Return to the earth

Ajit Sat-Bhambra fondly remembers an old friend and gifted poet who had a simple and comforting philosophy of life

Dr Mohan Singh Ludhianvi – known more widely by his pen name, Sathi – would have been 78 on February 1 this year. Sadly, he did not make it to that birthday as he passed away at London’s Hillingdon Hospital on Thursday 17 January, succumbing to the lung cancer that had beset but never cowed him.

Even at the last, when I visited him on the Sunday before his death, some of the old Sathi remained, though the illness had taken its toll and he was in pain. As I approached his bedside, I greeted him with one of his own favourite phrases: ‘How are you, young man?’

He opened his eyes and, with a broad smile, asked me, ‘So, the next seminar is on February 5?’ It was typical Sathi – smiling and focusing on the future, even as he must have known that his own time was running out.

Perhaps it was the poet in him that made him face death – and life – with such composure. Sathi was the author of 20 books, both verseand prose, as well as a veteran broadcaster at Sunrise Radio and Punjab Radio, and an articulate, enthusiastic communicator.

We first met in 1968 when I was visiting Britain from Kenya. I was with two friends, Ajaib Kamal and Ravinder Ravi, and the three of us– all poets – went to see TersamPurewal, who at that time ran the weekly Punjabi newspaper Des Pardes from Stroud. Sathi lived nearby andwhen he popped in to see Tersam, he ended up inviting Ajaib, Ravinder and me for a drink at a local pub. We sat there for hours reciting our poems and giving each other feedback. It is one of my most precious memories of Sathi.

His writing was widely admired and I later learned from the politician Jagjit Singh Anand, whose father-in-law published the Punjabi language magazine PreetLari, that Sathi was the only UK-based writer whose work appeared in that publication.

Other poets, in particular, enjoyed and often sought out his company. In 1972, when the famous poet Amrita Pritam was staying with me, Sathi invited her and my family to his home. Amrita was delighted to accept. He was also a good friend of the poet and broadcaster ChamanLalChaman.

When I began my own weekly newspaper Sandeshin 1972,Sathi approached me with a view to joining the team.I knew he would have been an asset but unfortunately my partner on the paper, Jandawlbi, did not agree – possibly due to a sense of rivalry with Sathi, and a simmering jealousy at his success.

Despite this, Sathi and I remained friends throughout his life, which I am thankful for. As well as respecting him as a poet, I liked him as a man: he was straightforward and honest, and what you saw with Sathiwas what you got.

He was also easy going and not quick to take offence. For example, when he asked to interview me a few months ago for MATV about my life in Kenya, I agreed on condition that he did not interrupt me – a shortcoming of many poets I have known. He simply agreed with a grin, and was as good as his word.

A fitting end to this tribute should surely come from Sathi himself, from one of his best known poems that became a popular song by Didar Pardesi:

Hasde hasde ik din

Dandiyo tut jan ge

Jis mitti cho janme

Us vich muk jan ge

We will drop down

One day with a laugh,

Mix with the earth

From which we were born

Now he has returned to that earth where he still, in his way, forms part of life’s great cycle. He leaves behind his wife Yashbir and son Navi, as well as five grandchildren.

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