Tag Archives: Randeep Singh

Punjabi Poetry: Ustad Daman


Written by Randeep Purewall

Ustad Daman (né Chiragh Din) was born in Lahore in 1911. As a boy, he worked at his father’s tailoring shop while also attending school. Daman learned classical Punjabi poetry at home and was educated in Urdu. He also learned Persian and English including Shakespeare, Keats and Hardy.

Having participated in school poetry recitals, Daman began attending musha’ara in the parks, fairs and bazaars of Lahore as a teenager during the 1920s. The movement for India’s independence had already begun. In 1929, the Indian National Congress made its Declaration of Independence from Lahore. The city was also home to Marxist groups like the Kirti Kisan and anti-colonial and revolutionary groups like the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.


Daman recited his own revolutionary and anti-colonial poetry at the musha’ara. While attending one such gathering, Jawaharlal Nehru referred to Daman as the “Poet of Freedom.”

‘In China the Chinese are grand,
In Russia they do as they have planned.
In Japan its people rule over its strand.
The British rule the land of England,
The French hold the land of France,
In Tehran the Persians make their stand.
The Afghans hold on to their highland,
Turkmenistan’s freedom bears the Turkmen’s brand,
How very strange is indeed this fact,
That freedom in India is a contraband’
(Trans. F. Sharma).

Daman remained in Lahore upon the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The riots of the Partition had consumed his shop and library and he lost his wife and son to illness. His first act of political defiance came in 1958 when he made fun of Pakistan’s first military coup under Ayub Khan. Daman’s arrest however did little to temper his criticism of Pakistan’s military dictatorships and the corruption of its civilian governments in his poetry.

Daman wrote in Punjabi and the form, rhythm and metaphor of his poetry bears the influence of the classical and folk Punjabi tradition. If he could be sober and thoughtful in writing on the Partition, he could also adopt a more comic and satirical note in criticizing General Zia. He maintained a friendship with poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, but lived unassumingly in an old apartment in the precinct of the Badshahi Mosque.

Daman died in 1984. His poetry was published after his death by his friends and followers. The room he lived in near the Badshahi Mosque has since become an academy in his name.

Selected Poems (Trans. F. Sharma)

We may not say it but know it well
You lost your way. We too.
Partition has destroyed us friends.
You too, and us.
The wakeful have quite plundered us.
You slept the while, and we.
Into the jaws of death alive
You were flung. We too.
Life still may stir in us again:
You are stunned yet, and we.
The redness of the eyes betrays
You too have wept, and we.

What a house, this Pakistan!
Above live saints, down thieves have their run
A new order has come into force
Up above twenty families, below the hundred million.
Other people conquered mountains,
We live under the divisions heavy ton.
Other people may have conquered the moon.
But in a yawning precipice a place we’ve won.
I ran and ran and was aching all over,
I looked back and saw the donkey resting under the banyan.

Two gods hold my country in their sway
Martial law and La Illaha have here their heyday.
That one rules there over in the heavens
Down here this one’s writ runs.
His name is Allah Esquire.
This one is called Zia, the light of truth in full array.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Ecstacy does my land surround
All around the Army is to be found.
Hundreds of thousands were surrendered as POWs.
Half of the land was bartered away in the fray.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

On TV you give recitations from Quran
With fables and traditions you go on and on.
Here we are engulfed in a brouhaha
While up there you are still there, my Allah
A pretender has staked his claim today
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Thankful are some if they can chop wood
The others, on them, their orders bestow.
Why have the people lost their mind?
For every one the Almighty has a loving glow.
People are the real masters of this world
Orders do not from the handle of a sword flow.
The ones, Daman, who have forsaken God,
Those Nimruds are laid low at the very first blow.


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Film Review: Captain Fantastic


Starring: Viggo Mortenson (Ben); George MacKay (Bo); Samantha Isler (Kielyr); Annalise Basso (Vespyr); Nicholas Hamilton (Reilan); Shree Cooks (Zaja); Charlie Shotwell (Nai)

Director: Matt Ross

How should man live?

In Captain Fantastic, Ben (Mortenson) lives with his six children in the woods of the Pacific North-West. When news comes from the outside world that his wife, Leslie, has died, Ben and the children must leave the forest for the “real world.”

