Surjit Patar, born in 1944, achieved a Master's degree from Punjab University, did Ph.D in Punjabi on Elements of Folklore in the Poetry of Guru Nanak Dev and joined the academic profession. He retired as Professor of Punjabi from Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. He is the most prominent of Punjabi poets, who has kept alive the tradition of lyric along with his blank verse and charmed the poetry lovers by his ghazals.
Surjit Patar, who appeared on the Punjabi poetry scene in the 60s, always use to spoke to the audience in an intimate manner about his poetic journey and also the creative process of some of his famous poems. Always attracted to music, Patar started writing poems in his college days at Kapurthala. “The college had a library and I read voraciously. The poets who influenced me in the early days were Bawa Balwant and Harbhajan Singh. Although Shiv Kumar Batalvi was gaining popularity at that time, it was only later that we could assess the merit of his verses. At that time S.S. Misha with his modern tone appealed more to my youthful heart,” he said.
Recalling his poetic journey, Patar said that his verses blossomed in the very creative environment of the 60s at Patiala. “I chose to study in Punjabi University because well known writers and intellectuals like Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Attar Singh and Balwant Singh were associated with it. Outside the campus I came across the avante garde influence of Gurbhagat Singh, Harinder Mehboob, S.S. Noor and Baba Laali,” he said.
Talking of his famous poem, ‘Kujh kiha taan hanera jarega kivein’, Patar said he was once passing through the old courts of Ludhiana and he saw the dried up trees in the compound. He felt that these were people who had turned into trees waiting for justice. This and the justice the Naxalites had sought merged into the making of the poem. Referring to yet another well-known poem written during terrorism, he said: “The incident of Hindus being pulled out of a bus and killed perturbed me much. And I thought with horror that if the much-loved Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar had been among them, this would have been his fate too.” Thus he wrote the famous poem:
‘Kal Waris Shah nu wandea si ajj Shiv Kumar di vaari hai
Oh zakham tuhanu bhul vi gaye naveian di hor tiyari hai’
Among his works of poetry are Hawa Vich Likhe Harf (Words written in the Air), Birkh Arz Kar (Thus speaks the Tree), Hanere Vich Sulghdi Varnmala (Words smouldering in the Dark) and Lafzanh Di Dargah (Shrine of Words). He has translated into Punjabi the three tragedies of Garcia Lorca, the play Nag Mandala of Girish Karnad, and poems of Bertolt Brecht and Pablo Neruda. He has also adapted plays from Giradoux, Euripides and Racine. He has written tele-scripts on Punjabi poets from Sheikh Farid of the 13th century to Amrita Pritam of the 20th.
He has held the office of the President, Punjabi Sahit Akademi, Ludhiana. He received the Sahitya Akademi award (1993), for his Hanere vich Sulghdi Varnmala, and Bhartiya Bhasha Parishad Purskar.