Surjit Patar - Poetry in Translation

Understanding the present and re-visioning the future through the lens of poetry.

Hunardeep Kaur, Writer

There is something about poetry that is heart-warming and heart-rending, that is magical yet pedestrian, that is beautiful, though human. There is something about poetry that is personal yet political, that is elegiac yet hopeful, that is vulnerable yet powerful. Poetry rustles like the leaves in the wind, creating melody out of the struggle for survival. It perches on your heart, singing the saddest, truest and the most hopeful songs of human existence.

Reading Surjit Patar’s poetry is akin to listening to the water flowing, to the rabaab playing, to the breeze rustling through the leaves. It is akin to listening to the light celebrate its brightness and yet it is like listening to darkness’ elegy. Patar is a celebrated Punjabi poet and a Sahitya Academy Awardee. Being the people’s poet, he explores through his poetry and ghazals, the deepest recesses of the human heart and of humanity. The beauty of great poetry lies in how it continues to resonate with all times, despite having been written at a particular time in history. It continues to evoke emotions and awe and remains true to the realities of all times to come. Patar’s poems continue to resonate not just with us but also with the times we are living in and therein lies the beauty of his poetry.

In his poem, Ghat Ginti naal nahi(Not with the Elite) from the collection of poems titled Lafzan di Dargah, he writes,

Not with the elite,

I keep alliance with the multitude

The multitude of people

Who are dispirited

Who are silent

Who, despite the spring waters, are parched

Who, despite the light, dwell in darkness…

This assertion of solidarity with the common masses who have been deprived of dignity and freedom is powerful, to say the least. In yet another poem, “Itihas (History) from the collection of poems titled Hanere vich Sulagdi Varanmala, Patar establishes the idea that truth will be written in history and that history is never written just once, it is written and rewritten. This poem becomes particularly significant today when distortion of history has become the new normal as a way to maintain power and dominance.

Each posterity will write history

The dead will appear, time and again

In the courts of the living

Skeletons will be awakened, time and again

From the graves

And garlanded

With flowers at times

Or with thorns

There is no final court of time,

No final end to (re)writing history…

The idea of fear, fear that is dangerous and retrogressive is explored in the poem Khauf” (Fear) from the same collection Hanere vich Sulagdi Varanmala.

From being human, we are turning back into stone

Into soil, into water

From being lines, we are retreating back into words

Into shouts and screams

With fear the earth has reversed its journey

The soil is devouring trees

Water receding back into its source

Flowers retreating backwards

Abandoning the instruments

The sacred books

The lovely faces

We will run away taking with us this one life

From being human, we are becoming mere existence…

In yet another poem from the book entitled Birkh Arz Kare, Patar talks about the issue of self-censorship as an outcome of fear that has been infused into the socio-political climate of our times. In the poem “Kavi Sahib”, he writes,

I write the first verse,

Fearing the monarch’s men

I cross it out

I write the second verse

Fearing the guerrilla rebels

I rub it off

For my own life’s sake

I obliterate thousands of verses

The souls of those verses

Often linger around me

And ask, poet sahib, are you a poet or a slayer of poems?

I have heard about judges executing justice

I have heard about protectors of religion

killing the very essence of it

All that remained to be heard was

poets becoming the slayers of poetry

out of fear, in our times.

Nothing could be a piece of better and more appropriate advice to the current political dispensation than what Patar writes in his poem “Jad Bolo Taan(When you Speak) from his collection titled Chan Sooraj di Vehngi. He writes,

When you speak


The people you are addressing

Consider the absent to be present


The dead and the parted

Listening from far away

Listening from far away in the future

Is the posterity

When you speak remember

All this will be written in some secret, unknown scripture

When you speak remember

Speak, not just from your mouth

But from your heart

When you realise

That the relation between

The lips that speak and the heart that feels

Has broken

Go quiet.

Patar’s poems provide an insight into the present and foresight for the future. As he writes in his poem “Eh ne Aj Kal,




Helplessness and injustice

these are the names of my five rivers today

which once were




Jhelum and Chenab

Which one day will be




Love and justice

The names of my five rivers!

Patar’s poems provide solace and hope while at the same time forcing the readers to confront the realities of life in all its manifestations- political, social and more importantly human. His poems leave the reader with a feeling of something slipping out of one’s hands and yet the feeling of darkness drifting away.

Although written during the days of terrorism in Punjab, the poem continues to resonate with larger political and social realities of the present times. Patar’s poems provide solace and hope while at the same time forcing the readers to confront the realities of life in all its manifestations- political, social and more importantly human. His poems leave the reader with a feeling of something slipping out of one’s hands and yet the feeling of darkness drifting away. Here are a few lines from his poem Jaga de Mombatiyan(Light the Candles), lines that are much needed today,

Lest the darkness wallow in the belief

That the light is petrified

Lest the night think that the sun is dead

Light up the flames of hope

Get up, light the candles

Agreed, that darkness reigns

Yet, rays of light live on

On the black pages, red verses are written

Get up, Light the candles.

Note: The poems included in the article have been translated by this writer from Punjabi to English.

Hunardeep Kaur is a second-year student pursuing English Literature at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, New Delhi. You can often find her in quiet corners reading or scribbling.


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