Naz’s Biography


Love’…. ‘Ishq’… is the key to success. Success may mean different things to different people but for Harnam Singh ‘Naz’ it meant only ‘Love’ ….’Ishq’ for Punjabi Drama, Punjabi Literature and Punjabi Culture.
The doors to his humble home were always open, welcoming Punjabi writers, poets and stage actors, any time of the day or night. The visitors were always served food (whatever was available at that moment in the house), with love and affection. Though living in Bombay, at heart, he remained a villager from Punjab, whose love and passion for his soil was eternal. His heart always bled empathetically for the cause of the commoner and this reflects in his poetry and short stories.
Harnam Singh Naz was born on 17th March 1926, in Singapore, to Jawal Kaur and Sardar Jagat Singh Sandhu. His father, then serving in the Malay army as “Havaldhar”, retired on pension, shifting the family back to their native village ‘Sirhali’, near Tarn Taran, district Amritsar. The village was also conferred with the unenviable sobriquet of ‘Choranwali Sirhali for a number of reasons based on some folktales.
‘Sirhali’ was blessed by the visit of three Sikh Gurus, namely Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Hargobind and Guru Teg Bahadur. The village has also produced great souls like Sant Baba Tara Singh who carried out ‘Kar Sewa’ of several historical gurdwaras. He was also the moving spirit behind the establishment of Guru Gobind Singh Khalsa College, Sirhali, the only National Accreditation Academic Council in the countryside. The villagers are also proud of the freedom fighter Baba Gurdit Singh, of Komagata Maru, who inflamed passions in the Indian revolutionary organisation, the Ghadar Party to rally support for its aims.
With so many inspiring role models to follow in his back yard, with an environment conducive to the development of a young mind exposed to the great deeds of these legendary personalities the ideology and sacrifices of these great men had a lasting impression on him. It had a huge influence on his thinking and on his life, which he later expressed in his writing.
He played hockey for his school and went on to play up to the district level. He remained an ardent fan and follower of the game and was among the first few to be seen in the stands at Bombay Hockey Association Ground at Church Gate, when he moved to Bombay.
He matriculated from the G N Khalsa School in the village and went to Lahore for his higher studies but had to leave during the partition. He later graduated with a degree in ‘Gaini’ from Khalsa College Amritsar. He worked in the Public Health department of the Punjab Government till 1948 and then migrated to Bombay – his ‘Karm Bhumi’. He joined the Railways as a Ticket collector.
He was impressed by the Marxist ideology and joining the like-minded in Bombay, worked underground for the movement, like other comrades. He came in contact with Balraj Sahni, a comrade, and other writers. They would regularly meet in Khalsa College, Matunga or other places to discuss literature and Marxism. He worked for the Communist Party and took active part in V K Krishna Menon’s election in North-east Bombay in 1966. But later, he got disillusioned with politics and spent more time writing and bringing up his family.
In the 1950’s, the Communist movement was at its peak and he participated and was actively involved in the agitations. He was arrested along with other comrades during an agitation and put into Nasik Jail, where his relationship with Balraj Sahni grew stronger. He was deeply pained and heartbroken, when Balraj Sahni passed away at a very young age.
While in Nasik jail, his first wife Surjit Kaur, from the village ‘Sur Singh’ near Tarn Taran, expired, leaving behind his six year old daughter, Nirmal Kaur. He got married again, in 1953, to Gurcharan Kaur from the village Raipur, near Nava Pind, in Amritsar.
He left his job in the Railways in 1959 to join Punjabi journalism in Bombay. He started writing for Preet Lahri, Arsee and other Punjabi magazines. He has edited Chetna, Jeevan, Punjabi Samachar, Prem Sandesh, Subhagwati weekly and Gurmat Marg, a Punjabi monthly. He was also the Chief Editor of Ranjit, a weekly Punjabi newspaper published in Bombay by Ranjit Singh Johar.
His association with other writers in Bombay grew and many a times, they would meet on week-ends to discuss literature at his residence on the hill in Bhandup, a suburb in the north-east of Bombay. His wife lovingly cooked Aloo Parathas, Saag and Makai rotis, for the gathering, which was relished by all. Young turbaned Sampuran Singh ‘Gulzar’ had also visited him during the early days of his struggle. His bonding with Balraj Sahni was so strong that when he was hospitalised, Balraj Sahni came to see him in the hospital. Before leaving, Balraj Sahani quietly slipped an envelope with cash under his pillow, taking care not to hurt the self-respect of his friend, a ‘Maja da Jat’. Balraj Sahni also came to bless his son Balvinder Singh Sandhu on the occasion of his Turban ceremony.
