Babu Rajab Ali

One of you recently sent me a video of a folk group singing Babu Rajab Ali’s long poem, titled Aqal da Baag. It’s like his review of Punjab — people, food, customs, professions, districts, and what not. He summed up everything he could think of that was happening in Punjab.

A treasure of immense historical value, it’s sung in a very gripping way. Without instruments, the ups and downs of the their voices make up for the rhythm. Thank you so much, Tejpal.

I knew Rajab Ali, or Babuji as he was known, but hadn’t read or heard his poetry until now. A friend of mine, a fiction writer, grew up in the same region where Rajab Ali settled after partition. Babuji appears in a couple of his stories. Lost. As someone who’s present but absent. Like a new desi immigrant in the US. Reduced to zero.

Except that Babu Rajab Ali didn’t have a choice, neither did he leave East Punjab voluntarily, not could he go back. Unlike a US visa, you cannot undo a partition. He, they say, never come out of the past. How could he? The man, in 1940, quit a career in civil engineering for the love of Punjabi poetry!

Punjab’s partition didn’t just result in the death of our loved ones, it shattered many a souls too. Beyond repair.

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