Ravinder Ravi: A brief Autobiodata
Pen name: Ravinder Ravi Full name: Ravinder Singh Gill
Father: Prof. Piara Singh Gill Mother: Charanjit Kaur Gill
Date of Birth; March 8, 1938 Place of birth: Sialkot, Pakistan
Ancestral village: Jagat Pur, Near Mokand Pur, District Nawan Shehar, Punjab, India
Wife: Kashmir Kaur Gill Sons: Amritpal & Saihajpal
Daughter-in-laws: Palbinder & Manveen Grand daughters: Manpriya & Mohnaam
Grand sons: Kurbaan, Eimaan & Saagar
I was born on March 8, 1937, in Sialkot, Pakistan. My official date of birth, as recorded in the documents, is March 8, 1938. My father, at that time, was a teacher of Punjabi & Divinity in Murray College, Sialkot.
I received my primary education, in the Urdu medium, in Khalsa Scool, Dholaan wala chowk, near Sialkot Railway Station. I won the District Board Scholarship in grade 4. When I was in grade 5, due to the partition of India and Pakistan, we had to move to our ancestral village Jagat Pur, in district Nawan Shehar.
I became an integral part of my extended family in Jagat Pur and started understanding and enjoying life in a new rural setting that was strikingly different from my urban background.
I completed my Matriculation from Khalsa High School, Sarhal Qazian, a mile and a half from Jagat Pur, in 1952, and joined Lyall Pur Khalsa College, Jalandhar, as F.Sc.(Medical) student. My father, at that time, was a prominent figure and well known teacher of Punjabi and Urdu, in this college. He wanted me to do M.B.B.S. and become a doctor/physician, but I had absolutely no interest in medical sciences. First, I failed in Physics and then in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. My father knew well that I will not fail in the remaining 2 courses of English and Punjabi. He saw the writing on the wall and allowed me to pursue a teaching career. I completed my J.B.T.(Junior Basic Teacher’s Training) from Doaba Khalsa High School, Jalandhar, in April, 1956.
I was appointed, as a primary teacher, in the District Board Primary School, in my own village, Jagat Pur, on May 14, 1956. This school, later on was taken over by the Government and became a Government Middle School. I worked there for the next 8 years or so and involved myself in Bhangra, Folklore, and Kabaddi. I trained my students for successful Bhangra performances and they won many awards. I made my name as a distinguished Kabaddi player, in our area.
I passed Giani(Honours in Punjabi) examination in November, 1956. Thereafter, it was an endless journey of examinations, as a private candidate, while still enjoying the intrigues of the teaching profession. I passed F.A., B.A., M.A(Punjabi) and B.T.(Bachelor of Teaching) examinations, in the follwing 8 or so years.
I became actively involved with the Paryogsheel Lehar (Experimental Movement) in 1961 and the Coffee House, at Jalandhar, was the centre of our activities. During this time, I published my first 2 collections of poetry: “Dil Darya Samundron Doonghe“ & “Bukkal De Vich Chor“, in 1961 & 1963 respectively, and the first collection of my short stories: “Charaavi“ in 1963. I also compiled and edited: “Paryogsheel Kaav-Darpan”, which was published in April, 1964.
According to Dr. Haribhajan Singh, I distinguished myself, as the leading poet of my generation. Principal Sant Singh Sekhon and Dr. Gurcharan Singh wrote the introductions of the first collection of my poetry. Kirpal Singh Kasel, Dr. Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia and Dr. Jeet Singh Seetal wrote the prefaces of my second collection of poetry and it was published by Prof. Mohan Singh, for his outstanding publication firm: the Hind Publishers, Jalandhar. Kulwant Singh Virk, Devinder Satiarthi, Kulbir Singh Kaang and Isher Singh Attari introduced my first book of short stories to the Punjabi readers.
