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Harinder Singh Mehboob (d.2010)


Jun 1, 2004
In the sleepy, almost time warped nook in Sangrur, Harinder Singh Mehboob engaged with some of the most complex issues, some of these having to do with matters of life and death and others with problems related to Sikhism. Neither did his mind ever stop functioning, nor did his pen stop writing till the very last breath. Finally, as Mehboob departed from this world in his own village, the debt that he has left for his contemporaries and future generations will be substantial as they wrestle with his legacy and find that works of several lifetimes were accomplished by this great man in just one incarnation.

Mehboob was considered among one of the most learned contemporary writers in Punjab. He was suffering from bone cancer that was detected some time last year and had been undergoing his treatment at Jalandhar. He died on February 15.

With Sehje Rachiyo Khalsa and Jhana Di Raat, Mehboob had shown that he could straddle the world of letters and ideas like a colossus.

“He was a great poet and there were several finer nuances in his poems which have become a treasure for not only the Sikh and Punjabi literature but for the mankind. While evaluation and understanding of his highly intellectual, philosophical and intuitive works would continue those who have delved deep into his works along with what is being written across the world can understand that he can be arraigned among the best contemporary poets in the world,” said Gurtej Singh, Professor of Sikhism, while returning from his cremation at village Jhoonda in district Sangrur.

“There have been very-very few writers who wrote in Punjabi but had encyclopedic knowledge and deepest understanding of intellectual and literary works in other parts of the world also,” he added.

Prominent Punjabi writer Jaswant Deed, himself a Sahitya Akademi Award winner, who had interviewed Mehboob for Doordarshan Jalandhar argued that even the preface of award wining poetry collection by Mehboob – Jhannan Di Raat – was one of the most brilliant pieces on history of Punjabi poetry and should be translated in other languages to make others understand about Punjabi literature. “His is the biggest loss in the contemporary intellectual field,” Deed said.

Mehboob was born in that part of Punjab which is today in Pakistan. He studied at Mohindra College, Patiala and later taught at Garhdiwala.

“One could find the references towards original Sanskrit and Arabic literary texts with their depth intact in his works. One could feel the poetic flights even in his work of prose. Extra ordinarily wide perspectives and intellectual depth can be clearly felt when one reads Mehboob,” said Prof Avtar Singh of Sikh Articulators.

Mehboob taught English literature at Khalsa College Garhdiwal but opted to enrich Punjabi. While his first book was Sehje Rachio Khalsa and then came Jhanna Di Raat, for around two decades he was working on an epic about the life of ten Sikh masters – while interweaving the philosophy and history together and expanding the meanings in poetical form.

He had written first and fourth volume of the epic “Illahi Nadar De Pende”, a distinct mark in poetry due to its blending of several finer nuances at a time, he was working on the second volume and had written 100 pages when fell sick.

Even in his hospital bed, he was yearning to complete it. When the World Sikh News last met him at Jalandhar at the ICU, he looked pale and down but not without a sparkle in his eyes as he talked about his epic work.

““I started working on the epic in 1991 when I visited Bhubneshwar and Jagannath Puri to see the temples there. As soon as I am well I will start work on it,” he said. Alas, that was never to be.

“The first thing that came to my mind when I heard of his death was a saying from the holy Koran that says the death of a great scholar is like the passing away of an era,” said renowned Sikhism scholar Ajmer Singh who has actively engaged with Mehboob’s works and is known as someone who perhaps understood his socio-political-religious location better than most. Ajmer Singh said the fact that Mehboob could accomplish all that he did was something the Sikh community should be proud of.

“Perhaps he had an intuition that he would be facing big hurdles in completing his work as in the second volume he added a prayer for accomplishing the uphill task,” said his daughter Prof. Satwant Kaur who looked after him throughout. Satwant teaches Punjabi in Khalsa College Garhdiwala where Mehboob taught English literature.

Scholar Karamjit Singh said in the passing away of Mehboob, the Sikh intellectual world has suffered a huge loss.


