Monday, February 22, 2016

Guru Ravidass Gurpurab and Bootan Mandi

Satguru Ravidass Dham at Bootan Mandi, Jalandhar

Today, February 22, is Guru Ravidassji’s Gurpurab. It is celebrated all over India and abroad wherever the followers of the great guru reside. As usual, this year also the Gurpurab is being celebrated and observed with pomp and show and desired solemnity at Bootan Mandi, a locality in Jalandhar where my roots are. Bootan Mandi is decked like a bride. Each and every house and building in and around Bootan Mandi is illuminated like Diwali. The glory of Satguru Ravidass Dham, as expected, gets all the more enhanced with the resultant gaiety. The entire Bootan Mandi becomes a splendid venue of a huge mela for three days. There was a mammoth Shobha Yartra (procession) in this regard on February 20, a regular feature of the celebrations. A sea of humanity, spontaneously, comes out with flags, bands, dhols, tableaus, dance and music, langars; make shift stages to welcome the Yatra which creates a spectacle of huge a mela covering the entire city of Jalandhar. Sometimes it tends to become a scene of traffic chaos but by and large people know this before hand and happily accept it as it comes as it has become an important date in the life of the city for almost 80 years. I was told that Shobha Yatra (earlier known as Jaloos) was taken out for the first time in 1937 under the leadership of Seth Kishan Dass and Seth Sunder Dass. It starts from Bootan Mandi with the huge drum (Tamak) on the lead
Drum (Tamak) at Shobha Yatra
as the fore-bearer of the Jaloos, covering the main thoroughfares of the city, after replenishing and raising the Nishan Sahib (flag) at the headquarters of Ad-Dharam Mandal at Mohalla Kishanpura. It terminates in the evening at Bootan Mandi from where it originated. Over the years, the event has gained much in size and content which is a clear demonstration of the increasing empowerment of the followers of Guru Ravidass.  I wrote about Bootan Mandi and the Gurpurab of Guru Ravidass in this blog many a times before. Today, I will write about this from a different perspective.

On the Gurpurab day, there was a tradition of hosting a Kavi Darbar (poetry recital) session in the evening. It used to be a good tradition. I vividly remember the kavi darbars in the late 1960s in which famous and renowned poets like Vidhata Singh Teer, Hazara Singh Mustak, Kartar Singh Balagan, Charan Singh Safri, Gurdass Ram Alam, Pritam Ramdasspuri, Chanan Lal Manik, Bhagmal Pagal among many others regaled the audiences year after year with their poetic renditions along with their singer counterparts like, inter alia, Piara Singh Panchi, Lal Chand Kamla, Narinder Biba, Mohan Bangar. In those years, these celebrations were conducted with spiritual dedication and sobriety. It was my honour to be one of the organizers of these functions as General Secretary of the then Guru Ravidass Welfare Society. Later, if I say so, with the further economic prosperity of the Seths, who came to the helm to manage such functions of Bootan Mandi, money got a higher
Shobha Yatra at Bootan Mandi
manifestation and they started to invite some of the highest paid professional singers who entertained the audiences with their well equipped orchestras. It will not be an exaggeration to say that if their names are listed it will become a Who’s Who of the top notch Punjabi singers. Hans Raj Hans remained on the lead for many years in this regard as he identified himself with the Bootan Mandi crowd as one of them and rightly so. His famous rendition “Do Patar Anaran De; je Sanu Milan Hove Behde Aajan Chamara De” sung in modified Punjabi folk style “Mahaiya” at Bootan Mandi became an instant hit. His famous number at Bootan Mandi was “
Sohna Punjab da shehar Jalandhar Bootan Mandi Jisde Andar”. As the missionary songs like “Sare Kar Lao Eka Begumpura Vasauna Aa” sung by the vivacious and beautiful singer Miss Pooja and a young athletic K.S. Makhan’s “Sanu Babasaheb Ne Dite Laike Haq Barabar De”. My own kith and kin, my Chachaji Jai Ram Parwana and brother Paramjit also contributed positively to the process. Their songs were sung by famous singers like Hans Raj Hans and others at the celebrations of Gurpurab at Bootan Mandi many a times. Jai Ram Parwana’s song “Sare Nar Nari Karde Shingar Ji; Aj Bootan Mandi Lage Mutyar Ji” got much acclaim. Paramjit also remained the General Secretary of Guru Ravidass Educational and Charitable Trust for many years in the 1990s.

