Guest Col: Surjit Patar: A melody suddenly muted - Hindustan Times
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Guest Col: Surjit Patar: A melody suddenly muted

ByHarcharan Bains, A Literary Master
May 12, 2024 07:58 AM IST

Patar was perhaps the first among Punjabi poets who could feather-brush even politics with the gentility of a lover without being blind to its coarseness. His poetry during the troubled 80’s of Punjab remains the most honest commentary on the brutal political games which rulers then played allegedly through sponsored radicalism

Whenever I have put my pen to paper, rarely - if ever - have I found myself so barren, so blank, so devoid of ideas and yet so full of emotion as I do now writing about parting with Surjit Patar, unquestionably the greatest poet from Punjab since Sahir and Shiv Batalavi.

Renowned poet and writer Surjit Patar passed away peacefully in his sleep on Saturday morning at his residence in Ludhiana. He was 79 years old. (HT PHOTO)
Renowned poet and writer Surjit Patar passed away peacefully in his sleep on Saturday morning at his residence in Ludhiana. He was 79 years old. (HT PHOTO)

There is nothing dramatic or romantically tragic about his departure: after all, Patar was 79. But the blow of his death will not be measured with the yardstick of years. It lies in the eternal spring that blossomed forth in poetry of the highest order - day after day, year after year. And he kept growing with each one of his poems so fast, and with such regularity, that even his last poem would feel like the first blush of his creative nascence.

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For 20 years, we shared the same space in our office at the Punjab Agricultural University- a major part of it under the same roof, with our arm chairs at a coyish distance. And we shared long afternoons and evenings dissolving seamlessly into starry nights. His poetry and my love for it bonded us to each other so strongly that no philosophical, political or ideological differences had the power to separate us.

From day one, our relationship, I was conscious that in my friend’s company, I was face to face with a legend in the making. In one of our serious conversations, I once said,” Patar, you are a good poet, a very good poet. I hope you don’t conspire to purposely escape being a great poet.” He blush-smiled and, in is trademark gentle voice, said,” Harcharan, if you promise to keep speaking the truth like this, I promise never to disappoint you.”

He didn’t. But I knew it then also that Patar never needed an excuse for greatness. It was woven into his fabric. He and great poetry just couldn’t resist each other.

One of the hall marks of literary masters is that they are ( as Ezra Pound put it) “ the antennae of their race and their age.” And yet, they transcend both. Their genius scales the universal without abandoning the local. They speak the eternal without sacrificing the temporal. This is as true of Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley or Eliot as of Waris, Bulle Shah and Sultan Bahu whose mysticism too doesn’t lose the glow of an earthen lamp: “Shamaa chirag jinha dil roshan oh kion baalan deeve hoo”

And it is even truer of Shiv Batalvi – easily the most profusely lyrical of Punjabi poet whose graphic description of the rural pastures and freshly tilled soil remains a tribute to the infinite spectral and prismatic range of his colourful mind.

Of Patar & Pash

Patar was perhaps the first among Punjabi poets who could feather-brush even politics with the gentility of a lover without being blind to its coarseness. His poetry during the troubled 80’s of Punjab remains the most honest commentary on the brutal political games which rulers then played allegedly through sponsored radicalism. Patar sums it up, using “ smouldering forest” as a symbol of Punjab’s spirit:

Teri chup ne jungle nu oh talakh fiza ditee

jungle de vich kanddiaan dee ik jhidee uga ditee

“kande! Kande !” keh ke fir tu roli paa ditee

kujh kanddian vich kull jungle di gall uljha ditee

Je Tu khud uljhaana chaahven kinjh suljhaavan main

kalle kalle rukh nun ja ke ki samjhavaan main “

This is an art where Patar easily scores a march over his friend and another great poet - Pash. While Pash’s insistence on calling a blade a blade often robs us of the aesthetics of his creative mind, Patar effortlessly replaces the bluntness of the dagger with a silk-edge of a feather, anaesthetising the repressor’s violence instead of brutalising him. And yet it would be impossible to enjoy Patar without simultaneously enjoying Pash.

The greatness of a poetic genius lies both in his ability to imbibe and yet and transcend the influence of the literary tradition of his art on the one hand and in the extent to which his literary influence shapes a new layer of tradition. Shiv Batalvi is the last known benchmark in “lyricising” the Punabi mind and setting off a new poetic generation. Pash gave it a new classy definition but could not echo the folksy strand in Punjab’s voice. Patar alone seems to combine the two threads and yet he retains his unique sumptuous artistic flavor. His poem “khataan di udeek” - a world class masterpiece - is perhaps the best example of the mystical flight of poetic imagination inhaling the folksy flavor of innocence:

Khat aavega bohat kuvele, dhartion lambi chhaan da khat

chupp de safiaan utte likhia, ujadee sunn saraan da khat

Ikk be-nakash khlaa da likhia, tere asli naa da khat

Lok kehange kabar da khat hai, tu aakhenga ‘ Maa da khat”

In recent days, I had a friendly grievance against Patar, one that I wished to put in his lap and cry. As I woke up to the saddest news in decades for Punjab’s literary soul , this is how my own cried aloud:

Aje taa Shiv nahi bhullia, te tenu pe gayee kaahli

Aje taa nazam ne likhnaa si tenu khud hawa ban ke

Aje main jhagdna si , russna si, tu manaavenga

Aje main duskna si gal tere lagg ke, gilaa bann ke

Aje taa lakh rosey, sau giley shikve si main karne

Te tu injh tur gion ikk muskraondi “al-Vidaa” bann ke

bains.bains@gmail.com

The author, a freelance writer, has been a close friend and colleague of Surjit Patar at the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana

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