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Jun 1, 2004
On Passing of Harinder Singh Mehboob
By Harkinder Singh, London, Ontario Canada

Today his mortal body was consigned to the flames in the same precincts of the village Jhoondan where he used to have long walks, long talks, frolick and play. His conversations were of the yonder world. Subjects o his talks were giants of literature such as Homer, Dante or Shakespeare. His memory was distinctly vast. He would pick and expose rare and special subtler aspects of the great works of the world. Yet he was a very modest and simple rustic looking man who never cared how he dressed or tied his turban. I suspect if he ever looked into a mirror. His brilliant mind was the mirror itself through whih the rest of the world reflected in a new meaning. That meaning is evident in his works such as Sehje Rachyio Khalsa, Jhanaa Di Raat and Ilahi Nadr De paindey. It is almost impossible for any one to understand the shades of meanings of how he bounced and wove words. He was basically a poet who wrote prose that almost looks like poetry. He was a great swimmer and loved playing in water. I have seen him swim in the huge Hauze of the tubewell situated on the outskirts of this village about 37 years ago. It was his passion to swim all five rivers of Punjab. I have seen him swim and I am sure was capable of doing just that. Actually all rivers of Punjab flew right with in his fakirana body. His passion to swim in the ocean of books was unmatched also. When he spoke, people were glued towards his face like a charm. Harinder Singh Mehboob was a gem of a man.

He was a legend in many ways. He could be the only one in Punjab who would have read all the classics, great philosophers, and poets that impacted human thought. He was so care free that nothing in this world ever seemed to disturb his inner tranquility. He was almost a saint. He was like a child - always full of original innocence. His child-like actions were full of mystery, joy, and wisdom for anybody who met him or heard him speak. He was like an ocean deep with in. He was a mystic who lived in this world but always aloof from it. Was it like a "kamal-niralum"? Almost certain. He passed through those circumstances that are hard to even imagine, but was able to produce literary gems that are difficult to appreciate. He belonged to a different world. Where ever he sat, people flocked around him. He entertained them, he filled their empty vessels with joy and charm. He was so well read, and so well informed about the most eloquent literature of this world that it is hard to find such a man around. He was a literary giant.

Who so ever he spoke with, thought that Harinder Mehboob was their friend only. Due to this nature of Harinder Mehboob, Gurtej Singh, Dr. Kharak Singh, Daljit Singh, Harjinder Singh Dalgeer, and Jasbir Singh Mann etc. thought that he belonged to their camp. But, no, Harinder Mehboob was not a slave to any “ism” or philosophy. He was an independent thinker and free from any associations or lobbies. He uttered something special to whosoever he spoke with, and made them happier than before. His passion for Sikh Gurus and Gurbani knew no bounds. He gave new meaning to every aspect of Sikh’s life. All great sufis of Punjab - nay, the world - lived within him. He represented them all in one little frail body.

I was fortunate to have met him. I was only 20 when I met him first time in 1972 at his village Jhoondan. He noticed my curiosity in books and literature and quipped: " Tu sabh ton pehlaan Prof Puran Singh di "Spirit Born People" Parh". Then he suggested: "Fer tu Bhai Veer Singh de Guru Nanak Chamatkar te Sri Kalghidhar Chamatkar parh". That was my first step towards beginning study of Sikh and Punjabi literature. How lucky I was! I can never find words to thank him for what a great path he put me on by connecting me to these sources of joy. I went to Bhasha Vibhag soon after in Patiala and bought Prof. Puran Singh's "The Spirit Born People" for Rs 3. That was a treasure that has never dried up for me – just like the Langar of Guru Nanak Dev ji that started only with Rs 20, and it still continues and shall continue uninterrupted. He introduced to great world classics, not just me, but multitudes of people who ever came across his path. He was a genuine reader and thinker from whom other people just borrowed ideas and used them as crutches to prove their worth in literary circles.

I also remember having met him briefly in 1968 in Patiala at our house. Harinder Singh was carrying a shoulder hung cotton-woven bag, hade long cut-hair that kept falling in his eyes. He kept shaking his neck in jerking motion to keep his tresses off of his face. In fakeerana style (andaaz) he took out two volumes of Bhai Vir Singh ji’s works and quipped, “ Mein laini ta si botal par aha kitabaan hi khareed lyiayiaa” with a broad smile. I was quite intrigued with his interesting way of making decisions that instead of chosing to buy alcohol he chose to buy books, and that too of a religious nature. I understand he was influenced by Maoist theory in those days, as I heard him praise the Long-march of Mao that time.

