Mohan Singh: Universal Sorrow

Mohan Singh is an ardent singer of love fulfilled. From overripe voluptuousness, he matures into painful consciousness of the harsh realities of life. Like Faiz Ahmed Faiz he too finds his personal sorrow losing its identity in universal sorrow. His response to the changing conditions of life is full, intense and spontaneous.
In his early poems, he longs for sensory delight and is exultant of the voluptuousness of his experience. His attitude towards love is masculine-possessive, ego-centric and tempestuous. Unlike Walt Whitman, his love is concentrated in his beloved alone. He presupposes that his beloved also craves for him. What matters most is the emotional stimulus and sensual response and then- 'the calm of mind all passion spent'. He has composed some of the best lyrics in Punjabi poetry in such a calm of mind-
Sade wehre amrit warhea nee
Merapatpat hoy a harea nee

The nectar of love
A shower of the nectar of love
Flooded my courtyard
Luxuriating my whole being.
In another poem, his self-absorption or narcissism is rather more pronounced. He talks about his insatiety and is grateful to his beloved for her abandon and receptivity :
Pee pee ke bulhian hambh gyian
Par na mukiapyala
Phir we loon loon dye asisaan
Jewepayawan wala

(My lips ache with constant drinking,
But the cup of beauty is inexhaustible,
Still my heart blesses,
The one who slaked my thirst.)
In his Keatsian attitude towards love, Mohan Singh never invests his beloved with a personality of her own. His concern is solely with his own self and there is no allusion to his beloved's most an object of desire. And when she is given a voice, it is nothing but an echo of the poet's own attitude towards love :
Koi tore ve koi tore
Meri veeni noon machkore
Main Bhari sharab surahian
Phut ke Mvagan toy ayeian
Chheti bulhian tirhaian
Koi nal ehnan dejore

(Where is the one,
Who is to crack (the bangles) and twist my wrist
In love-play ?
A brimful goblet of wine am I,
On the brink of overflowing.
Let his thirsty lips
Quaff it, Soon, too soon.)
Such an expression, though deliciously sweet, fails to convey the feelings, so very beautifully expressed in Rossetti's 'Secret Parting' : 'And as she kissed, her mouth became her soul'.
Mohan Singh is, in his love poems, all the time concerned with personal psychological relief. Detachment from self is something alien to his temperament. He always projects his personality on to the object and then views the whole thing from the corners of his eyes. His philosophy of love can at best be summed up in his following lines :
Sunn masunn khaka mera
Paya ae ras-rang-heen
Ki nahin mere bhagan ander
Ungal koi rangeen

(My personality A colourless, vapid outline Is it not destined to receive The prismatic touch Of a rose-tinted finger ?) He cannot comprehend what platonic love is. This perhaps invariably tried to spiritualize love. /\i tne same ume ne iaus iu walk abreast of his contemporaries (of a later generation) who are generally prone to intellectualizing love. His famous poem Ik Gal -
Main tuhadi mitter hacm
Main tuhadi dost haan
Tusin hore kee chahude ho ?

(Your companion
Your friend am I
What more do you want ?)
Though not a turning point in Punjabi love poetry, it is at least a direction to the turning point. Mohan Singh, nurtured in the tradition of Urdu and Perian ghazal, cannot but visualize woman as a mere thing of flesh and blood. He has failed to take her into confidence in regard to the social, economical and political realities of life. He has placed her in the ivory tower and has pulled down the shutters. At the most he can say-
'Chhadde chhad de meri bank
Main nahin rehna tere giran'

(O love !
Let go my arm,
I can tarry here no longer,
A voice is calling me.)
The poets of the later generation can love a woman only when they have mental affinity with her. Mere physical reality cannot stir their emotions. A woman of intellect has come to dominate the thoughts and feelings of the modern poet.
There was a time when Mohan Singh wanted to change the world, not because he saw it steeped in poverty, disease and ignorance, but because his beloved would then be free to love him. That white flame of passion for a betterworld, which absorbs the tiny flicker of personal grief, was found lamentably missing in Mohan Singh's early love poetry. Such an adolescent attitude towards love was bound to be a passing phase. A time comes when he says:

Par hun zulfaan di chhaan thalle
Piari neender aandi na
Nijjipyar de thheke utte
Ruh meri nashiandi na

(No more, oh never more !
Can I have sweet-dreams
Under the dark cascades
Of thy hair.
My soul
In the tavern of personal sorrow Can no longer be Inebriated.)
In rejecting lady-love for the love of humanity, he is with his great contemporary Faiz Ahmed Faiz who says :
Aur bhi gam ham zamane mein mohabbat ke siwa
Rahaten aur bhi hain vasl ke rahat ke siwa
Mujh se pehli si mohabbat meri mehboob na maang

(In this world,
Greater sorrows there are
Than the pangs of love
Joys there are
More exhilarating
Than the joy of consummation.
O, my beloved !
Expect not from me
The same ardour now.)
Remembering Prof. Mohan Singh
There is a general impression that we do not remember our literary figures after they depart from this world. At the most, their birth or death anniversaries are celebrated for some years and then they are consigned to oblivion. It is an exception that the birth anniversary of Prof. Mohan Singh has been observed every year during the last 25 years. Soon after the departure of the great Punjabi poet on May 3,1978, his ardent admirer Jagdev Singh Jassowal started holding a sort of cultural melange (Mela) on November 20, the date ot nis Dirtn . witn tne passage oi time, the focus has shifted as much on the contribution of the poet to Punjabi poetry as on the cultural heritage of Punjab.
Prof. Mohan Singh was a progressive poet and he wanted to change the world for the betterment of the common people. He started his career as a Lecturer in Persian at Khalsa College, Amritsar way back in the early thirties. He resigned his job and shifted to Lahore in 1939 to launch his Punjabi monthly 'Punj Darya'. That was the time when he marched ahead of others in the field of literature and made his journal the mouthpiece of progressive ideas. For a long time to come he, as well as Amrita Pritanyeigned supreme in the firmament of Punjabi poetry. They ushered in a new age in the history of modern Punjabi literature.
Essentially he was a learned poet and demanded close study of his poetic creations. His greatest\contribution had been to wean off the admirers of Punjab poetry from the poetical symposium to the study table. From the listener to the reader was indeed a big step that ultimately led to the research work in all seriousness. He had the universal vision of life but was steeped at the same time in the soil of his birth. He was born in Mardaan (now in Pakistan) in 1905 but spent the early years of his life at Dhamial (Rawalpindi), his ancestral village. His poem Kuri Pathohar Di is reminiscent of his romantic early youth. Later his poem Ambi da Boota combined emotional outpourings with rhyme, rhythm and resonance.
During the last phase of his life, Prof. Mohan Singh settled down in Ludhiana. Shortly afterwards he was offered the job of Prof. Emeritus at Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana by its Vice Chancellor Dr. M.S. Randhawa. He was to compile the History of Punjabi Literature on the pattern of the Cambridge History of English Literature. Dr. Dalip Singh Deep and Dr. Surjit Patar assisted him in this task for some time. But the circumstances so conspired that Prof. Mohan Singh had to leave the university, paving the way for Principal Sant Singh Sekhon to occupy his seat. Later the project was abandoned due to certain reasons.