Squadron Leader Anil Sehgal
About 16 years ago, a unique honour was bestowed on Dogri poet Padam Dev Singh Nirdosh in the year 2007, at Akhnoor where he resided.
The popular Fawara Chowk of Akhnoor was renamed as Nirdosh Chowk and a metal bust of the poet was installed in the Chowk. The sculpture is the artwork of Ravinder Jamwal, a reputed sculptor of Jammu.
To my mind, no other writer, poet or artiste in Jammu and Kashmir enjoys the luxury of having a chowk named after him and a bust of the poet also installed there in, not even internationally renowned singer Kundan Lal Saigal who was a Jammuite and a subject of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir.
There are scores of writers and poets in the State of Jammu and Kashmir ( presently a Union Territory ) honoured with a Sahitya Akademi Award or a Padma Shri, or both.
Interestingly, Nirdosh is neither a Sahitya Akademi Award winner nor a Padma Shri awardee. Why, then, such an honour for him ?
Bust of the poet at Nirdosh Chowk, Akhnoor
I think it is the result of great public support and adulation for his exceptional work to promote Dogri language and her literature in Akhnoor and the villages around, which prompted the local municipal committee to rename the chowk.
But, why the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages arrived at the decision to fund installation of the bust remains a mystery. I spoke to the present dispensation about it. They have no clues ! So, be it.
Let us begin at the beginning and look at the life and craft of poet Nirdosh.
Gulab Singh, Dhian Singh and Suchet Singh were three Dogra brothers in the employment of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Emperor of undivided Punjab that included present day Haryana, Himachal, Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh and parts of Pakistan.
The emperor was highly pleased with the services and loyalty of the three brothers and rewarded each one of them with large parcels of land along with the rights to rule over them. Gulab Singh was given to rule Jammu ( jagir of Jammu ).
In times to come, Gulab Singh himself became a Maharaja with the dint of his valour, hard work and vision. He acquired many small principalities and the conglomerate was called the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Kaleeth was one such tiny riyasat.
Many small time riyasats and principalities lost their lands and the powers to rule over them ; so did Kaleeth. In Dogri language, Kaleeth means a small fortress. This fortress of Kaleeth comprises about 11 kanals of land parcel.
Colonel Shivram Singh was a descendant of the riyasat of Kaleeth. He served in the State Forces of Jammu & Kashmir and also participated in the operations of the second world war.
Pleased with his services, Maharaja Hari Singh, a descendant of Gulab Singh, expressed the desire to suitably reward him. Shivram Singh requested the Maharaja to bless him with the jagir of Kaleeth Fort near Akhnoor in Jammu district over which his ancestors had ruled once. The Maharaja granted his wish to Shivram Singh. Haven’t we heard : history repeats itself !
On 13 April 1940, a boy was born to the armyman in the fort of Kaleeth. He was named Padam Dev Singh.
Life for the newborn was comfortable to say the least. But, destiny had other designs. Six years old Padam Dev lost his father in 1946. That was the beginning of a very tough and trying time for the family.
His mother Ananti Devi tried her best to manage the household chores with six children to raise ( three sons and three daughters ), but the finances kept dwindling.
To make the things worse, the tribals from Pakistan started their infiltration into Indian territory and Kaleeth suffered the most. It is right there on the border between the two warring nations.
The family shifted to Jammu city. There they faced utter animosity, taunts and neglect of the relatives who were unhelpful, to say the least. Soon, royalty transformed into poverty.
With no money to carry on with day to day chores of life and also to educate Padam Dev further, he was admitted into Boy Company of the State Forces. Here education was imparted under military training and discipline.
Education, food and clothes were given free of charge in this institution, along with a place to stay. On top of it, a stipend of ten rupees a month was also given to each trainee. We may call it a form of Sainik School, run by the State.
After two years of training, when it was time for regular induction, Padam was rejected as he could not meet the physical standards precribed.
Back to Kaleeth, he tried to learn the traits of good farming for a while. But, soon he was weary of the environment and the taxing norms at Kaleeth. So, he went back to Jammu and joined the boys’ batallion of the Indian army.