Not too many people know that his father, Dr Ujjagar Singh was a great Kissakaar of Punjabi. I am lucky to possess his Kissa called Mata Anjani - a great Kissa full of many varieties of Pingal Chhands, Baints, and Chaupaies. Many of his writings are extinct now. They migrated from Chakk number 33 in Lyallpur distt in 1947. Harinder Singh's life long friend and confidant Dr Gurtaran Singh of Punjabi University also came from the same village. Infact their homes were opposite each others' in the same village. Gurtaran's father, S. Sant Singh, was a gifted musician and played flute with passion. He refused to migrate to Indian Punjab and stayed back. Rest of the family moved to Jhoondan near Malerkotla. On the day of their departure from Chakk 33, Gurtaran's father was playing flute in his home on that summer day of 1947. The effect of that flute was etched in Harinder Mehboob's sensitive mind. Harinder also remembered with deep pain how Gurtaran's father was murdered by fanatic goons as he was left alone in his home in Chakk 33.

Just one month before Harinder Singh drew his final breath, on January 17, 2010, Dr. Gurtaran Singh and his son, Sartaj Singh, went to meet Harinder Singh at Garhdiwala where he was laying extremely ill in bed at his daughter’s house. Sartaj himself is gifted with talent of music and a rich sufiana melodious voice – just like his grand father S. Sant Singh of Chakk 33. This day, Harinder asked Sartaj to play the flute for him - just like his grand father did on that fateful day of 1947. Sartaj narrated to me that when he played the flute near Harinder Singh's bed, his eyes swelled with tears, and he asked him " Ki tu meinoo ehdi CD bana ke de sakda hain? Mein fer ehnu bari bari sunn sakangaa". Sartaj was at a loss for words when he spoke to me on the day of Harinder Singh's cremation.

Dr Gurtaran Singh actually spoke to Harinder Singh only few hours before his passing. They talked about Harinder's Ilahi Nadr De painday, and how Waheguru would give him more time to complete the unfinished part of Ilahi Nadr De Painday that deals with Guru Angad Dev ji to Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib. Harinder had already completed part one and the other that covers Guru Nanak Sahib and Guru Gobind Singh ji. Harinder had to suffer greatly at hands of police for writing poems in praise of Sant Bhindran Waley and S. Satwant Singh & S. Beant Singh. He had also composed a classic poem on the vulture (Daeyn) of Delhi who sucks blood of people at pitch dark of the night in his book that won him Sahit Academy award.

I vividly remember the night in 1974 when Guru Nanak Dev ji's Gurpurab was being celebrated in Gurdwara that is built in the village Maseet (mosque) of Jhoondan. All folks of village had invited the legendary Bhai Piara Singh (father of present day Hazoori ragis at darbar Sahib Bhai Manjit Singh and Bhai Jaswant Singh) of Patiala to do Kirtan at the instance of Harinder Singh. In the still of the night, Harinder Singh raised his voice and requested Bhai Sahib to sing his legendary shabad: Parab dori haath tumaray|| Jeea jant terey dharay...". The music filled the air with divine bliss. The night stood still. The whole village was in absolute silence, Bhai Piara Singh's voice floated on waves of the wind, and it took along the whole sangat with its power. It appeared as if the shadowy minarets of the Masjid/Gurdwara were also listening to the kirtan in their stillness. I still remember, the joyous face of Harinder Mehboob lit up and he roared "wah wah". That night, the village had invited a famous Hari Singh Dilbar Dhadhi Jatha as well. They sang the Shabad on Sarangi from Anund Sahib: Eh sareera meryiaa iss jagg mei aye kay kyaa tudh karm kamayiaa”. The appreciation shown by the village folk of their singing was summed up by Dilbar ji as “Jhoonda dee Sangat bllkull dhukwein velay paisay de ke daad dindi hai”. Harinder Singh was the most prominent listener among those folks that night.

