We are delighted to publish this photo essay by Parnab Mukherjee on the Punjabi poet Baba Lal Singh Dil- ” who touched the abyss, rose like a phoenix time and again, who did not know where his next meal was to come from and yet carried on writing verse, the only way he could liberate himself “.

This is a part of the series of writing called Urban Body : entrapments & releases.

This project is supported by Iris Home fragrances, Converge Mobile Store.


Baba Lal Singh Dil uncut:  For Nirupama Dutt

A photo-essay by P. Mukherjee


there  old haggard men who can barely walk

roam on the outskirts of the villages


Gandhis do not have the liberty

to walk into enemy camps and discuss the hanging of Bhagat Singh

Cut to a national highway road meandering into a township called Samrala

A series of crisscrossed wires and the half-baked road

Houses are a set of delicately kept matchboxes lined up on space

each supporting the other

a tilt here and a tilt there all could end up falling…

There is this open kiosk…actually many open kiosks

the temporary stall of the papaya juice vendor jostles with the semi-permanent set-up of local kirana shop

shadows keep walking on the road

greeting, debating, fornicating and making love other shadows

the shadows in Samrala are working with all kinds of hormonal harmony

and then there is a pause and softly and a man called Lal Singh Dil replies:

From where shall we fill the stomach of the pigs

Shall we go to a goshala to the market or to the fields

……..By the way who’s this bloke


Lal Sing Dil

Lal Singh Dil is a stubborn man

His tea shack has long shut down

Neighbours find him passé, old, finished, famished, gone, not-yet-dead, dead-yet-living

Cut to Dil; Lal Singh Dil is a stubborn man

Every morning for him, the river is the glass of water

and the sunrise is the liquor froth that breaks into small bubbles

before being gulped down

A radio blaring in front a small table as Geeta Dutt croons: waqt ne kiya..kya haseen sitam

Heaps of magazines

Army of trunks with a few thousand books and insects residing inside the pages of the lost revolution

A lonely chair in the terrace; low dangling bulb

giving short specific shadows

Darkness within: Darkness without

That empty chair lying empty in the terrace

Darkness of the Kang mohalla grips Samrala

deep inside from an unknown mazaar in an  unknown destination

the voice of Manto reaches us saying that between me and Dil

this sleepy town has given birth

to two of the biggest literary bastards of our time

Dil quips that the operative word is ‘biggest’

Cut to Samrala

The quivering hands catching the cigarette inside the holder

and that small sarcastic smile hanging on to the corner of the nicotine-stained lips

and a broken extreme tooth


Lal Singh Dil is a stubborn old man

He is a proud stubborn man

In general people call him a loser and the losers call him great

Dil does not mind because he is clear that

if you have not sat in front an angrezi theka with a glass of liqour

if you have not read Kumar Vikal stopping the traffic at a loud corner of a louder road

if you have not dumped your awards with great disdain at one corner of the room

if you have not had a kadak nimbu chai at a busy road divider

then you cannot fathom Lal Singh Dil

Cut to a conversation

The path is correct says he: the path of that long Naxalbari road

I ask are the means to reach that valid

He says we can’t reject the means too because for that time those were the means

Who are you reading nowadays?

Dil looks at me; looks at the liqour

the fan inside the room apologetically moving

take a deep breath and declares: I am reading myself

Yes, he speaks in halting English

Cut to the Kang mohalla

the loudspeakers still play Harbhajan Mann

and some of the old timers still talk about 1984 in hushed tones:

Cut to Dil


Lal Singh Dil is a stubborn man

People call him loser

Dil is 64

In the land of serpents, he has invoked anacondas of his choice

Dil, that radical slim of a man

who saw a crescent in his palm and embraced Islam

Dil still walks inebriated

The lakes come out of his pockets

A long convoy of the dispossessed walks from Singur to Moga..from Bhatinda to Tipaimukh

as pots, pans, undernourished voices clings on to Dil’s lines

Cut to Nirupama sharing a smoke with Dil and discussing the labourer woman

Yes, the labourer woman

who roasts her heart on the tawa as the errant moon laughs behind the not-so-errant tree

Nirupama you must be laughing as long names become shorter

as night falls on the tar lined road and as we drive around the nasty Chandigarh

Some day we will pass by the Baba Lal Singh mazaar

and like Nirupama we will try to throw red flowers or maybe flowers of some other colour  at Dil’s resting place

And yes,

fairly melodramatically, Dil will pop up from the grave and say:

flowers hurt me, don’t throw them

and then he admonishes us saying:  Don’t you know I’m busy

I ask: busy how?


He says:  Have I become a relic or do all dreams become stale and then one fine day you start collecting nightmares.

