty-four into seven
All the three sixty-five days of the year


Floating space rovers
On a 24-hour prowl
Wings spread out
Scanning the earth below
Eyes zoomed in and focused on
A scene of disaster

A swift sleek descent
A perfect landing
Then a shuffling scramble
For the victim,
Snapping and snipping
With hooked beaks…
The carcass denuded
Of all substance
Its wholeness defiled
In quick bites
A messy nakedness –
A head with empty eye-sockets,
A torso ripped open,
All apart
A rapacious obscenity
Committed in full view
On TV screens,
Lapped up by millions of hungry eyes:
A tribute
To the scavenging virtuosity
Of the Fourth Estate.

(In western Rajasthan, which is so frequently drought-stricken, the people, when they see journalists descending upon them to paint their misery, cry out: The vultures have come.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010



I sometimes wonder what kind of a poem
Would this nine year old black-faced scavenger write,
Were the Muse to infect him with divine madness,
Were the goddess Saraswati to come and sit on his tongue?
How would he respond as he discovers a sprawling pile
As big as the treasure Ali Baba had found
In the cave of the forty thieves?
Heaps of kitchen garbage, peelings of vegetables and fruits, bones,
Plastic bags, bottles, empty cardboard cartons, plastic pouches, bags
Of tea, medicines, spices, sweets, toothpastes, juices,
Wrappers of soaps, biscuits, soiled sanitary pads, infected swabs of cotton
Broken or empty ballpoint pens, scraps of newspapers, notebooks,
Egg shells, used condoms, mouldy bread, used shaving blades,  
Tooth brushes, metal scrap, fused bulbs, broken glass pieces,
China cups without handles, wires, strings, rags…
His eyeballs bursting at the sight of such a bounty
His nose assaulted with a cornucopia of odours
His legs entrenched knee-deep into the heap
His hands sifting the treasures and stuffing them into his huge plastic sack
Dogs, flies, cockroaches, mosquitoes contending with him for the leftovers…

Back in his den after disposing off his wealth
For the day’s earnings, lying flat on his back
How would he sum up his thoughts at the grand discovery
How would he thank the donors of these treasures
What kind of an invocation would he make to the Muse
And what kind of a poem would he compose?
                                                                                                       -T C Ghai

Sunday, November 28, 2010


The book 'Pash: A poet of impossible dreams'  is a collection of about 100 poems of Pash translated by me. The book has been published  by Pash Memorial International Trust in collaboration with Shilalekh, Delhi.The book was released on 23rd March 2010(see link  http://paash.wordpress.com/2010/03/25/paash-talwandi-salem-23rd-march-2010-3/ ) ,  the day on which  Pash was assassinated (23 March 1988)  by the Khalistani terrorists. Interestingly 23rd March is also the day on which Bhagat Singh, along with Raj Guru and   Sukh Dev ,was hanged by the British in 1931.Bhagat Singh's influence on Pash was very great. Here are  a few of Pash's poems translated by me. These are among his most mature poems.


When in the pitch dark nights
Moments recoil
And stand in terror of each other
The light in the attics
Jumps from the windows
And commits suicide

When revolt rages
In the womb of such peaceful nights
I can be done to death any time
In the broad daylight
In the thick of the night

The millet stalks hang their heads in dejection
The stars too are speechless -
What’s wrong with the night!
Oh night, don’t grieve for me
You owe me nothing
Don’t worry
That the cud-chewing cattle are so dumb
Don’t worry
That the village air, always full of warmth,
Is so quiet today
Don’t worry
You just look into my eyes
That are never going to see again
That valiant friend of mine
About whom the newspapers have written today…
O night, where is that temper of yours
When he had descended here
Raging like a hill torrent.
First, we read in the moonlight
Then, like thieves, we argued,
Then fought
Oh night, you were happy then
When we fought
Why are you sad 
Now that we have parted?
Oh night, I plead with you
In the name of the dead one
It does not become of you
It is I who owe you something
Not you
Night congratulate me
And I congratulate these fields
They know everything:
Where the blood of humans spills,
And how to prize that blood
They know all this
So night
You look into my eyes
And I look into the future.

