All of us who are interested in subversive, revolutionary or political poetry have read our Nerudas, Faizs, Lorkas and maybe even Hikmet but in my opinion more contemporary than any of these is Punjabi poet Paash. Pash was slain by Khalistani separatists on March 23, 1987 1988. Paash never went to college as a regular student and did not have a graduate degree but saw his own poems become part of Punjabi literature curriculum in many universities. His poem “Sabse khatarnaak” (The Most Dangerous) has gone on to become very popular and is now even part of the NCERT curriculum. Heres a translation…

The Most Dangerous

Most treacherous is not the robbery
of hard earned wages
Most horrible is not the torture by the police.
Most dangerous is not the graft for the treason and greed.
To be caught while asleep is surely bad
surely bad is to be buried in silence

But it is not most dangerous.

To remain dumb and silent in the face of trickery
Even when just, is definitely bad
Surely bad is reading in the light of a firefly

But it is not most dangerous

Most dangerous is
To be filled with dead peace
Not to feel agony and bear it all,
Leaving home for work
And from work return home
Most dangerous is the death of our dreams.

Most dangerous is that watch
Which run on your wrist
But stand still for your eyes.
Most dangerous is that eye
Which sees all but remains frostlike,
The eye that forgets to kiss the world with love,
The eye lost in the blinding mist of the material world.
That sinks the simple meaning of visible things
And is lost in the meaning return of useless games.

Most dangerous is the moon
Which rises in the numb yard
After each murder,
but does not pierce your eyes like hot chilies.

Most dangerous is the song
which climbs the mourning wail
In order to reach your ears
And repeats the cough of an evil man
At the door of the frightened people.

Most dangerous is the night
Falling in the sky of living souls,
Extinguishing them all
In which only owls shriek and jackals growl,
And eternal darkness covers all the windows.

Most heinous is the direction
In which the sun of the soul light
Pierces the east of your body.
Most treacherous is not the
robbery of hard earned wages.
Most horrible is not the torture of police
Most dangerous is not graft taken for greed and treason.

Translation by Dr.Satnam Singh Sandhu of Punjabi University, Patiala

Reading Paash hits one hard- he doesn’t care for the usual niceties associated with the poetry. He just spews forth the disgust, the anger, and sometimes the despair and frustration he feels without hididng them… naked, just as the words are born in his mind. He says…

You are not aware that I am equated in poetry
With the entry into a passionate mujrah
Of a stray dog.
You think that for some dangerous party
I burn the midnight oil
And keep writing.
You are not aware how I approach a poem-
Like a village belle wearing old fashioned clothes
gets into city showrooms, frenzied
My translation of Tumhein Pata Nahin (You Are Not Aware) from Hindi Translation of original Punjabi by Dr Chaman Lal of JNU.
Not only does Paash not write pretty and sensuous poetry like, say, Faiz he actually feels disdain for the whole genre. This is where I personally, disagree with him. He totally dismisses Ghazals as being trivial, flowery and empty of any meaning. When Faiz says, “Mujse pehli si muhabbat mere mehboob na maang” (Do not ask me, my love, for the old love) he makes another (and equally powerful and moving) kind of political poetry.

Do not ask me…

Do not ask me, my love, for the old love
I had thought life is aglow with your presence
The sorrows of the world negligible when compared with agony of your love
From your face, the spring gets its permanence in creation
What else does the world have if not your eyes?
If I get you the fate will submit to me
It would not really but I wished it merely
There are sorrows other than those of love in the world
There are joys other than those of a union with you
Dreadful dark spells of countless centuries
Woven in silk, satin and brocade
Bodies on sale here and there in streets, markets
Smeared of ashes, drenched in blood
Bodies right our of ovens of diseases
Pus oozing out of rotting wounds
One cannot help but turn to look that ways too
One cannot help it even though your beauty is still heart-warming
There are sorrows other than those of love in the world
There are joys other than those of a union with you
Do not ask me, my love, for the old love
(My translation)
But it is because of Paash that contemporary Punjabi poetry has a face… for long Punjabi poetry has meant only Sufi poets such as Bulle Shah, Waris Shah, Baba Farid etc only. Shiv Batalvi was also Paash’s contemporary but his popular romantic poetry (made even more popular by Jagjit Singh) does not have that kind of iconic status. The Hindi translations of Paash by Dr Chaman Lal are so popular that many people think Paash wrote originally in Hindi!

His politics was as complicated as the times he lived in- so even as he began writing his brand of poetry when he got to know some Naxalite activists, in his own life he practiced politics of not just sangharsh (struggle) but also of nirman (construction). Paash brought our handwritten magazine promoting scientific attitude for people living in villages surrounding Uggi village where he ran a progressive school for many years. During his lifetime he was associated with many literary magazines. Just as Paash was not afraid to question powers that be, he was also not afraid to question his comrades. Following is my translation of one of the poems of a series he called “Comrade se baat-cheet” (Conversations with Comrade). This poem and the whole series seems especially contemporary given the going-ons at Nandigram.

Conversation With Comrade-5

Comrade, do you occasionally get a newspaper?
Don’t believe the piecemeal news.
Last year the one who drowned in the village pond…
It was not mother.
A brick got disengaged from the blue terrace and fell down.
At the very first raid, mother
trying to swim through Gorky’s novel
ran away from the police.
at the banks of the novel
and sometimes fades like her own blessings.
And recently, the poet
who was in news for joining the party safely
it was not I, it was a Dek tree on the outside wall
which bad spirits, wearing police uniforms
had learnt to climb up and down.
Long before that news went to print,
when night was sliding into words
and the dark- like cobra, sat coiled on names…
I stole whatever remained of the party’s compassion
and slid down…stole away
into the human clamour
When my own feet were listening to me
like love poems
I went and put the waning compassion
carefully among crow’s eggs
To Sadhu Singh and Jirvi*, I have complained
many times about these news.
Who say that the paralysis of news
does not let them walk on their own feet
they ask for crutches of our death
“if we believed their truth
we would have cried over you many times over.”
Every time I read the news of a sudden raid
I tell mother-
Its not you, but another warrior with your name
Mother knows nothing of grammatical nuances
Shivering in the chilling innocence of old age
She mistakes a naming word for a caste name
and a caste name for a collective noun
For her whenever a bullet is fired on a name
Some caste or some emotion is murdered
Comrade, mother is anyways crazy
Both of us and news cannot change her
For coming home late, she will
With any household object
Or with the whole house, beat you and later
Stuff her dry breast in your mouth

*Names of Editors of Punjabi dailies