by Vansh Yadav & Adrija Choudhary
Avtar Singh Sandhu – with the pen name ‘Paash’ – is commonly celebrated as one of India’s highly prominent revolutionary poets in contemporary times. Throughout his brief life, he resisted the growing fundamentalism and repression in Punjab. Whilst being a part of the Naxalite Movement, he kept exposing the Khalistanis through poems and articles aimed at busting reactionary propaganda of the religious fanatics. His vehement resistance to religious fanaticism and unapologetic commitment to revolutionary politics eventually culminated in his assassination at the hands of Khalistani terrorists on 23 March 1988.
With time, Paash’s song “Hum ladenge Saathi” (We Will Fight, O Comrade!) has become a popular protest melody among progressive movements resisting the intensifying repression by the Indian regime. The reason for its popularization certainly lies in the song providing all the struggling masses with the quintessential revolutionary optimism and that too, in times where pessimism tends to be dominant.
Paash’s magnum opus ‘Sab ton Khatarnak’ made its way to NCERT’s Hindi syllabus back in 2006. However, in 2017, RSS tried to delete Pash’s poem from the syllabus but their attempt went in vain. This particular instance is more than enough for us to realize the impact and relevance of Pash’s poetry in contemporary times. Even after 35 years of his martyrdom, his words haven’t ceased to be any less pertinent and lively than they were back in his lifetime. Even to this date, the poet manages to flood the hearts of reactionaries with sheer dread and inspires the masses to struggle relentlessly until the end.
Revolutionary Optimism & Paash’s Revolution
After China’s capitalist restoration under Deng Xiaoping in 1978 and the catastrophic collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the world was rampantly fed with narratives around the ‘ultimate victory of capitalism over socialism and Marxism’ and the supposed “End of History”. Apart from the mainstream illusion regarding capitalism’s ultimate victory over socialism, several factions of the international communist movement got gradually infected with the plague of certain defeatist and pessimistic trends. Nevertheless, if history is to be carefully observed, we’d find that such claims about the end of history and the defeat of socialism were hilariously erroneous.
As Marxists, we must understand the indispensability of revolutionary optimism in our world outlook and politics. Marxism allows us to realize that just like any other mode of production, capitalism, too, has its history rather than being the end of history itself. Contrary to this, we can observe various pessimistic and defeatist tendencies prevalent within the various factions of the contemporary left. Nihilism and Anti-Natalism are examples of manifestations of such peculiarly defeatist petty bourgeoise deviations. Instead of analyzing the world through a materialist lens, these trends delve into the root of our suffering through an idealist position and hence conclude that life, essentially and inherently, is miserable. This idealism leads us to falsely attribute capitalism’s misery to human life. As a result, this position wrongly implies that the only solution to our misery is the abolition of human existence itself. But, for any Marxist, this is no conundrum to ponder upon, and instead, we vehemently uphold that the end of our miseries lies in the liberation of humanity from the clutches of the capitalist system.
While revisiting Pash’s poems, one can promptly observe and assess that revolutionary optimism, marxism, and profound adoration for life have consistently been the principal themes of Paash’s work. For him, being a revolutionary and cherishing the joy of human existence is inseparable from each other. In a poem called ‘An Open Letter’ he writes;
“revolution is not a feast, nor is it a show
it is not a river, which through the terrain flows
What it is, is a conflict,
An atrocity-ridden struggle of classes and interests
To kill, or to get killed
And vanquish the hold death holds”
As we read in the excerpt above, Paash attempts to explain the Revolution as poetically as possible, and that too, without surrendering his description to any compromise on its accuracy. He makes a case against the sheer romanticization of revolution by emphasizing that a revolution should not be misinterpreted as a feast or an exhibition, in lieu, it should be understood as it is – in its essence – a violent clash of social classes, where the proletariat class outrightly overthrows the bourgeoisie. He then emphasizes that the revolution will combat and eventually eliminate death; the crux of his elucidation is that he views revolution to be an act that will not only bring about a radical change but will also militantly defend human life – defend it from the crippling inhumane conditions caused by capitalism which horrendously degrades the quality of human life and makes it almost unlivable. A revolution will defend life from the specter of death by preventing uncountable deaths, eliminating hunger, and homelessness, and fostering effective public healthcare.
In a similar manner, Paash ingrains his revolutionary zest in almost every other poem. Every word written by him is an attempt at revolutionizing the reader by instilling a sense of disillusionment in them. His song ‘Hum Ladenge Saathi’ (We Will Fight, O Comrade!) not only provides the people with the zeal to struggle but also with the necessity of the struggle. Today, struggling masses across the nation identify themselves with Paash’s work and find inspiration to relentlessly struggle until there is a need to struggle.
Paash’s Dreams and Capitalist Realism
“The most dangerous is being taken over by dead silence
The lack of yearning
No matter what happens, silently tolerating
To be taken over by routine and monotony
From home to work, and from work to home
The most dangerous is the dying of our dreams “
While expressing his earnest admiration for human life, Paash proceeds to emphasize that mere existence shouldn’t be confused with ‘living’. In ‘Sab ton khatarnak’ ( The Most Dangerous), Paash manages to beautifully stress the necessity to not let our dreams die a cold death. The poem reveals to us that the ordeals of the world we reside in, are certainly cruel, but, surrendering ourselves to the present state of things without dreaming of a better world is a greater tragedy. Albeit, mere dreaming of a better world is not enough, instead, we should initiate our struggle to achieve the reality of this desirable ‘better world’. Paash recognizes that being robbed of your labor (by the means of extraction of surplus value at the hands of capitalists), bearing the torture of policemen, and getting betrayed is undoubtedly devastating but is still not the most treacherous.
In a poem named ‘War & Peace’ Paash writes;
“we who have not fought, oh life
are your utterly deceptive sons”
He strenuously upholds that not waging a struggle against the present state of things is no less than a betrayal of our lives and that to live, is to dream and struggle for a better future – a socialist world. For Paash, being indoctrinated with ‘Capitalist realism’ is way worse than enduring the torment unleashed by capitalism in our times. Moreover, being desensitized to inhumane atrocities, and subordinating human life to capitalist ethics can be considered the death of the individual and the most horrific thing.
Paash’s stance should be perceived as veracious and representative of the revolutionary line. Throughout his life as a poet, the content and style of his poetry took turns and evolved in a captivating manner over time but the essence of his work remained the same. Whilst delving into the class analysis of various defeatist trends prevalent within the communist and progressive movements all across the globe, we can find that such tendencies are a byproduct of middle-class (read: petty-bourgeois) idealism which can be fashionably termed as ‘capitalist realism’. Such defeatism actively serves the interests of the existing status quo and strengthens its hegemony. Furthermore, it robs us of our ability to dream of an objectively better alternative to our present world and consequently eliminates our revolutionary potential.
“What can you do to me?
I am grass, I can overcome everything
I can grow out on every pile”
Considering the relevance of Paash and the enormous zeal his words carry, we can unquestionably agree that he was particularly right to call himself grass in his poem ‘Grass’ – grass that grows upon heaps, even when the buildings and universities are reduced to debris. Grass that grows again and again; grass that is invincible and impossible to be wiped out of existence. His reference to him being grass boils down to the idea that the mere elimination of a revolutionary individual cannot possibly prevent the revolution from occurring.
Vansh Yadav is an undergraduate student in the Sociology department at Ambedkar University, Delhi. His subjects of research interest include history, political economy, and culture.
Adrija Choudhary is a first-year law student at NLU Delhi. Her areas of interest include translation, literature, and law