Listen to the music of our hearth
Listen to our cry laced with pain
Listen to my wife’s requests
Listen to my daughter’s demands
Measure the poison in my bidi
Listen to the drumbeat of my cough
Listen to the cold sighs of my patched trousers
Listen to the heartache of my worn out shoes
Listen to my silence
Listen how I express myself
And gauge the depth of my misery
Listen to the arithmetic of my rage
Here is the corpse of my civilized behaviour
Listen to the music of the beast in me
Listen to the song of the literate
Sung by the illiterate and the barbaric
Whether you like it or not
Listen to what we have to say

We shall fight, comrade, for the unhappy times
We shall fight, comrade, for the bottled-up desires
We shall gather up, comrade, the fragments of our lives

The hammer still falls on the bare anvil
Furrows are still made in the clayey soil 
Is it our duty to fight?
We shall forget this question
And fight, comrade
We swear by our crushed desires
We swear by our hopes turned to ashes
We swear by our horny hands
We shall fight, comrade

We shall fight
Until Veeru the goatherd
Has to drink goat piss
Until those who till the land
Cannot inhale the fragrance of mustard blossoms   
Until the swollen-eyed school teacher’s husband
Does not return from the war front
Until the police constables are duty bound
To strangulate their own brethren
Until the babus keep writing on their files
In human blood
We shall fight
Until there are reasons for us to fight

If we don’t have the gun, we shall have the sword
If we don’t have the sword, we shall have the passion
If we don’t know the art, we shall have the reason 
And we shall fight, comrade…
We shall fight
Because one gets nothing without a fight
We shall fight
Wondering why we did not fight until now
We shall fight
To acknowledge our guilt
To keep alive the memory of those who died fighting
We shall fight, comrade…

I have left behind
My sisters, shedding an ocean of tears
My father’s beard
Quivering under some unknown fears
A mother supplicating before God
And fainting every now and then.
No one will shift into shade
My dumb cattle at the manger
Or give them a drink of water
And the fireplace will remain unlit
For days, out of mourning.
O constable, tell me,
Do I look so dangerous even to you!
O brother, be honest,
Don’t you see
On my whip-skinned body  
In my bleeding mouth
A glimpse of your own self?

Lined up with the enemy
You may brag and boast
But your sleepy eyes
Your stony forehead
Your worn out shorts
And its pockets
Soaked in tobacco stench
Tell another tale.
If there’s one thing
That draws the line between us
It is this uniform of yours
But even today your family woes 
Are the same as mine
When your father unloads
The bundle of fodder from his head
His over-strained muscles too
Ache to crush the tyrant’s head
There and then.
When you are unable to meet
Your children’s school expenses
Your wife’s heart too,
My brother, is torn apart.

When the bribes drunk by you
Corrode your inside,
You too wish to slash
The state’s jugular vein -
The state has eaten away
In a few years
Your sandalwood body
Your rishi-like temper
Your family’s happiness
Pleasant like the monsoon breeze
You may distance yourself from me
Under the cloak of this uniform
But the world within you
Wants to hold my hands
How can we, always stacking up our losses,
And kneading our derelict childhood,
Be a threat to anyone?
And those who sold and ruined themselves
For our happiness could be no cause of trouble
For anyone.
You might have become a truncheon
In the hands of the enemy
But tell me
Swearing on your belly
How can we be a threat to each other?
We are a threat only to those
Who see danger everywhere.

Save your obscenities 
For your precious anger
I am not the son of a white-clad leader
I’m just one of thousands of faces
That, drenched in dust, are shaping
The destiny of this hapless country
The rivers of my country are far smaller
Than the lines of sweat on my forehead
No religious book is holier
Than the silence on my lacerated lips.
And the story of our pain is far more intense
Than the three colours in the flag
You salute, clicking your heels
And each hole in our hearts
Is far bigger than the Ashok Chakra on it.
My friend, trampled under 
Your spiked boots I am still higher
Than Mount Everest.