As I said, the growing clout and prosperity in and around Bootan Mandi and also its resultant awakening and empowerment, the character of these celebrations also saw a drastic change in content and style. The writers and singers vied among themselves to come out with new songs and albums every year invoking the name of Bootan Mandi in their songs and performances. I heard live last year at Bootan Mandi,  Sufi singers Nooran Sister, who also have their roots (grand daughters of famous Bibi Nooran of Bootan Mandi) in Bootan Mandi, their rendition “Bootan Mandi Aake Lag Janda Dil Bhagto”.  The legendry Kanth Kaler praising the spectacular illumination and fun and frolic at Bootan Mandi sang “Bootan Mandi Aajo Jihne Wekhna Nazara Eh.” K.S. Makhan performed at Bootan Mandi with élan “ Vich Bootan Mandi De Aj Laggiyan Ronkan Bhari “ and “Sajawat Karke Kar Gaye Jhandi lishka Mare Bootan Mandi.” Another son of the soil, Master Saleem, who will also perform today at Bootan Mandi, sang some years before “Aawo Sangte Aj Nachiye Te Gaayiye Aapan; Bootan Mandi Janam Dihada Khushiyan Naal Manayiye Aapan.”  He might come up with some other number invoking Bootan Mandi to please the devoted audience. Yet another young Bootan Mandian Sonu Sunil wrote and sang “Bootan Mandi Dhol Wajda; Dhol Wajda Te Naal Nagade.” Babbu Jalandharia has come out with his latest number “Bootan Mandi Mela Lageya; Painde Bhangre Te Lagde Jai Kaare Bootan Mandi Mela Lageya.” The majestic Satguru Ravidass Dham along with the entire area of Bootan Mandi and around has been fully illuminated today that is why it has been sung by Shashi Shahid “Jagmag-Jagmag Kardi Sadi Bootan Mandi.” There may be many more such compositions and songs on the celebrations of the Gurpurab of Guru Ravidassji at Bootan Mandi which have missed my attention.

 It is a matter of satisfaction and pride for Bootan Mandians like me on one hand and food for introspection and thought, on the other, as to how should the elated position of Bootan Mandi be protected and maintained. It worries me sometimes as what I see and witness, of late, is not very much encouraging. The people at the helm, it seems, have no vision. They are engaged in their narrow agendas and directionless pursuits. The community is on the upswing in general but the coveted status of Bootan Mandi, it seems, is on the path of erosion. It is a matter of concern. Bootan Mandi produced stalwarts like Seth Kishan Dass, who was an MLA before partition, Seth Khushi Ram who was the Vice President of Jalandhar Municipal Committee in the 1970s, Piara Ram Dhanowalia (though he belonged to Dhanowal village near Jalandhar yet he belonged to Bootan Mandi for his political career and business), Minister in the Punjab governments in the late 1960, Surinder Mahey, a self made man, rose to the coveted position of the Mayor of Jalandhar in mid 2010. Avinash Chander, a seasoned politician, is the Chief Parliamentary Secretary in the Government of Punjab for a long time. In the services and other careers, my fellow Bootan Mandians have done fairly well. Sushil Sheemar, ITS is the Director in the Ministry of Communications and IT, His wife, Jaswinder (Lovely) Sheemar is an Additional Sessions Judge, Babita Kler, PCS, wife of Steven Kler, leading businessman and his sister Anupam Kler, PCS are senior bureaucrats in Punjab. Yet another daughter of Bootan Mandi, Sunita, physically challenged vivacious young lady, is a senior Judge. Two young Bootan Mandian brothers, Sunil Kler and Pawan Kler have recently made it to the PCS. There are doctors and Engineers and other professionals like Jagdish Mahey, a senior Banker who belong to Bootan Mandi. I myself, a humble Bootan Mandian, ended up as an Ambassador in the IFS. Many families of Bootan Mandi did well in their leather business including that of Seth Satpal Mall who is the current President of Guru Ravidass Educational and Charitable Trust for many years. With the changing ground realities it is advisable, in my personal view, to hand over the reins to the upcoming and younger generation. Let us try our best to retain, maintain and enhance the glory of our Bootan Mandi, an unofficial capital of dalit community in the years to come as visualized and eulogized by the writers and singers. I think it will be a befitting tribute to the greatest Guru Ravidassji while celebrating his Gurpurab at Bootan Mandi.

