SAFIR, PRITAM SINGH (1916 – )
Pritam Singh Safir was born at Malikpur in Rawalpindi district, now in Pakistan. Safir\’s father, Sardar Mehtab Singh, who served as headmaster of Shri Guru Arjan Dev Khalsa High School, Tarn Taran, was one of the leading Sikh political activists. After graduation from Khalsa College, Amritsar, Safir qualified for Law from the Law College, Lahore. He started practice at the Bar at Lahore in 1938. He moved to Delhi Bar as a consequence of the Partition, where he came to be elevated as Judge of the High Court, Delhi, in 1969.
Rooted in the soil and classical sensibility, and yet remaining abreast with the modem perceptions of the avantgardists, Pritam Singh Safir is a unique phenomenon of the forties, the decade known for the proliferation of Punjabi letters. Author of as many as ten collections of poems, he ranks among the most pervasive poets in the language in recent times. His first publication brought out in 1939 was a collection of one-act plays entitled Panj natak. It was followed by a series of poetry books: Kattak kunjan (1941), Pap de sohle (1942), Rakt bundan (1949), Raag Rishmani (1946), Aadjugad (1955), Sarab kala (1966), Guru Gobind (1966), Anik bistar (1981), Agam agochar (1981), Sanjog vijog (1982), and then an omnibus volume containing all his works, entitled Sarab nirantar (1987).
The only prose work he has authored in Punjabi is Dhur ki bani (1975). Ten Holy Masters and Their Commandments (1980), The Tenth Master (1983) and A study of Bhai Veer Singh\’s Poetry (1985) are his three prose works in English. Literary recognition came to him in the shape of various awards including Shiromani Sahitkar Award of the Punjab Government in 1966, Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983 (on Anik bistar), Sahitya Vicharmach Award in 1987 and K.S. Dhaliwal Award in 1988. Safir entered the realm of Punjabi letters with a distinctive character in his verse that he has maintained all these years.
Stalwarts like Bhai Veer Singh, Mohan Singh, Dhani Ram \’Chatrik\’, with whom he rubbed shoulders, failed to influence his style and approach. An island in himself, it has also not been possible for anyone coming him to emulate him. Though he liberated himself from the rigidities of traditional forms, including conforming to metre and rhyme, he continues to avail himself of the musicality of rhyme in a highly subtle and skilfully fabriacated patterns. Having drunk deep at the fount of thought and idiom of the Sikh scriptures, Safir\’s verse has metaphysical overtones and scriptural idiom.
Time and gain he gives the impression as if words fail to keep pace with the torrential outburst of his emotions. Temperamentally highly impetuous, at times his imagery has a riot of colours. A great admirer of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, he hightlights higher values of truthful living and impeccable conduct of life. There is an unmistakable strain of mysticism in his poetry, though he tries as best as he can to retain his feet the earth and take care of the social reality.
No deviation from the determined path, no flirtation with the new models of the \’new\’ writer, and yet he remains \’new\’. The familiar-unfamiliarity of his thought, his preference for sophistication of expression loaded with personal idiom resulting in turigd flow of verse, makes his reader pause and reflect what the poet is trying to communicate. With the spiritual strand in his temperament and his pre-occupation with metaphysics he often seems to take a cynica1 view of worldly love.
Indian mystics believe that it is \’ishq majazi\’ worldly love, that in due course converts itself to \’ishq haqiqi\’, spiritual love. Safir seems to follow this dictum, but the craftsman in him is so skilful that his reader hardly ever perceives when he slips from one into the other. Safir is an artist who arrests with the passion of a mystic the moments of self-confrontation against shadows of the physical love of a common mortal. This is an awareness of a mission in Safir\’s poetry, an urge for a higher meaning, the quality of soul.
1. Keshav Malik, Indian Poetry Today, 1 Vols., Delhi, 1985.
2. Sekhon, S.S., A History of Punjabi Literature, Patiala, 1993.