Your cowardly officer
Has misled you to believe
I am a violent and dangerous enemy
Of this state
No, I haven’t yet begun
To spin the first thread of rebellion
As yet I am helpless before   
My family’s misfortunes
As yet I fill up the void of action
With my pen
As yet I am a tenuous link
Between the peasants and wage earners,
And you too, my right hand,
Remain estranged from me.
I have yet to change the barber’s razors
Into daggers
I have yet to write ‘Chandi di Vaar
On the masons’ trowels
And the womb
That shall give birth to blazing slogans
Is yet to be pierced 
With the cobbler’s poison-tipped bradawl

And Dhamma carpenter’s roaring adze
Is yet to be hoisted higher
Than this devil’s flag
And the menials
Ever condemned to wash your dirty dishes
Have yet to recover their customary dues
For the jubilees
And the sweeper Khushia
Has yet to smoke in his hookah
The soft thigh bone
Of a high ranking vulture.

The day I become a rainbow
Stitching all the seven colours together
All my thrusts against the enemy
Shall prove deadly.
Then the spray of stinking spittle
From a car brandishing the state’s flag
Shall not sully my life’s lusting face.

I cannot reach that lighthouse all alone
I need you
And you also have to reach there.

We are a caravan
Of life’s strong fragrances
Your forefathers too have
Fertilized this beautiful land.

We are passionately in love
With the song of life
And in our longing is contained
The tune of your sadness too.

O constable, tell me
Do I look so dangerous
To you?
I have left behind…
(To a man whose birth no calendar commemorates)

He lived long
Hoping his name would shine 
The earth was very big
And his village so small
All his life he slept in the same hut
All his life he defecated in the same field
And kept on hoping
His name would shine

All his life he heard only three sounds:
The crowing of the rooster
The huffing and puffing of his cattle
And the chomp of his own jaws while he ate.
He never heard the sound of the sun  
Setting on the silky sand dunes
He never heard the sound of flower buds
Opening in spring
The stars never sang a song for him
All his lifetime he knew only three colours:
One the colour of the earth
Which he never knew how to name
Other the colour of the sky
Which had so many names
None of which he could remember
And the third of his wife’s cheeks
Which he never named out of shyness

He could compete against anyone in eating moolis
He won many a bet on eating the corn on cobs
But he himself was eaten away without any wager.
His years, like ripe melons, were swallowed whole
And his fresh milk temper
Was drunk with great relish
He never came to know how
Health-giving he was!

And the desire that his name should shine
Chased him like a bee.
He mutated into his own statue
But no one ever celebrated this.

The pathway from his home to the well
Is frequented even today
But in his footmarks
Buried under innumerable footprints
There yet smiles a wound
A wound inflicted by a thorn
Yet smiles there.


O friends, how during this war shall I hide
The wounds I already have
My three marital vows shall neither become my shield
Nor act as balm.
When I set out all the five K’s rode with me
All the while I felt I held the reins in my hands
Without knowing I was being driven
By the wayward paths   
That sometimes brought me to a brothel
Sometimes to the magical lakes
Where songbirds were learning
To die in bliss

I had never realized
Pathways had a will of their own
And the three vows
Their own history, however brief…
Oh my God, when shall my body be rid
Of this fever of the three vows
That has become my sixth K
Had I turned my back on the Guru 
It would have been different
But now Joga Singh is nothing more than his feet in the stirrup
And when I reach Bhangani I shall only be a hand
I’m sometimes my hand, sometimes my foot
But never Joga Singh.

And the fourth vow!
Sometimes I feel it is no more than a bright corner
Of an imagined land with no corners beyond
Friends, even if I lose in the battlefield
It would only be the destiny of those six K’s
Joga Singh neither ever wins nor loses
Joga Singh is ever ready to obey the commands
Joga Singh neither ever wins nor ever loses


My village, come to meet me sometime at night
When the vulture sitting on the watch tower
Has folded its wings, and
Only the guards are awake, but they don’t matter
You just come, like the bird
That flies, unmindful, over a burning pyre, and ask:
Where is that solitary prisoner, blinded by the cell walls,
Whose sight was once like the bright sunshine
Dancing on the village pond?