With this, I conclude and pay my hearty greetings to all the followers of Guru Ravidassji on his Gurpurab. On the glory of majestic Satguru Ravidass Dham, I quote Allma Iqbal:

दुनिया के तीर्थों से ऊंचा हो अपना  तीर्थ ;
दामाने आसमां से इस का कलश मिला दें !
सुबह उठके गाएं मंतर वह मीठे मीठे;
सारे पुजारिओं को मय पीत की पिला दें !

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

C.L. Chumber – An Obituary

A Jalandhar based social and community activist, Chiranji Lal
C.L. Chumber
Chumber (1958-2016) passed away after a brief illness on February 6, 2016. Chumber Sahib was a close friend and associate of my younger brother Paramjit and as I had many opportunities to meet him and discuss matters of mutual interest and concern particularly with reference to Babasaheb Ambedkar,  Ad-dharam Movement, Babu Mangu Ram Mugowalia, Babu Kanshi Ram, inter alia, other issues pertaining to dalit communities. I found C.L. Chumber a very knowledgeable person with a great sense of history. He was totally dedicated, may be up to a fault and ignoring his own and family interests, to the community causes for the benefit of common people. He was a fearless and outspoken person, the habit which put him to difficulties many a times but he was not bothered at all. His keen interest in journalism and literature was evident from the shelves, tables, boxes at his house, as told and confirmed by many of his friends and co-workers.

C.L. Chumber was the son of Panjab Rai who was perhaps the first educated fellow of a remote village Hussainabad in Jalandhar with a coveted degree of MA in Economics.  Chumber was a graduate of DAV college Nakodar and from his college days itself he was a student activist for the causes of dalit empowerment. He was a thinker and an excellent orator. Keeping with his interest in journalism, he was the founder editor of Quomi Udarian, a Punjabi paper, editor of Bahujan Samaj Bulletin, a periodical started on the behest of Babu Kanshi Ram of BSP. Chumber Sahib brought out a well documented souvenir on Babu Mangu Ram of Ad-dharam Mandal. I had the honour of releasing a special issue of the Quomi
Ambassador Ramesh Chander with C.L. Chumber
Udarian at a function to celebrate the Gurupurab of Guru Ravidassji at Bootan Mandi, Jalandhar long back in the late 1980s. C.L. Chumber’s younger brother, Prem Chumber also inherited these intellectual traits and flare. He is the Editor-in-Chief of two periodical publications in California (USA), the Ambedkar Times and the Desh Doaba. Prem Chumber, paying tributes to his brother, said that C.L. Chumber was instrumental in motivating him to start these two, by now well established publications and was a friend, philosopher and guide in this venture.

The Antim Ardas of C.L. Chumber was held on February 14 in which I was in attendance along with my brother Paramjit. It was a well attended congregation by the cross sections of the society particularly by the intelligentsia and social activists. Some of the prominent speakers, inter alia, were Dr. Ronki Ram, Dean of Arts Faculty of Panjab University, Chief Editor of Nawan Zamana Shri Jatinder Pannu, Editor of Ambedkar Times and the Desh Doaba Prem Chumber, Dr. Ram Lal Jassi, a community activist and a politician, Comrade Mangat Ram Pasla of the Communist Party, Shri Harmesh Jassal of Malind Publications paid glowing tributes to C.L. Chumber. Representatives of Desh Bhagat Yadgar Hall and Gurudwara 6th Patshahi also spoke and highlighted the various traits of the personality of the departed soul. I also paid my humble homage to C.L. Chumber and recognized his tireless efforts in the pursuit of his dreams and ideals as depicted in a poetic expression:

अपना मुकद्दर आप बनाते हैं एहले दिल;
हम वह नहीं जिन्हें ज़माना बना गया !