He, along with Balraj Sahni, Santosh Sahni, Manmohan Krishnan, H S Bhatti and others, founded ‘Punjabi Kala Kendra’ for the development of Punjabi literature and drama, and also to inculcate Punjabi culture in Generation Next so that they are aware and well versed with their cultural roots.
He wrote two plays in ballad form, ‘Heer Ranjha’ and ‘Mirza Sahiban’. Choreographed by Sudrashan Dhir and set to music by Prem Dhavan, they were a big hit. The great Prithviraj Kapoor, was the chief guest and praised all for conducting such a fantastic ballad in Punjabi in Bombay. He produced a play, Mahant Charan Dass’s ‘Kal Aj Te Phalke’, written by Dr. Gurcharan Singh and directed by Amritpal. He was an ardent admirer of Dr. Gurcharan Singh, for his contribution to the Punjabi stage. ‘Manna Singh Baag Wich’ and ‘Chamkor de Garhde’, plays by Balwant Gargi, were successfully staged in Bombay, when he was the Honorary Secretary of the Punjabi Kala Kendra.
He had high regard for the writings and contributions of Sadu Singh Hamdard, Birjinder Singh, Dan Sigh Komal, Amrita Pritam, Sukhbir, Devinder Satyarathi, Pritam Bali and others. He encouraged, guided and motivated many young poets and they would visit him with their writing to discuss and ask for suggestions. He also had a great regard for Makhan Singh, a multi-talented personality, stage actor, script writer and director who worked as a secretary to Balraj Sahni and also had high regards for Amritpal, another talented stage and film actor, directed plays.
In the 1970’s, he became an LIC agent at the 921 PM Road branch, and won appreciation and awards for his work. He also tried his hand at business with the financial help of his college friend Sardar Joginder Singh, who was like a brother to him, but got duped by his relative from the village, whom he had trusted and helped to get established in Bombay. His family had to struggle to clear the losses, but this experience did not deter him from helping many who came from Punjab. Now, even the children of those whom he helped, are grateful and remember him with pride and acknowledge his contribution to their family. He believed that a relationship of the heart is thicker than that of blood and during his life time, he had many such relationships.
He wrote poetry, short stories and articles of literary criticism in Punjabi which were acclaimed by readers. Basically, he was a poet with his own unique style, with rich chaste Punjabi idiom and vocabulary. A poet from a Punjabi village, he had undergone a process of transformation into a Poet of city life. He also translated an Urdu novel of Rajinder Singh Bedi, ‘Eke Cheddar Malisi’, into Punjabi, called ‘Eke Chador Adoo Rani’ and it won an Award from Punjabi Sahitya Academy. ‘Nazo’ his first book of poetry was published in 1966, his elder son nicknamed ‘Nazo’ for his elder daughter. He has to his credit, three books of short stories and six books of poems.
He expired on 11th July, 1985 in the hospital, on the night after meeting his friend Sukhbir, a renowned Punjabi writer. He instructed everyone that he was not to be disturbed as his friend has come to see him and thus ended up spending time discussing Punjabi literature as usual till his last breath. He contributed greatly to Punjabi literature with his expertise. He wrote an essay on ‘Maot’… ‘Death’ a few days before he departed on his journey to his heavenly abode; a good soul, who lived a life of struggle but never refused to provide a helping hand to others; a visionary, an inspiration and an unsung hero who never lost hope despite all the challenges in his life.
He received awards for his contribution to LIC but did not get the recognition he deserved for his writing, maybe because he lacked self-marketing skills. Yet, he relentlessly worked for the promotion of Punjabi Culture. Maybe destiny passed on the reward for his good Karmas to his son, Balvinder Singh Sandhu, a cricketer, who was a member of the Cricket World Cup team that won in 1983. A proud moment for him or for any father is, when he gets recognition for the achievement of his son. And as a silver lining, his daughter Paramjit Kaur married Sajjan Singh Cheema, an Indian Basket-ball player, now an SSP in the Punjab Police and an Arjuna Awardee.