The Shades of his Evening, Rahul Pandita

When
Many suns will die
Then
Your era will arrive
Isn’t it?

Many suns have died since these lines were written but their time has still not come. So more lines are being created, more suns are being done to death, in that brick dwelling. Inside the four brick walls, the sun that survived, is wreaking havoc with its heat. The room is hot like a furnace. In the middle of the room, over a string cot, lies Lal Singh Dil, writing the last paragraph of his 78-page poem.

On the cheap register that bears the lashes of his personal history, Dil has noted down the day when he began writing the poem, two years ago. In front of his cot lies another cot, like a berated lover. Few dirty cups share a table with few saucers and two kettles; one made of cheap bone china and the other of aluminium. An old iron trunk plays foootsie with rust in one corner. Numerous mementoes weigh heavily on a cement slab. Their plastic covers have never been lifted. The floor near Dil is littered with Beedis and burnt and unburnt matchsticks.

Jo ladna nahi jaande
Jo ladna nahi chohnde
Wo gulam bana liye jaande ne

(Those who do not know how to fight
Those who do not want to fight
They are turned into slaves)

Lal Singh Dil is sixty-three now. He wrote these lines in 1967 when the thunder spring of Naxalbari reverberated in faraway Punjab. For the first time in his life, he felt as if his life had a mission. There was no point in remaining only a poet now. So Dil picked up a gun and joined the movement.

In his recent unpublished poem, Dil describes a dream where he sees his mother washing his clothes. He tries to hold her and she breaks away, prompting him to write:

Mein kis da putt han?
(Whose son am I?)

It is a manifestation of Dil’s longing for love, which he did not receive from anyone except his mother. Born in the chamar (tanner) community in Samrala town of Punjab, Dil was the first member of his family to finish school. His mother sold off her ear rings to make sure that Dil went right up to college.

Those who know Dil since college days say that he was very handsome and because of this and his poetry, many girls fell for him. There was one girl who wore her hair in plaits and lived in a neighbouring village. She was from an upper caste family. Dil’s friend lived in the same village and so Dil would see that girl often and developed a liking for her. But she died of cerebral haemorrhage. Later Dil would find another girl who looked like that girl, wearing her hair in the same fashion. One day he was invited to that girl’s house where he was offered tea in a steel tumbler. Afterwards, the girl’s mother picked the tumbler with a pair of tongs and threw it in fire to purify it. Dil writes in his autobiography Dastaan (Story) that he can still hear the clank of that tumbler thrown in the fire.

Dil began to write poetry during his college days. One of his early poems was published by Preetlarhi, a leading literary journal of Punjab in those times. He was working as a daily wage labourer when the peasant uprising in Naxalbari spread like wildfire. That was the time when Dil wrote a poem called ‘The shades of Evening’.

After remaining underground for four years, Dil was arrested by the Police. In the lock-up, the upper-caste Police officer slapped Dil hard and shouted: Ab chamar kranti layenge is desh mein? (Would the lower caste bring revolution in this country now?)

For nine months, Dil would face extreme physical torture. He would be subjected to more torture than his fellow comrades because of his caste and because of his poetry.

Soon after his release from the prison, Dil had to go into hiding once again. Only this time the period of hiding was much longer. He fled from his hometown to a village near Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, where he worked as labourer in mango orchards. He made a comeback in mid 80’s, after a gap of fifteen years.

By that time, the memory of Lal Singh Dil had faded away from people’s memory. He was an icon in 70’s, Samrala’s own Che Guevara. Fifteen years later, he had to open up a tea-stall to make his ends meet. Even that did not last for long. But what did, and still is, is Lal Singh Dil’s ink.

Dil happens to be the contemporary of radical poets like Avtar Singh Pash and Santram Udasi. In ‘The shades of Evening’, based on his experiences during the Naxalbari movement, Dil writes:

The shades of evening
Are old once again
The pavements
Head for settlements
A lake walks
From an office
Thrown out of work

A lake is sucking
The thirst of water
Throwing off all wages
Someone is leaving

Someone comes wiping
On his dhoti
The blood of weak animals
On his goad

The shades of evening
Are old once again
Loaded with rebuke
The long caravan moves on
Along with the
Lengthening shadows of evening

In his one-room hermitage, Lal Singh Dil, the biggest name in Punjabi free verse poetry, spends his last days in penury. He told someone recently that he does not expect anything from anyone.

In the same 78-page unpublished poem, Dil writes:

I do not want to write about my personal sorrows.

Lal Singh Dil’s wounds are too many to heal. And something has to be done with his sorrows also. The shades of evening may have to turn like old once again.

