“Jab Baer hi nahi rahegi toh bayaar kahan se bachegi? We have failed miserably in preserving our culture and heritage, rituals and traditions. We were late to begin our efforts in re-collecting and restoring whatever little of it was left and any effort now in this direction has to be something more than just an effort. We need to put in our everything if we are serious about it,” the words were not much different from what we keep on hearing from those who are struggling for the Dogra culture’s preservation. What made them sound different however was them coming from someone who has put in most of his life towards this struggle, someone who spends most of his time doing what he professes even when the age is not on his side.
The story of this man, who is also among one of the most prolific writers of the state, is worth a read and this is how this Book House special story unfolds. Thakur Dhian Singh has lived a life one would certainly proud of. Having fought for the rights of weaker section of society including low-paid employees and Teachers in early stages of his life which even saw him getting jailed, Dhian found his solace in writing poetry and Ghazals which not only established him as one of the greatest writers of Dogri literature but also won him accolades and awards, in plenty. However, this was not all as the man has taken it upon himself to revive and preserve the traditions and culture he belongs to, a struggle that has been going on even today.
Having born in a small yet historic village Gharota in 1939, Dhian belongs to 5th generation of Juraa Langeh, a comrade of Mian Dido, a contemporary of founder of state Maharaja Gulab Singh and the great Dogra warrior who rebelled against Sikh dominance and Sahukari exploitation. Born with such a legacy, it is no surprise that Dhian is braving all the odds in his mission to save the cultural and traditional values of the state with his pen and efforts.
“I started composing poetry in 1954 when I was in 9th standard. The influence of Padam Shri Ram Nath Shastri and K.S. Madhukar was a great pull that saw me joining the famous Dogri movement and attending almost every Dogri poetic symposium. I was one of the earliest members of Dogri Sanstha and one of the oldest, currently,” Dhian recalls his early days in this field. His first composition was published in his college magazine ‘Tawi’ and what followed was a flood of poems and Ghazals which won him great appreciation from fellow members of the fraternity. However, the tryst couldn’t continue the same way for long as Dhian was selected in the education department as a teacher in the year 1957.
While he was teaching, Dhian made sure to continue his studies further and completed his graduation in 1960, Bachelors in Education in 1962, Masters in History in 1965 and Masters in Political Sciences in 1968, followed by Honours in Dogri in 1969. A dedicated teacher who was promoted to the post of Headmaster in 1971, Dhian also served the cause of trade unionism and founded Low Paid Employees Federation movement in 1966, followed by Teacher Association Movement the same year. Fighting for the rights and causes, the Non-Aligned Teachers Association Movement even saw Dhian going behind the bars for a couple of week in April 1974, which forced the movement to crumble. Though he locked horns with government over various several times, his authenticity and righteousness was proved by the fact that authorities didn’t serve him vengeance and he was promoted timely, eventually retiring as District Education, Planning Officer, Jammu in 1997.
It was in the eighties that Dhian started taking up to active writing once again. His writing, enriched with high powers of imagination and his efficiency and expertise in dealing with a score of themes ranging from moods of nature, social and political matter to metaphysical questions and experimenting with folk forms, saw him winning hearts all over again, only of a larger number of people than ever. What begun with ‘Filhaal’, his first collection of poems, which came out in 1987 hasn’t stopped even today, after 30 long years and 22 distinguished books.
Of his twenty two books in different genres, nine are collections of poems which are Filhaal (1987), Silsila (1989), Sarishta (1993), Sos (2000), Rumji Missal (2002), Jhusmusa (2005), Parchamein Di Lou (2009), Laamiyan Bhyhamiyan (2013) and Sochen Diyan Korjaan (2014). His writing and essay stands at four including Rutt Raahde (1990), Gyan Dhyaan (2003), Lok Lakhae (2006) and Bicheren Da Behi Khata (2014). He has two plays to his credit as well in Pind Kune Jodria (2004) and Abaj Samadhan (2006), besides three Ghazals collections in Tareh (2011), Bhande Bol Gaande Bol (2011) and Tahaangi Ahsaas (2016). This is not all, however, as Dhian has made a name for himself in Children’s poetry also with Pardhe Gurdheo Rahuna (1991) and Pardhe Nayaane Gurdhe Sayaane (2012). Another feather in his cap is his command over Haiku poetry, a form of Japanese poetry with Kalhan (2005) and Uktian (2012).
While having such a huge number of books to his credits is a great feat in itself, Dhian has a lot more to his achievements. For his accomplished work in the field, Dhian has been awarded a number of awards the biggest of which came in 2015 when his poetry collection Parchamein Di Lou was adjudged the best book by Sahitya Akademi New Delhi. This was not his first Sahitya Akademi award, however, as Dhian was honoured with Bal Sahitya Samman, an award for best children’s literature for his work Pardhe Nayaane Gurdhe Sayaane in the year 2014. The other honours in his list include Dogra Rattan award, Virasat Shri award, and felicitation in Sahre Maanyog program of J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages among others.
While for many, this is the zenith from where there is very little left to achieve, Dhian journey is far from over. Having devoted over last five decades of his life to promote, preserve and document the mother tongue and the regional language Dogri, Dhian is not ‘returning home anytime sooner’. In 1989, Dhian founded Duggar Sanskriti Sangam through which he is trying to conserve the cultural traits which are going extinct. In his words, “Dogri culture has three main components which distinguish it from other languages- Language, Bhakh (a form of folk lore) and Raahde. The language is today confined to only few villages as people feel ashamed speaking in Dogri. Bhakh is almost extinct and only a handful of people are working towards its conservation. Raahde is another such form which we need to look after lest it disappears in oblivion.”
Dhian has done a lot for the preservation of all three of them in more than one ways. While his books prominently make efforts for making Dogri language popular again among masses, helped by unique style and folk vocabulary used by him in his writings, he is also making efforts of all sorts for spreading awareness for the folk form of Bhakh, himself singing at various gatherings and festivals whenever he can, despite his ailing health. Raahde, an agricultural based productive heritage full of all the disciplines of aesthetics is another field of work for Dhian.
“It has been around 30 years since I have been visiting places, meeting people and spreading awareness about our past. I do this without any aid from anyone. It is due to my bad health that from past couple of years, I have been forced to restrict my activities a little but what really breaks the heart is the fact that there is very little interest among people towards all this. No institution is ready to spare some time and space for its beneficiaries to know of this part of our heritage. The media also isn’t ready to promote these things. Moreover, even in various functions organized by our authorities, our local artists are discouraged when people doing Dogri Bhangra are paid measly 500 rupees and Punjabi artists are paid in Lakhs. We, as the society, need to come together and fight for our culture and heritage or rather sit and see it dying a slow death,” his words show his pain.
No more the healthy and fitter Dhian Singh he was a few years ago, what is special about him is his courage and spirit. At 78, he wants more of his work to be published before death parts him and his pen away. He has 6 books ready to be published. “I have a collection of essays which is already submitted to JKAACL by the name Aatm-Chintan. I also have completed 5 collections, one each of poems, Ghazals, children literature, articles and Haiku poetry. I hope to get them published as soon as possible,” he shares.
For a man, whose only regret in life has been not being able to teach in last years of his career as he was promoted to higher position, Dhian Singh is certainly a man who wants to do, rather than profess. With a spirit indomitable as his, we can only pray that he lives many more years and achieve what he has been trying to achieve from past 5 decades.