“The most dangerous thing is not the loot of hard-earned wages. Not the torture by the police. Not the graft for the treason and greed. To remain silent amid noise of trickery is surely bad but not dangerous. Most dangerous is to get filled with dead peace. Not feeling agony and bear it all. Most dangerous thing is the death of our dreams. Most dangerous is the moon, which rises in the numb yard after every murder but does not pierce your eyes like hot chilies,” wrote Pash in his acclaimed poem ‘Sab ton khatarnak.
Born as Avtar Singh Sandhu (September 9, 1950 – March 23, 1988) in Talwandi Salem village of Jalandhar district in Punjab, he was killed by Khalistani militants—who were demanding a separate Sikh homeland—on a day when the country was commemorating the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh and his two comrades, Rajguru and Sukhdev.
“If your pens have become impotent, stop using them to abort the embryos of papers,” the philosopher-poet of rare intellect wrote such verses. He continues to live through his revolutionary poetry even after his death. It’s his 67th birth anniversary today.
Considered as one of the most important poets in contemporary Punjabi literature, his poetic work demonstrates an amalgam of thoughts and emotions rooted in political consciousness and folk culture. Inspired by the Naxalbari uprising in 1967, he crafted such protest poems that haven’t lost their sheen till date.
A poem which measures the area of a beloved’s navel can’t be poetry, he wrote in one of his radical poems. Known for his scathing criticism of state oppression, religious fundamentalism, feudalism, landlordism, unethical industrialists, corrupt traders and politicians, he spent two years in jail on false murder charges during the Naxalite movement. However, this did not discourage him from voicing the angst, anger and disillusionment of the disadvantaged and marginalised sections of the society through his fiery poems in Punjabi.
“I am also a poet of prisons,
It’s people who are my love”
“Walking through this tunnel-like life
When the echo of your life returns to you
And dreams, like worn-out shoulders of the old ox,
Keep stinging your eyes”
In his literary journal Siarh (The Plough Line), Pash opposed the separatist ideology by extensively quoting from Sikh scriptures. Arguing that real Sikhism teaches equality and compassion and not fascism, he denounced the attempts to divide the country for a second time on religious lines after Islamic Pakistan was carved out of Indian subcontinent in 1947.
The most striking thing about his poetry is that he could talk about struggles of peasants and labourers with the same ease with which he could describe the eyes of his beloved or his affection for childhood friends.
“If the nation turns into
a factory for the labour of soul,
If the country becomes a laboratory
to produce owls,
Then we fear that nation”
He wrote unusual poems like “wounds of a thorn” and verses to thank the tiny mustard flowers—which gave him several opportunities to pick pollens out of his beloved’s tresses.
“We shall fight, comrade, for the unhappy season
We shall fight, comrade, for the enslaved desires
We shall gather up, comrade, the fragments of our lives”
In his epic poem: Ab vida leta hun meri dost (Now I take your leave, my friend), Pash addressing his beloved confesses that he had a burning desire to drown in the feeling of being alive but couldn’t. He asserts that such people, whom life has turned into profit-seeking traders, will never understand how to love someone and how to live. In his parting words, he tells his beloved, “live up my share of this life too, dear friend!”
Here’s Swara Bhaskar reciting the poem: