Indian poet who kept the farmers protest ignited

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Paash poetry

‘Kirat di lutt, Sab ton khatarnak nahin hundi

Police di kutt,Sab ton khatarnak nahin hundi

Gaddaari-lobh di muth,Sab ton khatarnak nahin hundi’

India has been home to numerous revolutionary poets who through their poetry shaped mass opinions and revolutions. Be it the love-sick Ghalib or blunt Manto, their poems became the face of several movements across the decades. But movements and protests weren’t just a thing of the past, instead, they are the building foundation of any society. The recent events of farmers’ protests were enough to justify that rebellions weren’t just born in the past!

And one such poet reincarnated during the farmer protest was Paash, a revolutionary Punjabi poet who kept the farmer’s protest spirited. His legacy can be found among the young children of Punjab whose textbooks chronicle several masterpieces by Paash. Upon asking a small kid, he tried recalling the name but instead of getting it accurate, he just responded “wo bomb wala na”. Though the 47 lines never once used the word Bomb, yet the audacity of his words in ‘Sab Ton Khattarnak’ vaguely represents his revolutionary yet absolute thoughts.

For Paash, Poem itself is a Revolution

Paash was born as Avtar Singh Sandhu in 1950 in Jalandhar. His father Sohan Singh Sandhu was a soldier in the Indian army but also composed poems as a hobby. Avtar Singh grew up during the Naxalite movement in Punjab to control the means of production. Amid this, the Green Revolution was also at its peak addressing increasing famine in the country. Thus his upbringing itself was full of revolutionary ideals.

Paash poetry

At the age of 18, he published his first book named ‘Loh-Katha (Iron Tale)’, which was a collection of his poems. His poems had very deep yet his militant tone provoked many youths of the time and so a murder charge was brought against Avtar Singh. As a penalty, he spent a total of two years in prison, before finally getting released in 1972.

Upon his release, the then 22 years old Avtar got engaged in Punjab’s Maoist front, editing a literary magazine, Siarh. His involvement bought him widespread fame and he became an important figure of the left for which he was awarded a fellowship at the Punjabi Academy of Letters in 1985. The same year he toured the U.S and became involved with the Anti-47 Front, opposing Sikh extremist violence.

During this time, he released many of his poems like Uddian Bazan Magar, Saadey Samiyaan Vich, and Khilre Hoye Varkey. But his most famous poem remains ‘Sab Ton Khattarnak’. According to many researchers, though Paash’s militant tone is quite visible in all of his poems, it is the Sab Ton Khattarnak that remains his strongest poem to date. All of his poems were straight and blatantly attacked oppression and oppressors, but this one was more of a metaphor that gave his work a kind of a new rhythm.

The poem has so far been translated into Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi. His poems are a wonderful collection of resistance politics. Be it any protest, movement, or student marches, one can always hear the cacophony of Paash’s poetry. He is one of the major poets of the Punjabi culture and has been constantly compared to Pablo Neruda and Garcia Lorca of the West. Though his poetry remains a cult classic for generations to come, his revolutionary ideals also led Singh to doom.

In 1988, Paash returned to India, for the renewal of his visa from the United States. A day before leaving India, Khalistani Militants along with his friend Hans Raj assassinated Paash in his village on 23 March 1988. But as it is said- people come and go, their art remains and so did his. Last December, it was the peak of a protest in the heart of North India; Paash’s poetry became a leitmotif of the protesting farmers.  

Paash poetry

As many protestors in the yearlong protest against the three new farm laws were from Punjab, it was only natural to have placards of their best poet. Paash’s poetry kept the heart of many protestors lit by the spirit in the chilling weather of December.

Sab ton khatarnak hunda hai

Na hona tadap da

Sabh kujh sehan kar jaana

Ghar ton niklana kamm,

te kamm to ghar aana

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