But no -
You won’t have the time
You must be engrossed in manipulating the wind   
To winnow the groundnut crop
Before the stock of fodder is used up.
You must be busy making a bed of sand
For the tender-fingered children
To practise the alphabet on,
Children who won’t be able to escape
From the loops of the first letter of the alphabet.

O my village, your green fields
Must be soaking up the aura of stateliness
Radiating from the new crop of young girls
Casting secretive glances sideways,
And again and again retreating into shyness.

You must be busy gathering the fragments
Of laughter that broke up on the lips of the young
Whose engagements broke off
Just as the pitcher full of wort
Ready for distillation   
Should fall and break into pieces
Just before distillation

You are after all a village, not a romantic poet
Lost in the wasteful question:
Do two and two make four?
You quite well know if two and two don’t make four
You have to peel and chisel to make them do.
You are the roar of valour, my village,
Don’t come like a thief.
I shall return, one day, by myself
I have no identity
Without looking at your muddy and slippery pathways,
Without shimmering, along with the earthen lamps,
At the burial mounds raised to your ancestors.
I have to come, to shed my innocence,
At the meeting place
Where life-wearied old men sit together
And talk of sacred and ageless truths.

I’m grass
I shall green-wash all your misdeeds
You may bomb the university
Reduce every hostel to a heap of rubble
Level all our jhuggis …
How will you deal with me?
I’m grass and I shall cover everything
Rise from every heap.
You may pulverize Banga
Decimate Sangrur,
Pulverize Ludhiana into a heap of dust  ?
My greenness will do its act
And two or ten years hence
Passengers will ask the bus conductor:
‘Where are we?
Drop us at Barnala,
Where green grass grows thick.’
I’m grass, I’ll do my act:
Green-wash all your misdeeds.


Dharam Guru, I have but one son -
My man and bread-earner is dead.
After your thunderous roar
No men survive far and wide.
Now there are only women,
Or herbivorous bipeds
Who earn bread for them.
You, Dharm Guru, are skilled in all the sixteen arts
The faintest fold on your brow
Can despatch happy homes into destitution.
Everyone, after settling scores with one,
Tries to ram his head into another
But I have only one head, Dharam Guru,
My son’s – and my man and bread-earner is dead.

I shall worship only the gods prescribed by you
I shall sing only the hymns sanctified by you.
I shall despise all other faiths as worthless.
But I have only one voice, Dharam Guru
My son’s – and my man and bread-earner is dead.

All these days I have been a dimwit
Paying no attention to the faith
Professed even by my own family.
I have been committing the heresy
Of regarding the family as my faith.
Foolishly, on hearsay, I have regarded my husband as God
The joys and sorrows of my family
Have been my only heaven and hell.
I was perhaps the bird-shit of Kalyug, Dharam Guru.
But now in the resounding bugle of faith blown by you
The fog of apostasy has lifted from my eyes.
From now on I shall hide my own truth
And parade your truth
As the only possible truth.

After all, just a woman, I am a cipher
Before your daredevil warriors.
At any time of my life,
I have always been less beautiful than your sword
In my most shining moments,
I have been colourless before your refulgence.
I was ever non-existent
It is you, and only you, O Dharam Guru

Dharam Guru, I have only one son
Had I seven
They would have been no match to you
Your dynamite has Godly fragrance
It lights up the night skies
And drives the heretics back on the righteous path
I shall offer holy water to your sacred bullet
I have only one son, Dharam Guru
And my man and bread earner is dead


Ma, you stop worrying
I have bid goodbye to my friends.
Do you know what they said:
Now your going back is impossible.
They are lying, ma.
Now don’t let me go back there.
And we won’t let Babloo also go.
They are the people
Who took away your elder one from you.
Ma, you stop worrying,
I shall catch hold of that rascal Ashim Chatterjee
By his moustache and throw him at your feet
And you ask him to hand over your elder son’s corpse.
They spellbind young boys
Using father’s bones as a magic wand
Why do you cry, ma?
I’ll make even my elder sister
Retrace her steps
And then we all, brothers and sister,
Shall sit together and laugh and laugh
As in our childhood days
When we, blindfolding you,
Would hide ourselves under the cot
And you groped for us spreading your arms
Or, exactly like that
When I used to run away
After pinching your back
And you would hurl the rolling pin after me
And I used wave the broken pin
To make fun of you.

