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The man who can see a rainbow...

It is ironic that in a country that is home to several official languages and innumerable dialects, with a rich literary tradition dating back several millennia, today we live in a kind of Basket of Babel where Hinglish is the reigning tongue. But poet Gurvinder Singh Kohli `Aazim' who values the charm of every language, does not despair, content as he is to scatter the seeds of literary beauty, discovers ANJANA RAJAN... .

Gurvinder Singh Kohli... . education is not just knowledge of English.

THAT GURVINDER Singh Kohli `Aazim' is at peace with Nature is evident as soon as you enter the compound of his beautiful house full of greenery. His comfortably appointed bungalow is studded with examples of the exquisite arts and crafts of the country. All these elements are reflective of a holistic life view steeped in the traditional culture of his native Punjab but at ease in cosmopolitan Delhi.

This poet who writes in Punjabi and whose latest book of verses was recently released, is deeply aware that in modern-day India, the regional languages are not given their due. "We only consider people educated if they are well versed in English."

He describes the native languages we grow up hearing as forming the fabric of our lives. Under the onslaught of an insensitive `modern' approach to education that leaves us dabblers in several languages yet masters of none, that fabric has worn away and requires repair, and hence his anthology of poems - in which his endeavour is to preserve and use the richness of the Punjabi language that is largely neglected today - is titled "Tarope" which means `stitches'.

The book cover is a photograph of a phulkari chador - an old family heirloom in the Kohli household. It is not merely as an example of a typical art of Punjab that Aazim has used the embroidered shawl, nor even as illustrative of the stitching metaphor. He knows that language is a vehicle for the carrying forward of tradition, and holds within its nuances and its syntax, its inflections and its idioms, its grammatical rules and its exceptions, the very history of a culture.

"Tarope" consists of 201 poems. "Each is a complete philosophy and thought on its own and does not depend on the others. I have experimented with a new approach to Punjabi poetry in that I have not used couplets or four-line stanzas, but combinations of three lines. It is printed in Gurumukhi as well as Devanagari script since I know even some children of Punjabi families cannot read Gurumukhi. I want my message to reach out to as many as possible."

Aazim has tried to bring alive images of traditional life like `kikkli' - the way girls lock hands and whirl round in the fields - and symbols like the potter's wheel - that stands for life, in which God is the potter and the human being the pliable mound to be shaped - as well as simple words like `khand' for sugar that are not heard much by the new urbanised generation.

"I know that many people are not fond of reading these days, and would have bought my book more as a decorative item for the shelf," he admits, "but still, even in later generations there may be a single child born in that household who loves to read, and if that child is able to appreciate the language and culture reflected here, I would have succeeded."

He calls the present generation of parents as "the weak link" that has drifted away from our traditions. But there is no ranting. Only an acceptance of the many factors that led to the feeling that an English medium Western-oriented education was the sole route to a successful India and contributed to the widespread disintegration of the joint family system. But he is full of hope for the future.

"We are going to return to our roots. I have seen wonderful streaks of colour in many young people."

Steinbeck, another writer in a very different time and place too brought a message that a cherished traditional culture was being steamrollered under the cement and concrete of the modern era. But as Aazim points out how much our old people could give us if they were not sidelined by a youth-obsessed society, and how we need to look after our villages, his words are full of hope. In the clouds of a confused society in the throes of metamorphosis, he has espied the rainbow.

Photo: S. Subramanium.

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