The timelessness of Surjit Patar’s poetry - Hindustan Times

The timelessness of Surjit Patar’s poetry

ByGagan Deep Sharma
May 18, 2024 11:36 PM IST

Patar began writing at a young age and stayed engaged until his final day, making him a contemporary of nearly all generations of modern Punjabi poets

Only a few poets have an appeal that reaches beyond the literary and poetic communities. Punjabi poet Surjit Patar (79), who passed away recently, was one such.

Renowned poet and Padma Shri awardee Surjit Patar (Twitter Photo) PREMIUM
Renowned poet and Padma Shri awardee Surjit Patar (Twitter Photo)

Patar began writing at a young age and stayed engaged until his final day, making him a contemporary of nearly all generations of modern Punjabi poets, carrying his style, thoughts, and language across the decades. He was consistent yet diverse, soft yet stubborn, classy yet grounded. When he took the stage to recite his poems/ghazals or sing his songs, his breath would speak as much as his words. He comprehended not just the music of poetry, but also its origins. In a poetry workshop at my university, his words resonated with the young poets: “Music’s essence may be felt via one’s breathing rhythm, eliminating the need to seek it elsewhere”. And, then he recited his couplet, “Eh pandit raag de taan pichhon sadiyan baad aaunde ne, mere hauke hi pehlaan taan meri vanjhli de saah bande” (These pundits of the music appear centuries later, initially, my sighs transform into the breath of my flute).

Patar was born in Pattar Kalan village in Jalandhar. He took his PhD in Punjabi literature (Transformation of Folklore in Guru Nanak Vani). Patar’s book of prose, Suraj Mandal Diyan Paudiyan, is a major work in Punjabi literature due to its poetic style. It complements his collections of poems such as Hawa Vich Likhe Harf, Birkh Arz Kare, Hanere Vich Sulagdi Varnmala (awarded by the Sahitya Akademi in 1993), Lafzan di Dargah, Patjhad di Paazeb, Surzameen, and Chann Suraj di Vehangi.

Patar’s poetry covers a wide range of issues and themes reflecting the problems of the contemporary world. He depicted the quandary of an ordinary individual during the era of terrorism in Punjab by stating, “Kujh keha taan hanera jarega kiven, chup reha taan shamadan ki kehange, geet di maut is raat je ho gayi, mera jeena mere yaar kinjh sehange” (How will the darkness react if I speak, and what will the lanterns convey if I stay silent! If the song were to cease tonight, how would my pals cope with the reality of my existence). He further writes, “Ujjle sheesha saahven mainu chir takk na khaliyar, maile mann waale mujrim nu is maute na maar” (Do not force me to see my reflection in this pristine mirror, save the one with a confused mind from such severe punishment).

His ability to articulate and blend modern difficulties showcases his intellectual and poetic prowess, which astonishes the reader. He discusses delays in litigation, and how this ultimately leads to the collapse of families in one of his well-known ghazals: “Is adaalat ch bande birakh ho gaye, faisle sundeyan sundeyan sukk gaye, aakho ehna nu ujjde gharin jaan hun, eh kadon teek ethe khade rehange” (While awaiting the hearings and rulings, individuals have transformed into trees in this court of law, tell them to return to their distressed homes now, how much longer do they intend to wait?).

Patar’s creative intellect could perceive the mundane and transform it into something spectacular. His poetry added a unique and unmatched perspective to the teachings derived from the lives of the Gurus. He writes, “Jo lau mathe chon futtdi hai, oh asli taj hundi hai, tawi de takht te beh ke hi sachche patshah bande” (The light emanating from the forehead is the real crown; real kings are created by sitting on the furnace throne).

Despite being the tallest poet of his time, Patar was a well-grounded human being. He knew his verses were not only his but have their roots in the larger social canvas: “Kadi dariya ikalla tai nahin karda disha aapni, zameen di dhaal, jal da veg hi ral mil ke raah bande” (Never does a river decide its course, the slope of the land coupled with the flow of the water make way for the river to flow).

It is only physically that Patar has departed, his philosophy and verses shall live on in the way he expressed himself: “Jadon takk lafz jiunde ne sukhanvar jeen mar ke vi, oh kewal jism hunde ne jo siwiyan vich sawah bande” (Poets endure as long as their words remain alive; only their physical bodies turn to ashes in cremation grounds).

Gagan Deep Sharma, Punjabi poet and professor, University School of Management Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi, is a recipient of Sahitya Akademi’s Yuva Puraskar. The views expressed are personal

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