Interview with Prof. Hazara Singh
A Legend Speaks*
Dr. D. C. Chambial
( Dr. D.C. Chambial, (Editor, Poetcrit, Maranda), interviewed Professor Hazara Singh through a questionnaire suggesting the title ‘A Legend Speaks’ for this text. Prof. Singh ( H.S.) expresses his opinion about the caption before replying to the questions. )
(H.S) Legend in this context means ‘A person having a special place in public esteem because of striking qualities or deeds, real or fictitious; the body of facts and fiction around such a person’. I am neither well-placed nor well-known; above all not even an erudite person. As the replies to various questions here-in-after will bear out, the appropriate caption for this text should be,
‘Tale of a Country Lad:
Plough to Pen’.
Q.1 Please tell something about your early schooling.
(H.S.) I got my early education in a rural school where the teachers believed in using rod rather than impressing by their teaching skills. An inquisitive pupil was snubbed and a credulous one was patted. Ignorance swayed and the indignities were ungrudgingly suffered as enjoined by the time -worn beliefs and the colonial regime.
Q.2 Any impression about your childhood which you still nourish and cherish/ lament? (Lament added by H.S.)
(H.S.) I was seven when my mother passed away in early 1930. A few days thereafter, my father, the village headman, more loyal to the crown than the British themselves, commanded the dispersal of a demonstration by the village youth raising slogans against foreign rule. (I checked up later that then the trial of revolutionaries, Bhagat Singh and his associates, was being rushed through at
Lahore). My already agonized mind got further distressed, for I felt that my father committed a grave wrong which I stand bound to redress.
There is another incident which widened the alienation with my father. Despite my brilliant success in the Matriculation Examination held in 1938, my stepmother opposed tooth and nail my higher education. She insisted that I should adopt farming instead. The village priest, on being consulted, foretold that the goddess of learning, ‘Saraswati’ did not favour my higher education as per lines on my palm. My father remained a silent spectator to the row kicked by her. More than two formative years thus got wasted.
In September 1940, I chose to leave home with the resolve to discover new avenues. I reached Amritsar and assisted a former teacher, who had shifted to that place, in tuition work. I discovered that I could thus earn to learn. I sought admission to Khalsa College during the next academic session. I plunged impulsively into the ‘Quit India Movement’ in 1942 as per my pledge to atone for the wrong act of my father. The scholarship won by me in the Intermediate Examination (1943) was confiscated. Even that penalty earned a distinction for me, as I happened to be the only student all over India, who thus, suffered.
Q.3 Any incident/episode in your college/university life that left an indelible impact on your psyche?
(H.S.) In June 1945 I got a chance to attend a training camp arranged by All India Students Congress at Bombay. It was my first exposure from a mofussil town to a cosmopolitan city. It was addressed by social reformers from all walks of life. The trainees were taken around the squalid slums, shown the footpaths serving as abodes for the homeless and even the red-light area to impart them firsthand knowledge about the destitution and degradation of human beings along with the dazzling grandeur of the commercial capital of India.
I returned as a social activist and resolved to shift to Lahore for my post- graduate education. Lahore was then a leading educational centre of North India along with its being the hub of political activities. Sanatan Dharam College, in consideration of my brilliant performance in B.A., offered me every possible concession on my seeking admission to M.A. (English) classes there. Within weeks thereafter the Save I.N.A. Campaign set in as a blizzard. I was sent behind the bars for active participation therein. In the Central Jail Lahore, I witnessed the cells where the revolutionaries were persecuted and the scaffold on which they were executed. My resolve to describe their valorous deeds in verse and prose got strengthened (refer to my reply to the next question) and a tryst with destiny got made. I was to adopt teaching as a career for pursuing that goal.
Q.4 When were you enticed by the Muse and how did it start?
Poetry is not the gift of a muse
But a free and precise description
Of the musings of a fertile mind
With no binding to rhymed diction. (Destination, p.78)
Rupert Brook, Poet Laureate of U.K. composed a few sonnets after the First World War for expressing pride of his nation in the young who laid down their lives to save their country from the onslaught of Axis Powers. Ever since I read them in the college textbooks (1944) I had been feeling an urge to describe the valiant acts of our martyrs of the Freedom Struggle in the same vein. My sojourn in Jails sharpened the urge into an obligation.