Advertisements

ਮਾਂ ਭੂਮੀ-ਲਾਲ ਸਿੰਘ ਦਿਲ

ਪਿਆਰ ਦਾ ਵੀ ਕੋਈ ਕਾਰਨ ਹੁੰਦੈ ? ਮਹਿਕ ਦੀ ਵੀ ਕੋਈ ਜੜ ਹੁੰਦੀ ਹੈ ? ਸੱਚ ਦਾ ਹੋਵੇ ਨਾ ਹੋਵੇ ਕੋਈ ਝੂਠ ਕਦੇ ਬੇਮਕਸਦ ਨਹੀਂ ਹੁੰਦਾ ! ਤੇਰੇ ਨੀਲੇ ਪਰਬਤਾਂ ਕਰਕੇ ਨਹੀਂ ਨਾ ਨੀਲੇ ਪਾਣੀਆਂ ਲਈ ਜੇ ਇਹ ਬੁੱਢੀ ਮਾਂ ਦੇ ਵਾਲਾਂ ਜਿਹੇ ਗੇਹੜੇ-ਰੰਗੇ ਵੀ ਹੁੰਦੇ ਤਦ ਵੀ ਮੈਂ ਤੈਨੂੰ ਪਿਆਰ ਕਰਦਾ ਇਹ ਦੌਲਤਾਂ ਦੇ ਖਜ਼ਾਨੇ ਮੇਰੇ ਲਈ ਤਾਂ ਨਹੀਂ ਭਾਵੇਂ ਨਹੀਂ ਪਿਆਰ ਦਾ ਕੋਈ ਕਾਰਨ ਨਹੀਂ ਹੁੰਦਾ ਝੂਠ ਕਦੇ ਬੇਮਕਸਦ ਨਹੀਂ ਹੁੰਦਾ ਖਜ਼ਾਨਿਆਂ ਦੇ ਸੱਪ ਤੇਰੇ ਗੀਤ ਗਾਉਂਦੇ ਨੇ ਸੋਨੇ ਦੀ ਚਿੜੀ ਕਹਿੰਦੇ ਹਨ | ਸਰੋਤ – ਲਾਲ ਸਿੰਘ ਦਿਲ ਦੀ ਕਿਤਾਬ ਨਾਗ-ਲੋਕ ਵਿੱਚੋਂ ਇਸ ਕਿਵਤਾ ਦਾ ਅੰਗਰੇਜੀ ਉਲੱਥਾ ਲਾਲ ਸਿੰਘ ਦਿਲ ਪੰਜਾਬੀ ਦਾ ਕਾਫੀ ਅਣਗੌਲਿਆ ਕਵੀ ਹੈ | ਦਲਿਤ ਵਰਗ ਵਿੱਚ ਜਨਮਿਆ ਲਾਲ ਸਿੰਘ ਦਿਲ 70ਵਿਆਂ ਦੀ ਜੁਝਾਰੂ ਕਵਿਤਾ ਦਾ ਸਿਰ੍ਮੌਰ ਕਵੀ ਸੀ | ਖੱਬੇ ਪੱਖੀ ਅੱਤਵਾਦੀ ਲਹਿਰ ( ਨਕਸਲਬਾੜੀ ਲਹਿਰ ) ਨਾਲ ਉਸਦੇ ਸੰਬੰਧਾ ਕਰਕੇ ਉਸਨੂੰ ਜੇਲ ਵੀ ਕੱਟਣੀ ਪਈ | ਦਸਵੀਂ ਤੱਕ ਪੜਿਆ , ਪਰ ਉਸਦੇ ਗਿਆਨ ਦਾ ਘੇਰਾ ਕਿਸੇ ਕਹਿੰਦੇ ਕਹਾਉਂਦੇ ਵਿਦਵਾਨ ਤੋਂ ਵੱਧ ਵਿਸ਼ਾਲ ਹੈ | ਕਿੱਤੇ ਵਜੋਂ ਉਸਨੇ ਮਜ਼ਦੂਰੀ ਕੀਤੀ , ਅੱਜ ਕੱਲ ਸਮਰਾਲੇ ‘ਚ ਚਾਹ ਦੀ ਦੁਕਾਨ ਚਲਾਉਂਦਾ ਸੀ | ਕਵੀ ਕੁਝ ਦਿਨ ਪਹਿਲਾਂ 14 ਅਗਸਤ ਨੂੰ ਸਾਹ ਦੀ ਬੀਮਾਰੀ ਕਾਰਨ ਚੱਲ ਵੱਸਿਆ

ਤੁਰ ਗਿਆ ਕੋਈ ਦਿਲ ‘ਚ ਲੈ ਕੇ ਸਾਦਗੀ – ਲਾਲ ਸਿੰਘ ਦਿਲ

ਪਿਘਲਦੀ ਚਾਂਦੀ ਵਹੇ ਪਾਣੀ ਨਹੀਂ |
ਇਹ ਫੁਆਰੇ ਪਿਆਸ ਦੇ ਹਾਣੀ ਨਹੀਂ |

ਤੁਰ ਗਿਆ ਕੋਈ ਦਿਲ ‘ਚ ਲੈ ਕੇ ਸਾਦਗੀ |
ਤੇਰੀਆਂ ਨਜ਼ਰਾਂ ਨੇ ਪਹਿਚਾਣੀ ਨਹੀਂ |

ਰੱਜ ਕੇ ਤਾਂ ਭਟਿਕਆ ਵੀ ਨਹੀਂ ਗਿਆ |
ਹਾਰ ਵੀ ਤਾਂ ਇਸ਼ਕ ਦੀ ਮਾਣੀ ਨਹੀਂ |

ਤੂੰ ਮਿਲੇਂ ਤਾਂ ਗੱਲ ਇਹ ਛੋਟੀ ਨਹੀਂ |
ਪਰ ਮੇਰੇ ਦਿਲ ਚੋਂ ਗਮੀਂ ਜਾਣੀ ਨਹੀਂ |

ਸਿਰ ਬਿਨਾ ਤੁਰਦੇ ਰਹੇ ਸੰਗਰਾਮੀਏ |
ਕੀ ਐ ‘ਦਿਲ’ ! ਜੇ ਹਮਸਫਰ ਹਾਣੀ ਨਹੀਂ |

LAL SINGH DIL (THE POET) COLLECTION FROM NET BY SIMRAN KALER

Lal Singh Dil

 

Social injustice, mental agony and physical torture have all become part of my poetry. In spite of this my friend and contemporary poet, Amarjit Chandan, wants me to write my story. So let it be written.

The atmosphere in school was not very congenial. I was kept away from sports and cultural activities. Some teachers would treat me as an equal, but by and large, I was made to feel like an outcast. I belonged to a caste which evoked hatred in both teachers and students.

When I graduated to the higher classes, I started picking up some skills which thrilled me. I especially liked to trace out a picture and then shade it. I traced a picture of Ravidas Bhagat which showed him standing. Below the image was a pair of shoes and some cobbler’s tools. The teacher in charge of the class looked at the drawing strangely and then laughed at it with some hatred, which was shared by the students. I brought the picture home with me from school.

In the lower classes, students would stage skits in which they played the part of upper-caste Jats. I, too, longed to do those roles, and once I got a chance. I just had to be on stage as one of three policemen who drag a person from one side to the other. But the day the play was to be staged, I was thrown out of the cast. It was felt that two policemen would suffice. There was no need for a third.

I never won a prize for cleanliness, though I would go to school on inspection day after scrubbing my face hard with laundry soap and tucking my kurta neatly into my khaki shorts. Never did I, or any other boy from a lower caste, get a chance to lead the prayers at the morning assembly. We went to a school meant for all, but students from the lower castes were always made to feel inferior.

Once, a teacher was preparing three or four of us for a poetry recitation. I still remember the poem, Kangali deshon kadhni hai; Bekari di jadh wadhani hai (‘We have to drive poverty from our country; We have to cut at the roots of unemployment’). But finally, the teacher said: “Not this boy. His voice breaks.” A healthy, good-looking boy was taken in my place.