Captain Fantastic is a funny and revealing commentary on American society and culture through the story of a family. Ben and Leslie left capitalist society to raise their children in the state of nature. Their kids hunt game, analyze Russian literature and celebrate Noam Chomsky Day instead of Christmas.

But the kids have no experience of life beyond their survival skills and home schooling. They struggle to find the way to their dreams, like Bo (MacKay), who wants to attend Harvard and Princeton, a betrayal of his father’s anti-institutional principles. Ben too must battle with his own principles and conscience when he meets estranged family members, particularly Lesley’s parents. Mortenson’s performance brings out Ben’s intensity and vulnerability all at once in these encounters.

Can man live authentically in modern society? Through an engaging and affecting story, Captain Fantastic reminds us that even the the freest of men have their chains.












How should man live? Ben (Mortenson) lives with his his six children off the grid in the forests of Oregon. They hunt game, bathe in waterfalls and subject themselves to rigorous physical and intellectual discipline. Yet when news comes from that other world of Walmart and McDonalds that Ben’s wife and mother has died, the children urge Ben to leave their compound in the mountains to attend the mother’s funeral.

What ensues is a comic, heartfelt and often eye opening film on American culture, raising children and how to be real. When they first encounter a highway patrol officer for a broken tail-light, Ben and the children improvise their roles as home-schooled Bible children who sing the officer away with hymns of Christ and salvation.When they first have dinner at a table with Ben’s sister, the children wonder whether their aunt killed the chicken herself and the almost macabre moments at the dinner table where the cousins receive varying accounts from their parents and Ben on how their aunt died. .

Ben’s children can analyze Russian literature, recite the American Bill of Rights and celebrate Noam Chomsky day,  but they have never kissed a girl, had a Christmas dinner. To them Coca Cola is poisoned water and the American landscape is haunted by Calvin Coolidge’s adage, “the only business of America is business.”

The first meeting between Ben, his children and Ben’s sister and her family hilariously puts both American society’s effect on children into perspective, but also questions what is the real world. Has Ben prepared his children for that world? Is his dream their dream too? The younger son, Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) tastes video games, and wants to stay with the grandfather. The eldest son, Bo (George MacKay) confesses to his father his dreams of going to Harvard and Princeton. Ben has armed his kids with knowledge, good health and character, but as the film unfolds, experience is the greater knowledge denied.

In the end, the tension is what led Ben’s wife to her illness. The emotional highpoint is when Ben turns his RV away from the cemetary entrance on his children’s urging that he will be arrested. Ben is forced to choose between principal and sanity. Ben himself stands accused by his father-in-law (Frank Langella) and his youngest son, but in the end admits that it was a beautiful mistake. It never helped the mother and it alienated the children from the rest of the world around them. Ben is brilliantly portrayed by Viggo Mortenson, bringing together both the intensity and vulnerability of the father, the man who has lost his wife and now questions what life he must make for his children.

The film has its moments of sentimentality and sappiness – like rescuing the mum’s corpse from her grave for cremation and trying to save the younger son from his grandfather’s house. But it asks us: what is freedom? what is the real world? Like Rousseau said, man is everywhere in chains and nowhere is he free.

Basically funny, good performances


k – marts – macondalnds – coolidge – the business of america is business

literary analysis of liolita


freaks out officer by singing christian rhymes


noam chmsky day


they’re children


8 year old blil of rights


religion is dangerous fairy tales


can’t go to funerals – turns RV around – dramatic point


fight with dad re college – knowledge as experience, not book-learning – what is the real world? are they preepared?


letter – we are defined by our actions, not our words


take care of the chidlren – nothing to worry about


  • a beautifu lm istakes – to liv ein woods

refill the grave – keep the


a warm, af fecting poetic, funny tale of family, love, renewal and hope – commentary on american life – alternatives – what is afe? what is the real world? authentic/? real? man is everywhere in chains – well – performed all around – good – 89%


fascinsts – famly – freedom

  • fascists – book learning + it is america all that bad/




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The Attraction of Fear

Nietzche once said that the world has lost much of its charm because we no longer fear it. The attraction of fear though, is central to the appeal of Donald Trump. Fear is linked to curiosity. We experience both when we listen to a ghost story, watch a good horror film or take part in a death sport. Our heart-rate and breathing accelerate, our muscles tense and adrenaline flows. Trump inspires those feelings in his shock opera. He is the greatest show on earth, the man who breathes fire, the daredevil act of the evening. Like the car wreck on the side road, we can’t help but watch.

