A Cry for Freedom 

(Published in Indian Express, November 5, 1988) 

[Sohinder Birís poetry reflects the poetís anguish in increasingly lonely world.  ANIL SARWAL peals away the message of hope that underlines the creative vision for this promising Punjabi poet] 

FOR Sohinder Bir, the up≠coming Punjabi poet and critic, poetry is the voice of pain. His poems depict the journey of an individual from the state of ignorance towards knowledge. The path is often strewn with obstacles, yet the self under≠takes the journey with the hope of coming across a glimpse of light some day. This dynamism is the essence of life for the poet:

 Parbati rasta te mih hai kahar da
tur rehan nehren ch, lai bijli mashaal
(It is raining in torrents on the mountain path; I walk in dark≠ness, guided by lightning.)

The inner struggle, of course, leaves a deep impression on him. Many a time his glorious dreams are shattered, his hopes are dashed; his struggle attains nothing but sorrow. Yet, there are moments of fulfilment too, though fleeting. The poet deliberates such moments and mourns for them when they are gone. During such moments, the, poet is overwhelmed by the darkness surrounding him and is completely bewildered. He bemoans his helplessness:

Mera pandh bara si bikhra
Te main kal mukala rahi
Manzil te ki si milni
Ravhan hi mil na hoin.
(The journey was arduous and I was the lone traveller; What to talk of attaining the goal, 1 could not even find the find right path).

In the ultimate analysis, though, the poet derives inspiration from the bright patches of life:

Kade baaz'i jit laiye.
Kade haar jaida
haar wali gal nun nahin dil Utte Iaida
Zindagi de panda sada aas ch mukai da.
(Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. The loss should not be allowed to touch our hearts. The journey of life Should always end in hope).

Thus, in his determination to succeed, the poet takes re≠course to an unshakable optim≠ism in his poetry. The essence of his search is to find a moment of redemption when he will be freed from suffering. The wish to find salvation comes through strongly in the following lines:

Raavi kande aan walea
Lae ja dukh mere palde ch ban ke
Panian ch ror awin wey
Mere sir utte bhonde eh ma
saan ban ke.
(0 you, bound for the banks of the Ravi, take my sorrows along. Throw them into the wa≠ters of the river for they haunt me like burning pyres).

The abstraction of theme and the concreteness of form com≠bine to produce aesthetics of rare beauty. The technique re≠veals the poetic capability and the creative art of the poet. The imagery is fresh and original, the words are simple and con≠cerned with everyday life. The thought content, however, is profound:

Jungle di virangi ch
Kitna gahra hai khuh
Us khuh di khamoshi ch ruliya mein  alna han.
(How deep is the well in the desolate jungle?
I am a nest lost in the silence of that well).

The well is a symbol of de≠solation for the poet, a comment on the theme of aloofness in modern life. The bucket is used to retrieve the memories of a glorious past from the inner recesses of the mind, not unlike taking out water from a well.

Ten yaad khuhe da dol,
Te mur mur jind lamkaie
Khuh de pani wargi jindri,
Pal pal jai dot.
(The drawing vessel of your memory, dipped again and again, leaves the well of life, badly ruffled).

'One is immediately able to connect with the metaphor, since in the modern world there is little use for wells. Its beauty lies in the realisation that it is difficult to disassociate oneself from the rural life because these elemants are an integral part of our unconscious mind. The other images used by the poet convey the increasing loneliness  of  modern  life through dark nights, hot dunes, isolated caves and old trees. The images are closely connected with nature and in this manner,  the poet bemoans his separation from the world of nature. The restlessness in his soul is depicted by the rushing waters of the river:

Nadi dein panian nun nind na
nasib hove
Umar saari turi jan vedna
chupake wey.
(The river is not fated to rest. The waters of the river roll long, hiding the inner pain.)

Not only does Bir write about the individual journey, he is also sensitive to the social environment in which he lives. He depicts the darkness that surrounds his native state, Punjab:

Ithe suraj de udai hon nal din nahin charda
Ateh suraj de ast hon nal din dub nahin janda
Mere pind which ik raal hai jo niranier pheldi hai.
(Here the day does not dawn with the rising sun, nor does it set when the sun goes down. In my village there is night which is perpetually spreading).

He further calls upon -his countrymen and political lead≠ers to rise and take immediate remedial action:

Suno! jinhan de kan hein
Panjab di dharti nun
Viran te khandhri baanao na
Hun waqt hai apanian kalman ch shakli bharran da
Kore kagazan te sanjh te apantav de kush shabad paun da.
(Listen all those who have ears. Do not allow the soil of Punjab to turn barren. Now is the time to strengthen your art and to write a few words of unity and love on the blank pages.)

Thus, the poetry of Sohinder Bir is elevating and faithfully depicts the realities of life. His message is the message of hope and love. He feels certain that the traditional ethical and moral values of our people are far too strong to be shaken by the present circumstances:

Rahe pind dian juhan vich
pyar jagda
Kale vavarolian da jai lang
(May love stay alive in my village even as the troupe of whirlwind passes by.)

A modest man, Sohinder Bir lives in Chandigarh where he works as a lecturer at the local DAV College.

 ©Anil Sarwal