Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir

Poet, politician, and freedom fighter

The Life & Works of Musafir – Prem Singh ‘Prem’


Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir was my mentor although he came from the family of my maternal grandparents. We came close to each other in 1935-36, when i was a Student of Khalsa College, Amritsar, which was managed and governed by Chief Khalsa Dewan the pro-British organization of the Sikh sardars.

I was born rebel and could seldom stand the irrational and autocratic decisions of the authorities. This spirit often brought me into conflict with the management of my college. At one stage the differences came to such a pitch that I was expelled from the hostel just a month before the final examination.

The headquarters of the Akalis in those days was the Sikh Missionary College, which was situated a stone’s throw away from Khalsa College. Master Tara Singh and Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir resided there. The Akali party was the main opponent of the Chief Khalsa Devan. My activities in the college attracted their attention. Along with this my nearness to Musafir ji whom I used to meet occasionally brought me close to them.

Just few days before my B.A. examination, Musafir ji met me and talked to me about the coming Assembly elections in 1937 and asked for my family’s support for the Congress-cum-Akali candidate who was going to contest from our area. I assured him of our support because of my leanings towards the Congress party and opposition to the Sikh nationalist party (Chief Khelsa Dewan) whose candidate was to contest against the Congress – Akali candidate.

After the examination, I left for my village in Campbellpur district. Musafir ji visited after sometime and I accompanied him ona tour of our area. This was the beginning of my entry into active politics.

After the elections were over, I was invited to work in the daily Akali Patrika. This daily paper was in serious difficulties at that time and therefore the responsibility of running it was placed in the efficient hands of Musafir ji.

Giani Gurmukh Singh was born in village Udhowal situated on the banks of the river Soan, on January 15, 1899. His father, Bhai Sujan Singh, was a small peasant. He passed his vernacular middle from the village school and later secured the degrees of Giani.J.V and S.V. training classes.

His mother, who died when he was only 12 years old, loved him dearly. At her insistence Musafir ji had to leave the village at midnight for some other place, as the police was pursuing him for writing a poem on the atrocities perpetuated by the authorities on the public.

Musafir ji was basically a poet. It was the Jallianwala Bagh and Nankana Sahib tragedies that prompted him to plunge into the Akali movement and later the Congress movement.

At the time of Nankana Sahib tragedy he was Student of J.V.Training School at Sargodha. He left his studies and reached Nankana Sahib. The head master of the school, who liked Musafir for his brilliance approached the leaders at the Nankana Sahib and requested him to coax Musafir back to Sargodha. He wanted him to finish his studies first and then to any thing he liked.

After he came out of J.V.Training school, his patriotic spirit threw him into the poetical field. He started composing revolutionary poems and singing patriotic songs. In one of his Poems, he finds himself pointed to his love of poetry over politics

He says. The delicate flower of poetry seems very cheap to you and you have crushed it with the load of mundane offices and positions. Heavens are not going to fall if you do not remain the President. Do not think that this universe stands on your shoulders. If you want to enjoy the fresh and sacred air of poetic heights, give up just serving leadership.

After his vernacular middle exams, Musafir joined as a teacher in a high school at Kallar. Master Tara Singh, who later became the recognized leader of Sikhs, was the head master of the school. The other teachers were Giani Hira Singh Dard, Lal Singh ‘Kamla Akali’ and Master Sujan Singh Sarhali, who all turned out to be prominent leaders in the Akali movements later.

It was there that Musafir decided to pass the Giani exam and then go in for J.V. and S.V. Training

At the time of Guru Ka Bagh Morcha, he organized a jatha from his village and left from Amritsar. The day his jatha was to leave for the front, he recited a stirring poem from the rostrum of Akal Takth to the congression

(O! my heart get up, let’s go to Guru Ka Bagh and see ourselves the miracles of the beloved. Bow our heads and kiss the sacred earth and see with our own eyes the stories heard)

Observing the spontaneous reaction of the people, Jathedar Teja Singh Akarpuri, Jathedar of Akal Takth, announced that Musafir would not be given permission to lead the jatha to the morcha because the cuase would be better served if he was kept back to organize more jathas with his inspiring poems.

According to the wishes of the Jathedar of the highest religious sawt of the Sikhs, Musafir did not go with the jatha but was sent to different parts of the state to recite his poems. He was later arrested along with Sardar Darshan Singh Pherum the great martyr. After sometime Musafir ji himself was appointed the Jathedar of Sri Akali Takth

Gurmukh Singh Musafir was a multi- dimensional personality. He rose to the positions of Jathedar, Sri Akal Takth, General Secretary SGOPC, President of PPCC, Member, Congress Working Committee, Member of Parliament and Chief Minister of Punjab. He had a host of friends all over the globe and was universally popular.

Along with his political career, he constantly wrote poetry, prose, short stories and biographical sketches. His stories are not merely imaginative, but based on his experiences in jail and politics

The eminent scholar principal Teja Singh wrote:

“Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir, because of his vast experience in life, writes his short stories on the basis of that experience. He writes of sufferings, with a pen dipped in blood in such a way that the paper on which he writes gets scotched.