After training at Secunderabad, he was enrolled as a sepoy in the army. He retired therefrom in 1979, having reached the rank of a Havildar.
Though he was born in comfort, but spending his childhood in poverty and neglect, made Padam Dev timid, recluse and withdrawn.
They say, every cloud has a silver lining. As a byproduct of timidity, he developed the habit of keen observation and contemplation. This, in the long run, made him express his feelings, in interludes, in simple words. A poet was born.
Padam Dev was in love with river Chenab that flows by his beloved place of abode, Akhnoor. His most popular song is written for the waters of Chenab river. Nirdosh himself set it to music It goes like this:
Balle balle bag haa Chanaah de aa paniaan
Ajj Ghar chhutti aonaa saade dil janiaan
Basda Channah kade shahr Akhnoor O
Roii roii sukki geaa akhiiyen da Noor O
Kadoon aonaa nikke miyen puchhann jathaniaan
Roughly translated, it means :
( Flow slowly, O waters of river Chenab
Today, my beloved returns home on leave
City Akhnoor resides by river Chenab
Continued weeping has dried lustre of eyes
When do I deliver a boy, ask sisters in law )
Besides, Chenab, Padam Dev Singh was also in love with the liquor. And, if you compare, he was more in love with the alcohol than the water of Chenab !
Love for poetry made Nirdosh a self- styled disciple of Ved Pal Deep, hailed as Ghalib of Dogri. And their mutual love for the liquor brought the two closer, like brothers and confidante to each other.
From legendary Kundan Lal Saigal to Asrar-ul-haq Majaz to Jigar Moradabadi to Shiv Batalvi to Kehri Singh Madhukar to Ved Pal Deep, and Padam Dev Singh Nirdosh, alcohol has devastated lives of many artistes, sometimes even before they could bloom to their full talents.
Nirdosh wrote :
Mehle ch rihne aahle-o, apni manao khair
Saada te keh, as the aan ujjdi di ik saraan !
( You, the residents of the palaces, better take care
What of us ? We are like a tavern in ruins ! )
After retirement from the army Nirdosh dedicated himself completely to Dogri, poetry and literature. His new avtar was of an activist for promotion and betterment of Dogri and her literature.
To give practical shape to his dreams, he formed Dogri Sahitya Sabha ( DSS ) at Akhnoor. For these endeavours, he had the support, guidance and blessings of celebrated seniors like like Dinu Bhai Pant, Ved Pal Deep, and Yash Sharma, among others.
D S S successfully created a buzz amongst the local population in the comparatively sleepy environments of Akhnoor and the areas around. Literary soirees ( mushairas ) and discussions on literary issues brought the thinkers, writers and readers together.
“Even today, D S S holds a one day Dogri literary conference every year in the month of October”, informs Kunwar Shakti Singh, son of Nirdosh who helps with all his might to organise the event. He is a former journalist, and now a screenwriter. His film ‘Lines’ streams on Voot channel.
Nirdosh published just a small book of 38 poems in his lifetime. ” Contribution of Nirdosh should be remembered not for its quantity, but quality. Through high standards of quality writings, he has earned a place among his contemporary poets “, opines renowned Dogri and Hindi litterateur Dr Om Goswami, a Sahitya Akademi Award winner.
Padam Dev Singh Nirdosh possessed a sweet voice and he loved singing as much as writing poetry. When Chetan Anand was filming his magnum opus Haqeeqat in Ladakh, army unit of Padam was located nearby. Padam would often visit the film unit.
Kunwar Shakti Singh informs that the actor-writer Balraj Sahni and singer Bhupinder heard him sing and invited him to come to Mumbai and try his luck in the background singing !
But, as poet Ibrahim Zauq wrote :
In dinon garche Dakan mein hai badi qadr-e-sukhan /
Koun jaye Zauq par Dilli ki galiaan chhod kar !
( Although poets are much revered in Deccan these days /
But, O Zauq , who will ever leave the lanes of Delhi ! )
Love of Chenab, Dogri and drinking with close friends was more powerful for poet Padam Dev Singh Nirdosh than the lure of a possible career in the films.