While literary accomplishments of Group Captain Randhir Singh popularly known as Kunwar Viyogi in literary circles are many and noteworthy, the Sahitya Akademi awardee’s most unique and path breaking contribution to the language is exposing Dogri literature to the lyrical melody and disciplined form of Sonnets, a relatively new and unexplored genre for Dogri writers.
Also known as the ‘Father of Dogri Sonnets‘, Kunwar Viyogi is credited with penning 600 sonnets in Dogri, English and Hindi. The renowned Dogri poet created his original masterpiece – Pehliyaan Banga, a book of 200 Dogri sonnets at a time when this form of poetry was unheard of in Dogri and was considered a forte of European literature.
The celebrated writer’s genius lies in the fact that he not only introduced this form of literature to Dogri, but also adapted it to the uniqueness of Dogri language. Each sonnet, crafted with such perfection and originality of thought speaks volume of the fine quality of work the poet put in to create his masterpiece.
Viyogi is also the only Indian Air Force officer to have received the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award for his long Dogri poem titled ‘Ghar’ in 1980. He used ‘Ghar’ (Home) as a peg and strung together 238 four lines verse embracing a wide variety of subjects and ideas and feelings into a long poem. He is also the youngest poet in the history of Sahitya Akademi to have been bestowed with such an honour.
While accepting the award, Kunwar Viyogi, then a 40-year-old Air Force officer, sat proudly in his Air Force uniform alongside his contemporaries like renowned poet, Krishna Sobti to accept the award. As his family and friends recall, upon being called out his name, the soldier-poet, in his signature style marched straight up, saluted and accepted his award. While his chest swelled with pride, his eyes gave in to the moment and welled up.
Apart from penning 600 sonnets in Dogri, English and Hindi,Kunwar Viyogi, in his lifetime, is also credited with writing 417 ghazals, 291 poems, 137 rubiyan, 41 kundalis, short compositions, stories and essays.
Kunwar Viyogi’s writing is progressive and thought provoking. His pen captured complexities of societal norms, passion for freedom and self-determination, zest for life, deep compassion for women with such ease and grace that it reflected in his distinctive style of narrative which was free from pretension and replete with simplicity. A magnanimous stream that attempted to introduce new and uninhibited form of literature, ‘Pehliyaan Banga’- a historical achievement in Dogri, was also the poet’s attempt to rid the language of its claustrophobic garb.
Inspired by Shakespeare, Kunwar Viyogi’s sonnets are aesthetically composed, lucid, simple and somber. Diction an important aspect of sonnets has been reined it with such perfection that it captures the essence of each line and quenches a reader’s thirst for rich poetic experience.
Among many of his writings, the poet’s favorite theme is speaking to God – giving Him great power and also time and again questioning his omnipotence, even seeking his approval in his stoic acceptance of fate. There is a recurring theme of accepting God’s verdict. He writes of wringing life worth living out of the dismal bounties he was bestowed. With publishing of these works the poet rose not just in reputation, but elevated the stature of Dogri literature.
Kunwar Viyogi was born on 4 September 1940 in the Samba district to Poorakh Singh Jamwal, who served as an Inspector in the J&K Police Department. His mother, Pushpa Devi was a homemaker and mother to 5 brothers and three sisters. Kunwar Viyogi was the eldest of them all. Most of Kunwar Viyogi’s siblings served the country by either joining the Army or the Air Force. All his sisters were married to defence officers.
Kunwar Viyogi’s childhood was not tied to one place owing to his father’s occupation. He grew up in Gaur Bajorian, Rajouri, Buddal, Kotli (presently in Pakistan), Jammu and Udhampur. He spent a major part of his life in Jammu’s Fattu Chogan area and was inspired by poetry at the tender age of 13. He achieved acclaim for his work published in the magazines Khilona and Shamaa, contributing short stories.
KunwarViyogi received his primary education from primary schools in Gaur, Sarore and Pacca Danga. His middle level education was from the prestigious princely school, Partap Memorial Rajput School in Jammu. He later joined the GGM Science College for higher studies.
