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  Author Interview | Lt. Col. Subash Chander Bali, a Retired Army man helping Dogri poetry achieve new heights.

While he guarded the nation in uniform in the prime of his youth, the war was not over for him even after retirement from Indian Army. Coming back to his roots, when others like him were busy in making comfort creatures more accessible, this man took it upon himself to bring forth a basic structure for the sake of his mother tongue, especially its usage in poetry and opened his war. Today after 5 long years of hard work, he stands tall and proud as one of the most accomplished poets and critic of Dogri literature. He is Lieutenant colonel Subash Chander Bali who has been working silently towards his mission since past 5 years.
Born in a village named Manavar, in Akhnoor, Lieutenant colonel Subash Chander Bali or Colonel Raaz Manawari as he is known among his contemporaries was lucky to have born in a family with strong literary roots, his grandfather being a famous author of a couple of books back in time. His childhood was spent in the natural beauty of the place, amidst the ponds, cattle and fresh air and many other serene things the village life provides one with. While the village was lost to Pakistan in the war of 1971, the memories of its soil are deep-rooted in Manawari’s heart and writings, alike.
A studious student from the very beginning, Manawari did well for himself bagging a job as a Teacher in Education department. However, the indispensible part of his life, writing was something he never left all along. We trace back to the early days of his writing as he shares, “After schooling, as I didn’t get admission in the course of my choice, I enrolled for another course the classes for which were held in the evening shift. Sitting idle till then was not something I could ever come on terms with. So with zeal to pen down what I observed around, I started learning Urdu. One noted writer of that time Abid Manawari helped me a lot and this is how I started writing.”
In no time, Manawari was doing quite well for someone as young as him. His Ghazals started getting published in various magazines and were also recited on Television and Radio. How significant was the rise of Manawari can be gauzed by the fact that he was the youngest person to attend and recite his Ghazals in All India Urdu Mushaira in the year 1977. He is also the youngest person from state whose work was published in most of the reputed magazines of the sub-continent, that is, in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
A few years later, Manawari left his government job as a Chemistry Teacher and joined Indian Army in 1988. Quite naturally, the service of Nation took over and the love for Ghazals took back seat as life went on. However, the bundle of his passion was kept with utmost care all this while and was the first thing to be opened as he came back home after retirement. The journey has been nothing short of phenomenal ever since.
“I resumed from I had left. While I had a lot to write in the form of Ghazals and other genres as well, I chose to focus on something else. I decided to write for the writers. Serving in Army with people from almost all regions of India speaking various languages, I had experienced the finer aspects and a distinct trademark of every language spoken only to accentuate how we lagged badly in maintaining that consistency in Dogri Ghazals and poetry. My family was startled when I brought home over 250 Dogri books and started my research in this particular field. It took them few weeks to understand how significant it was for me and for Dogri Ghazals as well,” Manawari recalls.
“We have a distinct Dogri speaking style. If you had ever noticed, one would never use ‘H’ in Dogri speaking though we write it in Dogri. For example, for Hand, we write ‘Hath’ but pronounce ‘Aath’; we write ‘Sirhana’ for Pillow but speak ‘Sirana’; for Air, we write ‘Hawa’ but pronounce ‘Vaa’. This is exclusive to Dogri only. Again, we use short forms of many words, like no other language in the entire country. Thus it is these distinct qualities of languages and their usage in poetry that I have tried writing upon around 5 years back,” he tells.
What followed was intense research work that has taken Manawari a lot of time, 4 years and 7 months to be precise, to come up with what has been lauded by who’s who of Dogri literature as a benchmark of understanding the Ghazals in details like never before. Each of 195 pages of his book, ‘Pryaas-Nami Kavit: Kala Pakkh’ tells tale of the hardwork Manawari had put in all these years, 6 hours a day, each day. One of the finest literary criticisms on Dogri Ghazal, ‘Pryaas-Nami Kavit: Kala Pakkh’ is first book of its kind dealing exclusively in the form of Dogri Ghazal including the system of Meter, Urooz, Behar, Rukun, Kafia, Radeef and other grammatical aspects of Ghazal.
