Ganga banaye devta,
Paani Chenab Da
[While the Ganga and Jamuna have produced gods and goddesses, lovers are born only from the waters of the Chenab.]
So said Prof Mohan Singh of Lahore, and later of Ludhiana. A contemporary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mohan Singh is also called the “poet of love”. Travelling through the lush green country side rejuvenated by the monsoon, one cannot help agreeing. The rivers of Punjab have had a deep and intimate impact on the psyche of the land and people. Passionate and emotional, this intense zest for life can, all too often, end in violent death. Be it Heer-Ranjha, Sohni-Mahiwal or Sassi-Punoon, thwarted lovers who would rather die than be parted from their beloved, Punjab has thrown up martyrs, from the fifth Guru Arjan Dev, tortured and executed by the Emperor Jahangir back in 1606, to Shaheed Bhagat Singh hanged by the British in 1931, aged just 23.
Swirling water of the SutlejAfter a sumptuous breakfast of green chilli chutney and home-made butter atop missi rotis made by Daljit’s mother, we hit the road. We are driving up to Shahkot to meet a singer, Sajida begum, who had been brought up by a peer until she was 12 years old. It is raining hard. Watching the swirling muddy waters of the Sutlej nearNawanshr, one can almost picture the river a few kilometres downstream. After his hanging at the Lahore jail, Bhagat Singh was cremated on the banks of the Sutlej at Hussainiwala, in Ferozepur district of Punjab,on the border of Pakistan.
A few kilometres on, on the Nawanshr-Phagwara roadabout a 100 km from Chandigarh is Khatkar Kalan, the ancestral village of the young revolutionary. (Bhagat Singh’s family was one of the many who moved to the “canal colonies” set up by the British in present day Pakistan). The Shaheed-e-Azam BhagatSingh Museum was inaugurated on 23rd of March, 1981, the fiftieth anniversary of his martyrdom. I am told that the pen used to sign the death sentence of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Rajguru & Sukhdev is one of the artefacts on display in the museum. But there is noime to stop.Returning to Chandigarh, we pass Samrala, home of Saadat Hasan Manto. Lal Singh Dil, one of Punjab’s best-known revolutionarypoets, is also from here. A land that seems so fertile that anything will grow, is also a land of intense discrimination.Said Dil in his last poem:For us trees do not bear fruits
For us flowers do not bloom
For us there is no Spring
For us there is no Revolution …
Says contemporary poet and journalist Nirupama Dutt in an article about caste in Himal “The despondent note of the poem is both surprising and telling, for a poet who had once declared that the song and dance in his heart would not die, no matter how dire the circumstance. It took Dil a lifetime to discover this sad yet provocative truth, against the backdrop of the complexities of caste in Punjab.”
It is a land of extremes, a land of passion …and we are on a journey to discover it through its musical traditions and poetry.
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