Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir

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The portrait of Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir by R M Singh which was unveiled by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on December 22, 2008

Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir(15 January 1899-18 January 1976), poet and politician, was born the son of Bhai Bhagat Singh on 15 January 1899 at Adhval, in Campbellpore district, now in Pakistan. Gurmukh Singh attended the village primary school and went to the city of Rawalpindi to pass the middle school examination.

He trained as a junior vernacular teacher and took up, in 1918, appointment at Khalsa High School, Kallar, where Master Tara Singh , who later became famous as a political leader, had been the headmaster during 1914-16.

His four years there as a teacher earned him the epithet Giani, 'Musafir' being the pseudonym he had adopted. Young Gurmukh Singh had been much affected by the massacres at Jalliarivala (13 April 1919) and at Nankana Sahib (20 February 1921) and, in 1922, he gave up teaching to plunge into the Akali agitation for gurudwara reform. He composed poetry full of patriotic fervour and recited it with gusto at Sikh divans. For taking part in the Guru ka Bagh agitation in 1922, he underwent imprisonment.

Akal Takhat and politics

Side by side with his involvement in religious reformation, he started taking interest in nationalist politics and courted arrest in the Civil Disobedience launched by the Indian National Congress in 1930.

The same year he was appointed head of Sri Akal Takht, central seat of religious authority for the Sikhs. He held this office from 12 March 1930 to 5 March 1931. He also served for a time as secretary of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee as well as general secretary of the Shiromani Akali Dal.

He went to jail again in Satyagrah (193941) and Quit India (194245) movements. He became president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee in 1949. He was also a member of the AllIndia Congress Working Committee.

He was elected a member of the Lok Sabha successively in 1952, 1957 and 1962. He did not complete his last term in the Lok Sabha and resigned in 1966 to take over as chief minister of the reorganized state of the Punjab. On 28 March 1968, he re-entered Parliament, this time as a member of the Rajya Sabha.

Writer and Poet

An active politician throughout his life, Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir also won renown as a poet and writer. His published works include nine collections of poems Sabar de Ban, Prem Ban, Jivan Pandh, Musdfaridn, Tutte Khambh, Kdv Sunehe, Sahaj Sell, Vakkhrd Vakkhrd Katrd Katrd and Dur Nere; eight of short stories Vakkhn Duma, Ahlane de Bot, Kandhdn Bol Paidn; Satdl Janvari; Allah Vale, Gutdr, Sabh Achchhd, and Sastd Tamdshd; and four biographical works Vekhid Sunid Gdndhi, Vekhid Sunid Nehru, BaghlJamail and Vthvin Sadi de Shahid.

He represented Indian writers at international conferences at Stockholm in 1954, and at Tokyo in 1961. He was posthumously decorated with Padma Vibhushan, the second highest national award. Strikingly handsome, with a flowing white beard setting off his statuesque, glowing face, Gurmukh Singh Musafir was well known for hisjoie de vivre, his style and humour. He had a huge capacity for laughter.

A relaxing nature

He fully enjoyed the experience of living and had mastered the art of being happy. He got on with people of all ages and occupations. He was genial, humble and utterly guileless. He was above malice. He had undergone severe privation in life, but this left no trace of bitterness in him. He was exempt from intrigue.

In politics, the highest positions came to him, but he never manoeuvred for any. He was unambitious, yet he was from the beginning assured of his direction and identity. This was the secret of his strength and success.

Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir died in Delhi on 18 January 1976.


In the news

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unveiling portraits of prominent Indians, including Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir, at the Central Hall of Parliament on December 22, 2008.

Politician on wings of poesy

Poet, teacher and politician, Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir was all that and more. He epitomised a generation of leaders who came into the world of politics as a logical extension of the task they had undertaken when they joined the freedom struggle.

Musafir was Jathedar of Sri Akal Takht for a brief period and also General Secretary of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. Later, along with a number of Akali leaders, he joined the Congress party and was President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, a member of the Congress Working Committee, Chief Minister of Punjab and a Member of Parliament.

Gurmukh Singh was the son of Sujan Singh. He was born on January 15, 1899 at Adhval, in Campbellpore district, now in Pakistan. He became a teacher at the age of 19, he passed Honours in Punjabi while in service, and this earned him the title Giani. ‘Musafir’ was a takhallus, nom-de-plume.

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the Nankana Sahib incident in which many Sikh pilgrims were killed left a deep impact on the young man and he got so involved in the gurdwara reform movement that he gave up teaching.