The partition of India in 1947 with its concomitant indignities left an indelible mark of that holocaust on my mind. My feelings erupted like a volcano when the Pakistani Military Junta perpetrated genocide in East Pakistan. ‘The Wail of Bangla Girl’ was my first poem.
‘Why was I raped, the daughter of same religion?
Why was I tormented, a chaste promising citizen?
Was I an aided armour procured for the trenches?
Teased and tortured, gripped in lustful wrenches.
Torn from kith and kin, shorn of womanly treasure
The child, I do carry, is not my fault or pleasure.
I curse the U N forums that backed the crusaders
Thousands wail like me, victims of wicked raiders’. (ibid.,p.54)
Thus I gate-crashed into the domain of poetry. Sonnets on martyrs, eulogies on pathfinders for humanity and the verses projecting man as architect of his fate kept gushing out as fonts of knowledge, gleaned from the ups and downs of life.
Q. 5 What is your first creation, poem/story/essay?
(H.S.) ‘Tagore and Shakespeare’, an essay, written during the Birth Centenary Celebrations of Rabinder Nath Tagore in 1961 was my first creation. ‘Wedding Rings’ (1968) was the first short story. ‘Valley of Elysium’, with Abraham Lincoln, M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King as characters, (1969) was the first and last one-act play.
Q.6 When and where did they appear first?
(H.S.) As per Dr. Bejay Kant Dubey, versifiers like me start as journal poets i.e. if and when they start subscribing to various periodicals. No publisher heeds them however commendable their contributions might be. Hence they have no other option but to become self- publishers, which course I was obliged to adopt in 1980. Since then I have managed to keep myself in the track, both as a creative writer and my own publisher.
‘The destination I chose is modest and firm
And devote my energy towards that goal
For making the world better and nobler
Than the one; widely ignorant and poor.
If all of us resolve to endeavour thus
To improve the world as best as we can
Sorrow and suffering would fade out
The world will become heaven itself’. (ibid., p.125)
Q.7 At what time and how does Muse visit you?
(H.S.) The query has been replied to while attending to question 4. After dedicating Destination (2007) to the martyrs and participants of Freedom Struggle during the celebration of Diamond Jubilee of Independence, I thought that the pledge taken by me to communicate aptly the sacrifices of patriots in verse to posterity was fulfilled. I switched on thereafter to my works in prose for prompting the post-independence generation to transform political freedom into social regeneration and collective economic betterment. The campaign launched by Anna Hazare induced me to contribute thereto as well. I shared my aspirations and apprehensions through the poem ‘Corruption’ which appears in the poetry section of this issue. It depends upon the nature of a situation whether I react to that in verse or prose. A piece of verse, in spite of its brevity, is more suggestive than a lengthy exposition in prose.
Q.8 Is Muse spontaneous or laboured with you?
(H.S.) I have been adjudged as a poet of head not of heart. Hence my writings are well-considered for presenting them as veritable expressions. They may amuse but I strive that they miss not to enthuse.
Q.9 Your creative work/books? Please elucidate giving titles and their years of publication.
(H.S.) As the question is restricted to creative works only, I refrain from referring to the manuals which I authored to help the students in their research pursuits. I authored ten books. The texts in poetry in their chronological order are:
Aspirations (1980); Yearnings (1987);
Expectations (1999) and Destination (2007).
As stated earlier I am my own publisher. Poems comprising an earlier publication had to be included in the succeeding one, so that they did not go out of print. As such, Destination contains all the poems written by me up to 2007.
My publications in prose are:
Sikhism and its Impact on Indian Society (1999)
Lala Lajpat Rai- An Appraisal (2003)
Happy Meaningful Life (2004)
Freedom Struggle against Imperialism (2007)
Apostle of Non- Violence (2007)
Seasonal Festivals and Commemorative Days (2010).
These texts either commemorate the landmarks in the annals of our Freedom Struggle or impress on the post-independence generation to develop scientific temper, humanism and inquisitive spirit. All these publications, excluding the manuals, can be visited on my website: www.hazarasinghprofessor.org
These books except Aspirations, were published subsequent to my retirement in 1982; the last among them when I was in my 88th year.
Q.10 Any formal literary influence - person or work- that you think seems to override your creativity.
(H.S.) I am not a voracious reader, but an intent listener and a keen observer of persons and events. Adversity had been a source of learning. Dr. V.K. Gokok, after going through my published work, communicated, thus, to me:
‘… All these reveal an innate sensibility which is
lighted up by experience and intensified by a
highly sensitive temperament. This has its roots
in the solid bed soil in experience’.
