SAMRALA: The poet of protest, of the people, of the deprived masses who spent the last years of his life exactly in conditions against which he fought alll his life breathes no more.
Lal Singh Dil died on August 14 evening after remaining ill for a few days. As India celebrates the corporate success and nuclear deal with the US on August 15 afternoon, Dil was being cremated in Samrala where he spent the few last years selling tea by the road side.
A few days earlier, the poet was found unconscious in his dingy room at Balmiki Mohalla when a team of TV journalists arrived to film a documentary on his contribution to the revolutionist poetry in Punjab. He was suffering from high fever and rushed to the Civil Hospital in Samrala. Later, he was referred to the DMCH in Ludhiana. “But I can’t afford it,” he had protested.
A recipient of several awards, the poet has been living a life in penury for the past few years. Dil refused to accept any financial help.
Dil, in his own words
The atmosphere in school was not very congenial. I was kept away from sports and cultural activities. I belonged to a caste which evoked hatred in both teachers and students.
I never won a prize for cleanliness, though I would go to school on inspection day after scrubbing my face hard with laundry soap and tucking my kurta neatly into my khaki shorts. Never did I, or any other boy from a lower caste, get a chance to lead the prayers at the morning assembly.
I was very keen to go to college, though everyone was against it. What use would it be to send a chamar boy to college? The money-lender refused to give money for my admission fees. But my mother was determined to send me to college. She sold her ear-rings, paid my fees and even bought me a bicycle. I started attending classes.
Before that, my experience of college had been very different from that of the school. I found that the professors teaching me English, Punjabi and economics treated me just as they did anyone else.
My poems made me many friends; Harjit Mangat was one of them. He was very attached to me but would often run me down. But when Preetlarhi, a leading literary Punjabi journal of those times, published my poem, he was silenced.
In Bahilolpur, I had to read a lot of rubbish. The Russians had found a fine way of selling their scrap paper to Indian buyers. But I kept writing poetry and became active at literary meetings.
News of Naxalbari spread like wildfire. I was working as a daily-wage labourer then. Carrying loads up and down the stairs, I felt strangely energised. It was like a great opportunity. What I had not been able to go and do in Vietnam, I would achieve here…