I found the Raasdhariyas (itinerant folk theatre artistes) most interesting. The characters seemed to be real sadhus, carrying their strange world with them. The dance by the boys would create a fine mood for the performance. The plays that were staged included Roop Basant, Kiranmayi, Puran Bhagat and Harish Chandar. One had heard all these stories, but there was something different about drama. One day, commenting on the role of Harish Chandar, a boy from my mohalla said “You have become a choorha (sweeper), so must you weep? Those who are sweepers…”

No other play had depicted the lives of the sweepers so well. Watching it, I felt that the saga was set in the present. Harish Chandar was shown tending the pigs, working with a basket and broom, cremating corpses for a fee, and finally breaking down when his wife would not let him touch her for fear of being defiled. The play succeeded in conveying the sorrows of the worker and the wife was a symbol of a culture of hatred. The play even had a love-duet by a dandy sweeper couple, singing and playing hide-and-seek, basket, broom and all. These Rasdhariyas became my subject of study. I would watch them rehearsing and going about their chores all day. At night, when they put on their make-up for the performance, I would join the crowds that gathered around them.

I was very keen to go to college, though everyone was against it. What use would it be to send a chamar boy to college? The money-lender refused to give money for my admission fees. But my mother was determined to send me to college. She sold her ear-rings, paid my fees and even bought me a bicycle. I started attending classes.

I used to be good-looking. One day, a girl studying for the BA placed her hand on her heart on seeing me and said to her friends, “I think something’s dropped out of here.” Another day, I found another girl of the BA course staring at me. She wore her hair in two plaits. In those days, girls wore their hair like that. She had a very sharp, very pretty nose. One day, I was cycling to my friend Charan Singh’s village when I saw the lovely girl with two plaits cycling the other way. Two girls working in the fields stopped her. She got off her bicycle and started laughing and talking with them. She was a daughter of the sardars of Charan’s village.

Then one day, the college seemed to be in mourning. Charan told me that she had died. The lovely girl with two plaits was no more. She had suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. “She was studying when it happened, up on the terrace. She died at the hospital.”

I started taking my writing more seriously. I wrote a rubai on the uncertainty of life and read it at the weekly meeting of the college’s literary club. I did not think it was much of a poem, but it became very popular and led to much jealousy.

Before that, my experience of college had been very different from that of the school. I found that the professors teaching me English, Punjabi and economics treated me just as they did anyone else. They did not belittle me in any way. Our English professor used to say that even if his students did not pass the examination, they would definitely learn the English language. He used to be very particular about the pronunciation of the letter ‘H’. I did well in the tests. But the success of my rubai annoyed other students, and after that I was excluded from poets’ meets.

There was a turning point in my life when I started tutoring a young boy studying in class eight. A cup of tea every day and a rupee every third day was my remuneration. But I was happy teaching Sitha, and really worked hard. In turn, he paid heed to everything I said and had a lot of regard for me.

But my classmates had not quite forgiven me that rubai, written to that lovely girl with two plaits. They could not bring her back from the dead so that she might mock me. Instead, there came another Sikh girl with two plaits. Her face was pockmarked, but to me she looked just a wee bit like the girl I had fancied in college. One day, while I was teaching Sitha, she came in with her notebook and started drawing attention to herself. While she was there, the electricity failed. It was dark, and I had a radium ring on my finger. “What a beautiful ring,” she said and leaned over me. I could smell the pungent mustard oil in her hair. She asked me to come to her house to teach her. Since I was already a Marxist by ideology, I thought it my responsibility to teach. So I went there.

Then came the terrible insult. She gave me tea in a steel tumbler. After I had finished, her mother picked it up with a pair of tongs and threw it into the stove to purify it by fire. Then she picked it up with the tongs again and dipped it into water. The clatter of the tumbler being thrown about echoed in my ears. About that time, I recall having lost my mental balance somewhat. My parents had found a girl from my caste for me in Bahilolpur and an engagement was agreed upon, but the girl’s family broke it off later.

My poems made me many friends; Harjit Mangat was one of them. He was very attached to me but would often run me down. But when Preetlarhi, a leading literary Punjabi journal of those times, published my poem, he was silenced. He would often say: “No matter how hard we try, we can never be Lal Singh Dil.” He would try very hard to purge my mind of my romantic stories about upper-caste girls. And it was on his suggestion that I went to Bahilolpur to do my Basic Teacher’s Training course. It was there that I wrote the poems on the wretched of the earth amidst whom I had grown up — the bonded labourers, the daily-wagers, the roving tribes and the poorest of the poor. In my poem Evening Tide, they seem to be Indian martyrs who refused to be crushed by the Aryans and continue their struggle even today.

In Bahilolpur, I had to read a lot of rubbish. Thousands of pages on Leninist thought. And an equal weight of And quiet flows the Don, which ran into four thick volumes. It was literary, but I couldn’t quite comprehend the writer’s philosophy. I had read many such books; the Russians had found a fine way of selling their scrap paper to Indian buyers. But I kept writing poetry and became active at literary meetings. I remember a rather influential member of the Likhari Sabha, Pandit Om Prakash, who was also a member of the Communist Party of India. He wanted a resolution passed against the events in China. “All that is happening there is wrong. They are evacuating all religious buildings.” I said, “Let them.” Anyway, no meeting was called and no resolution passed by the Likhari Sabha.

At that time, I had written a poem called Pests in which I compared Mao’s chairmanship — without naming him, of course — to a weeding tool in the hands of a gardener in the rainy season. I was happy when Lakeer published this poem. Mao was then the subject of hot debate on campus.

I was invited to read my poems at Gurusar Sudhar College. The mood was charged, like at a wrestling match. When my name was announced, I got up and said that I would read my poem, Evening Tide. The students in the audience laughed affectionately. I told them that Evening Tide could well be read in the afternoon. Afterwards, everyone turned serious. The principal gave a little speech on creating the right mood for serious poetry. The hottest question of the period was whether the Cultural Revolution would precede the political revolution, or vice versa.