He recited patriotic poems that he had composed at Sikh gatherings. He was imprisoned for his role in the Guru-ka-Bagh agitation in 1922, when Sikhs had launched a peaceful protest against a mahant. Later that year, he was appointed Jathedar of Sri Akal Takht, (March 12, 1930 to March 5, 1931). He also briefly held the post of Secretary, SGPC, and General Secretary, Shiromani Akali Dal.

While we focus on the activist, we must not forget the writer, and as Principal Teja Singh once wrote: “With his vast experience, Gurmukh Singh Musafir draws his stories from life itself. He tells about suffering with a pen dipped in blood. And the paper on which he inscribes his tale gets lacerated.”

The experience included much incarceration. Musafir also courted arrest in the Civil Disobedience programme that the Indian National Congress started in 1930.

Musafir was imprisoned from 1939-41 and 1942-45 for his involvement in the Satyagrah and Quit India agitations. The imprisonments took their toll. Musafir’s father died when he was in prison. He could not even attend the last rites of an infant son, his grief at the death of Rajinder Kaur, his 19-year-old daughter, came out in the form of a poignant short story, Baghi di dhee which was later made into a film.

In his book on Musafir, the eminent writer Kartar Singh Duggal, says: “Gianiji’s greatest support in life was his wife (Ranjit Kaur) — a lady cast in a heroic mould. But for her, he could never have involved himself the way he did in the freedom struggle. She suffered trails and tribulations but did not wince for a moment. During his repeated absences from home, she looked after the family, brought up and educated the children the best she could. There were days when there was not enough to eat. There were days when the children had to be removed form their schools for non-payment of fees.”

Once as he was arrested, a bystander taunted him about his duties regarding his wife and children. That very night, in prison, Musafir write the moving poem on his wife: Jindi rahe mere bachian di maan.

Musafir had five sons—Mandev, Parmdev, Sachdev live abroad. Jaidev and Jatinder Dev have passed away.

In 1947, he became president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee and was made member of the All-India Congress Working Committee, a position he retained for 12 years.

He was elected a member of the Lok Sabha successively in 1952, 1957 and 1962. He did not complete his last term in the Lok Sabha and resigned in 1966 to take over as Chief Minister of the reorganised state of Punjab on November 1, 1966 for a short while. Musafir re-entered Parliament, this time as a member of the Rajya Sabha 68-74, and for the second term thereafter.

All through his life, he continued writing and his published works include nine collections of poems— Sabar de Ban, Prem Ban, Jivan Pandh, Musafarian, Tutte Khamb, Kav Sunehe, Sahaj Seti, Vakkhra Vakkra Katra Katra and Dur nere; eight of short stories Vakkhri Duniya, Ahlane de Bol, Kandhan Bol Paian, Satai Janvari, Allah Vale, Gutar, Sabh Achcha, and Sasta Tamasha; and four biographical works Vekhia Sunia Gandhi, Vekhia Sunya Nehru, Baghi Jarnailand Vihin Sadi de Shahid.

He represented Indian writers at International conferences at Stockholm in 1954, and at Tokyo in 1961. He was a good speaker, with a considerable stage presence, as a result of which he was much in demand.

Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir died in Delhi on January 18, 1976. He was posthumously decorated with Padma Vibhushan, and his book of short stories, Urwar – Par won the Sahit Akademy Award, again posthumously.

A trust, named after him, was set up in his memory that very year and it has a memorial in the shape of a 260-seat auditorium with a small library and reading room in Sector 24, Chandigarh.

The trust also published all his literary works in four volumes in 1999, which marked the centenary of his birth. A commemorative stamp on him was issued in 2002.

His only surviving daughter, Mrs Joginder Sant, lives in Chandigarh. She is General Secretary of the trust. She has kept the flame of Musafir’s memory alive, and had sent a proposal to the Speaker, Lok Sabha for the installation of portrait of Musafir in Parliament in 2003.

In time, the well-known artist Rahi Mohinder (R M) Singh was commissioned and he “captured the essence of my father’s personality,” says Mrs Sant. The Rahi who painted Musafir has a special affinity for his subject—both have adopted a takhallus that has the same meaning—traveller.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unveiled the portrait, along with those of Biplabi Leela Roy, Babu Veer Kunwar Singh, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Swaran Singh and Shaheed Jayee Rajguru in Central Hall, Parliament House, in New Delhi on December 22.

  • Note: This article has some more details that the one that was published in The Tribune on December 25.


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