Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir

Poet, politician, and freedom fighter

Musafir as writer – gurbachan singh talib

To determine the place of Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir in the history of Punjabi literature, it is essential to dispel some pre conceived notions about him. There is one section of opinion, which regards him as versifier of political themes and restricts the literary values of his writing to the extent of political and social subjects. There is another class of critics who are placing Musafir in the category of stage-poets hesitates to position him at par with the higher level writers. Then there are some people for whom the literary importance of Musafir is only a reflection of his political position as a leader. Now that Musafir has become the Chief Minister of Punjab this last category of opinion is likely to gain more strength because in our country the qualities of a man are determined with reference to his position – thought this is not true in case of Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir.

People start seeing all qualities in a man of power – whether that power be of position or of wealth – and even the true intrinsic qualities of a person are not recognized if he is not highly placed. This is a common habit. For this reason certain prejudices are likely to be enveloped around a man in whose personality there is a flowering of both quality and action. Such is the personality of Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir. Thourghout his life he has done the duty due to the country and simultaneously gave expression to his literary genius. In fact it is not easy to determine as to which aspect of his personality is more important and outshining. I dare say (though it may not be liked by many of his admirers) that his political struggle is a game where in many other people of Punjab has played their roles but his literary position is unique.

Will any one remember after twenty years as who has been the President of Punjab Congress? People might not keep in memory the list of Chief Ministers. How many people are there who even now can recapitulate in detail the event of the past twenty years? But some of the poems and short stories of Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir would continue having an irreplaceable position in the history of Punjabi literature. Only a few writers like Shakespeare, Ghalib, Prem Chand, are lucky to be immortal in literature; but writers next to them in stature also continue to be objects of peoples memory and warmth of love. Surely, Giani ji has his place in this second category. In the past twenty years many Punjabi poets and short story writers have emerged. Some have earned both name and wealth. But from an all-perspective angle, leaving one or two writers, it can’t be said that the stature of other writers puts in shadow the writings of the middle of the twentieth century. He deserves being placed and remembered in the galaxy of good writers.

Musafir is more popular as a poet. He started writing poetry in his early youth. It is true that he was infused with poetic inspiration by the then (1920) movement of patriotism. Poetry is born out of some love, dedication or quest. The love of freedom is not less enthusing than the love for women. I recapitulate I was a student,in those days, of Khalsa College, Amritsar. The year of 1928 and the following years were the period when one had to contend against Destiny – Simon Commission, Civil Disobedience, the Bhagat Singh episode etc. The leaders of all India level used to visit Amritsar quite often; meetings were routine in Jallianwala  Bagh.

In those meetings a poem of Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir was an essential item of the program along with the spirited speeches of Dr.Kitchlu. His poems in those days were in traditional style of baint. Though technique was old, the theme was – characterized by novelty. Slavery, the tyranny of the foreign rule, the black deeds of traitors – such subjects and the feelings of people were expressed by him by means of effective similies and metaphors which would spell bind the audience in thousands of those meetings. His recitation did not even have support of rag or rhythm, the effect of the poem emanated from his potent voice and the subject matter of the poetry. The standard of the poem does not depend upon its technique which is merely a means which does not and cannot add to the value of the poem, thematically it is insignificant. The two great Urdu poets – Ghalib and Iqbal made no technical experimentation.

The value of their poetry lies in the pattern and metaphors used by them. Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir does not of course measure up to these poets but it is clear that starting from traditional poetry of his time, he has done new experiment with Punjab poetry. His recent poetry has a proclivity towards use of new metres and technical freedom. Though he is not much steeped in English literature, his individuality partook of new trends. In the past twenty years he has particularly, written emotional poetry which does not have the flat clarity of  ‘baint’  on the other hand, it has qualities of references, undertones characteristics of the modernist poetry, the appeal of which is more to imagination than to reason. His poetry gives vent to, apart from the social tendencies , the complexities of life and intellectuality in the form of undertones and symbolic references. In smaller poems and rubais (of Sehj Seti), he has expressed deep thoughts in an imaginative style. For this reason this book has an important place in the category of modern Punjabi writings. In an earlier collection the poem captioned as, ‘The Death of Dass’ is an immortal creation embodying the great event of martyrdom of Jatinder Nath Dass in an equally great poetic manner?

Along with poetry, short story also has his forte. Although short story is considered a less difficult genre, yet its creation requires restraint and technique capable of doing justice to the subsisting thought. The technique of short story, like a poem does not admit as is case of dialogue in a play. In the best writings of Musafir ji (which constitute a big number) there are numerous instances of techniques wherein a single sentence or utterance projects atmosphere, character or mental state followed by the end of the story at some symbolic reference or shake-up of the reader. Take for instance his short story-‘27th January’; herein the background is unfolded by the dialogue and in the end the difference between the power-enjoying class and the poor working class is worked out so forcefully that the mind of the  reader is filled with pathos for the human conditions.

Apart from short story, GIani Gurmukh Singh Musafir has also written philosophical prose as also literary prose in style, which is straightforward, clear, easily communicable to the masses. The manner is not pedantic but the thought content has clarity and logically about it. In Punjabi there is deficiency of good prose, Musafir ji’s prose makes up to this deficiency.

His mind was sensitive ot the miseries of life. Simultaneously he has participated in the field of service in the life struggle. This injected in his mental make up the love for humanity and consciousness of pathos of life. These qualities have percolated into his writings. The value of literature, I may repeat, is not due to clever and pedantic devices. The value of art is rather burn of that warmth which in words expresses the emotionality of Sadhna an artirst also is rendered by Saddna. This warmth, this emotional consciousness – we find in the writings of Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir and these qualities we do not encounter in some of those writers who have been drumbeat into prominence.