C.L. Chumber will remain in our memories for years to come. Thanking the congregation, wife of Chumber Sahib, Santosh Kumari, an intelligent and homely lady, said that she was touched by the words of the speakers about her beloved husband. She added in a choked voice that sometimes she did not take Chumber Sahib seriously for his idiosyncratic activities but today by listening to the speeches by his friends and associates, she had realised how much loved and respected he was among them. Santosh re-dedicated herself to the legacy of her dear husband, C.L. Chumber.

जिस धज से कोई मक़्तल में गया, वह शान सलामत रहती है;
यह जान तो आनी जानी है, इस जान की कोई बात नहीं !

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Prof. M.L. Sondhi Memorial Lecture

D.A.V. College, Jalandhar hosted the first Prof. Manohar Lal
Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal on the College round
Sondhi Memorial Lecture on February 6, 2016 in cooperation with Prof. M.L. Sondhi Memorial Trust in honour of one of its illustrious alumni. The Trust was established to ‘promote the late Prof. M.L. Sondhi’s vision relating to the emerging of India as a strong but benign power in the family of nations’. Prof. M.L. Sondhi (1933-2003) belonged to a known and established family which came to Jalandhar from Lahore in the wake of partition in 1947. Prof Sondhi, a highly motivated in nationalistic lore and an intelligent youth, moved to Delhi in 1956 on qualifying the UPSC civil services examination and on being selected and appointed in the coveted Indian Foreign Service (IFS) in 1956. But, perhaps, the general regimentation which comes with the government service could not limit his intellectual and academic traits and he resigned from IFS in 1962. While pursuing his intellectual pursuits, Prof. Sondhi opted for public life and joined Bhartiya Jan Sangh Party in 1965. He got elected to Lok Sabha in 1967 from a constituency in Delhi.  A youthful, intelligent, tall and handsome Member of Parliament made waves not only in political circles but also in the corridors of many universities and motivated the youth. I was, as I narrated at the Lecture on February 6, one of them. On reading the Urdu print media like Hind Samachar of Lala Jagat Narain, Pratap of Shri Varinder and Milap of Shri  Yash which highlighted the youthful Manohar Lal Sondhi as a youth icon, my father used to mention him many a times. I vividly remember. I don’t know how far it is correct but it was said that Manohar Lal Sondhi resigned from the IFS registering his disagreement with PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s China policy.  He contributed positively in instituting East European studies in Indian institutions in the 60s. Later from 1989-1991 when I was the Under Secretary on the East European desk of the Ministry of External Affairs, I visited the School of East European studies quite often to attend various seminars and discussions at the JNU.  I have had an opportunity to visit Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic) and interact with some of the contemporaries of Prof. M.L. Sondhi, when I was the Minister Counsellor at the Embassy of India, where Prof. Sondhi studied the Czech language and East European politics in the late 50s as a young diplomat.

Ambassador Bal Anand, IFS (Retired), yet another alumnus of DAV College, Jalandhar, was instrumental in bringing together DAV College, Jalandhar and Prof. M.L. Sondhi Trust to arrange the annual lecture at the College in the memory of Prof. M.L. Sondhi. Principal J.C. Joshi and Prof. K.K. Ghai interacted with Principal B.B. Sharma to finalize the arrangements to host this important intellectual and academic event on a regular basis. It is a thoughtful initiative and should be appreciated.

Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal, IFS (Retired) and currently Central Information Commissioner was the Key Note speaker at Prof. M.L. Sondhi Memorial Lecture on the theme: India-Pakistan Relations – Challenges and Prospects. It was an excellent choice. Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal has been a keen Pakistan watcher and one of the finest diplomats of India who was posted in Islamabad for more than 8 years of his long diplomatic career both as Deputy High Commissioner of India from 1995-1999 and High Commissioner of India from 2009-2013. Ambassador Sabharwal gave an overview of India-Pakistan relations which is not, given the complexities and sensitivities of the relations from day one of independence of both India and Pakistan, an easy task. But a cool and dispassionate analysis given by Ambassador Sabharwal set the matter in right perspective which was appreciated and well received by the enlightened audience. There could have been many fireworks and excitements in the lecture but the speaker, like a good and seasoned diplomat, was able to say all with great ease. He was satisfied with slow and incremental gains with maintaining continuous dialogue to bring out Pakistan from “State Security Paradigm”. He stressed on increased economic and commercial interaction between the two countries and also on more people to people contacts. Ambassador Sabharwal listed a few “silver linings” between the tricky and difficult relations which have started emerging slowly due to resultant fatigue in maintaining adversarial relations. The interactive session with the audience was very good which clearly indicated that the thought provoking lecture was very well received.