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Imagining Ancient India

hrithik roshan


Written by Randeep Singh

Ashutosh Gowariker recently released his trailer for Mohenjo Daro, an action-adventure set in ancient India’s Indus Valley civilization, c. 2016 BCE.

For years, ancient India has been imagined as Hindu in TV and film. The mythological serials, Ramayan and Mahabharata, set the standard back in the 1980s with their recreation of an imagined Aryan/Vedic/Brahmanic society and culture. The vision of Ancient India as a Hindu India has been constructed with every palace wall, turned with each roll of the chariot and uttered in every Sanskritized syllable in Hindu mythological serials and in semi-historical serials like Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat.

It’s also apparent in films like Mohenjo Daro. True, it looks less like the Mahabharata, but also, unlike the epics, Mohenjo Daro was a historical reality. The Indus was India’s first civilization, declining around 1900 BCE. The Aryans thereafter migrated to the Indus Valley from beyond the Hindu Kush around 1500 BCE, giving India the Vedas, the earliest Hindu religious texts.

Gowariker helps popularize the claim of Hindu Nationalists that the Indus civilization was (in part) an Aryan society and civilization. Whereas the people of the Indus are believed to have been dark-skinned Dravidians, the hero in Mohenjo Daro is a light-eyed Hrithik Roshan with blondish locks and a trident. The statues of the Indus gods are recognizably Hindu, the language Sanskritized and the film features horses, animals not known to the civilization and introduced to India centuries later by the Aryans.

Films like Mohenjo Daro suggest what India was and how we see the past. And like the many mythological and semi-historical TV serials and films before it, Mohenjo Daro is less an attempt at faithfully reconstructing a historical India than imagining a perennially Hindu one.


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Theatre Review: Evita


Written by Randeep Singh 

I’ve always found Evita to be one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most powerful scores, and also one of his most unwieldy. Kelly Robinson’s direction of the Vancouver Opera production of Evita also sounds off key for instance, when he tries to dramatize military juntas or when he ends the night on a bemusing note with an epilogue on the fate of Eva’s corpse.

For the most part, however, Evita is an inspired, entertaining and well-performed production. Caroline Bowman confidently captures Eva’s star quality, unwavering ambition, and fascist convictions. Ramin Karimloo embodies the passion and defiance of Che, the narrator and a fierce critic of the Peróns. John Cudia meanwhile, has a commanding presence as the dictator Juan Perón.

Evita is ultimately a commentary on the marriage between politics and spectacle. When Eva appears on the balcony of the Casa Rosada as a shimmering ball gown, she holds the crowd utterly rapt. “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” she sings to the crowd: she still belongs to them. Only it’s really a political ploy, designed to bring the crowd to her feet and deliver them to Perón.

Eva’s portrayal as a cold, self-obsessed prima donna may not be nuanced, but it only makes her that much more interesting. Who was Evita? How did a poor, illegitimate girl become the most powerful woman in her country? And, why was she so desperate to be loved? Russell may not give us all the answers, but he ensures that the legend of Evita lives on.

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Nanak Shah Fakir


Written by Randeep Singh

In April 2015, Sikhs in India, UK and the United States, forced the withdrawal of the film Nanak Shah Fakir from cinemas. The film, a biopic on the founder of Sikhism, was objected to by Sikhs and Sikh organizations on the grounds that filmic representations of Guru Nanak are prohibited. I became aware that this film was banned just a few days back when I was speaking with an old acquaintance about the current state of cinema in India.

I doubt that the depiction of Nanak was prohibited given that there was no film in Nanak’s day, and given how he is depicted with abandon by Sikhs in paintings and images obviously not sanctioned by him.

Jesus has been depicted in films like The Passion of Christ. Muhammad has been depicted in films like The Messenger. Why prohibit films on Nanak? It is so that Sikh religious institutions, and members of the Sikh community, can maintain a particular, sanitized image of Nanak for themselves. They refuse to admit Nanak was a human being or anything less than divine.

Sikhs and non-Sikhs should welcome films and literature that furthers understanding of historical figures like Nanak. Surely the life of the subcontinents great historical personalities – whether Nanak, Amir Khusrao or the Buddha – deserve to be known better.