Harinder Singh’s interests were vast and most colourful. He used poetical descriptions when he talked about great sports legends such as Mohammad Ali of boxing, Pele of football (soccer), Balbir Singh of hockey, Mardona of soccer. He kept his audience spell bound with newer and intriguing knowledge about the world around. I remember once listening to Harinder talk about the famous match between world famous wrestlers Zbyszko and Gama in the court of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala in 1928. He narrated that while the match was about to begin, Maharaja raised two fingers as a gesture to Gama. Gama nodded his head and bowed towards the Maharaja. Later on people realized the secret of that gesture when Gama threw Zbyszko flat on his back and rode him in victory with in less than two minutes (exactly in 42 seconds) of start of the match. Harinder explained in his crisp magical voice: “Do unglaan da matlab eh si baee tu mint do hi launay hann, jittan vich, Maharajay da ehi ishara si Gamay nu.” Harinder would be carried away with his imaginative flights and he also took his audience along, filled in awe of the moment. His multi dimensional personality is beyond the grip of any body around. We can talk incessantly about him, and shall never reach an end.

With Harinder Singh's departure, there has occured a deep void in Punjabi, and Sikh world in particular. Such mystics and care free writers are indeed rare and unique. He seems to be the last pillar of this category of giants of Punjabi literature.

Last time I met Harinder Mehboob was in year 2007. He and I exchanged some strong and amusing arguments regarding the Bani of Sri Dasam Granth. This exchange was pretty easy and relaxed but we differed on the issue in some ways. Today, I miss him, and shall miss him more as I won't be able to see him and hear his voice when I go back. I had a definite plan to visit him as soon as I landed there this month. With these words, I express my gratitude to this great man because he gave me the "Gurhti" of literature and love for Punjabi. May Waheguruji accept him in His bossom, and his cycle of birth and death.

harkinder Singh, London Canada
London, Ontario Canada


Jun 1, 2004
Celebrating The Lover
Harinder Singh 'Mehboob'by HARINDER SINGH

Prof. Harinder Singh 'Mehboob' passed away on February 15, 2010. The nom de plume he used - 'mehboob' - literally means 'lover' or 'beloved'.

My introduction to Professor Harinder Singh Mehboob's work occurred in Kansas, U.S.A., in September 1993.
I found the opening paragraphs of "The Rider of the Blue Steed" incredible: a fresh, endearing and intelligent approach to the "life-movement" of Guru Gobind Singh.
I would meet him four years later on Vaisakhi Day, 1997, at his home in Punjab. As a contemporary personality, I was most impressed with his religious lyrical innocence, unbridled devotion to Sikh heritage and its institutions, unparalleled evaluation of world literature, uncompromising intellectual honesty and a dervish humility and simplicity. My continuous journey through his works is best expressed as the gold standard for exploring aesthetics, history, philosophy, poetry, folk culture, metaphysics, and contemporary diction - all at the same time.
In the Sikh world, he shall be held in the highest esteem not solely as a literary figure, but as a Sikh who inspired surat - state of consciousness - a way of existing amist everything which surrounds us that most can only hope to glimpse during those sacred moments in life; the state in which "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior" continuously is 'Jo hai so hai'.
Poetry came out of him infused with such genius and perfection as to belie human origin.