I also founded the first literary association of our village Jagat Pur(Nawan Shehar) under the name of Punjabi Likhari Sabha and organized quite a few literary seminars and functions under its banner. Prof. Mohan Singh, Dr. Jeet Singh Seetal(Director, Bhasha Vibhag, Punjab,Patiala), Dr. Gulwant Singh(the linguist), Isher Singh Attari, Dr. Attar Singh, Dr. Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia, Prof Katar Singh Tar, S.S. Misha and Sukhalvir Singh Hasrat etc. were among the well-known participants. During this time, my friend and poet Mohinder Dosanjh played a key role in the organization of this Sabha, as its first General Secretary.
Towards the middle of 1964, I was transferred to Government Model Secondary School, Jalandhar(Near Teachers’ Training College), for a period of 6 months or so. Famous writer and critic Prof. Avtar Joura and the poet Mrityubodh were among my students, in this school.
I ended up in Government Higher Secondary School, Talwan, district Jalandhar, for teaching English and Punjabi to the Senior Secondary students. I published my poetry book: “Bindoo” in 1965 and completed “Maun Hadse” during my teaching career in Talwan. “Maun Hadse” was published in 1967, when I was in Kenya but the poems, included in it, were written up to December 31, 1966.
I started my teaching career, on May 14, 1956, at a monthly salary of Rupees 97.50 and after obtaining M.A. & B.T degrees; and working for over 10 years, I was getting only Rupees 244.00, per month. This was not enough for a spendthrift like me, who had dreams of touching the skies and do extensive globe-trotting. I tried my best to get a reasonably respectable job in a college or university, but to no avail. At that time, we did not have very many colleges and universities. So, the results were evident.
My friend and story writer Mahram Yaar immigrated to Kenya in 1966, in pursuit of a teaching career. He promised me that he will call me, as soon as possible. So, he did. I, who was fed up with the tightening noose, around my neck, of my heavy handed spending, availed this opportunity, contrary to the wishes of my family and decided to sail to the unknown lands and charter the unchartered waters.
I was married in 1960 and my first son, Amritpal, was born on September 26, 1962. My wife was pregnant, when I left for Kenya, to give me the news of the birth of my second son, Saihajpal, on February 5, 1967, when I arrived in Nairobi.
I travelled by train to Bombay and from there I boarded the ship: “State of Haryana”, on January 21, 1967 and travelled via Karachi and Seychelt to the port of Mombasa, in Kenya. This ship used to be a pride possession of the British India Steam Navigation Company, once, but now it was owned and operated by the Indian government. I paid only 420 Rupees for my 13 days colourful and lively maiden voyage in the Indian Ocean. I wrote my first long and philosophic poem, entitled: “Yathaarath Di Talash Vich” and the short story: “Every Man’s Water” during this voyage. These are, perhaps, the pioneering immigrant or parwasi Punjabi wrirings of my generation. From there on, the life became an endless journey to explore the unknown and the writing went hand in hand with it, as its reflection. Most of my writings achieve their uniqueness from their autobiographical nature, as well as from my love and continuous search for artistic excellence.
I landed in the port of Mombasa, in Kenya, on February 3, 1967 and travelled to Nairobi(Capital of Kenya), by train, on February 5th. Mehram Yaar and Ajit Sat Bhambra were there to give me a warm welcome.I was interviewed, by Mr. J. Katua, the Recruiting Officer of the Ministry of Education, Kenya, on February 6th. and I started teaching in Komothai High School on February 8, 1967. My monthly salary was 1600.00 Kenya Shillings or 1680.00 Indian Rupees. This school was about 22-24 miles from Nairobi. I taught English Language, English Literature, British Constitution, African and European History to the O’ Level students, to start with, but finally I became the Senior English teacher and Head of the English Department. 4 years prior to leaving for Canada, I was appointed as the Deputy Headmaster of the Komothai High School. My monthly salary, at that time, was 2680.00 Kenya Shillings or 2814.00 Indian Rupees.