News of Naxalbari spread like wildfire. I was working as a daily-wage labourer then. Carrying loads up and down the stairs, I felt strangely energised. It was like a great opportunity. What I had not been able to go and do in Vietnam, I would achieve here…

The evening wears its familiar coloursThe foothpaths are walking to the basti

The lake is returning from the office

after being shunted out of work

The lake is quenching its thirst for water

The city is walking towards the villages

Someone has lost all his wages

Another is wiping with his dhoti the

blood off the whip-marks

on weak animals

The evening wears its familiar colours…

They are walking away from land

That belongs to another

carrying their straw baskets

The long caravan is moving on

carrying the burden of rebukes

Along the long shadows

children are riding donkeys

Their fathers have dogs in their arms

Pans hang on the backs of their mothers

Babies are sleeping in these pans

The long caravan is moving on

On their shoulders are the bamboos of their shacks

Who are these Aryans, so starved?

Which India’s land are they

going to conquer?

The young men love the dogs

They know not how to love palaces?

Long starved, they are leaving the

land that belongs to another

The long caravan is moving on

What do they know?

How many are tied to posts

How many burned alive at the stake

Those who cannot leave the basti

The shadows of the basti trees move on

Someone is holding the legs of tired animals

Of tired loves

The long caravan is moving on

The brave tillers of the land walk away

With the burden of shovels on their shoulders

On the wild paths

The love of the fields was murdered last night

Flames rose from the shacks last night

The caravan moves on.

Dance

When the labourer woman
Roasts her heart on the tawa
The moon laughs from behind the tree
The father amuses the younger one
Making music with bowl and plate
The older one tinkles the bells
Tied to his waste
And he dances
These songs do not die
nor either the dance in the heart …


Caste

You love me, do you?
Even though you belong
to another caste
But do you know
our elders do not
even cremate their dead
at the same place?


Words

Words have been uttered
long before us
and
for long after us
Chop off every tongue
if you can
but the words have
still been uttered

Nirupama Dutt: Lal Singh Dil

Lal Singh Dil (1943-2007)

How is one to remember Lal Singh Dil? The literary status of Dil in the world of Punjabi literature was never disputed and he is often described as the poets’ poet. Punjabi poet Surjit Patar says: “He will be counted as one of the top Punjabi poets of the twentieth century.” However, there was more to Dil’s life than is difficult to slot. It was a life of immense struggle as his story stands witness to the deep-rooted human discrimination in the name of caste, which, a creation of the Hindu way of life, is yet to be found in all major religions that have been based on conversion from Hinduism. Sadly enough, it has also been a part of the Left group cadres, which ideologically do not recognize religion, caste or creed. So Dil’s various attempts to transcend the caste barrier by joining the Naxalite movement of the late sixties in Punjab or later converting to Islam with the new name of Mohammad Bushra met with frustration that his simple poetic heart opposed.

However, his life and struggle raise the issue of caste prejudice and a big question mark after his death. Punjab has a higher Dalit percentage than that of the other states. Scheduled Caste form about 30 percent of the total population and eight percent of these castes live in the rural area and are landless and mostly Sikh Jats are the land owners. The Dalits take the religion of their masters as per old practice.

Born to a low-caste Ramdasia Chamar (tanner) family, Dil was the first of his clan to pass Class X, while doing his daily labour, and go to college. He was training to be a basic school teacher when Naxalbari intervened. Dil’s poetry was true to his life and that of those around him and the experience of poverty, injustice and oppression was so real and told so well that he was hailed as the bard of the Naxalite movement in Punjab. In the dream of a society free of caste and class, Dil saw a new dawn for the oppressed. However, the extreme Left cadres were not without the caste factor and when the movement was crushed the torture meted out to the Dalits by the upper-caste police was far worse. Dil went underground and moved to Muzaffar Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. Here comes the progresson of Dil. As a caretaker of a mango orchard there, he came in contact with Muslim culture. Once again he saw escape from caste oppression and converted to Islam. In a historical letter written to his mentor-friend Amarjit Chandan in February 1974, he revealed his decision in a long letter saying a crescent moon had appeared on the palm of his hand and adding a line: “Allah is very kind to Maoists because he understands cultures.”

Years later Dil was to tell me, “Caste prejudice exists among the Muslims too.” And this was a scathing comment on the “Manu-made” evil that exists among the Muslims, Christians and Sikhs of the sub-continent because it is so deeply rooted in the Hindu way of life that it is difficult to get rid of it even after conversion. However, Dil remained a devout Muslim saying his namaz , keeping rozas (fasting) and eating only halaal. While he did not put his last wish to be buried on paper yet he had articulated it to his close riends and relatives. Gulzar Mohammad Goria, a writer and Dil’s constant companion, told me: “The wish was communicated to his brothers and left-wing activists. However, there was no Muslim burial ground is Samrala as the Wakf Board had leased out the ground to a Sadhu, who has built a temple there.” It would have meant taking his body to the neighbouring village of Bhaundli but it may not have been accepted there so the brothers of dil conferred and respecting the fact that he had converted to Islam, they yet decided to cremate him as they had done with other elders of the family. Goria adds, “We did not wish to rake a controversy that would make Dil the Muslim overshadow Dil the great poet.” 

A great poet he was undoubtedly and his collection of poetry Satluj di Hava (1971), Bahut Saare Suraj (1982), and Sathar (1997) as well as his autobiography, Dastaan, enjoy an exalted place in Punjabi letters. However, his life was a constant struggle. He was never married nor did he enjoy the companionship of any woman. His body and mind wrecked by police torture, he took to country brew. When the Naxalite movement was crushed all the activists went back to their class folds. Dil had nowhere to go to. His dreams for a better life were gone and till the end he remained a ‘proclaimed offender’ in police records because there was no one to help and set the record straight. Sadly, many Naxalite writers and artistes were to receive honours, posts and money from the government but even the meager pension of Languages Department, Punjab was not to find its way to Dil’s hovel through his long years of penury or illness.

For some years after his return to Samrala, Goria and he reopened the mosque in Samrala with Dil saying the morning and evening azaan (call for prayer). Goria recalls: “God is everywhere and our effort in opening the mosque was directed to give confidence to a minority community who should not be afraid of going to their own place for prayer. However, when people started coming to the mosque, the Wakf Board intervened and took over. Well, the Wakf Board must be having its own reason because political ideology apart, Dil and Goria were just a bit too fond of their drink.

