SINGH ‘JOSH’, SOHAN (1925 -)
Singh \’Josh\’, Sohan writes under the pen name of \’Josh\’. He is adept in both Punjabi and Urdu. He has already published four collections in Punjabi. They are Dhup Chhan (Sunshine and Shade), Samen di Mang (Need of the Hour), Goongi Dharti (The Mute Earth) and Balde Bujde Akkar (Words that Bum and Extinguish). Bom in Ilawalpur, Sohan Singh had his schooling in Jamser village. He could not go beyond primary school and joined a workshop at Jalandhar as an apprentice.
He was with this workshop for four long years. In the mean time, his father moved to Africa seeking greener pastures. This forced Sohan Singh to shift to Lahore where he found employment as a semi-skilled worker. Then came the Partition riots which drove Sohan Singh to Aftica to find safe haven with his father. Arriving in Nairobi, he joined a British firm as a turner. Today he is the owner of a fairly big workshop. A highly skilled technician, Sohan Singh has not forgotten his motherland.
He frequently visits India, and has written a number of songs for films; several of his compositions have been turned into albums by recording companies in Bombay and London. But it is as a poet that Sohan Singh really impresses. He writes with equal felicityin Punjabi and Urdu. He was elected founder President of the Punjabi Sabha in Nairobi in 1967 and then again in 1971. What distinguishes his poetry is his diction. He uses simple words and phrases, free from literary flourishes ”no unfamiliar idiom, no verbal sophistry and yet delicately sensitive and perceptively engaging: Every evening the bride is dressed up Every morning finds her dead.
Myjinglers would keep me awake When the whole world sleeps. His collections of poems contain introductions by such literary dignitaries as Dr. Gopal Singh and Dr. Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia. Dr. Gopal Singh is particularly moved by the freshness of his idiom and spontaneity of expression. He commends the vigorous pace of his verse that carries away the listener or reader. Dr. Gopal Singh ranks him with such veterans as Feroz Din \’Sharaf, Teja Singh \’Sabar\’, Gurdit Singh \’Kundan\’, Kartar Singh \’Ballagan\’, Vidhata Singh \’Teer\’, Charan Singh \’Shaeed\’ and Ishar Singh \’Ishar\’.
He also admires the poetic skill with which he pokes fun at the foibles of society and yet is not cynical. Dr. Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia places him in the front rank of Punjabi poets leaving abroad. To my mind it is a case of creative diaspora. It is indeed astonishing how a technical man without any formal education can handle his mother-tongue with such confidence. There is an intense search for identity in his poetry. He tries hard to find his real self, burdened as it is with a multiplicity of nuances.
He meets the needs of poetry; he is both lyrical and searching. He sings to the new age. Sohan Singh is a socially conscious poet. There is in his verse an accent on ideology. What distinguishes him from the other practitioners of verse in his class is his capacity to weave ideas into the fabric of imagery. To highlight the evils of society, the poet makes use of satire. But it is as mild and painless as one can make it. There is no bitterness, no heart-burning and yet it does not fail to carry the message home: He has polluted the Ganga by bathing in it again and again Who can save Sita if Ram were to harm her? It is also a misconception to think that once abroad, the Punjabis distance themselves from religion.
The poet in \’Josh\’ is devotion incarnate. Says he: A bit of my devotion, a little of His favour I asked for God from God Himself. But the realist in the poet has little use for that God who does not come to the rescue of man in his hour of need. What use is the man who won\’t allow another to live? What use is God who won\’t come at the hour of need? A remarkable feature of Sohan Singh \’Josh\’s\’ verse is the way he handled his phrase. He makes use of puns, play on words and yet never sounds commonplace.
1. Amarjit Singh, Punjabi Sahit da itihas ”Qissa kal Amritsar, 1981.
2. Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature, 6 Vols., Delhi, 1995.
3. Kohli, S.S., Punjabi Sahit da Itihas, Ludhiana, 1955.
4. Mohan Singh, A History of Punjabi Literature, Amritsar 1956.
5. Ramdev, Jaginder Singh (ed.), Punjabi Likhari Kosh, Jullundur, 1964.
6. Sekhon, S.S. and K.S. Duggal, A History of Punjabi Literature, Delhi, 1992.
7. Singh, N.K., Encyclopaedia of Indian Biography, Delhi, 2000.