Ajaib Kamal followed me, in 1967, and he started teaching, in Ofafa Jericho Secondary School in Nairobi, under the Principalship of Ajit Sat Bhambra. Mehram Yaar, at that time, was teaching in Thika, which was about 24-25 miles from Nairobi. Some traditional writers, singers and people from the media like Sohan Singh Josh, Deedar Singh Pardesi, Chaman Lal Chaman and Pritam Singh Chagger etc. were also living in Nairobi, at that time. In this way, Nairobi, like the Coffee House of Jalandhar, became the centre of our literary activities, on every weekend and during vacations. The difference being, that now we either met in the bars, pubs, dance clubs, hotels, resorts, restauraunts or someone’s house or home.
Kenya gave a new dimension to my literature. I travelled extensively in Africa, Europe, Scandanavia, England, Scotland, the U.S.A. and the Middle East during my stay in Kenya. I had the opportunity to visit the stage productions of the classic and Avant Garde dramas in London and Europe. I visited and met with the homeless and drug addicts of the Western countries. My experience and vision became broader and wider, every day. Based on my latest writings in Kenya, the literary critics, back in India, started labelling me as a writer with cosmic and global consciousness.
I visited England and France, for the first time, in August, 1968. Ajaib Kamal and Ajit Sat Bhambra also accompanied me. We flew from Embakasi airport in Nairobi, Kenya, to Heathrow airport in London, England, in a propeller plane.. During this return flight we had an opportunity to pass through Cairo, Rome and Zurich. It was a fascinating experience to witness diversity of cultures in the context of fundamental and universal human values. We visited Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford & Cambridge universities, Tower of London, Thames bridge, Madam Tussad‘s wax and other museums and a lot of other places. We travelled by car, underground railway(Tube) and transit buses from one end of England to the other end. I could see the wealth of India invested in England. The exploitation of the British colonial rule, in India, was very evident here. The racist remarks of the white supremacist political leader Enoch Powel were the talk of the day in England. I wrote 2 short stories: “Masheenaan Te Aatam-heen Hundey Viyakti” and “Apradh-Mukt” along with a number of poems reflecting my experiences in England.
I, Ajaib Kamal, Ajit Sat Bhambra and the editor of the Punjabi weekly: “Des Perdes”(England), Tarsem Singh Purewal, travelled, by car, to Paris and Southern France. We crossed the English Channel from the English port of Dover and enjoyed the scenic beauty of the rural France.
Punjabi novelist Col. Narinderpal Singh was stationed in Paris, at that time, as a Military Attache of the Government of India. He was living in a very decent villa in Paris with his wife poet Prabhjot and 2 daughters Anupama and Nirupama. He had made our reservations in the “Family Hotel”, which was just across the river Seine and at a walking distance from the Eiffle Tower. He took us to every possible place, in his Mercedes car, that we could imagine. We were impressed by the French culture, art, entertainment, museums, churches, universities and other places of tourist attraction. Delila, the heroine of my short story, entitled: “Paris Di Kuri”, stayed with us during this time and she was instrumental in taking us to the night clubs, Lido shows, Latin Quarters and other forbidden places (by Indian standards) of interest. Apart from the aforementioned story, I also wrote quite a number of poems, such as “Eiffel Tower” and “Seine Nadi De Kandhey” etc. about my experiences in France.
During my stay in Kenya, apart from writing remarkable poetry, I wrote some of my best short stories such as: “Ander Val Khulda Booha”, “Anhera, Euclyptus Te Agg”, “Hum Chhin”’, “Maili Pustak”, “Shehar Vich Jungle”, Killaan”, “Nyakeranga”, “Jioo Rahey Marey Hoye Pal”, “Pith Di Saanjh”, “Jal Main Kamal Alep”, “Pagal Kaun?”, and “Batwara”, just to name a few. Some of my poems and stories were published in the famous Hindi magazines entitled “Sarika” and “Gyan-uday”. My literature, was extensively translated in to other languages of the world, during this period of my literary career.