With the money sent by his well-wishers in England, his hut was made over into a pucca home and a wooden shack built to serve as a teashop so that he may earn a living by selling tea. He did so in partnership with Pala, a local upper-caste drug addict, but after his death the shop was closed. On Sunday when hundreds of all shades gathered to bid adieu to Dil, but for one all old comrades took care not to mention the two truths of dil’s life: one that he had converted to Islam and the other he found solace in addiction. Expressing regret as an ex-Naxalite activist Manmohan Sharma, an admirer of the days when red had not faded, says: “This is how society exhumes radicalism and Dil the radical was not acceptable either to the society or his own party cadres.” Chandan adds more explicitly: “Beneath the faded red, the Hindus and Sikhs, they would not have anything to do with his last wish for a burial.”

Dil was a legend in his lifetime and now after him his poetry lives and so does his struggle and protest. He had told this writer that one day people would come and sing qawwalis under the banyan tree outside his hovel. It will happen one day, for in ‘Manto-town’ (Samrala being the birth place of Saadat Hasan Munto) Dil was the true faqir and Manto and Dil were forever buried in many a heart.

(Lal Singh Dil, poet, born 11 April 1943, Ghungraali Sikhaan, Ludhiana; died 14 August 2007 Dayanand Medical College and Hospital Ludhiana.)

Lal Singh Dil one of the few poets in Punjabi

Lal Singh Dil one of the few poets in Punjabi who had instictively appealed to the restless teenager in me.

His collections of poems were published by some of the Naxalite publishers (usually a one- man publishing house) in those little pocket book size booklets of thirty or forty pages, with a gray or brown cover that gave them the deceptive look of a bygone age, even when the booklets were printed recently. The inside pages were generally whiter, and smelled fresh.
In the mid- eighties, there was still awe of the Naxalite movement among some of the more socially sensitive students. Its aura had not yet dimmed, though the embers flickered very little, and news of a Nagabhushan Pattanaik being released from incarceration, was of little interest to the major newspapers, then the main source of news. Even though newspapers then were newspapers, and not yet printed television.

Lal Singh Dil’s poems that I read then were generally short, and I knew little of his background. It was even rumoured that he had died and that a news item had been published regarding his death. There was one particular poem that invoked Guru Gobind Singh. I had then wondered why Guru Gobind, and why not Baba Nanak.

Slowly, as I turned away from my armchair fascination for the movement and got embroiled with the ‘softer’ versions of the Left, Lal Singh Dil became another forgotten recess in the labyrinthine passages of growing up.

Paash, a contemporary of Dil, and a poet with much wider appeal, somehow did not appeal initially, though later, when my reading expanded, I could appreciate a poem here and a metaphor there. I found his poetry to be very raw- so was Dil’s in some ways- but I felt more detached from Paash than from Dil. Surjit Pattar was suave compared to any of them.

It was much later that I became aware of the Dalit element in his persona and poetry. I had myself arrived by then at a better appreciation of the need and significance of the Dalit movement, after an long drawn “ideological struggle” with my friends- and a particular father- figure of a teacher– who emphasized the class nature of conflcit denying caste and other factors, but specially caste.

It came as news to me that Dil had fled to Uttar Pradesh after the police reprisals in the seventies, and that he had converted to Islam. And that he was Dalit.

Rahul’s write up therefore invoked a certain personal poignance for me. (Link via Krishworld)

His writings may have been inspired in the heat of the times, in the shadow of the flames of the Naxalbari uprising, but the light from his, and those of others of the “Naxalite trend” in Punjabi poetry continues to remind us of the struggles that have not yet ended.

When the labourer woman
Roasts her heart on the tawa
The moon laughs from behind the tree
The father amuses the younger one
Making music with bowl and plate
The older one tinkles the bells
Tied to his waist
And he dances
These songs do not die
Nor either the dance…

***

Lal Singh Dil has an insightful observation on the relevance of Sufism for the Dalits in Punjab.

The impact of Sufism in Punjab, as it exists now, is highly debated. Lal Singh `Dil’, a noted writer, said: “Sufism doesn’t solve anything. It favours Dalits, though, because of their need for a place of refuge.” He added: “Sufism can be defined as a critique of society. That was the root. Although Sufi songs are nice to bond over, they must not be de-contextualised. The logic of this Sufi tradition lies in non-Brahmanical culture, and not in secularism.”

The heart that beats no more

I met Lal Singh ‘Dil’ about two years ago. Interviewed him for this story, mentioned him in passing, in that blog post.

And I did not say anything else about him. How he lived, in what sort of ramshackle barsaati, how he attempted to make some terrible tea for me, how he seemed ill and shriveled and how sunken his cheeks were and how he did not know how to honour me, as a guest, and how he would not let me leave without tea, and maybe a drink? How he held on to my hand when I got up to leave, and how he kissed it. And how he had begun to scrawl poetry in coal-black, all over his walls. And how he asked a visiting friend, Kali, to paint the lines higher up, all around.

There had been some beautiful black-n-white portrait photos Kali had taken, of Dil, but he canceled his own exhibition, when people began to protest against one particular photo – Dil lighting a bidi, and the flame of the matchstick reflected in his eye. (People had problems with the photo because it showed a famous figure smoking.)

And how often I had thought that one of these days, I would go back and see how Dil was doing. And whether he remembered me, and whether he tried kissing the hands of all young women who visited.

And now, it is too late.

Where is the heart?

Lal Singh Dil is dead. Long live the revolution

Sourabh Gupta

You love me, do you?
Even though you belong
to another caste.
But do you know,
Our elders do not
even cremate their dead
at the same place.

