He never wrote a word in his life but one cannot count the number of people he inspired to write. Renowned scholar Hardaljit Singh, fondly called Lali Baba, passed away in Patiala on Saturday night. He was 88.
Punjabi writer Dalip Kaur Tiwana, also a distant relative of Lali, recalls how he was a true scholar who inspired many of his contemporaries.
“People would often wonder how somebody could read so much. He was a saint who refused to use his scholarship to gain worldly goods,” she said.
Lali belonged to a landlord family of Sangrur district that later settled in Patiala. He superannuated as professor from the department of linguistics and anthropology at Punjabi University around three decades ago.
Anecdotes about Lali’s scholarship have remained part of Punjabi literature as well as oral tradition.
Around two years ago, Canada-based Punjabi poet Navtej Bharti immortalised him by writing a book of poems titled ‘Lali’.
Later, in a newspaper interview, Bharti called Lali a figurehead who opened a window of world literature, films and art to many of his contemporaries.
“For us, he was the magnet that brought us all together and kept us that way for years. I strongly believe that whatever we all have been writing belongs to Lali. A large part of our works are actually his,” he said, talking about Bhootwara (ghost house), a group of young scholars in Patiala.
Scholars such as Dr Gurbhagat Singh, Harinder Singh Mehboob, Surjit Lee, Satinder Singh Noor and Dalip Kaur Tiwana were part of the group.
Harpal Singh Pannu, a professor of religious studies at Punjabi University, Patiala, wrote a book about Lali and shared an anecdote.
“Once, a professor complained against Lali to the then vice chancellor of the university, Dr Bhagat Singh that Lali never took classes and kept sitting under the trees. However, the vice-chancellor snubbed the complainant saying ‘I know that wherever Lali sits, it turns into the best classroom in the university’.”
However, the biggest riddle was why Lali never wrote anything.
“This is an eternal question. It is like somebody asking why Socrates did not write anything,” answered Pannu.