Mohan Singh (1905-1978) Modernity was ushered into the new Punjabi poetry, starting with the creative works of Mohan Singh and some of his peers and successors. The first pioneering poet to appear on the scene was Mohan Singh, and he almost changed the themes and style of his verse to translate the modern sensibility. He was born in Mardaan (now in Pakistan), but spent the early years of his life at Dhamial (Rawalpindi), his ancestral village. He obtained a Master's degree in Farsi and started his career as a Lecturer in Persian at Khalsa College, Amritsar way back in the early thirties. He resigned this job and shifted to Lahore in 1939 to launch a Punjabi monthly Punj Darya. That was the time when he soared high in the field of literature and made his journal the mouthpiece of progressive ideas. As Professor Emeritus, Punjab Agricultural University, he lived the last decade of his life (1968-78) in Ludhiana. His development delineates a progression from romance to reality, from conventional love to an uninhibited expression of the man-woman relationship. He actually started as a part of Sikh thought and Punjabiat. However, he soon came under the radical western influence of Marx and Freud, and his poetry graduated from "feathers to iron". Punjabi poetry of love before him had, by and large, become stereotyped and stagnant. He blew fresh air into the developing new verse. Sex was, then, brought out of the closet to shine in the noonday sun. The poetry of shy, furtive, suppressed love was soon out of fashion. In a span of some 50 years, Mohan Singh published eight volumes of verse besides the final epic, Nankayan (1971). From Sawey Pattar or The Green Leaves (1936), he went on to produce powerful poetry, and the archetypal conflict between blood and judgment, between body and soul, between dream and reality became the powder for his burgeoning imagination. His own sojourn in "the realms of gold" was directly related to his feeling of desolation and waste after the death of his young wife, Basant. While his first collection Saave Pattar ( The Green Leaves) carried romantic poems drawing upon the rural life of the erstwhile Punjab, its landscape, flora, fauna, young men, maidens and youthful lovers of the past, soon, the economic, political factors, exploitation, inequality, illiteracy and obscurantism seemed to him to form the bedrock of all human sufferings. So his next collections Vada Vela (Early Morning), Avajan (Calls) and Jandre (Locks) gave poignant expression to life groaning under the burden of these overwhelming forces. In his collection Boohe (Doors) he attained serenity along with felicity of expression, multiplicity of techniques and variety of forms and styles. Experimenting boldly with form, he "had the universal vision of life, but was steeped, at the same time, in the soil". He was a progressive poet and wanted to change the world for the betterment of the common man. The awards and honours he received include the Sahitya Akademi award (1959) for Wadda Vela (Poetry). The other poets who contributed significantly to the growth of modern Punjabi poetry in the initial years include Amrita Pritam, Harbhajan Singh and Shiv Kumar Batalvi. Mohan Singh has been hailed as "the greatest Punjabi poet of the 20th century".
Amrita Pritam (1919-2005) Amrita Pritam was born in Gujranwala and brought up in Lahore, presently in Pakistan. Her first collection of poems (Amrit Lehran) was published when she was only sixteen years old. At the time of the partition she moved to New Delhi. She worked until 1961 for All India Radio. Among her collections of poems are Sunehure, 1955 and Kagaz Te Kanvas, 1973. She has also authored novels including Doctor Dev, Yaatri, Tehrvan Suraj and Pinjar (The Skeleton, 1970). Rasidi Ticket, 1976 is her autobiography. She got the Sahitya akademi award (1956) for Sunehure (Poetry) and the Jnanpith award in 1982. She received D Litt degrees, honoris causa, from Delhi, Jabalpur and Vishva Bharti Universities. She was a recipient of the Padma Vibhushan award.
Harbhajan Singh (1920 2002) Harbhajan Singh was born in Lumding, Assam. After his matriculation, although he was among the top three in Punjab, he had to discontinue studies for paucity of funds. He took up odd jobs as a part-time apprentice at the Railway Workshop in Mughalpura, as a sales-boy at a Homeopathic Chemist Shop in Lahore, as a lower-division clerk with the Government of India in New Delhi, and then as an Assistant Librarian in Khalsa School, New Delhi. Before becoming a teacher, he completed his higher education without ever going to a regular college. He had two postgraduate degrees in English and Hindi Literature, both from the University of Delhi. His doctoral thesis dealt with Hindi poetry written in the Gurumukhi script. He was invited to join the Department of Modern Indian Languages and he was appointed to the chair of Professorship in Punjabi, Delhi University without a formal degree in Punjabi literature. He retired from the University of Delhi as Professor Emeritus in 1984. He was a poet, cultural commentator, critic and translator. Harbhajan's works include 17 collections of poetry, including Rukh Te Rishi and Registan Vich Lakarhara, 19 works of literary history, criticism and biography, including Sahit Shastar and Chola Taakian Wala, and 14 translated works including those of Aristotle, Longinus, Sophocles, modern Russian novelists, critics and poets, Tagore and selections from the Rig Veda. He received the Soviet Land Nehru award, Sahitaya Akademi award (1969) for Na Dhuppe Na Chaanve (Poetry), Kabir Sanmaan (given by the Madhya Pradesh Government, 1987), Saraswati Sanmaan (1994) and Dhaliwal Sanmaan (the highest award of the Punjabi Sahit Akademi, 2002). He was also the Fellow, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.