Lal Singh Dil died two days before my 29th birthday.
But why measure a death as tragic and big as the poet’s against an impending birthday as happy and petty as mine? The next day was August 15. The irony of his passing away could have been juxtaposed to that date. But I couldn’t do that. I shall remember only this: that Dil died two days before my birthday, a day you celebrate what you have become after you were brought into the world. But Dil was dead. The heart would seize up into a gnawing void.
I have read very few of his poems and do not know much about his long harsh life and I never met him more than twice within a gap of two months and there too he didn’t talk much. But Dil was mine because I was not his reader, not his fan. I could not measure his worth with the lines he wrote as I still do with other poets. Neither could I praise his poems nor could I criticise them. Like a lover does to his lover, like a boy does to his grandfather, I had just surrendered to Dil. He might have had remembered me if he saw me again. But that will never happen.
The poet had been killed by gangrene in his intestines, my friend had told me over the mobile. That night, I gulped down some of my grandmother’s Correx cough syrup and went to sleep.
“Log Dil, Dil kehende rehdey ne. Par dil hai kithe? (People keep asking for Dil. But where is the heart?).” The thin old man smoking a bidi in a Panjab University lawn some months back had mocked in his softly shrill and suppressed voice to the scholar friends surrounding him. This line was an afterthought, to a debate on whether Marxism was science or Marxism was religion. Dil was arguing for the second line, without any rhetoric, almost talking to himself, as if he didn’t want to argue. (This was where I first met him.)

‘Words have been
uttered
long before us
and for long after us
chop off every tongue
If you can
But the words
had been uttered.’

The poet could never become the assertive bourgeois; but he was not from the subjugated proletariat either.
Dil’s lineage went far below: he was from the stooping figures of social injustice; he was a chamar whose soul itself is considered filthy. No amount of education or money or power could wipe out this slur of destiny. To wipe out this slur of destiny, the destiny would simply have to change; the poet would have had to take rebirth.
On the evening of August 15, Dil close friend Dr Satyapal Sehgal, a Hindi teacher at PU, told me he had been to his friend’s funeral at Samrala and with extraordinary sadness recited to me on the phone Dil’s poem that I have written above. Dil had really been cremated in a Dalits’ cremation ground, he told me.
To turn around this fate, the young Dalit poet had attacked with a group of other Naxalites a police chowki in Chamkaur Sahib in 1969, and after nine months of intense police torture, had fled to UP and become a Mussalman. On his funeral, everything that Dil had done to cleanse himself of his destiny was burnt to ashes. He had changed a lot in 64 years; the world around him had not.
My friend had cursed that it was the state that actually killed Dil, however self-destructive the poet might have been, while Sehgal bitterly said that the Punjabi writers’ fraternity was responsible for Dil’s death. They knew his critical condition but never took heed and got him any medical help till the last moment.
‘News of Naxalbari spread like wildfire. I was working as a daily wage labourer then. Carrying loads up and down the stairs, I felt strangely energised. It was like a great opportunity. What I had not been able to go and do in Vietnam, I would achieve here…,’ Dil had written in his autobiography Dastaan.
Dil had recalled to us his lock-up days with grimace. If an animal had been tortured that much day and night, it would have died, he had smirked. He was still being watched, he had said. Two Punjab Police constables often came to visit him, peering through the door to check if he had fled again. But in them too– the policemen keeping an eye on the former Naxalite– Dil only saw love. They would come and ask, how’s your health, baba? Thy too were enamoured by the gigantic poet. Spying was only an excuse to be close to him, the poet had told us.
After an hour or so, the discussion in the lawn broke up. It was never meant to take the turns it had taken. It was getting bitter with friends and fans.
Dil, the diminutive figure with a rexin bag under his arm, began walking away, following the scholar friend who had brought him to the university. Hungrily, I followed the poet, walking with him, making small talk as if I had known him since my childhood, just to be near him and see him with all the love I could muster up from my welling heart. I had a vision of a saint. But the saint just nodded his head– it didn’t matter if he knew me or not; if I liked him or not. It was beautiful—this inability to connect with words.
As he began to light another bidi, walking on the loose red gravel below the trees, I turned my head back, to see the students walking behind us. I then sped up and went ahead of Dil and turned back completely on the gravel and saw what I wanted to see fully—with two other girls, the tall voluptuous girl student, very fair and well-fed– the extra flesh oozing out of her very tight jeans and t-shirt—inching towards Dil from behind and dwarfing, by several feet, the dark and oily and wasted-looking revolutionary poet as he kept looking down still lost in himself, and the girls walking past the poet, nearly brushing his rickety blackish body of a labourer and walking past me eventually, lost continuously in their own banter. I felt the rapture I had anticipated. I had seen two opposite worlds coming together. Like a wave had come and crashed onto my heart; it felt all salty and sweet, maybe the heart had burst at its seams.
In hindsight, I had seen the master and the slave and I had seen the revolution. My going ahead and looking back was the revolution Dil had fought for—the rich and the poor or the upper caste and the lower caste, with all their little cultures and dogmas and suppressions and superstitions, feeding on each other, coming so close, so tantalisingly, so obscenely close, that one annihilates the other.

‘The long caravan is moving on
Carrying the burden of rebukes
Along the long shadows
Children are riding donkeys
Their fathers have dogs in their arms
Pans hang on the backs of their mothers
Babies are sleeping in these pans.’

From Dil’s Evening Tide

Parnab came for Dil later. From Delhi, Manipur, London, East Timor, Kolkata, I don’t know. But he came. He was possessed. He was as short as Dil and as fair and plump as that girl in the university. He was from both the worlds simultaneously; he was a two-world.
Parnab started from Chandigarh in a Ford Ikon in the evening with a woman friend of his and a friend of mine who knew Dil by heart and reached the delirious old poet’s one-room dwelling Samrala in the dark of the night finding the poet expectedly drunk.
That night, that lonely night, my friend saw the poet weep.
Inebriated Dil was telling them how his publishers were threatening him since he had gone to another publisher, how the old publishers were threatening to stop whatever meagre royalties they gave him. The helpless old man cried and cried.
Parnab Mukherjee is a very sharp theatre actor and theatre director and journalist and activist and in Dil he had found his new play—a solo performance on the poet’s struggles with identity and the state, with the poet himself as the audience.
As such, I met my muse again at the Government Museum and Art Gallery, looking tired and more lovable after a rattling, lonely two-hour bus journey from Samarla to Chandigarh amid the morning heat of May, to be, for a day at least, the crown prince of a play on his own life.
Even in the well-lit white gallery, Dil was invisible, like so many others we see, pulling loads or human beings on thin wheels. He had to be pointed out to the journalists and the photographers. He did not carry on his face the inner glow of a belly well-fed and a body less exhausted. Dil had to be pointed out. Then Nirupama Dutt came, the journalist who had written this in a magazine seven years back: “One day soon, I think we shall learn that the slightly crazed man who sold tea and wrote poetry to be painted on trucks, said his namaaz in the mosque and heretically drank country brew, is no more. What will happen then? My hunch is that the people of Samrala will build a little mazar to him and anoint him a Pir.” Dil is dead but nothing holy or supreme has happened to him. But the two had a bond. She would sweetly incite him to relive the old times and Dil would melt and slowly expand the story from there. Using the moment then, Parnab would recite a long prose-like English poem on Dil (which I do not know if Dil fully understood but the journalists did, quoting parts of it in the next day’s papers) and using the moment again, Dil would read an even longer poem from Naglok. The loop, the circular snake-rhythm of the recurring word ‘Naglok’ from his fragile throat reverberates in my mind as I write it down.
“No other play had depicted the life of the sweepers so well. Watching it, I felt the saga was set in the present. Harish Chandar was shown tending the pigs, working with a basket and a broom, cremating corpses for a fee and finally breaking down when his wife would not let him touch him for fear of being defiled,” Dil had written in Dastaan.
In the evening, Parnab turned and twisted his round plump body on the gallery’s floor enacting the agony of Dil and the people of Nandigram—both fighting the state– and the stick-like Dil somberly watched, sitting crossed legged in the first circle, staring, through Parnab’s loud dialogues and restless body, into an eternal, stony void.