“Through my book, I have tried to enumerate various structural requirements and technical aspects of Ghazal in Dogri. One of the most beautiful forms of poetry, it is obligatory for us to maintain its technicalities. Our poets have been doing wonderful work since a long while ago; they are even using the distinct features of Dogri in a splendid way but unfortunately majority of them are not aware of it. We are not confident enough to work upon forming a benchmark of Grammar and other technical to which everyone, amateur as well as a master, can look up to. I have tried to do just that, trying to draw some basic principles of Dogri Ghazals,” he shares.
Manawari illustrates with an example, “While growing up we were used to hear praises from many Urdu writers of someone who could use ‘Iqfa’ in his poem. The word was such a scare for me and of course many other like me that we never tried to look into it. Only when we were faced with situation that warranted a confrontation years later, that we got to know Iqfa is nothing but what we have been doing since Middle school. Iqfa turned out to be nothing but ‘Sandhi-Vishhed’ in Hindi, the modification of the form or sound of a word under the influence of an adjacent word. There are many such scary things which we Dogri writers are so afraid of just by the name that we are not even aware of their usage by us since forever.”
Manawari is one of those few writers whose work was targeted towards the writers and poets more than it was towards general readers. He had his target audience in mind in Readers of Dogri, Teachers, Researchers and Writers. “The common man reads a lot of writers. If these writers read me and apply what I have written in their work, it would reach all those readers,” he says. However, the journey hasn’t been the most pleasing or comfortable in any way for him. Doing all the research and then compiling the same in form of a book has been very tiring, but Manawari is glad he has been able to do his bit for the language.
That is not all as Manawari has another book to his credit. Released early last year, ‘Haamb’ is a collection of Dogri Ghazals and Rubayaats. Incorporating a total of 140 poems, 80 Gazals and 60 Rubayaats, the debut book of Manawari got praise of one and all, especially for his command over the form of poems as well as usage of Dogri words which are fast disappearing in daily usage, thus broadening the horizons of Dogri literature. “Although I had started working on ‘Pryaas-Nami Kavit: Kala Pakkh’ earlier, I released this book almost 10 months ago. The last thing I wanted was someone to come up and ask me if I had written something to come up with a book dealing with Basic Principles of Dogri Ghazals,” he smiles laughing off at the question.
One of the most celebrated writers of Dogri, Manawari is a veracious reader as well. Reading almost everything he comes across in Dogri, Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi, he has many books and authors in his favourite’s list but one writer he loves reading the most is Late Shiv Kumar Batalavi from Punjab. For the uninitiated, Batalavi is the man behind compositions like ‘Ajj Din Chadeya’ and many more.
The best compliment Manawari recalls to ever receive was in his university life where his Head of Chemistry Department was made to wait 5 minutes when he went to meet Head of Urdu as the latter was busy with Manawari discussing Ghazals. His HoD next day told Manawari to go join Urdu Department, when he failed to answer a question in class!
While his pastime in Army used to be playing Gold, Manawari has devoted himself to nature in the time he is not writing. Yoga and gardening have replaced Golf and he has managed to put up a beautiful open park alongside the road outside his house. “My life started in a village and after living practically in all parts of country, I have come back to a village for remaining of my life,” he smiles. In fact, what majorly reflect in his Ghazals are the various aspects of the village life only.
Manawari has another book in pipeline which is a continuation to the Prayas series. Titled ‘Prayas-2’, the book focuses on legendary Krishan Smailpuriya and his Ghazals. The work has been already completed on the book and it is expected to be out very soon. Manawari ends the chat with his message on Dogri literature, “The quality of literature in Dogri has improved a lot in recent time. While it was always a Modern language, I feel very proud to say that the traces of Post-Modernism have started appearing in today’s literature.”


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