Babu Rajab Ali
A Malwaii Kavishar

Babu ji of Punjabis
Babu ji of Punjabis
Jagjit Sandhu

In Malwa region of Punjab, the 'chhandd-band' (rhymed on meter) Punjabi poetry is sung in loud, fast yet stretched voice without any musical instruments (somewhat similar to tarannum) and is called Kavishri.  The people who write and sing Kavishri in Punjabi melas, diwaans, mehfils, weddings etc are called Kavishar. Originally started in Malwa, this tradition of Punjabi poetry and singing has spread throughout Punjab although majority of the Kavishar(s) to this day has been from Malwa.  Babu Rajab Ali of village Sahoke near Moga was the un-crowned king of Kavishari.

Babu Rajab Ali  was born on Aug 10th, 1894 in a Muslim family of Rajputs in the village of  Sahoke district Ferozepur (now Dist. Faridkot).  His father's name was Mian Dhamaali Khan and his mother's name was Jiyooni.  Babu ji went to primary school in the neighboring village of BaNbeeha and then to high school in Moga and passed his matriculation in 1912 from Barjindra High School, Faridkot.  Later on he graduated with a diploma in Civil Engineering, commonly known as Overseeri in Punjabi during those days, from an engineering school in Gujraat district.  Babu Rajab Ali worked as an overseer in irrigation department all his life and was affectionately called Babu ji by people.  Canals were being laid all throughout Punjab in those days and whole landscape was changing, and that was probably first and last time when the word Babu ji was respected with praise and thankfulness in rural Punjab.  I believe it was sweetness of language in Babu Rajab Ali's poetry and personality that changed the meanings of phrase 'Babu ji' forever.  During the World War II, Babu ji also went to Basra, Baghdad in Iraq and saw "Rabb dian karagariaN" which he has mentioned in his poetry.  He worked throughout Punjab and also near Peshawar, as a result he was well-traveled person by the standards of that time.  He was fluent in Punjabi and Urdu and knew some Persian, Arabic and English but his poetry was to be only in Punjabi and that too in the ThaiTh Malwaii accent.

Babu ji had hundreds of shagird/students who learned Kavishari from him and sung his Kavishari in Punjabi melas.  He was madly in love with Malwa and Punjabi poetry and probably at the peak of his life when one day in 1947 he had to leave his beloved village of Sahoke, his students, his admirers and family history of hundreds of years and leave for Pakistan.  Babu ji went to Pakistan but his soul always wandered in Malwa and he wrote hundreds of poems on his separation from his beloved people and places.  His family got some land allotted in OkaaRa and settled there. Babu ji visited East Punjab in March of 1965 and thousands of Malwai Kavishar(s) came to see their beloved Babu ji.

Babu Rajab Ali wrote about 1 dozen kissas and long poems about Hindu mythology like Puran Bhagat, KaullaN, Ramayan, Raja Rattan Sainn etc.; about 15 kissa about Muslim heroes and historic figures like Hassan Hussain, Hazrat Mohammad, Dahood Badshah etc; another 15 kissas about Sikh history and heroes like Shaheedi Guru Arjun Dev, Saka Sarhind, Saka Chamkaur, Bidhi Chand de ghoRhay etc.  He also wrote almost an episode or a kissa about every known Punjabi folktale like  Heer Ranjha, Dulla Bhatti, Mirza, and Bhagat Singh etc.  The breadth of the subjects chosen indicates how open hearted and secular poet Babu Rajab Ali was. Interestingly, most of his kissas related to Hindu heroes and figures were written during his life in Pakistan.   His love for Punjab and Punjabi was unconditional and not bound by walls of religions or nationalities.

Babu ji passed away on to the next world on May 6th, 1979, singing songs of Punjabi and longing for seeing his village Sahoke of his childhood and youth again.  Babu ji is a pride of Punjabi language and will live forever in hearts of Punjabis.  His poems are still sung by hundreds of Kavishars in Punjab who claim with pride that they are shagirds of Babu Rajab Ali.

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Babu Rajab Ali in Roman