From his very childhood Paash was very sensitive and sharp child who was sent to a high school in the neighbouring village, Khiwa, at the age of six and there he passed his middle school. Instead of getting admission in the ninth class, he joined a vocational course in a technical school and did not complete it, and came under the influence of the communist leaders of the area and this changed his life. He was not different from the boys of his age earlier:
Boys once I too was like you,
I indulged in petty, stealing,
yet I was not called a thief I made lame excuses at every step,
yet was not called liar Even when I returned home in rags,
I was not thought naked …
Or in the hollow under the neighbour’s staircase
I used to dance after impaling butterflies on a needle
Tie a string round sonchiryas’ necks and drive them
But no one called me violent In short,
I was like you.
In 1967, Paash joined the Border Security Force but soon left it. He passed ninth class from Jain High School of Jalandhar Cantonment and left it without completing high school. He got attracted towards one of the female teachers of the school whose name was ‘Parvesh’. It is said that he named himself as Paash by attaching the first and last letters of his name. This word ‘Paash’ is derived from Persian which means ‘dispenser’ or ‘sprinkler’. In one of his interviews with Jaspal Jassi, Paash himself articulated that he christened himself as Paash because he was incredibly came under the influence of the main character, Pavel Vlassov, of Gorky’s novel ‘Mother’ to whom his mother used to call ‘Paasha’ affectionately. He stopped using his actual name ‘Avtar Singh Sandhu’ after adopting this name. He used his actual name only in his poem ‘Without You’ of 3rd volume ‘Sade Samian Vich’ (In Our Times):
Without you, Avtar Singh Sandhu is mere Paash
And nothing but Paash
Paash, who wanted to shine like sunlight on the earth and wished his voice to reverberate in all directions. He wanted to revolutionize the miserable condition of the society, and finally his endless efforts made him the voice of those who thought to be the voiceless and insignificant people of the society. Unfortunately, this great soul is not between us today. Paash passed through bitter realities of life, struggled with the situations and had enough courage to light the lamp of resistance even in storms.
Naxalite movement started to have a strong hold over Punjab in 1968 and at that time Paash was only 18 year old. These upsurging waves of Naxalite movement swept his young soul to the very heart of this political movement. Paash started writing poetry very early in his life. This poetry raised its voice against atrocious behavior of administrators, hollow conventions or traditions of the society and it wished for equality in social order and culture for the voiceless, crushed and deprived people of the society. Paash became the supporter of the armed struggle in Punjab and he was arrested under the charge of killing a brick- kiln of Nakodar city. The other Naxalites claimed this murder, even then Paash was released from the jail in September of next year. After this he started taking part in literary and political activities allied with this movement. He became a poet of revolution, and was admired by the youth, and the students.
Association with Naxalism means to be influenced by Marxism or in agreement with Marxism. At that time Socialist Movement of Russia and China influenced the world. Reflecting on Marxism ideology, he made it the axis of his poetry.
He brought out many journals in association with fellow Naxalites for imparting cultural awakening and ideological direction to the people from 1972 to 1974. In 1972, he brought out his first journal ‘Rohle Baan’ (Raging Arrows) with the help of Naxalite activist, but he soon himself separated from it because he did not go well with his fellow Naxalites on different issues. In 1972, when Punjab witnessed wide spread student unrest, he was suspected to be the working impulse behind it and apprehended by the police. His second collection of poetry ‘Ud- de Bazan Magar’ (After Flying Hawks) was published in 1974. He was arrested during the strike of Railway Employees in 1974 again. After strike he became editor of ‘Hem Jyoti’ (The Golden Flame). Tejwant singh in his book “Paash: Life and Experience” discussed Paash’s experiences in jail: …he had the occasion to witness the steep contrast between the wretched treatment meted out to the ordinary prisoners and the great care taken of political leaders irrespective of their party affiliations. The jail authorities tended to regard the political leaders as living martyrs, whereas the ordinary prisoners were wretched corpses in their eyes. Besides a poet and Naxalite activist, he also relished life in a unique way. He used to observe the milieu and had different view- points towards life. He was deeply fascinated by natural scenario, surroundings. Tejwant Singh Gill translated an extract which he wrote on January 1, 1974 from “Paash Di Diary” (Paash’s Diary) which shows Paash’s fascination towards nature: So beautiful the night today! All through I had intimate talk with it, with dew- covered wheat lying asleep on the earth’s vast bridal bed, with heaps of sugar- cane stalks aglow in the moonlight, with carts still standing like orphans, with thatched huts showing as the warm distinct from the cold, with mangers overlaid with gloom, with sugar- cane crops known for a long, with sand holding forth a soothing sight and with forefathers calmly buried in their graves. He was not oblivious to the acute, meager, terrible conditions and seasonal problems of the village life on the other hand. Again Gill translated Paash’s lines from his diary which he wrote on January 4, 1974: With the waning of winter, work is waxing. Weeding will occupy the farmers for quite some time to come. Ground nuts harvested of late are yet to yield grains. Scavenging and cooking don’t let the women be idle in any season. Many have kept themselves busy in string- twining. Is mulching or carrying of chapattis to the fields less of a job for the girls. It becomes apparent through Paash’s letters and diary that he did debates and discussions with his companions and usually addressed to his contemporaries through letters: Lenin called for such a literature: ‘Literature must become a cog and screw of one single great social democratic machine.’ Literature in the hands of Marxist critic should be ‘an instrument of social development. Paash as a Marxist poet was truly committed to this Marxist doctrine of literature. His poetry was infused with Marxist revolutionary ideas. He committed his art towards the cause of the poor and the down- trodden. To Marx, art is one of the forms of social consciousness. Paash’s poetry is the outcome of his consciousness, of his social surroundings, of his constantly changing experience of social reality. Paash’s poetry is imbued with ideology. But it does not mean that his poems are just an articulation of the dominant ideology. Like a true Marxist writer, he gives us, in his poems, the insights to see the oppressive ideology of the state apparatuses. Moving on the path of Marxist ideals, Paash’s poetry exposes the aggressors, oppressors and tyrants. His revolutionary poetry, thus, unveils the society’s cruel and oppressive forces and in this way, he connects his poetry with social reality. The connection of his poetry with social reality is in tune with ‘social realism’ of Marx and Engels who saw literature as mode of ‘social criticism and analysis, and the artist as a social enlightener; literature should disdain elaborate aesthetic techniques and become an instrument of social development. Art reflects social reality, and must portray its typical features.
Paash breaks the mould of the traditional poetry because he wanted to bring social change with the help of poetry. We can witness an upsurge of new ideas and principles in his poetry. His poetry defines the new truth and this new truth is the truth of revolt and self-consciousness of the crushed section of the society. Paash, in his poetry, establishes this new truth by breaking the shackles of oppressive ideology and by imbibing the revolutionary standpoint not in a limited circle but on a large scale.
Paramjeet S Kattu
department of Punjabi Punjabi University, Patiala
(Association with Manpreet Dhaliwal )