I published 4 collections of poetry and 4 of short stories during my 8 years stay in Kenya. With the publication of my first verse-play entitled: “Beemar Sadi”, I once again became a centre of controversy in India. It was an off-beat play written without any inhibition. The people felt threatened with its bold and uninhibited open style and said that the problem presented in this play is a Western problem and it has nothing to do with the Indian scene or reality. This was a colossal play of cosmic and global dimensions. It was rich in symbolism, latest techniques of the stagecraft , dramatic effects and poetry. The then Indian Punjabi theatre was no match for it. It was staged extremely successfully in 1976, by Dr. Surjit Singh Sethi, in Patiala. Pritam Singh Dheendsa and Subhash Puri soon followed Dr. Sethi to extend the dimensions of this play by staging it for varying Punjabi audience in distant and diverse places. This play was prescribed, at M.A. level, as a course of studies, for the university students of Amritsar, Patiala and Delhi universities.
Dissertations were also written on it. At this time, the critics in Punjab and India feel that what I published in 1974, is now relevant to the Indian situation, where, like the West, the use of drugs, sex, crime, scientific criminality, technological fraud and psychological complexes are becoming the order of the day. 34 years after the publication of this play, some of my friends have, now, started to address me as a visionary.
I got the opportunity to immigrate to the United States in 1971. I spent some time in England and Europe and then landed in New York. From there, I flew to Cleveland in Ohio state. I travelled, extensively, in Ohio, with my friend, who was also unemployed at that time, in search of a job, but in vain. Finally, I flew back to Kenya prior to the opening of the schools after Terminal vacations. There was 12.5% unemployment in Ohio, at that time. I started my life from zero, once again. All the financial resources, that I had, were exhausted, during this wild goose chase. I wrote 2 short stories entitled: “Haathi De Dand” and “Chakkervue” about my experiences in the U.S.A. and England, respectively. Quite a few poems were also written during this time.
In 1974, I, once again, got the opportunity to immigrate to Canada. By that time, my 2 brothers Jang & Raj as well as Jang’s wife Kanwal had joined me in Kenya in pursuit of a teaching career and they were very successful, as teachers. In Kenya, we were working on a renewable one or 2 years’ Work Permit. We could not stay there as permanent residents or citizens. That is why every one was trying to get out of Kenya and seek a permanent settlement in another country. Ajaib Kamal and Mehram Yaar tried, but they could not get immigrant visas. My friends and family members urged me to resign and say good bye to Kenya for ever. I loved Kenya as a country. It was known as the Switzerland of Africa, at that time.
It was the day of Mohammed Ali and George Foreman’s fight on October 31, 1974, when I boarded the flight to London, England via Middle East and Europe. After visiting the places of interest in these countries, I finally took the flight to Vancouver, Canada, on December 14, 1974, reaching there the same day. My journalist friend and Punjabi poet Gurdial Kanwal, who was also my student in Jagat Pur for one year, was there to receive me with open arms, alongwith Dr. Gurumel.
Based on my qualifications and experience, getting the Professional Teaching Certificate from the Ministry of Education, British Columbia(Canada), was no problem. I had a good interview and I was certified to teach in B.C. I sent 500 applications. No body said no, but no body gave me a job. This is the first time in my life, when I was a useless unemployed person. Although, I kept myself busy in studying the North American and Canadian cultures from a close range by becoming an active participant in their social activities. Such things, in these countries, often happen in bars, pubs, night clubs, brothels and in the streets that are infested with the homeless and the sex-trade workers. This leisurely involvement gave me a good understanding of the problems that these societies are either facing or will be facing in the near future.
These experiences with the first hand knowledge became the foundation stone of my next 3 plays: “Dar Deewaaraan“, Adhi Raat Dupehar“ and “Chowk Naatak”, written in 1981, 1983 and 1984 respectively.
These are much talked about plays in the Punjabi theatre circles, in India. “Chowk Naatak” was staged by Dr. Surjit Singh Sethi in Mumbai and Goa. Subhash Ghai also staged it in Punjab, very many times.