Munshi Prem Chand touched me deeply with his description of pathetic plight 0f the down-trodden. Rabinder Nath Tagore captivated me by his humanism. Bertrand Russell impressed me by his objectivity. My education in law taught me orderliness. The proficiency in English, with its diction, lends freshness to my expression. Thus I maintain my own entity.
Q. 11 Patriotism overflows in your creative/poetic works. How did it captivate you when the world seems so selfish?
(H.S.) Please refer to my reply to Q. 4 in this context. My patriotism is not parochial:
‘I am the ever striving spirit of man
Which seeks social change and equity
Dignity of individual for one and all
To usher in an era of love and amity’. (ibid., p.9)
It is an outcry against the oppressive systems, which deny social equality, economic justice and dignity of individual, where-ever they prevailed or still
The evil of slavery, the basis of dazzling American prosperity, was abhorred vehemently:
‘Owned by White Masters, kept under social fetters
For tiresome labour on wages of crumbs and tatters
With ill-gotten wealth, masters lived with pleasure
But rose to oppose loudly each progressive measure
Slaves doomed to a life of endless toil and boredom
Got lynching as justice if bid was made for freedom’. (ibid., p.12)
The racial segregation raging in Africa got condemned in the same vein:
‘The rosaries and pastures changed hands
Messengers of the Lord became landlords
White Man’s Burden bonded the coloured
The obligation turned into segregation’. (ibid.,p.16)
At home, the lingering caste divide was denounced:
‘In India, the land of enlightening saints
Caste system denied me merit-based worth
Imposing norms on basis of birth’.
The totalitarian regimes got exposed despite their tall claims:
‘In erstwhile USSR where revolution swayed
My brain was purged and the mind estranged
On the bait of golden age in an iron cage’. (ibid,. p.9)
Humanity has been cautioned against the bane of growing global terrorism:
‘Masses be saved from obsolete views of clerics
Women be liberated from their degrading edicts
Centres of terrorism be located and liquidated
Its breeding source;the bigotry and narcotics
Be destroyed lest it looms as pandemic’. (ibid,. p.45)
My concept of patriotism is the yearning that the human beings learn to live in harmony, because
‘World has plenty for the basic needs of all
But not enough for a few avaricious cliques’. (ibid., p.3)
It gripped me as I watched the misery of groaning masses and the callousness of its perpetrators:
‘The lowest has also the right to equity’. (ibid., p.16)
Q.12 Have you ever deliberated over social reality, for example, corruption itching your mind by way of seeking expression in your writings?
(H.S) Corruption and its fostering sources have been getting my critical gaze constantly.
‘Principles of policy laid down for the State
For establishing a progressive social order
Seem to be a conveniently forgotten resolve
India which claimed to be the light of Asia
Got graded as poor and corrupt management
Yatras, riots, walkouts and loose alliances
Are devised as power capturing tactics
Hurrah! Let us feel good for India is shinning’. (ibid,. p.39)
India is not shining but declining with its masses helplessly whining.
‘History bears out that humanity suffers
When petty minds guide nation’s destiny’. (ibid., p.6)
Q. 13 What is the other predominant characteristic of your writings?
(H.S) Objective assessment of a situation and candid description thereof is my inherent characteristic.
‘Fearless expression is my bliss-giving gain
With that I peel the cant layer after layer’. (Ibid.,p.101)
‘I keep attempting to discover myself
To pinpoint the qualities I possess
And the defects likely to damage me
So that I may assess my solid worth
I have precise and concise expression
Proficient also in pragmatic approach
Picked up knowledge about grass-roots
When facing the ups and downs of life.
Old age problems derail me now and then
So often I miss the time bound schedule
But that seldom upsets or depresses me
As I stand pledged to stick to chosen goal’. (ibid,. 124-125)
Q.14 What are your views about the national character of our polity in particular and public in general?
(H.S.) The following verses reflect candidly my views about the character of our national leaders of different hues who guide our polity or are entrusted with the governance of country:
‘The ageing bums who mostly fumble
And in race for power often tumble
Reluctant to quit their poll gamble
Craving still for another scramble’
‘Those treating religion as profession
Riding haughtily in chariot procession
Managing at the halts a huge reception
For glorifying a hidden vile intention’
‘Exploiting power with crafty mettle
Usurping the funds meant for cattle
Hijack easily the electoral wrestle
Treating it as mere domestic hassle’
‘Leaders tuned to leftist drums
Seldom linked with rural life or slums
Given to project ideologic dim and hum
Revising their assessment now and then’.