The director of Nanak Shah Fakir, Sartaj Singh Pannu, stated in November last year, that he would release the film with amendments. It makes me wonder just what protestors in cinemas like those in Wolverhampton found so objectionable in Nanak Shah Fakir? The refusal to conform to officially standardized representations of Nanak?  The nerve to ask questions? Surely, Nanak, someone who in the traditional accounts, traveled far, encountered new ideas and debated vigorously against religious leaders, still has a lesson to teach to today’s self-appointed guardians of faith and culture.

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At first glance, I found Berlin to be like other European cities, with its historic squares, cobble-stoned streets, stately apartment blocks and tree-lined canals. I stayed at a hostel (in the neighbourhood pictured below), in the Kreuzberg district, south-east of the city centre . The hostel was run by a young guy, Enrico.


Unlike London or Paris, Berlin is still quite cheap. The average lunch of a curry wurst and chips in my neighbourhood cost around 4 to 5 euros ($5-7).  The people are courteous, priding themselves on good service on the counter and good manners on the street.

While a good deal of its past was bombed to dust during World War II, there is still enough history in Berlin to fill the pages. Walking along the city’s most famous thoroughfare, the Unter Den Linten, I saw the statue of Frederick the Great of Prussia (below), the man who made Berlin the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia. On one side of the Unter Den Linten was the the Humbolt University of Berlin, which boasts alumni as Schopenhauer, Marx, Engels and Einstein. I also paid my respects to Brecht, Fichte and Hegal who rest in the Dorotheenstadt cemetary.


One day, I caught a rickshaw from the Siegessäule (‘Victory Column’) to Potsdam Plaza. The rickshaw driver took me past the Brandenburg Gate (top) and the Reichstag, iconic monuments, if less grand than the Arch de Triomphe or the Capitol in D.C. He also rode us past the Holocaust memorial.


The reminders of Nazi Germany are there in monuments like the Neue Synagoge (above), which was set on fire during Kristallnacht in 1938. I visited the synagogue but not the memorial. Commemorating events does not mean visiting the sins of the fathers on the sons. Germany was defeated, partitioned and its people bore the Nazi stigma. If Germany sinned, it has atoned.

Enrico said that one reason Germans are polite is because they feel they must compensate to foreigners for Germany’s past. Still, if Germans are compensating for their past, then what about the British and French? And if Holocaust was the work of Nazis, it has also made Germany a convenient scapegoat for the anti-Semitism of all European societies …

In contrast to London and Paris, Berlin feels young, creative and new. The fall of the Berlin Wall let flow new energies. New buildings rise from the dust. In neighbourhoods like Schöneberg, I popped into public art galleries alongside bars and convenience stores. If it wasn’t the street musicians on the banks of the canal which kept me swaying by day, it was the nighclubs after sunset which kept the pulse going.

street music

This is a relaxed, free-thinking and cosmopolitan city. “A paradise,” one gay fellow proclaimed it whom I met at a bookshop in Schöneberg. The Turkish market at my doorstep brought together Germans and foreigners alike to buy silk, spices, fruits and vegetables and trinkets and haberdashery. My dinner of choice became the Turkish “Manti” – meat dumplings in yoghurt garnished with herbs and spices, topped off with a piece of baklava and some Turkish tea.

Alongside the Landwehr Canal by my hostel, the spring had scattered lovers, friends, book lovers and musicians jamming along its banks. Strolling along, I imbibed the perfumes of Arabic, French, Turkish and English mingling in breeze of spring. Great cities have their spirits and Berlin’s is the marijuana on the breeze, the old Turkish men playing bowls in the park  and the colour exploding across the city in its street art.


Thinking I was disappointed after four nights, I realized in those bittersweet moments of parting, that I had fallen for Berlin.




















In some ways, Berlin was like many other European cities with its historic squares, cobble-stoned streets, stately apartment blocks, canals and tree-lined avenues. I stayed at a hostel on the outskirts of the Kreuzberg district which is south-east of the city centre. It was certainly cheaper here than London, Paris or New York. The average lunch of a curry wurst and chips cost between 5 to 6 euros.

I found most of the people here to be courteous. The one exception was a vendor at a Turkish market who gave me a light slap on the back when I tried taking photos of his plates of dried rose petals without his permission. I suppose I asked for it; but then, he wouldn’t let me buy anything from his store after that.