Anyway, I could not get a teaching job until January 12, 1976. My friend, Mehar Singh Rahi, called me to Terrace and got me a job in the Pohle Lumber Mill, in the grave yard shift(12 A.M. to 8 A.M.), as a member of the Clean Up Crew. It was a hard but well paid job and my first manual labour in my entire life, up to that time. Mehar’wife Devinder and her cousin Harcharanjit encouraged me every day and acted as my guides and cheer leaders. .After 28 days, the Mill was shut down by a strike of the mill workers demanding better wages and working conditions. I was unemployed, once again. A friend Sohan Singh Sandhu, mason by trade, got a contract to renovate someone’s house in Prince Rupert. He hired me and Harcharanjit as helpers in this construction job. After 8 days of very hard physical labour, 3 of us were fired. The remaining easier work was given, by the owner of the house, to the boyfriend of his sister.
I and Harcharanjit had become drinking buddies. Iqbal Parmar, who was also unemployed, joined us. We visited the Skeena Pub and Hanky Panky Bar alongwith other Bars of Terrace, on a regular basis for drinking beer and passing time. We drank good old and expensive Scotch whiskies at home. It was during one of these marathon drinking sessions that one day, I woke up with quite a hangover, due to the overdose of Chivas Regal, that I and Harcharanjit landed in the office of School District#92(Nisga’a), which at that time was situated in Terrace. I looked at the Principal, Herb Fader and the School Board Trustee, Alvin Mckay, from behind my dark sun glasses, with blood shot eyes, while answering their questions. It was an instant interview to fill their instant need for a substitute teacher, for one month. Some one was on leave of absence for one month. I accepted the job and by sheer chance, I landed in the Elementary School at New Aiyansh, in the Nass Valley, as a grade 7 teacher, teaching all courses. My term was extended for 2 more months and then for 3 more months, up to June 3o, 1976, the end of the school year.
The new Secondary school was under construction, at that time, in New Aiyansh. It was scheduled to start in September, 1976. I was the first teacher to be hired, to teach English and Social Studies, in this school.
I was also the first to choose a new teacherage, to live in, as well. I came here for only 1 month but I ended up working and living here for 27.5 years. I retired from the teaching profession and from School District No. 92, Nisga’a, on July 1, 2003, to become a full time writer.
In the beginning, I taught English, History and Geography to the secondary students. As more staff became available, I became a Senior English teacher and my assignment was to teach English Language, English Literature, Writing for the Media and Creative Literary Writing to grade 11 & 12 students. I also became head of the English and Social Studies Departments. After almost 10 years in this job, I was appointed to the position of District Resource Centre Coordinator and I continued part-teaching Research Skills to the students of the whole School District.
Like Kenya, as an English teacher, my job was to teach George Bernard Shaw, William Shakespeare, Henrik Ibsen, Kafka, Jean Pal Sartre, Albert Camus, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings, Robert Frost, Alan Ginzberg, D.H. Lawrence, Al Purdy, Leonard Cohen, Coleridge, George Orwell, James Joyce, Virginia Wolf, Becket, Brecht, Sam Shepard, Blake, Auden, Spender, Yates, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Neitsze,Hegel, Milton, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn, Dostovysky, Margaret Atwood, Tennessee Williams, Albert Albee, Simone De Beauvoir, Nevil Shute, Gunter Grass, Wordsworth, Lord Tennyson, Lord Byron, Robert Browning, Kingsley Amis, Kazan Zakas, Alan Paton, Chinua Achebe, James Ngugi and a host of other world famous and Canadian writers and thinkers, by using audio-visual aides and multimedia. It was fun and it always filled me with immense creative energy that inspired me to look forward and keep moving. I have been reading quality literature, teaching literature, writing, breathing and living literature throughout my teaching career. It proved to be a great asset for keeping up with the freshness, uniqueness, novelty and continuity of my own literature.
In New Aiyansh, I started a quarterly literary student magazine: “Wind Song” and a monthly newspaper: “Kali’ aks News”(The River News), to give my students the hands-on training in these areas. A selection of poetry from the “Wind Song” magazine was published, in paperback, under the title: “Wind Song”. The sales from this book generated enough funds for an annual “Wind Song Scholarship” of $500.00, which was given to a top graduating student-writer, for post-secondary education. A second paperback anthology of student poetry was published under the title of “Wind Song-2”. The “Wind Song Scholarship” was still running, when I left the teaching profession in 2003. Such ventures give a feeling of contentment and awareness of unique accomplishments in a profound profession like teaching.