In Memory of the poet Lal Singh Dil
Sikh Philosophy Network http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/showthread.php?t=26953 (Lal Singh Dil)

Motherland

Does love have any reason to be?
Does the fragrance of flowers have any roots?
Truth may, or may not have an intent
But falsity is not without one
It is not because of your azure skies
Nor because of the blue waters
Even if these were deep gray
Like the color of my old mom’s hair
Even then I would have loved you
These treasure trove of riches
Are not meant for me
Surely not.
Love has no reason to be
Falsity is not without intent
The snakes that slither
Around the treasure trove of your riches
Sing paeans
And proclaim you
“The Golden Bird”*

SAMRALA: The poet of protest, of the people, of the deprived masses who spent the last years of his life exactly in conditions against which he fought all his life breathes no more.

Lal Singh Dil died on August 14 evening after remaining ill for a few days. As India celebrates the corporate success and nuclear deal with the US on August 15 afternoon, Dil was being cremated in Samrala where he spent the few last years selling tea by the road side.

A few days earlier, the poet was found unconscious in his dingy room at Balmiki Mohalla when a team of TV journalists arrived to film a documentary on his contribution to the revolutionist poetry in Punjab. He was suffering from high fever and rushed to the Civil Hospital in Samrala. Later, he was referred to the DMCH in Ludhiana. “But I can’t afford it,” he had protested. A recipient of several awards, the poet has been living a life in penury for the past few years. Dil refused to accept any financial help.

Dil, in his own words

The atmosphere in school was not very congenial. I was kept away from sports and cultural activities. I belonged to a caste which evoked hatred in both teachers and students.

I never won a prize for cleanliness, though I would go to school on inspection day after scrubbing my face hard with laundry soap and tucking my kurta neatly into my khaki shorts. Never did I, or any other boy from a lower caste, get a chance to lead the prayers at the morning assembly.

I was very keen to go to college, though everyone was against it. What use would it be to send a chamar boy to college? The money-lender refused to give money for my admission fees. But my mother was determined to send me to college. She sold her ear-rings, paid my fees and even bought me a bicycle. I started attending classes.

Before that, my experience of college had been very different from that of the school. I found that the professors teaching me English, Punjabi and economics treated me just as they did anyone else.

My poems made me many friends; Harjit Mangat was one of them. He was very attached to me but would often run me down. But when Preetlarhi, a leading literary Punjabi journal of those times, published my poem, he was silenced.

In Bahilolpur, I had to read a lot of rubbish. The Russians had found a fine way of selling their scrap paper to Indian buyers. But I kept writing poetry and became active at literary meetings.

News of Naxalbari spread like wildfire. I was working as a daily-wage labourer then. Carrying loads up and down the stairs, I felt strangely energised. It was like a great opportunity. What I had not been able to go and do in Vietnam, I would achieve here…

Vishav Bharti’s article on Lal Singh Dil

Punjabi Poet Lives in Penury

Born to lower caste, Lal Singh Dil made name with his pen.

In the late sixties, when he used to recite poems, thousands of people would gather. Lal Singh Dil was a celebrated poet, akin to his contemporary revolutionary poets, Avtar Paash and Sant Ram Udasi (aka the “Punjabi poets”). He revolted against the unjust regime and fought not merely with his pen, but with a gun, as the American writer Ernest Hemingway fought. Lal Singh Dil, once a firebrand in Punjabi poetry, is currently going through tough times in his hometown of Samrala.

   
 
 
 
 

These days, most of his time is spent in a dark 10 x 13 room. One room corner still has marks from the last monsoon leakage and another has a small kitchen. Two walls of his room are colored with some written couplets. Except for a long row of mementos, it is hard to find anything in order. As soon as I reached his place, he came upstairs without looking at me, even without any query, and started making tea.

“Now I am in my late sixties and my health is quite poor, even sometimes I find it hard to breathe, otherwise everything is fine,” he began to speak as if he was talking to himself.

When asked about his financial resources, he whispered, “Earlier, I was running a highway tea stall, but three years back that too had to close down. After that, conditions were severe; even sometimes I didn’t have money to post letters. Now, a publisher gives me five hundred rupees ($13) every month as royalty for my books. Recently, I got some money for honor, which I deposited in a bank and I’m waiting when it will be finished. You can’t read or write with an empty stomach.

Dil was the first in his family to finish school. On every step of his life, he faced humiliations because of his low caste. In the early sixties, as he was studying in his tenth standard, his first poem appeared in the famous Punjabi literary journal Preetlari. In the early seventies, he compiled an anthology of poems titled “Satluj di Hawa”, meaning “The Winds of Satluj” (one of the five rivers of Punjab), which is equal to an epoch in the history of Punjabi revolutionary poetry. “With the thunder of spring” (phrase used for an armed peasant uprising of the mid-sixties) he too joined the Naxalite movement and attacked a police station with his fellow comrades. Later on, he was arrested and imprisoned for nine months.

