Tera Singh Chan

 1921 – 2009


era Singh Chan, who has died aged 88, was a prominent figure in the field of Punjabi literature, theatre and communist journalism. He was one of the pioneers of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (Ipta) in East Punjab which in the early 1950s during the World Peace movement attracted stalwarts in its fold like Balraj Sahni, actor and Surinder Kaur, singer.

He was the first secretary of Kendri Punjabi Lekhak Sabha – union of Punjabi writers – when it was established in 1956 under the presidentship of the legendry writer Giani Hira Singh Dard. Chan was to play the role for almost 15 years. He was in charge of the culture front of the Punjab State communist party since 1983.

Born to a Sikh family in Campbellpur in West Punjab Chan had started his career as a teacher and then as a shop assistant in Quetta , Jhelum and Rawalpindi . After Partition he worked for two leftist Punjabi publications, Preet Lari and Nawan Zamana. He was an Assistant Editor of the latter before he worked for the Information Department of the Soviet Embassy in New Delhi . He translated Plekhanov and Lenin into Punjabi and other Soviet topical literature.   

Chan published two collections of poetry in the 1940s and four collections of operettas. After him no other Punjabi writer ventured in to the genre. He had a potential of being a poet of high calibre but it was sadly lost to the demands of the ‘progressive’ literature of his times which saw its role as a tool of political propaganda. One of his poems dedicated to the ‘Beloved Mother India’ ਐ ਪਿਆਰੀ ਭਾਰਤ ਮਾਂ ਅਸੀਂ ਤੈਨੂੰ ਸੀਸ ਨਿਵਾਂਦੇ ਹਾਂ was included in the school text books in East Punjab . This had virtually become a national song.  

One of his popular operettas, Lakkar di Latt (A Wooden Leg) about the hardships of the army men who lost their limbs on the war front had moved many people.

Amar Punjab. Tera Singh Chan.
A collection of five operettas. Preet Nagar Shop. 1959

Interestingly, he was named by his mother as Tera (Yours) as a gratitude to God after his other siblings had died at the time of their birth. But he died as an atheist. Although he supported turban and a long flowing beard that often gave an impression of his being a devout Sikh, he did not want his children to perform religious rites after his death. At his early age he had worked as a store keeper in Gurdwara Sacha Sauda Chuharkāna – a Sikh holy place situated near Lahore . This sort of identity crisis is faced by the Marxist-orientated intelligentsia both in West and East Punjab .

His commitment to the philosophy he believed in can be judged from the fact that he had allowed one of his sons to marry a Muslim woman. Likewise, he had allowed another son and a daughter to marry outside his caste group. It was not easy as he faced opposition from within his own family.

Chan is survived by his wife, three sons, three daughters and many grandchildren.

 Tera Singh Chan, Punjabi writer, born Campbellpur January 6, 1921; died Chandigarh
July 9, 2009.