Otherwise, Germans pride themselves on making a good impression and on good service. There was only friendly behaviour from the person behind the counter to the person on the street, good manners and a warm welcome. Compare that again to London, New York or Paris.

Unlike those cities, Berlin is not a world financial centre. Nor is it the mecca of fashion and style. Berlin suffered more bombing during WWII than any other European capital, which eradicated a good deal of its past. Although it was the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia, it has left less historical resonance than the imperial pomp of Louis XIV of Paris nor the centre of world trade like London, Germany not existing as such until 1871.

Still, there is enough history here to fill the pages. Berlin witnessed unification under Frederick the Great.  It was a center of the Enlightenment, bringing together Kant, Hegel and Schopenhaur. Philosophers and writers like Brecht, Fichte and Hegal rest eternally in the soil of the city.


One day, I had walked some distance to the Siegessäule (‘Victory Column’) when I was too knackered to walk back to Potsdam Plaza. I hired a rickshaw to take me instead. He drove me toward the Brandenburg Gate along the thoroughfare which had carried the procession of history, its Kaisers and Chancellors, its carriages and cavalcades. I had taken my photos of Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag earlier that date, iconic monuments certainly, though less grand than the Arch de Triomphe or the Capitol.


Elsewhere, the reminder of Nazi Germany are monuments like the Neue Synagoge (‘New Synagogue,’ pictured above) which was set on fire during Kristallnacht in 1938. My rickshaw driver also took me past the Holocaust memorial, which I did not visit. I had discussed Germany’s past a day or so earlier with Enrique, our hostel manager. I agreed with him that we should not visit the sins of the fathers on their sons. Germany has atoned. The fate of Germany and of Berlin after the war, including their partitions, were the work of foreigners. Germans even today bear the stigma of Nazi Germany before the world.

When I asked Enrique, why Germans ar eso polite, he answered that even this is partly due to German’s compensating to foreigners for their past. Surely then the British and French have lots to compensate for. And what of anti-Semitism. Hasn’t Germany become conveniently been scapegoated for the anti-Semitism which existed in all European societies.

The history of Berlin is no less covered in blood and gunpowder than other great capital. What’s remarkable is how not only has the city been rebuilt, but how it remains young. New buildings rise from the dust. The high streets in neighbourhoods like Schöneberg have public art galleries alongside their shops and restaurants. Neighbourhoods like Kreuzberg bustle with youth and energy in their musicians, artists and hipsters. The buzz of Berlin is there in nightclubs, in street jams, in the explosion of colour in its street arts.

street music

The city is friendly, relaxed and welcoming, gay-friendly, multicultural and cosmpolitan. My friend recently said that great cities have their own spirit. Berlin feels like Commercial Drive in Vancouver or Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, with its own spirit bubbling in the hookah, unfurling in the bazaars, waiting to be discovered in its bookshops.

Berlin is cosmopolitan and German. In Kreuzberg, Turkish and non-Turkish, German and foreigners live alongside on another. Walking along the canal by my hostel, I imbibed the perfumes of Arabic, French, Turkish and English mingling in breeze of spring.

German cuisine wasn’t the best, but nor was I expecting it to be. I stuck mostly to the Turkish food in Berlin. Whereas Berlin has every cusine available, many of these, like Vietnamese, Thai, Greek, Indian and burgers are available in Vancouver. Where Vancouver is deficient in Turkish restaurants, however, Berlin holds in abundance. My dish of choice was “Manti,” the first Turkish meal I ate in Istanbul when I visited in 2010. Manti consists of small dumplings stuffed with meat and served in warm yoghurt, herbs and spices. At just 5.50 euros, topped off with a cup of Turkish tea, I felt as satisfied as a sultan in that Turkish restaurant on Kottbusser Damm.

The restaurants and cares are not the only Turkish legacy in Berlin. The Turkish are everywhere the local society: at work in shops, cab drivers, students walking home from school, old men playing bowls in the park, mums taking their children out in strollers. The Turkish market is an institution in Kreuzberg, and was happliy just a few steps away from our hostel. Lining the canal, its vendors sell everything from silk to spices to fruit and vegetable to trinkets and haberdashery to round, sesame seed Turkish bread.


Berlin was not a city that hit me across the head. After four nights, I thought I was disappointed. Yet in that bittersweet moment of parting, I realized, that I had fallen for the city without knowing.

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