Thus, they often play the role of a dog in manger.
The writers have an obligation to expose them:
‘Such be condemned and criticized
Caricatured as well as satirized
Their misdeeds be firmly decried
To keep the masses well apprised.’ (ibid., pp. 36-37)
The public in general deserves to be applauded as with every election the democratic forums have been strengthened. By and far people are eager to be transformed into a valuable human resource.
Q.15 What future do you foresee for India in the present scenario?
(H.S) The future may not be rosy but is certainly not dismal. A democratic set-up, how-ever halting, is better than an authoritarian regime. The universal adult franchise lends the masses a massive ballot power which may cause an electoral revolution despite jugglery of fluid political alliances. The vigilant Election Commission and an independent Judiciary are two other pillars of strength. Political adventurers are doomed to be eliminated in due course. A land ravaged by famines has become surplus in food stocks which factor will not let our political system crack. It is gratifying that even a theocratic neighbour has acknowledged the latent strength of our secular democratic set-up and has realized that
‘ Work and will of people tend to make them great
Arms and alliances induce them feel second rate’. (ibid., p.60)
It is depressing that in the World University Ranking 2007, not a single Indian university finds place among the top hundred universities. A nation gets doomed if its education is entrusted to mediocre and mercenary managements.
The NCERT (National Council for Education, Research and Training), New Delhi is the backyard of leading publishing houses. The Textbook Boards do not give matching consideration to native writers along with foreign authors.
There is no dearth of talent in India. If Indian researchers can win Nobel Prize while working abroad, why adequate facilities are denied to them in India. None of our vocal leaders whether in NDA or UPA have the guts to assert that hundreds of crores of rupees spent on subsidizing the pilgrimage abroad by the Socialist Secular Democratic Republic of India be utilized to strengthen the centres of learning. A country flourishes by the supremacy of knowledge and not by the
appeasement of fanatics.
Q.16 How can patriotism and national character of the Indians be changed?
What are possible suggestions to make Indians patriotic brimming with national character putting country before self?
(H.S.) India had been and still is horizontally as well as vertically divided by caste considerations and customary codes. There are typical characteristics of each caste, but the traits of national character seldom evolved.
‘The caste divide did not let nationalism grow’. (ibid., p.31)
‘We had been a motley crowd, proud of caste and clan
Devoid of feelings or notions that make a nation’. (ibid,. p.27)
Four chapters in the section ‘Resurgence’ in my book ‘Happy Meaningful Life’ titled
Creating a Scientific Temper
Rationalizing the Old Values
Appraisal of Heritage
National Service and the Youth
deal exclusively with nation building. They exhort the attitudes that lead to magnitude, and denounce the beliefs sanctifying superstitions.
The national character seeks to be evolved around rationalism, humanism and collective welfare instead of personal salvation. (Interested readers may visit the website cited earlier)
Q. 17 What is your opinion about the younger generation? How can, in your views Indians transform India in to a world leader?
(H.S.) I witnessed three generations in my life span touching ninety years.
Pre-independence one; born in colonial era, deprived of opportunities, suffered indignities inflicted by foreign rule but kept striving for the liberation of motherland.
Post -independence one; got opportunities for advancement, exhibited parental care and groomed their wards for transforming political freedom into economic betterment.
The present highly trained but over-ambitious young, frustrated with political fiasco within but obsessed to settle abroad.
Every generation has to discover its own suitable avenues. An itching feeling of restlessness finds the path to a vibrant future.
The post-independence generation saw the superpowers dividing the world through military alliances and thereby intensifying the cold war. The contemporary young, facing the menace of global terrorism, aftermath of the crumbling superpowers, see a hope in the emerging economic blocks of developing countries, joining hands for ushering in a new era based on the concept that co-operation yields better results than confrontation. They have to explore their role on respective merit.
It is in national interest that India gives up the aspiration of becoming a world leader. The complex of being an elder brother kept our neighbours alienated as well as suspicious. Our freedom struggle was not confined to our own liberation, but was a crusade against global colonialism. The philosophy of non- violence and truth practised by Mahatma Gandhi is being appreciated by its once denouncers.