Shiv Kumar Batlavi (1936-73) Shiv Kumar Batlavi was born in Bara Pind Lohtian (Shakargarh tehsil), in Punjab (now Pakistan). His lifestyle has been called bohemian. Among his works are Peeran Da Paraga (A Handful of Pains) (1960), Lajwanti (1961), The Sparrows of Kneaded Flour (1962), Loona (1961), Bid Me Farewell (1963) and Invocation (1971). Loona, a verse-drama, brought in the Sahitya Akademi award in 1967. He had an untimely death in 1973.
Surjit Patar (b. 1944) Surjit Patar obtained a Master's degree from Punjab University, did Ph.D in Punjabi on Elements of Folklore in the Poetry of Guru Nanak Dev and joined the academic profession. He retired as Professor of Punjabi from Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. He started writing poetry in mid-sixties. Among his works of poetry are Hawa Vich Likhe Harf (Words written in the Air), Birkh Arz Kar (Thus speaks the Tree), Hanere Vich Sulghdi Varnmala (Words smouldering in the Dark) and Lafzanh Di Dargah (Shrine of Words). He has translated into Punjabi the three tragedies of Garcia Lorca, the play Nag Mandala of Girish Karnad, and poems of Bertolt Brecht and Pablo Neruda. He has also adapted plays from Giradoux, Euripides and Racine. He has written tele-scripts on Punjabi poets from Sheikh Farid of the 13th century to Amrita Pritam of the 20th. He has held the office of the President, Punjabi Sahit Akademi, Ludhiana. He received the Sahitya Akademi award (1993), for his Hanere vich Sulghdi Varnmala, and Bhartiya Bhasha Parishad Purskar.
Manjit Tiwana (b. 1947) Manjit Tiwana holds a Master's degree and a Ph. D degree in Psychology. She has done Ph.D research on A Study of Personality, Self-perception, Alienation, Anomie and Values of Hundred Creative Writers of Northern India. She has been a teacher of Psychology in colleges. Manjit has authored seven collections of poetry, which include Uneeda Vartman, Savitri and Jin Prem Kiyo. She is the recipient of the Sahitya Akademi award (1990) for Uninda Wartman (Poetry) and the Shiromani Kavi Award for the year 1999.
Pash (1950-1988) Avtar Singh Sandhu 'Pash' is "the best known name in the Left and progressive movements in modern Punjabi literature". He was born in Talwandi Salem, Jalandhar. The son of Major Sohan Singh Sandhu, Pash was highly influenced by the poverty of the masses in India and started writing revolutionary poetry quite early in his life to describe what he felt. During his youth, Punjabs students, farmers and workers were embroiled in an armed struggle against the establishment. This period in the 1970s is also known as the Jujharu (Rebellious) era of the politics of Punjab. Pash's first book of revolutionary poems, Loh-Katha (Iron-Tale) was published in 1970 when he was not even 20. Due to his sympathies with the militant movement and the provocative nature of his poetry, Pash, at the young age of 21, was falsely charged with murder. He spent nearly two years in jail, but was finally acquitted. After his acquittal, he became active in the Punjabi Maoist front organizations and edited a literary magazine Siarh (The Plow Line). In 1985, the Punjabi Sahit Akademi (The Punjabi Academy of Letters) awarded him a one-year fellowship. He visited the USA and the UK in 1986. He was murdered by the terrorists on the 23rd of March 1988. His works include Lohkatha (Iron-Tale) (1970), Uddian Bazan Magar (Behind Flying Hawks) (1973), Saadey Samiyaan Vich (In Our Times) (1978) and Khilre Hoey Varkey (Unorganized Papers) (1989).
Vanita Vanita has been writing poetry and criticism in Punjabi. She has participated in several seminars and conferences.