Despite financial difficulties at home and lack of guidance that often affected his studies, Kunwar Viyogi did not allow such challenges to deter the creative impulse in him. In 1959, during his student days, Kunwar Viyogi penned a nazam titled “Bholi” that was acclaimed by renowned critic Prashant as one of the best compositions in Dogri. Bholi was published by literary doyen Ved Rahi in periodical Yojana. Kunwar Viyogi served as an editor for the English and Urdu sections of college magazine Tawi.
Kunwar Viyogi was academically very bright. His interest in studies led him to pursue B.Sc, PGDM (Post Graduate Diploma of Management), PGDMC (Post Graduate Diploma of Mass Communication), MBA (Master of Business Administration) and post graduation in Journalism. Kunwar Viyogi was proficient in Dogri, Urdu, Hindi, English and Punjabi. It made his poetry multilayered and rich. His hobbies included playing football and hockey and he actively participated in the events of the Student Union. But his passion continued to be literature.
While pursuing his graduation, Kunwar Viyogi applied for the Defense Forces -Army, Navy, and the Air Force and was selected for all three. He opted for the Air Force and joined the Air Force Flying College for training as a pilot. The nature of his job took him across India and he also got the opportunity to serve as a Squadron Leader in New York for about one and a half years. Though Kunwar Viyogi excelled as an Air Force officer, he took premature retirement due to the untimely demise of his wife who lost her life to breast cancer. He withdrew from the life that he had known with her, moved to Bhilwara, Rajasthan and gave up all his literary musings. He then devoted his time in training students pursuing IAS and MBA. In 1992, Kunwar Viyogi returned to Jammu to find his creative center and joined Kashmir Times as the editor of the Dogri edition. He created some memorable editorials, essays and poems, but once again retreated to Rajasthan, leaving his home and language behind. In 2001, Kunwar Viyogi was conferred the Sahitya Ratan Award by the Nami Dogri Sanstha for his invaluable contribution to Dogri. From 2012-15, he worked to publish and reprint his works and make footsteps back in to the lap of his homeland.
Kunwar Viyogi- The Air Warrior +
Former Wing Commander Carol Kumar recalls Group Captain Randhir Singh as a fearless, sharp and a very meticulous officer. An avid reader, discussion on any issue was a delight with Randhir Singh because he could speak at length on any given issue, be it politics, religion, science or literature, recalls Kumar.
“As an officer, he was administrator of ace quality, punctual and a man everyone could rely on. If you entrusted Randhir with a responsibility, be sure it would be carried out as you wanted it. One of the best qualities in him was that instead of relying on others, he would himself do things and with such perfection that it would take everyone by surprise,” Kumar said.
“It is so rare to come across a person who is a perfect blend of mind, body and matter. He was a very handsome man, an officer with very high standards of work ethics, deep love for his country and someone with a sharp mind that was always hungry for knowledge. You would often find Randhir walking the corridors with a pencil tucked behind his ear. Perhaps that tiny piece of lead was his best friend that brought his thoughts to life.
An officer par excellence, Randhir Singh was a rare gem that the India Air Force is proud of.”
Family Life +
Kunwar Viyogi- The Father +
A thinker, wordsmith, atheist, charmer with unquenchable thirst for knowledge, is how Kunwar Viyogi can be described as best in his personal space. As recalled by his elder daughter Poonam Singh Jamwal, who hero-worshiped her father, Kunwar Viyogi in her words was loved by many and he loved them all, equally, unabashedly and fearlessly. “To us he was our father, our world and had a world in him,” says Poonam.
She recalls, ” My childhood was spent in the richness of Urdu, Dogri and English literature, flowing juxtaposed with popular culture and sound of vociferous exchanges. Romeo Juliet was recited with equal ease as the cancer research, political jingoism was discussed or Depth of Hinduism was delved as Islam was understood and Christianity was explored with naive awe of an intellectual. Like a cuckoo, he sang, nested and flew to sing some more, filling all with his sweet song. Exceptional in every which way, singular in his focus, kind in his engagement. All three of his daughters watched his flight, tied to him with our heartstrings.”