Pashaura Singh Dhillon is conscious of the numerous problems that Punjab – his homeland – faces. But instead of mulling over whom to blame, he believes giving voice to his concerns through his poems and songs would perhaps be better able to drive home the point. Settled in California, US, for the last 40 years now, over 70-years-old Pashaura recalls fondly his Punjabi association, especially this time around, when Chandigarh is witness to its annual Rose Festival.
Having written his first poem, Rooh Mere Punjab Di, for the maiden Rose Festival in April 1968, Pashaura remembers receiving appreciation from MS Randhawa, the then Chief Commissioner of Chandigarh. The poem personified Chandigarh envisioned in human form by Le Corbusier, as a wonder girl who at the age of 16 was blossoming into a young woman.
“Blessed and protected from the evil eye by the great Himalayas, bathed in Sukhna Lake, the poem describes her decadent adornments as being made entirely of unique landscape plant material used to beautify Chandigarh,” recalls the poet-singer on his website. Pashaura’s presence at the Rose Festival was no coincidence, for he majored in Horticulture during graduation at Khalsa College, Amritsar. His first job was in the capacity of a horticultural inspector at Mughal Gardens, Pinjore, after which he was attached to capital project in Chandigarh.
After Partition, Pashaura came to village Bhakna in Amritsar with his family, where they stayed with Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, a close relative. Pashaura claims that Baba Sohan Singh, known freedom fighter and founder of the Gadhar Party, became a great influence on his life.
As Pashaura joined school, he was exposed to the magic of poetry. Along with his cousins, brothers and sisters, young Pashaura would read or sing poems of icons such as Amrita Pritam, Bhai Vir Singh and others. His poems and articles have been published in magazines in the US, Canada and India and he has a book of poems to his credit, Diva Bale Samundron Paar. “I can’t imagine writing my poems in any other language. There is a certain beauty in my mother tongue that no translation can fully capture,” says Pashaura.
Though he moved to the UK for higher studies, Pashaura’s love for writing poetry flourished. Armed with a master’s degree programme at the prestigious Landscape Institute, London, he worked as a landscape artist before moving to Fresno in California in 1992. After retiring as an agricultural biologist for the County of Fresno in 2006, Pashaura has been using his landscaping skills in his garden, apart from “writing, recording and sharing the experiences of life through poetry.”
As a co-host of Punjab News and Views, a weekly radio show on KBIF-900AM, Pashaura says he likes to take up issues such as social inequality, Sikhism, religion, politics, language and culture amongst others. To engage the younger generation in Punjabi culture and language, the poet has been instrumental in helping form the Sikh Council of Central California Fresno, the Punjabi Sahit Sabha, California, and the Indo-US Heritage Association in Fresno, California. He also likes to organise events such as the fundraiser for the Guru Nanak Heritage Institute for Punjabi Studies in San Jose, where the local community established a Punjabi language and cultural studies programme for the past 10 years at San Jose State University.