Patriotism, love of the downtrodden and fearlessness with which he criticized his own Party’s governmenton its lapses were the characteristics of the great Giani

In a poem on the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy he says :

Tat tar goli chali wang holi
Hoia khun da harh ravan ethe
Haddi walam te jussa dwat bania
Likehia khun sang baith paiman the

(The firing started like Holi and there ran the flood of blood, with bone as pen and body as ink pot the pledge was written with blood)
In another poem while entreating for emanicipation from British rule, he asked his countrymen:

Uth naujawana zamana badal de
Azadi de bin jo nishana badal de
Sulanda jo tenu gulami di nindar
Uh takia badal de sirhana badal de

(Get up young man, change the times, change any other aim but that of swaraj. Change the pillow that sends you to the slumber of slavery)

Before 1946, when Musafir was sent to the Constitutional Assembly by the party, he remained hard pressed for money and could barely meet his day to day expenses. After that he remained a Member ofparliament till the end of his life excepting a few months in 1966-67 when he was the Chief Minister of Punjab. It cannot be said that he never turned rich afterwards. He died with no bank balance but he was not so hard up economically as he was before 1946. During the struggle for freedom, he was mostly behind the bars. He was in the jail when his daughter Rajinder, his son Bhicha and his father, Bhai Sujan Singh left for their heavenly abodes. His loving father, before his death, lamented for a glimpse of his son but the application of Musafir’s parole was rejected by the government. The dying father expressed a wish that his death bed be taken to the gates of the prison where Musafir was detained and that he wanted to end his life there.

In the Quit India Movement, I had been detained in Sialkot Jail. When Musafir was transferred from Shajalpur jail, he slept for a night in my cell. When I condoled the death of his father, I saw tears flowing from his eyes. I remained in the company of Musafir most of my life and I can confidently say that this was the first and the last occasion when I saw tears in the eyes of this great man.

A reference was already been made about the poverty and the economic difficulties faced by Musafir and his family before 1946. I am reminded of an occasion when on returning home after many days of political tour his wife came to him with tears in her eyes and narrated her woes of not getting atta (wheat flour) and other necessities of life for some days. She said that she did not like to stand in his way but the responsibility of running the house was also his. That night Musafir wrote the following poem:

Tang dasti bandish majburi
Jhuge which gisde eh muri
Hami usdi bhul ke koi bhare kion
Nal Musafir piar koi kare Kion
Bhav Sagar da dur kinara
De ditta kise rata sahara
Dubde de sang dub ke koi mare kion
Nal musafir piar koi kare kion

(A man whose lot is only poverty, privation and helplessness, who will come forward and vouch for him? Why should anyone love Musafir? Beyond is the shore of the sea. One can lend a little hand but who will like to drown with the drowning man. Why should anyone love Musafir)

About his wife who stood with him faithfully in all the ups and downs of his life, he wrote:

Hirda jis da preet khazana
Vasda Pia musafir khana
Usde sir di khain manan
Jindi rahe mere bachian di maan

His poem ‘Bachpan’ is his masterpiece. Whereever he went he was requested to recite it . Once in Lahore, Musafir ji recited the poem in the presence of Rabindranath Tagore. Although the great poet did not understand Punjabi, the rhythm of the poem and the spontaneous response of the audience so impressed him that he asked a copy of the poem which was later sent to him along with its translation

Shaitan ton chirna van main
Bhirna kaho bhima van main
Kionke main bacha nahin
Bache hia, sacha nahin

Musafir was a great soul. He face the worst of life bravely. His end was also very peaceful. He breathed his last on January 18, 1976

He remained budy throughout the day, attended the Nehru Award meeting, dined at the house of Sir Sobha Singh with Giani Zail Singh, then Chief Minister of Punjab. He returned to his house after 10 p.m. and then wrote a talk on Gandhiji for a radio broadcast. After midnight, he went to sleep.

After about two hours he felt a little restlessness and asked his son to summon the doctor. After the doctor arrived, Musafirji took his son’s hand in his own and said that his time was over. These were the last words he spoke

Musafir was gone, and in him went a statesman, poet, friend and freedom fighter. An institution came to an end and an era passed away.

Dr M.S. Randhawa once wrote, “If you want to meet a top creative talent, deep political intelligence, sweet and persuasive speech, sacred personality and sacred nature all of them together you can achieve this by meeting Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir”

Another great virtue of Musafir was his sense of humour.

He was a magnetic and attractive figure in any gathering he joined. Many incidents if his life depicting his sense of humour cannot be put in this brief article.

As I have earlier said , Musafir was a born poet. Poetry sprang from his very talk, speech and action. In his later life he became a bit hard of hearing. I inquired from him whether he had consulted the doctor about his trouble.

He said that he had done. The doctor had opined that there was nothing wrong with his ears.

“Did you not ask him the reason for your hard hearing?” I repeated

He replied that the doctor said that he was a Machla – a typical Punjabi word meaning one who cultivated and propagated a deformity which is not there.

On this he wrote a verse in one of his ghazals,
Loki kehnde ne Musafir uchi sunan lag gia,
Main bahana bhalia rata kun ere hon da

(People say Musafir had become hard of hearing, while I make it an excuse to sit a little nearer ‘to my beloved’)