The fierce class pride of chamar in Dil, the Islam in Dil, the Marxist Dil

Yes, he is laughing and his out-of-stock books

are still in demand

when bestsellers have faded from the stockpile of amnesia

and rot in the dusty warehouses of our collective memory

Why is this cranky old man still saying:

When the working woman  heats her soul on the tawa
from the back of the tree….: the moon giggles

Lal Singh Dil is a stubborn old fool; He just refuses to die

Comrade, let’s live for one last time; Comrade, let’s just embarrass people


Open your basket and throw you snakes

your poetry still hisses


About Parnab Mukherjee

A spoken word performer, independent media analyst, curator and a performance consultant by profession, Mr Parnab Mukherjee is one of the leading knowledge consultants and alternative theatre nomads  of the Indian sub-continent.

He is an acclaimed  practitioner on Badal Sircar’s theatre practice, Shakespeare-in-education and specialises in theatre-of-conflict and theatre-of-the-campus. Having directed more than 161 productions of performance texts including six international collaborations.

He has devised, conceived, designed and directed/collaborated both experimental performances and workshops for a number of institutions, activist groups, support groups, schools, colleges, youth groups and social movements across the country.
A performance text writer and charismatic performer, he has diverse experience in non-proscenium, verbatim, site-specific and physical theatre.
Currently, roving editor with two initiatives, he has earlier worked for a sports fortnightly, a chess tournament bulletin, The Asian Age, Kindle India and Sambad Pratidin.
He has directed text, installation performances, physical theatre, space-specific interventions, youth theatre, schools work, radio, live art, interdisciplinary performance and site-specific work, as well as writing for stage and performing in a range of collaborations experimental non-verbal movement piece to physical theatre, solo improvisation to spoken word.

Some of the most memorable productions of the collective include Where is Imphal? (For Birla Academy of Art and Culture), Trilogy of Unrest (Hamletmachine, Necropolis, This room is not my room), River Series (used as a exploratory advocacy tool by UN for Women, UNODC and Kripa Foundation), Only Curfew, Rehearsing Antigone, Raktakarabi-an urban sound opera, Buddha Files, Kasper-dipped and shredded, They Also Work, Dead-Talk series, Conversations with the dead, Crisis of Civilisation, Shakespeare shorts, Man to Man talk, Inviting Ibsen for a Dinner with Ibsen, Your path wrong path and And the Dead Tree Gives no Shelter.
Four of his major workshop modules: Freedomspeak, The Otherness of the Body, Conflict as a Text and The Elastic Body have been conducted with major theatre groups and campuses all over the country.

As a journalist and human rights activist, he has extensively worked on the dynamics of  human rights and economic systems of the country. His writings have mirrored the aspirations of the fringe in the nation state especially as into the parameters of economic growth that fails to mirror the widening chasm between the haves, have-nots, have-beens and yet-to-be.

He has developed theatre advocacy tools for international agencies including UNoDC and UN Women and has run a large number of voice-work and performance-training residencies  Five of his major workshop modules: Freedomspeak, The Otherness of the Body, Free To See: Reading conflict- as-a-Text,Treading on the Toes and The Elastic Body have been conducted with major theatre groups, visual art collectives and campuses all over the sub-continent.

As a theatre soloist, he has extensively travelled with his repertoire and has performed in a range of cities including Bali, Surabaya, Tehran, Mashad, Chittagong, Biratnagar, Cardiff, Colombo, Negombo, Batticaloa, Dhaka, Copenhagen, London, Liverpool, Dili (East Timor),  Ottowa, Manchester, Singapore, Bangkok, Patumthani, Montreal, New York and Vijlandi (Estonia).

He has written five books on theatre. And have contributed to a range of publications including Dancing Earth-An anthology of poetry from North East India published by Penguin India, Tehelka, The Spectator-London, Montreal Serai, Imphal Free  Press, Chandrabhaga-Cuttack and Hard News.

He is a core part of Culture Monks.

A note on Urban Body : entrapments & releases

70 years after freedom, India is clearly an important part of the global development paradigm. The trajectory is gradually but surely moving, tending towards an universalized architecture of  urbanity.

Yet pathways to future seems to be determined but not self -determined. The position of liberties which freedom offers are constantly evolving through a continuous discourse amongst diverse forces.The urban spaces meanwhile are mangled, chaotic, polluted, dystopian – much an result of sudden influxes and accidental growth rather than of planned development – merely factories and supermarkets of bodies in motion – plugged effectively to a matrix which is centralized and oriented towards productivity.Urbanity – symbolic of progress is also the colonization of the body, mind & soul.

It is the desecration of the soul, deconstruction of the body and remolding of culture. 70 years after independence the urban body is entrapped, colonized, by powers which are invisible yet more efficient.Hence we look at writings which examines this entrapment and the quest for release – to liberate.   Writings which helps us to negotiate, envision and determine  – to love , to live and progress as individuals & as a collective, in and from – this urban dystopia.

This project is supported by Iris Home Fragrance & Converge Mobile Store.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


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