Remembering Kunwar Viyogi, the Soldier-Poet and Storyteller
They keep a watch on us from the skies, with a will to serve and protect driven by honour. Flying in the blue expanse, touching the clouds and soaring close to the sun can be a powerful muse for our air warriors, invoking the slumbering artist within.
On Air Force Day, while the nation felicitated our winged heroes, the service celebrated its most illustrious poet — my grandfather — Group Captain Randhir Singh, the only Indian air force officer to be conferred the Sahitya Akademi award.
Randhir Singh, known in literary circles as ‘Kunwar Viyogi’, was bestowed with India’s top literary award in 1980 for his long Dogri poem ‘Ghar’. He received the award at the age of 40, for his powerful depiction of the importance of a home. In 238 4-line verses, he paints a huge canvas showing how a home serves as the axis of the bittersweet journey of life.
Randhir Singh also introduced sonnets to Dogri literature and authored over 200 published and 600 unpublished pieces, as well as served as the editor of the Dogri edition of the Kashmir Times newspaper.
On Air Force Day, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha released the Hindi translation of ‘Ghar’ at an event in New Delhi attended by several Air Force veterans as well as my family. The Air Chief congratulated us and expressed hope that the poet’s work is translated into more languages and reaches a wider audience.
Randhir Singh was commissioned in the Indian Air Force in 1962 as a navigator, and served in multiple transport squadrons. He took premature retirement in the year 1990 upon the untimely demise of his wife. At the time, he served as the TAC commander at Jodhpur.
He passed away in 2015 and in honour of his contribution to Dogri literature, his family has formed the Kunwar Viyogi Memorial Trust to promote the language at the school and university level as well as create a platform for Dogri artists.
My grandfather was a decorated soldier, but what I vividly remember most about him is that he was a great storyteller. I remember as a five-year-old, how he used to weave colourful hues of the great epics and take me to the Dussehra festivities to watch the Raavan burn. Only when I grew up and read my grandfather’s work, I recognised him as not only a philosopher, but also a rebel.
All artists are keen observers of the tumultuous journey of life, not afraid to throw themselves into the fray. We all feel the push and pull of life, the rise and fall of emotion and inspiration.
Where artists like Kunwar Viyogi and many before and after him come in — is that they capture and nurture that feeling, that divine spark of humanity, in words –—immortalising portraits of the human condition and their potential.
When we launched the Kunwar Viyogi Memorial Trust in Jammu everyone used to say that Randhir Singh simply encapsulated the idea of what is a home. As I delved deeper into the poem, I found it to be much more than that. It is a haunting, tragic, beautiful and inspiring tribute to the human spirit — words that savour the darkness and light of a bittersweet journey, the amalgamation of memories that make us who we are.
I am working to translate the Dogri poem into English, and here are three of my favourite couplets from ‘Ghar’ which encapsulate the rebellious spirit of the soldier-poet.
A home is neither a roof or walls, nor daughters and sons,
A home is neither a boundary of what we own or memories of relatives and friends,
A home is an incarnation of love, the tune of the heart,
A still, mute, even hallowed mix of brick & mortar — can never be a HOME.
I am neither a warrior, a Rajput, a priest, or a King
My spirit does not belong to any caste or creed,
Even though there is strength in my name, in my deeds, in my path,
In this deceitful, fickle existence — I have no HOME
I do not walk any path to God, faith can't enlighten my stubborn self,
Hindus call me a non-believer, Muslims call me unholy,
Yet I am Viyogi, a devotee of the wandering heart,
My soul belongs to the Goddess of love — who rests beautiful — in my HOME.
(The writer is a senior news editor at CNN-News18. He can be reached at @Jamwalthefirst. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)