Principal B.B. Sharma in his welcome address spoke highly of both Prof. M.L. Sondhi and Ambassador Sabharwal and also thanked Smt. Madhuri Sondhi and the Trust for choosing DAV College, Jalandhar for the prestigious lecture. Smt. Madhuri Sondhi in her brief but focused remarks thanked Ambassador Bal Anand for his initiative and Management of DAV College in hosting the lecture in the memory of her illustrious husband. Principal J.C. Joshi, a contemporary of Prof. M.L. Sondhi, in his poetic address re-lived the memories of life and values of Professor M.L. Sondhi. Prof. K.K. Ghai, a proud teacher of Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal and also mine, introduced the Key Note Speaker and became emotional in his brief but beautiful speech and said that one can imagine how happy he was when he found two of his students were adorning the dais, Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal as the Key Note Speaker and Ambassador Ramesh Chander as Chairman the Session. I could see, sitting on the high table, Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal was, like me, visibly moved with a sense of gratitude to the alma mater. I was fully choked with overwhelming emotions, while giving the Chair’s brief remarks and applauding Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal and Smt. Madhuri Sondhi, thanked Principal B.B. Sharma and the Management for inviting me to do the honours at
Ambassador Ramesh Chander deliverying the Chair's remarks
the dais and giving me generous respect and regard. Referring to the theme of the lecture, I floated a question whether there was any possibility in the near future to have an “Out of the Box” solution to the problems and irritants, particularly the Kashmir issue which is said to be the ‘jugular vein’ of Pakistan and ‘soul of India’? The “Out of the Box solution” is all the more needed when both the sides know that the status quo cannot be changed by force or military means. Prof. Ashwini Sharma conducted the proceeding with admirable flare as a good Master of Ceremonies. His appropriate rendering of Urdu couplets in his remarks was masterly.

I am confident that Prof. M.L. Sondhi Memorial lecture will become an annual feature and an important date in the activities of DAV College, Jalandhar in the years to come. It will be of an immense benefit not only to the intellectual and academic circles but also to the young students of international relations and diplomacy in and around Jalandhar.

Earlier in the morning before the lecture, Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal and other guests, particularly the teachers of Ambassador Sabharwal and his class fellows and friends were taken to a round of the campus to ‘relive memories of DAV life.’ It was really nostalgic. Ambassador Sabharwal was visibly happy to see and meet Prof. K.K. Ghai and his class fellow’s viz. Prof. Satish Verma now Head of the Economics Department at DAV
Amb. Sharat Sabharwal with teachers and class fellows
College itself, Shri Malkiat Singh, IPS (Retired), Former ADGP of UP and Chairman of UP Public Service Commission, Shri Ram Lal Das, a retired senior Bank Officer, Shri Dev Raj, Retired ACP of Delhi Police, Shri L.R. Nayyar, IRS (Retired) Former Income Tax Commissioner. Seeing them meeting and interacting, it was clearly established that it was difficult to forget the young and formative years of school and college even after the lapse of many long years. Visit to the Hall of Fame where a photo exhibition of old memories was put up revived my own old memories of the convocation in which I received my degree of BA in 1970. I could also see the photo of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s visit and lecture on the parliamentary democracy in 1951 along with some other photos of real importance. Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal inaugurated the interactive sessions of the Ecomania 2: The Enthusiasm, 2016 at the Economics Department of the College which were arranged by the Ambedkar Planning Forum. It was satisfying to note, from the name of the Forum, that besides Dr. Ambedkar’s recognition as the father of the Indian Constitution and a social reformer, his contribution as an economist par excellence, has increasingly started to be recognized, of late, and rightly so.

All said and done, let me conclude by saying that Prof. M.L. Sondhi Memorial Lecture at DAV College, Jalandhar on February 6, 2016 will remain live in my memory for years to come.