When asked about his treatment in custody, he became silent for a while and spoke with a thick voice, “Compared to my comrades, they tortured me more because I was from a lower caste. It was extreme. But I never bowed in front of jail authorities despite being humiliated, and as a result I got the name ‘rebel.’”

Due to the brutal repression of the police, the whole Naxalite movement suffered a setback. Most of Dil’s comrades were either killed in encounters or were imprisoned, so nobody was there to welcome him when he was released from jail. Thus, in depression, he left Punjab for Uttar Pradesh. There he adopted Islam and worked as a watchman. In the early eighties, he came back to Punjab because of his deep love for his motherland. Even then he did not get married because he wanted to live “free.”

Asked whether it was a mistake to join the Naxalite movement, he answered with little resentment, “No…not at all, it was the struggle for the betterment of society, even today there is need for such struggles, but with valid means.”

When asked what inspires him to still write, for the first time in our conversation he looked into my eyes and answered after a long pause. “Social injustice, physical torture and mental agony all motivate me to write,” and he began to sing the following lines of his poem “Dance”:

When the labourer woman
Roasts her heart on the tawa
The moon laughs from behind the tree
The father amuses the younger one
Making music with bowl and plate
The older one tinkles the bells
Tied to his waist
And he dances
These songs do not die
Nor either the dance…

 Punjabi poet Lal Singh Dil likes to talk of his struggles but there is no room for negative emotions 
Gayatri Rajwade

Reflecting on her first encounter with the spirited Punjabi poet Lal Singh Dil, she recalled how after they had spoken for a while he asked her in English, “How old are you?”

She answered, “I am almost 40 Dil saab.”

He looked at her and replied. “You still look as if you are 28 or 29.”

Nirupama Dutt laughed at the memory.

Dil, sitting in the audience, part of the concluding performance of On the Grand Trunk Road, at the exhibition hall of the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Sector 10, recently, turned to her and said, “You still look the same.”

Everyone chuckled at this warm exchange, but the poet’s quiet sense of self, of dignity and of his deep reverence for associations built over years came to the fore.

Dil is, in fact, all this and much more. In the city today, his poems, the central metaphor for the struggle at this unusual ‘journey’ made by Nirupama Dutt, Shumita Didi and Parnab Mukherjee through this show curated by them, Dil shone. Born into a low-caste community, he was the first in his clan to finish school and to college. But college never interested him, nothing except writing and being involved in inquilaabi.

He still remembers his first poem that was published. It was in the year 1962 and Preetlarhi — an alternative Punjabi monthly magazine — printed his verse Radium Da Geet.

Writing, he says, came to him as a weaver bird knows how to make its nest. “Nobody taught the bird how to do it. It is just like struggle, which comes inherently to man. Nobody teaches us to rise to the challenge, we just get the strength to do it,” he explains.

He talks of struggle, just as his poetry does, because this is his root.

With the advent of Naxalbari in the 1960s and his fiery poetry demanding changes in society, police arrest led to torture and imprisonment forcing him to leave his home-town Samrala. He moved to Uttar Pradesh where he converted to Islam.

Dil returned to his home only after terrorism had ceased in Punjab where he ran a tea-stall and wrote one-liners for the back of trucks.

“But I was never angry, ever. The police were doing their duty and I was doing mine. They beat me up badly but I never gave in,” he smiles.

What is stirring is that emotions like anger, disappointment never crept. This reflects in his poems. But today he confesses that his writings are no longer full of jasbat (emotions). “Today it is far better. There is more depth. People say I am a dheema sur ka shayar (a poet with a soft tone). It was not so then,” he smiles.

He firmly believes that had he not gone through those trying times, he would have been an unsuccessful man. “I am still alive and I am ashamed to be so,” he says. “All I want to do is writing while I am alive.”

He remembers a time when his grandmother used to sit and grind wheat the whole day for a single paisa. “At the end of the day, we would dust our clothes, collect the wheat stuck on our clothes and mix that with water and drink it before sleeping.”

It was this unjust society that he wanted to fight against and literature was his means. “Only if we think of getting up, we will actually do it. Literature helps to nurture that thought. All we need is patience.”

For this ‘comrade’ still burning bright within him, it is not God he is against but the way His word is twisted. “God has given man a mind to think but man has to use it. He cannot expect God to do the thinking. Why should God bring a change when man is to do it?

Having said this, his form of activism continues. He has just written a 108 page nazm, billa ghar nahi ayaa over three years now which talks of how rural society is going under, getting ruined, touching upon the plight of migrants. “I have no interest in writing long verses but only if the point comes through will I stop,” he smiles.

The humour is intact as are his verses which will talk of change till he lives. When the labourer woman

Roasts her heart on the tava

the moon laughs from behind the tree

The father amuses the younger one

making music with bowl and plate

The older one tinkles the bells

tied to his waist

and he dances

These songs do not die

nor either the dance…  

Lal Singh Dil

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 17:49 administrator

Lal Singh Dil (1943-2007) Voice of the poor

Lal Singh Dil was born on11th April 1943, in Ghungraali Sikhaan, Ludhiana. Whist growing up having faced the worst forms of caste oppression he turned to poetry as an outlet of his pain. His first hand experience of poverty, injustice and caste discrimination was so sensitively articulated in his work, that he was hailed by many as the voice of the poor.

Acknowledged by his peers as the poets’ poet, his collection of poetry Satluj di Hava (1971), Bahut Saare Suraj (1982), and Sathar (1997) as well as his autobiography, Dastaan (1998), enjoy an exalted place in Punjabi literary circles. Yet despite his struggles it is remarkable that Dil’s Dalit consciousness and identity though evoking anger were free from feelings of hatred, vengeance and malice.

During the late sixties having joined the Naxalite movement, to realise his dream of a society free of caste oppression and inequality, he was duly arrested in the ensuing police crackdown and imprisoned for nine months.

When asked about his treatment in custody, he spoke without fear, “Compared to my comrades, they tortured me more because I was from a lower caste. It was extreme. But I never bowed in front of the jail authorities despite being humiliated, and as a result I got the name rebel.”

A recipient of several literary rewards, having refused financial help from well wishers he was to die in poverty.

http://www.chamars.net/en/facts-to-be-proud-of/writers/122-lal-singh-dil