I know father’s memory still rankles in your heart.
He was very gentle – don’t you remember -
How once, having fallen off the tree
While axing a branch, and broken his arm
He had kept laughing
Lest you should faint with shock.
And how very small was sister
Just like a doll
Who, now living in the city, has become so clever.
But ma you stop worrying
We shall daub her hands with the bridal paste
And then I and Babloo
Shall lie in your lap and
Listen to the fairy tales
And talk about that Tamluk
Which was once Tamralipti

Ma, we shall go far away
Where there are only birds
And the sky is not small like a tent’s roof
Where trees are like human beings
And not human beings like trees.
Ma, you stop worrying
We shall go back to the days
When the way to the city
Led through a huge forest.

Friday, November 26, 2010



     Punjabi Poetry

Puran Singh Kanwar (1942-96): A Non-ideological Radical

That is how some one has described Dr Kanwar as a poet: a non-ideological radical. Dr Kanwar's first and only collection of poetry, "Rattan di Rut" was published in 1984 and hailed as poetry of "a unique individuality and unique paradigm". My translation of his poems from Punjabi titled "A Season of Nights" was published in 2006. Here are a few of his poems in translation and an extract from my introduction to the collection, to give you an idea of the uniqueness of Dr. Kanwar's poetry.


Bhrigu is dumbstruck -
Thrusting my eyes
Into his
I laugh through them.
He starts -
The mad man might
Suddenly charge
And strangle him
In broad daylight

He is the master of his art
And has peered
At the innumerable lines
On my palm...
One of them
Spells suicide
And hundreds
That speak murder.
When I was born,
People tell,
My mother
Had laughed and laughed
That laughter
Was her death-knell.
In my childhood
During his sleep
I had slit open with a knife
My father's jugular vein.
He has been asleep since then...
I have let him sleep.
At our mansion
Nuptials are performed
The family barber dresses me
In the royal bridegroom robes
The palki-bearers
Seat me in the palki
And move in a trance
As if snake-sniffed.
Everyday I sleep
With the living corpse
Of a new queen.
At dawn the priest
O prince
Wake up
You have to be ready again
For the nuptials...


From these eyes many a time he had taken off his glasses
And in their deep oceans
He had found an oyster-shell.
From then on nothing else had stirred his heart
He steered clear of his friends
At home he sat idle doing nothing
For hours on he would pluck out
And send floating into the air
Plumed seeds from the dry milkweed pods
Even a hundred entreaties
Would not shake him.
In his wailing one could hear the howling of jackals
In his yelling one could hear the roar of lions.
In his childhood,
His mother tells,
He used to thrust his hands into wasp nests...
That oyster-shell
That he used to flaunt in front of his friends
He has now flung away into the sun!
Why does the brilliance of that shell
Now dazzle his eyes?
In this brilliance
His eyes see flying at once
Now silken plumes
Now yellow wasps...


Lulled to sleep
In the cradle
My ungrown hair
Washed in curds...
I wake up
What's this?
My mother died long ago!
My yards long hair
All white
Wrinkled skin
Bare hairy chest
Virile and masculine -
Signs of manhood...

My younger brother's little daughter
Pulls the hair on my chest
And teases: Uncle, aren't you a bear?
No? She repeats she taunt.
Silly girl! Can't keep her mouth shut.
I shake off my body
Shake off? No! No!
I tear my body
Limb by limb
And fling it away.
Dismembered thus
I'm complete.
Look, Vandana, run!
Look at uncle
He's possessed
His limbs lie scattered
On the floor
Look at his head
Severed from the trunk:
It blesses us


My friend!
The riddle you have propounded today
About the tangle of relationships
Is yet incomplete.
Today someone has bound me to her honour...
I'm innocent, I'm shamed, may I be damned...
Whenever from the distant horizon
I sensed her presence
I started - and I ran
But my way was crossed
Sometimes by a black cat
Sometimes by a black brahmin
Sometimes a stranger sneezed, unwittingly,
And every time, instantly, I retraced my steps
Holding my head in shame
I'm innocent, may I be damned...

