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Surjit Patar

My Poem

My mother could not understand my poem
though it was written in my mother tongue
she only gathered
that there was some grief in her son's mind.

But wherefrom his grief came
while I am here to guard him
she wondered.

She scanned my poem
and said to herself --- look, people, look
despite the mother
who gave him birth from her womb,
the son tells his grief to the papers.

Then she took the paper to her breast
hoping perhaps
it is the only way of getting near to her son.

Translated by Sangtar

Does Language Die ?

My Language is on the verge of death
Each word each sentence gasps for breath ‑--
dhami-vela1, pauh-phutala2 , chhah-vela3, lauda-vela4 ,
diva-vatti5, khau‑pia6, kaura-seta7, dhaldian khitian8,
gharian9, pehar10, bind11, pal chhin12, nimkh veehare13 ‑--
They have all met with their bitter end,
May be because with time-piece at hand
Rests now the whole custody of Time.

Hart di mala14, chane da ohla15, gatti de hoote16
kanjan17, nisar18, aulu19
chakhan20, boore21, tindan22, brimming with water
Are all emptied of all water now
All, after suffering insult,
Are worn out in tube-well’s flow
Fated to get swept
Of which I have hardly any regret.

To be regretted is the fact
into thin air, are all epithets gone
which father and mother had garnered,
Rendered inane are the close ties
which aunt and uncle had refined.
Only yesterday, a child
to his daddy thus surmised :
“Leaves in our tray have faded,”
Likewise the, daddy replied

That the fact wasn’t at all otherwise.
In a situation of the sort
Only God may save my language!
Of my language
How can even God be the saviour?
Deserted by hungry generations
God, Himself, gasps for breath
Under His benign protection
Lies my language gasping, dying,
By God, on the verge of death is my language.


Lies dying my language
For the people so ardently aspire
To remain alive
Whose mother-tongue is my language,
Aspire to remain alive the people
Upon whom this has a claim
But what is more crucial
For a person to remain alive
or for the language to survive?
I know it for certain now
You too will observe
A person thus claiming to live
Keeps drawing breath
But does he remain human at all?

Without turning me sentimental
Tell me this in short,
When on each and every thing
God inscribes the name
Of its consumer in English,
Why any father or mother
Be so callous as to wish
Their child to board a sinking ship?
Apt in short is the wish:
“May my child live and prosper
If so very inevitable is dying
Let this archaic language die then.”


No, no thus will not die my language
This is not the way a language dies,
Due to some words getting extinct
Does not die a language.

If not God Himself
Will side with her the mentors
Sufis, saints, fakirs,
Poets, rebels, lovers, heroes,
Only when they cease to be there
Shall die my language.
It may happen, otherwise even
With suicidal situations faced
Homicidal situations to reckon with,
May get replenished
More living may get my language.


In a situation of the sort
To fellow-writers sitting
On dharma against authorities
I was constrained thus to surmise:
Leave it so
Remonstrate not
With bureaucrats
On official files
To append notes
In my beloved Punjabi.
In their officious hands
Its words will feel
So humiliated indeed.
It is not my desire at all
That someone with machine-like hands
May scribble words of my language ‑--
Words in which inheres Nanak’s illuminating touch,
Words in the scrapers of which
Like pearls lie intact
The tunes Farid had framed,
In them are pulsating
Impulses Ravidas revealed,
In them breathe Namdev and Kabir.
Whichever administrator
With his machine-like hands
If at all, then scribbles,
That shall be some order only
Unable to enrich the language,
Rather will get grievously hurt,
Its innermost soul
Whoever out of hatred, fear
or some vested interest
Learns a language
How can he write words
Fearless, selfless, suffused with love!
What vanity these officials flaunt
To believe that my language
Cannot at all do without
Their officious touch?
These piteous creatures don’t know
My language never sought protection
From Balban or Babur
Some top ruler or prime minister.
Nanak, Farid, Bulla, Amrita, Pash,
All strove to make it prosperous
My language was never a slave
Of kings, officers, officials, sardars,
From the very beginning
What a remarkable vehicle
It has always been
For sufis, lords of pain and pang
Custodians of beauty.
With lords, kings and monarchs
It has never sought refuge,
It has ever been a vehicle
For lovers pining for love
And votaries vowing to beauty.
With lords, kings and monarchs
It has never sided
On gurus, votaries, mentors
It has ever and ever relied.

Of government circulars,
Communiques and commandments,
Of regal gestures, gesticulations,
It was never the instrument,
Of lullabies, blessings, prayers
Of heart-felt songs, it is ever the vehicle.

We should leave this place, I contended
For our villages, towns and homes,
To lands within and without,
To suffuse our Punjabi
With love, rage, passion,
With blood at hearts’ command,
With wisdom deriving from life,
With greenery, popularity, potency.
With pleasure, feel for future,
With struggle for justice.
Why to get mired at these inane hands then?
But the ideologue retorts:
You have got emotional for nothing!
Right is your feeling
Your grievance, your pang is right,
But the issue is totally otherwise.
Sans power, terror, greed,
Language does not at all increase.

Rendered wordless by the ideologue’s retort,
Got silent, I cannot help thinking
His assertion is faultless, indeed,
There is no denying the fact
Sans power, terror and greed
Does not spread a language, at all.
But an inscrutable fear is there
Lurking in my mind somewhere:
The language that spreads
Through power, terror and greed,
Cannot these tricks repeal.
That is why I believe
We should at once proceed
To our villages, towns, homes
Native and foreign lands
And suffuse our dear Punjabi
With love and rage
The blood of our veins,
Our wisdom as well,
With greenery, popularity, potency,
With hope in the future,
Pleasure in the present
And struggle for justice.
Why to get mired at these inane hands?

Note :
1. early moring 2. sun-rise 3. afternoon 4. evening 5. time to light the lamp 6. meal-time 7. late-night waking up 8. clusters of stars 9. hours 10. quarters 11. a while 12. moments 13. twinkling of the eye 14. pots around the Persian wheel 15. privacy that a column affords 16. swings which a bullock-driven seat provides 17. pulley 18. acquedet 19. trough 20. pinnions 21. gears 22. pots brimming with water.

Translated by Tejwant Singh Gill

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