In September, 1991, I was elected as the President of the Nisgha’a Teachers’ Union, for a one year term. I was elected again the following year… and the following year again. It became a full time job. My members kept on electing me to this position, by acclamation, year after year, until my retirement on July 1, 2003. I was a member of the Local Presidents’ Advisory Council in theBritishColumbiaTeachers’Federation(Our Provincial body) during my tenure as a local president. I was an active participant in the Trade Union movement and I fought hard for the rights of the teachers and for better working conditions for them.
During my stay in Canada, I have written and published 9 verse-plays, 11 collections of Punjabi poetry with one each in English and Hindi., 3 collections of short stories, 1 travelogue, 1 literary autobiography, 2 books of prose and 2 books of literary criticism. I have compiled, edited and published various anthologies of literature. My works have been published in various languages of the world.
10 of my verse-plays, a selection of 50 short stories, 3 collections of poetry and one selection of poetry have been published in Pakistan, in Shah Mukhi alphabet. Some of my literary works were prescribed, as a course of studies, for the Master’s students of the Quaid-E-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan.
It was a pleasant surprise to know, during my January-March, 2006 visit to India and Pakistan, that some of my books were prescribed, as courses of studies, for the M.A. students, in various universities of India e.g. “Man De Haani” in Punjabi University, Patiala, “Chowk Naatak” in Punjab University, Chandigarh and “Apne Khilaaf” in Delhi University, Delhi. 3 Ph.D. degrees, on my literature, have been completed in Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar and Delhi University, Delhi. Quite a number of M.Phil. degrees, on my literature, have also been completed in Punjabi University, Patiala, G.N.D. University, Amritsar and Delhi University, Delhi. Quite a number of aforementioned degrees are currently in progress in these universities. My plays are a subject of research, alongwith the plays of other playwrights, for Nighat Khursheed,
a Ph. D. student of the Punjab University, Lahore, Pakistan.
Towards the end of my teaching career, I developed some serious heart problems that needed immediate attention. On September 24, 2003, I had my first open heart surgery that included double heart bypass and a Mitral valve replacement. The original biological valve was replaced with a mechanical valve. On November 12, 2004, I went through another heart surgery known as Thoracotomy and Pericardial Window. The third heart surgery included Pericardiectomy and it was done on September 13, 2006. It was followed by a groin surgery, to fix a leaking artery, on September 21, 2006. Cardioversion was done on November 28, 2006 to fix arythmia and flutter. It was quite an ordeal but not without a lot of learning and appreciation for the medical profession. All these surgeries and procedures were performed in the world famous,
St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, Canada.
During this difficult period, I kept on travelling whenever I got the opportunity. I travelled to England and Scotland in 2005 and to India & Pakistan via Frankfurt, in 2006. In May, 2007, I toured England, Switzerland and France, once again. I visited Toronto and Niagra Falls in Eastern Canada, once again, in September-October, 2007 and toured the Eastern U.S.A. to visit Detroit(Michigan), Atlanta(Georgia), Julia Falls(Tennessee) and Birmingham(Alabama). Martin Luther King was born in Atlanta. It is also the birth place of the beverage Coca Cola and hosts the famous tv news channel: CNN.
New additions to the second edition of “Restless Soul”
This second edition of the “Restless Soul” has been revised, edited and updated.
The following new features have been added to this second edition:
Ravinder Ravi: A brief Autobiodata
Eight new poems:
Boat in a Whirlpool
Time, You and I
Talking Sweet Nothings
Ravinder Ravi and the Literary Critics
Appendix: A list of my publications and other pertinent information are given in this section
I strongly believe that good and unique poetry stands the test of time and can be enjoyed, as an art form, long after it was written.
116 – 3530 Kalum Street, Terrace, B.C., Canada V8G 2P2 March 8, 2008
Telephone: (250) 635 4455 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org