We drift and grope around, unrelated,
In this jungle of relationships
Deadly snakes haunt our ways
And flying snakes...
If I sleep I'm stung by scorpions
While awake I'm tormented by my pledge
My chest huffs and puffs like the bellows
My thoughts flicker like the glowworm's light
My hopes are unfounded, my desires impossible
My neighbours resentful
Scheming to drive me from the neighbouthood...
But why has this flight of cranes landed
In my courtyard today?
A flight of cranes!
Flying snakes!! Scorpions!!!
While awake I'm tormented
By the same thoughts - my word of honour...

I have the voice
Of words
To create meaning
But the words I utter are
Signatures of my being
I have nothing
Only an attempt
That goes on
And on...
When shall the voice of words
Create silence?
My friend
Has just now shown me a mirror.
Have I laughed at my own reflection?
My black image
Has borrowed its blackness
From the darkness
Of a jungle of leafless trees
And you are looking
For a ray of light!
After endless supplications
Shunning the company of friends
Depriving myself of my father's wealth
Turning my back on my mother's love
Scoffing at the rays of the sun
Extinguishing all the lamps
For my own joy
I have nurtured
Within the jungle of my heart
A season of nights.

I have the voice of words
My words are dumb
Signatures of my being
I have nothing...

Here is an extract from the introduction to my translations of Dr Kanwar's poetry:

"... Dr Kanwar’s poetry seems to fit into the Surrealist framework quite well. The title of his collection - A Season of Nights – is extremely suggestive. It conjures up a mysterious phantasmagoria of nightly images. Night, of course, is associated with sleep and dreaming, when there is a ‘lowering of resistance’ created by the superego against the repressed and secret world of the unconscious, and when desire has free play – desire in all its manifestations, desire to love, to murder, to destroy, to inflict pain or enjoy its infliction, delusions of grandeur and grandiose wishes and infinite longings that rise from the depths of the primal experience and float on the surface to find expression in dreams. There’s a breakdown of barriers erected by the waking state leading to a free flow of what has been repressed and hidden.
Almost every poem of Dr Kanwar’s is a first person narrative-cum-theatrical presentation of a non-ordinary state of mind - a dream, a nightmare, a fantasy, a trance, a delusion, a hallucination - each poem diving into the bottomless pit of the unconscious and bringing out the forbidden and subversive elements that surprise, shock and overwhelm the reader and shake the ground beneath his feet earthquake-like. Each poem illustrates a way of seeing the world that is radically different from the sanitized framework through which the world is perceived in terms of categories of thought devised by the intellect, the world given shape by the whole range of philosophies and ideologies invented by man. It comes close to a rejection of the rationally apprehended world of Sancho Panza by the fevered imagination of Don Quixote – what are windmills to Sancho Panza are fearful monsters to the Don, to be subdued and conquered but with little success.
Dr Kanwar’s poetry is thus a subversion of the commonsensical and neatly categorized world of everyday reality in favour of the primal world of the collective unconscious, the mountain heap of human experience – uninhibited, undefined, chaotic, and ultimately inexplicable to the human intellect.
It is this aspect of Dr Kanwar’s poetry that makes it unique and sets it apart from all literary movements in Punjabi poetry. His poetry is not a turning away from one movement and trend in favour of another. It is rather a rejection of all movements in poetry, and anti-poetry and anti-tradition in that sense. There is no conscious attempt to cultivate style or form; no attempt to use or reject rhyme or rhythm or to deliberately construct; no attempt to clothe or dress the poem in a literary mould. All this, in spite of the fact that Dr Kanwar was so well read in the modern European literary criticism, more particularly the American New Criticism (his doctorate was on its influence on Punjabi literary criticism) which saw poetry as pure form and hardly as content. Although Dr Kanwar was an admirer of the American New Criticism and its theoretical formulations, his poetry is almost their complete negation. Dr Kanwar’s poetry has no form in that sense; it is all content and closer to Blake’s prophetic poems, amorphous rather than crystallographic – though often exuding the brilliance of a crystalline object. Or, rather its form is determined by the dialectical relationship between the conscious and the unconscious states, between intellect and desire, which results in a dynamic interplay between irreconcilable forces, often generating a tension to the breaking point..."