‘Hence barriers be replaced by bridges of amity
It is how, world would learn to live in harmony’. (ibid., p.1)
‘All aspire to advance free of fear and want
Co-existence alone sustains such a yearning’. (ibid., p.3)
Q.18 Your wife left you alone in old age. (Everybody comes alone and goes alone). How do you react to this loneliness in your life? Is it oppressive or encouraging? Your comments please.
(H.S.) My wife passed away in 2008 after a conjugal partnership nearing sixty years. Our offspring were planning a festive get-together to celebrate the diamond jubilee of our marriage. The demise inflicted dismay along with grief. I appended a four- line stanza
‘Empty nest becomes further forlorn
When either of the two passes away
Adjustments derail, the survivor pines
But time heals and sets the rhyme’
to my poem ‘Empty Homes and Nests’.
I dedicated my next book ‘Seasonal Festivals and Commemorative Days’ to my wife with the epigraph
‘Death causes a vacuum
Which is hard to fill
In memory one relives moments
That impart a sustaining thrill’.
As far as reacting to loneliness is concerned, it had been a part of my life ever since the demise of my mother. The constant pricking by my stepmother taught me the value of combination of heart, head and hands. The positive attitude did not let me feel alone.
‘Lonesomeness inflicts those with boredom
Who tune themselves not to songs of life’. (ibid., p.72)
‘A prolific pen provides pleasant pastime
Lets not the wielder feel lone when alone’. (ibid.,p.114)
‘Whether the loneliness caused by the bereavement is oppressive or encouraging’ may be assessed from the afore mentioned epigraph. The demise of a dear one brings sorrow in its wake. Time heals by and by.
Q.19 Your message to posterity.
H.S.) In a traditional society the elders consider it their prerogative to advise the young. The scientific approach and technological advances have reversed the situation. The elders find themselves to have been left far behind by the dynamic young.
On the advent of scientific era, Mathew Arnold bemoaned that the old world was dead and the new was yet to take birth. Likewise the information technology, while facilitating communication, has toppled the social structure. The aftermath can be better imagined than explained. Hence I refrain myself from further elaboration and suggest politely to posterity:
‘Where the present is faced and not escaped
Past is not praised led by blind faith
And the mirage of future casts no spell
Such attitudes lead to a rewarding quest’. (ibid., p. 1)
Q.20 I had read in my school days the following lines of a British poet, in his poem titled; ‘My Native Land’, about patriotism:
Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong….
How do you rate materialism and nationality in the life of an individual?
(H.S.) I elaborated a similar observation of John Milton (1606-76), a celebrated English poet, in my book ‘Happy Meaningful Life’ as:
‘The wealth of a nation does not merely lie in its lofty mountains,
fertile plains, dense forests, mighty rivers and vast seas, but consists
of dedicated youth, physically strong, morally sound and mentally
bright who can defend these natural resources and harness them
for national progress and prosperity’. (p.61)
In the context of this question ‘materialism’ implies ‘excessive devotion to the bodily wants or financial success’ and
‘nationality’ stands for ‘national character’.
When the craze for monetary gains and bodily comforts overrides the national interest, it leads to a chain of illegal activities culminating in political scandals, social discontent, economic disorder and ecological imbalance, expediting the predicted doom.
‘Man! Though you adore me as mother earth
Yet you devastate me quite thoughtlessly
Dig me widely to plunder mineral wealth
Keep deforesting me with voracious craze
The scanty natural cover lets in erosion
The lush vales and hills become desolate
Wild-life is deprived of natural habitat
The birds also get robbed of green abodes’
‘Big projects ‘ll tumble, if I quiver or rumble
Tsunamis would rise and Katrina could strike
Super powers too will get feebled and humbled
Hence live and let all other creatures thrive
Lest the avarice pushes you back to stone age’. (ibid., p.49)
For highlighting the relevance of the suggested subtitle “Plough to Pen”, I conclude by complimenting the wielders of this implement (I too tilled land for two years) as their toil stabilized the march of nation towards progress.
‘Braving scorching sun and chilling cold
I cleared sandy mounds and bush forests
Adopted techniques, progressive and bold
Extended region-wise by farm scientists’
‘Thus my skill set in the green revolution
To fortify freedom by economic prosperity
My tireless work and unfailing resolution
Have provided fresh avenues for posterity’. (ibid,. p.29)
Contemporary Vibes, Vol-7, No:27, April-June 2012, Chandigarh. pp. 10-14