A rebel Dogri poet

Squadron Leader Anil Sehgal
Date : Twenty third September, 1940.
Place : Amar Kshatriya Rajput Sabha, Raj Tilak, Purani Mandi , Jammu.
Occasion : Loyal subjects of Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, are celebrating his birthday.
It is a gathering of admirers, loyalists and the faithfuls of the Maharaja. They all are singing praises of the king in a celebratory mood.
In midst of the prose and poetry eulogising the Maharaja, a ten-year-old boy named Kehri Singh is allowed to read a poem.

Jammu Jottings

The boy reads his short poem in Urdu language and, as they say, sets the stage on fire ! After listening to the poem, the gathering is so enraged that they drag the boy out and throw him on the street.
They poem that angered the Maharaja’s men was a depiction of the false pride and loyalty the Rajputs paraded for the Maharaja despite their own pathetic conditions in his regime as the subjects. The poem goes like this :
Rano-ji ko nahin orhani
Bibi ke lehnga jarjar hai
Phir bhi barhi shan se Kehte
Ham Maharaja ke Bhai hein.
Daftar mein jitne chaprasi
Gad, jagati aur janglati
Chithare vardi, bane barati
Yeh Maharaja ke bhai hein
Bhai Mian ji panch-hazari
Bhitar bibi karmon ki mari
The poem no doubt hit the Rajputs where it hurts the most. The poem of the young boy tore into the hegemony of the Rajputs over other state subjects, and thus exposed false dignity assumed by the proud members of his own clan.
Interestingly, Kehri Singh Madhukar himself was born in a Rajput family of Gurah Slathia in Samba, Jammu, to a military man !
This capacity to observe the things as they really are, without any adopted false perspectives, and then truthfully describing these in his poems is the biggest asset of this rebel poet of Duggar.
Madhukar lived all his life as an independent thinker and rebel poet who will not mince his words and who had the moral courage to speak his mind. All his life he fought against the oppression and injustice he saw all around by writing poems of social relevance.
Gurah Slathia is a part of the Kandi belt of Jammu region. Kandi means parched land. This dry land has given birth to celebrated warriors like legendary Dogra General Baj Singh and Brigadier Rajinder Singh on one hand and Dogri literary luminaries like Kishan Smailpuri, Mohan Singh Slathia, Kehri Singh Madhukar, and, add to this the world renowned Basohali paintings too.
Madhukar began his literary journey by writing verse in Urdu. He later converted to the cause of Duggar culture and Dogri language under the aegis of Dogri Sanstha, which was headed by Ram Nath Shastri. He travelled to the villages promoting Dogri as an unpaid volunteer, singing his Dogri poems to the rural masses.
While working in Radio Kashmir Jammu, he came in contact with eminent poet Yash Sharma and prose writer Jitendra Sharma. Their influence ensured Madhukar’s continued devotion to Dogri.
His travels to the villages of the Dogra region helped him understand the minds, aspirations and difficulties of the village folk in the Dograland, besides promoting the Dogri language.
Sahitya Akademi recognised Dogri as an independent modern literary language on Second August 1969. The first Sahitya Akademi Award for Dogri language was given to Dogri writer Narendra Khajuria, in 1970, for his short stories collection Neela Ambar, Kaale Baddal.
The announcement for this award to Narendra Khajuria enraged Madhukar to no ends. Those in the know tell us how the senior poet Kehri Singh Madhukar had gone to the same premier Dogri organisation called Dogri Sanstha, wielding a danda (thick bamboo stick) in hand, protesting against the Sahitya Akademi award to Narendra Khajuria who was a brother of Ram Nath Shastri.
Madhukar believed and openly claimed that he deserved the award more than Khajuria and alleged that Shastri had conspired to influence the judges in favour of his brother.
Along with fellow Dogri poets Yash Sharma and Ved Pal Deep, Madhukar formed the most popular trio of poetry. This trident of Dogri poets entertained the Dogras for at least two decades in continuity by travelling far and wide and singing their poems to the masses.
Madhukar began his career with Radio Kashmir Jammu (RKJ), presently called All India Radio,. He served a successful tenure with them from 1950 to 1955. Here, he wrote popular poems, radio plays and musical features highlighting Dogra culture and its rich traditions.
These works brought him recognition, popularity and prestige. Then, one day, he suddenly resigned from his position with RKJ without assigning any reason and without securing an alternate job. This landed him in great financial stress. Why he abruptly resigned from the radio is a mystery nobody has been able to solve.
Thereafter, he worked as a Dogri language promoter volunteer for some time, before joining the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages. He was appointed as the first editor when the Academy started publication of Dogri Sheeraza.
His monumental contributions as editor of a series of books like Sarah Sahitya, besides editing five volumes of folksongs, folklores and anthologies of Dogri writings. He also translated 101 poems of Rabindranath Tagore into Dogri, which received much appreciation.
Addiction to alcohol influenced the course of his life and literary career. First, he started off as a broadcaster, and left it abruptly for no known reasons. This forced him to face dire financial crunch.
Then, once again, during his tenure at the Cultural Academy, he started remaining absent for days together, with no explanation.
After allowing him leniency on several occasions for his absenteeism, he was finally dismissed from service. He once again faced financial hardship.
Lady luck helped him again. With the help of his friend and former boss Nilamber Dev Sharma, he was eventually appointed editor of Dharm Marg, a periodical published by the Dharmarth Trust, an endowment established by Maharaja Gulab Singh, the founder of Jammu and Kashmir State.
He, however, did not last here as well for long, and was gone soon. This followed by a short stint of editing the Dogri page of Hindi Dainik Kashmir Times. He was already on his way out from the limelight of the literary attention.
“When I gave up service at the radio station, I came down an elephant, when I gave up the Cultural Academy job, I dismounted from a horse, while renouncing the service of the Dharmarth Trust, I, so to say, came down an ass,” is how Madhukar, the most unpredictable wanderer and poetic genius of the Dogras described his meteoric rise and fall in the literary world.