Dr. Puran Singh Kanwar: A Biographical Note

Dr. Puran Singh Kanwar was born in 1942 in a land-owning Rajput family in Jodhanagari, a small village in Amritsar district. He began his education in the primary school in Dehriwallah, a village about 2 km from Jodhanagari. He passed his high school from Guru Tegh Bahadur High School in a small town, Tarisikha, about 4 km from his village. It was during his stay in this school that he imbibed great reverence for the Sikh Gurus and a view of Sikhism as a liberating force. It is said that, later, whenever he visited his village he used to lecture on the true meaning of Sikhism in the village Gurudwara.

 He came to live in a city for the first time when he joined DAV College Amritsar in 1960 to do his intermediate. In 1962 he came to Delhi and did his graduation from Dayal Singh College in 1964. In Delhi University he came under the influence of Dr. R.K.Das Gupta of the Department of Modern Indian Languages, who dissuaded him from going for English literature, and encouraged him to work in his mother tongue, Punjabi. Dr. Kanwar did his MA in Punjabi from Delhi University in 1966. He joined as lecturer in Punjabi in DAV College Chandigarh in 1967. It was perhaps during this period that he flirted with radical ideologies and turned an agnostic, but he retained, throughout is life, his deep reverence for the Sikh Gurus, and mystics and Sufis. He was hostile to all varieties of bigotry and communalism. He was dismissed from service in 1970 for his radical views, being accused of showing irreverence to the pictures of Swami Dayanand, and defying the strict DAV code of conduct. He taught for a brief period in Arya College Ludhiana too.

He returned to Delhi in 1973, where he came in contact with Dr Harbhjan Singh, poet, critic and a professor in the Department of MIL Delhi University and who was emerging as a leading critic in Punjabi by introducing the newest trends from European literary criticism into Punjabi. Dr Kanwar developed a special interest in Russian Formalism, the Prague School and the American New Criticism. Because of his mercurial temperament and outspoken nature, his fierce egotism, defiant attitude and subversive views he failed to develop a positive relationship with anyone who could help him to get a teaching job in Delhi University or set him on a smooth career in research. So, for nearly ten years he remained out of job, unanchored, defiant, lonely, living on translation and journalistic work and support from his family.

During this period of self-exile, as if, he did maintain a love-hate relationship with the Punjabi literary circles. He was also an occasional visitor at the residence of Amrita Pritam, the queen-bee of Punjabi poetry those days. Amrita Pritam published at least two of his poems in her magazine ‘Nagmani’, in1976 and1977. Publication in ‘Nagmani’ was then considered a stamp of authenticity in poetry. He translated, for the National Book Trust, Aurobindo’s biography into Punjabi, and also translated one of Amrita Pritam’s novel, ‘Sippi te Samundar’, into English, which was serialized in an Assamese daily newspaper from Gauwhati. Sometime between 1965 and 1975 he was traumatized by a love affair with a girl of his own community. Because she belonged to a sub-caste into which he could not marry, the girl’s parents absolutely ruled it out. This set him on a course of irreconcilable hostility towards his father and family and the society at large.

 It was only in 1982 that he got a permanent job in Deshbandhu Evening College in Delhi as a lecturer in Punjabi. Dr Kanwar published his first and only collection of poetry ‘Rattan di Rut’ in 1984 and it was dedicated to Amrita Pritam, and Dr Kanwar’s friend Raj Gill, a journalist. He obtained his doctorate in 1986 for his work ‘New Criticism and its Influence on Punjabi Literary Criticism’. Dr Kanwar married in 1985. A permanent job and marriage stabilized his life to a great extent but perhaps also tamed the restlessness of spirit that had led him often to tilt Quixote-like at the windmills of commonsense and conventionality. May be it also destroyed his urge to write poetry. In 1995 he was found suffering from lung cancer, and he died in July 1996. He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Usha Kanwar.