Prof. Harinder Singh Mehboob was a pure instrument of the Guru - a rabab upon which Guru Nanak plays an exquisite shabad. In his vast outpouring of style, ideas, and images such as khalas-kudrat, vismaad-naksh, and vijei-tark, he not only captured the whole of the Sikh inspiration, but also transformed it into an exquisite illustration of the Sikh spirit. The most banal experiences were cast in the light of universal truths; the ordinary life of an individual - crowded, busy, and full of uncertainty - is shown to be an elegant and necessary step on one's journey of the ineffable Absolute.
Though he was a professor of English, Prof. Harinder Singh wrote his major works in Punjabi - demonstrating the pinnacle importance of articulating in one's mother tongue. He was a product of the Marxist intellectual movement (a norm among Punjabi intellectuals of his generation), but embraced Sikh thought and lifestyle after graduate studies. The ideological leanings, the progressive journey, and personal limitations were all quite visible in his everyday life.
After the 1984 genocidal killings of Sikhs in India, he became particularly known for his Sikh activism. It is no secret that today‟s most celebrated Punjabi poets used to go seek his remarks and approvals before publishing their work.
He did not simply pen ordinary books, he wrote multiple anthologies that re-defined and re-invigorated the subcontinent's literary scene. His essays, both in English and Punjabi, were bold and insightful. His contributions generated thought-provoking discussions and debates across Punjab‟s borders.
To appreciate "Jhana di Raat" fully, one must delve into it often for the rewards commensurate. The reader who returns to the words finds himself steeped in their beauty and in the depths of their sentiment. I felt as if I was lost in the streets of Lahore; I re-lived the carefree moments and worriless sleep at Nankana Sahib. The love for Punjab and his co-religionists is gracefully articulated in the old glory of multi-cultural desh (nation); a culture born through the Grace of the Guru, and able to live in 'harmony in a world of difference.‟
And lastly, lest we forget, the allegorical depiction of the 1984 genocide in a poem 'nind da katal attey shahid da ghazab' is dreadfully powerful. In fact, it invited the wrath of the Indian state which targeted the Professor for elimination.

In kind, I return to "Sahije Rachio Khalsa" again and again in order to more properly absorb each nugget of information and insight. It is a work rich with Sikh traditions and feelings and with the author's often religiously powerful "mystic logic." Its poetic prose is exemplified by the believer's conviction. The elaborate explanations that the Professor weaves throughout are more than sufficient to satisfy the elements challenging the Sikh traditions from within, as well as from well-planned external attacks. The vocabulary is large; frequently, the sentences are intellectually stimulating.
I believe if this work were to be translated into English, it would establish the universalities of Sikh thought at a global level. It addresses the falsity, cleverness, and shortcomings of anti-Sikh theses; it effortlessly constructs arguments against Sikhi which scholars studying Sikhs haven't yet thought of, and then demolishes them with the fine lyrical balance of Sikh sensibilities. He highlights the grandeur of the Guru.
For me, "Ilahi Nadar de Painde" works its influence at the level of the soul, filtering, like the cry of the loon, through the subconscious. It is an unparalleled poetic rendition of life, love and the Satguru. The epic is a spiritual flight that pierces through the heart and sends shivers throughout the body. It echoes the spirit and thought we encounter in the writings of the stalwarts like Bhai Vir Singh and Mahakavi Santokh Singh.
I ought to delve even deeper into the first volume to feel the prophet-genius of Guru Nanakb. I am saddened the second volume on Guru Gobind Singh didn‟t see its completion by Prof. Harinder Singh; nonetheless, I await its publication.
His works were not the product of literary ambition, but rather should be viewed as acts of service. The religious and poetic traditions that produced Prof. Harinder Singh Mehboob, Bhai Vir Singh, and Prof. Puran Singh can be said to understand all of creation as providing the metaphors of Divine Qualities. Like the Sufi poets Abdur Rahman Jami and Jalaluddin Rumi, Harinder Singh's poetry inhabits many dimensions of life simultaneously. While most poetry leads us through carefully arranged sentiment, he wrote from somewhere beyond this common realm of thoughts and feelings, as we know and define them today.
His poetry is not so much the search for the immanent truth and knowledge, or some discovery to be made in the outer world, but an elaboration of an instant hereness, the immediate inner song of experience that floods this world but is not of it. It is an ecstasy of wisdom that flows into words, sounds, and images. His labour of love is the experience of the whole as well as the parts.
The magnificence of his poetry heartened my faith, his magical words and transcending love arouses an unquenchable hunger in me. Within the folds of his words, I gain entrance to a hidden chamber; I hear whispers that are ancient, yet intimate; I behold an endless love story between an individual being and the Satguru.
An eccentric resident of 'bhutvara' has embarked on his journey to the world hereafter, but his genius made its everlasting impression on this earth. I consider it my great fortune to have visited him at Garhdivala several times, listened to his lectures throughout the land of the five rivers, and enhanced my own outlook with the valuable perspectives of this great teacher.

[The author, Harinder Singh - no relation to the subject of the article - is a co-founder of the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI).]
February 20, 2010



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