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Ludhiana Personality :: Professor Mohan Singh

Professor Mohan Singh

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 & even established a publishing house there. That was the time when he soared high in the field of literature and made his journal the mouthpiece of progressive ideas. In Lahore he came in contact with Amrita Pritam and they jointly endeavoured to enrich Punjabi poetic literature to no end.

Prof. Mohan Singh settled in Ludhiana in the later phases (1968-78) of life. He served the cause of Punjabi language both as a poet and the editor of the Punjabi monthly ‘Panj Darya, and as on the look out for a sanctuary where he could find some respite from his hectic life. He joined the Punjab Agricultural University as a Professor Emeritus when Dr. Mohinder Singh Randhawa was its Vice Chancellor. He brought a notable change in the literary environment of the city. Many writers, artists, intellectuals and students were benefited through interaction with him. He has the major contribution in providing a literary shade to Punjab that is now termed as the literary & cultural hub of Punjab.

Like Waris Shah, Prof. Mohan Singh was in essence a poet of love.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".