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The man who wouldn't be silenced

The memoirs and poems of Lal Singh Dil are a tapestry of textures and tones that highlight his indomitable spirit. Pankaj Vohra writes.

books Updated: Feb 16, 2013 11:41 IST
Pankaj Vohra

Lal Singh Dil's poetry reveals his great spirit.
Lal Singh Dil; Poet of the Revolution
Translated by Nirupama Dutt; Penguin Viking
339 PP 167

The memoirs and poems of Lal Singh Dil are a tapestry of textures and tones that highlight his indomitable spirit. Born in 1943 to a Scheduled Caste family in Samrala, Dil was the target of discrimination as a school student and suffered great indignities. Early on, he turned to poetry, which became his haven. His poems began appearing in innumerable magazines and he became a celebrated invitee to many a symposium, his voice becoming a well known one amidst fellow writers, aficionados and disparaging detractors alike. Prem Prakash lent a patient ear to Dil's outpourings and Amarjit Chandan, another of his true friends became actively involved in the publication of his verse under the title, 'Bahut Saare Suraj'.

In the 1960s, Dil became politically active and joined the Naxalbari movement turning into a committed comrade combating oppression by the despotic and tyrannical landed community.

Despite the trauma of social persecution and the onslaught of the Chamkaur Saheb action, Dil's resilience and mettle did not break and he stoically bore the harrowing atrocities and unspeakable torture meted out by the police. He preferred to be hounded rather than expose his Naxal allies to the atrocities to which he was consistently subjected.

After a three-year term of rigorous imprisonment, the revolutionary sought refuge in an obscure place in Uttar Pradesh where he toiled as a farm hand and a servant-slave enduring extreme hardships. It was then that he embraced Islam. His poem 'Roorh the Blacksmith' relives his own initiation into the Urdu alphabet.

His comrades, supporters and followers who had known him as an unconventional atheist were perplexed and could not recognise his action as an attempt to affirm equality as opposed to segregation.

A chronic romantic, Lal's longing for a woman in his life remained a fantasy. In his poems, he appreciates a girl's laughter, her twinkling eyes and braided hair, or a mere glance; but all that remains is a soulful, cherished moment. Much of his verse is replete with the imagery of tender romance. Yet, the artist also vehemently vents his ire at the dark inequities of the system.

Translator Nirupama Dutt has done a superlative job of capturing the essence of Lal's being, retelling his life's travails and not allowing anything to be lost in translation. A bow, therefore, to Dutt is also in order.