Literary profile of Dr. J.S.Neki
Jaswant Singh Neki is a major poet among the third generation of modern Punjabi writers. He is a psychiatrist of international
repute, known for his cross-cultural enquiries into human behavior. Backed by an excellent academic career in Medicine,
Psychology and Psychiatry, he represented India at many an international forums, chaired important sessions of
international professional conferences, delivered key-note addresses, earned numerous Fellowships, held office in
international bodies and Visiting Professorship at foreign universities. The vast experience he thus gained into human
psyche shaped the poet in him in many ways. This, perhaps, is the mystique that makes him unique among modern Punjabi poets.
The former Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, Professor Amrik Singh, has likened him with Professor Puran Singh,
the great legendary poet of the first generation of modern Punjabi writers. Although the two Punjabi poets are altogether
different in the tone and tenor of their poetry, they are alike in that Punjabi scholarship is yet to grasp the profundity
of these two poets. Amrik Singh observes that most other Punjabi poets delve into themes of tangible social reality which
fact makes them easier for critical scrutiny. Neki's poetry, however, seeks and articulates the intangible and the
mysterious operating behind the surface reality. That is how the philosophical and metaphysical have become inbuilt
components of his creative process.
Born on 27th August 1925, he published his first collection of poems Asle te Ohle (The Reality and its Veil) in 1955.
Principal Teja Singh, in his introduction to it observed, "With this poet, Punjabi poetry has come of age". Further works
followed as under:
- Eh Merey Sansey Eh Merey Geet (These My Doubts, These My Songs) another collection of short poems and contemplative
lyrics. In many lyrics, philosophic insights and scientific concepts mingle with exquisite poetic musicality to the
satisfaction of the discerning reader.
- Simriti de Kiran ton Pehlan (Ere Memories Perish), 1975, proved to be a trend-setting long poem. Late Dr Attar
Singh described it as 'unprecedented creative achievement'. In it the poet gave form to the basic pervasive questions
that beset any human being in his last moments.
- Karuna di Chhoh ton Magron (After the Touch of Compassion), 1978, another long poem that recapitulates those moments
of the poet's life when life and death together were casting the dice of a new fate over his wounded and tattered body
and the possibility of a maimed future was threatening him. However, a consciousness still survived that sought to pierce
the purpose of life and answer the riddle of life. Piarey Lal, the former Private Secretary of Mahatma Gandhi described it
as " unique poem arisen from the combination of unprecedented combination of spiritual insights ant poetic imagination".
In this poem, the poet uses the myths of Satyavan-Savitri, Avalakiteshvar, and Nachiketa, allusions from Janam-Sakhis,
and references from Budha, Gita and Karan Malah. These are not there for their primary significance but only to sub-serve
the metaphysics of his theme. In the use of references, there is an obliqueness in his method which, in the words of Prof.
J S Rahi is 'unusually unorthodox'
- Pratibimban de Sarovar Chon (From the Pool of Images), 1980, was another collection of sensitive lyrics with subtle
layers of meanings.
- Na eh Geet na Birhada (Neither Song nor Dirge), 1985, was a trilogy of quasi-long poems enquiring into poetic reality
of Beauty, Morality and Truth respectively. J S Anand has described it as an ilhami (revelatory) trilogy. This work is
replete with original aphoristic universal truths.
Birkhe heth Sabh Jant (Entire Mankind under a Tree), 1989, a collection of short and medium long poems articulated the
vagaries of a hurt mind in a historical situation.
Geet Mera Sohila Tera (My Song, Your Applause), 1991, was a collection of philosophical and mystic lyrics the like of
'the song of a bird flown away from a bough that is still atremble.' This book was recommended by Punjabi Bhasha Samiti
for the Saraswati Samman.
Pani vich Patase (Sugar-bubbles in Water), 1992, a collection of poems for children.
Koee Naon na Janey Mera (No One Knows even My Name), 2000, the poet's magnum opus, is his autobiography in verse.
His long poems have been the most discussed works especially for their philosophical substance. They impart a touch of
modernity to tradition in a manner that metamorphoses tradition into a continually evolving force. In poetic diction,
Neki skirts jargon, the marsh of many a poet of ideological loyalty. Neki has also remained untouched by the currents
and cross-currents of literary consumerism and so has been able to preserve his creativity and vigour. He can be seen
writing not with reader in mind, but with some challenge in mind. Yet he is not apathetic to the reader. It only indicates
his concern that the fictional does not override the substantive.
Besides these poetic works, the writer has also produced a number of other works as well:
Ardas – Darshan, Roop te Abhias (Prayer – its Philosophy, Form and Practice), first published in 1989 and having run
through several hard cover and paperback editions, has been described as 'an all-time classic' by Prof. Harbans Singh,
the editor of Encyclopedia of Sikhism. It provides testimony of Neki's mellifluous prose style.
Vishva Ardas (Universal Prayer) is a compendium of over three hundred prayers, from various countries, tribes, and
religions, translated into Punjabi verse.
Meri Sahitak Swai Jeevanee (My Literary Autobiography), 1992, is his literary autobiography commissioned by the Punjabi
University, Patiala. It also presents an example of wonderful prose.
Achetan di Leela (Mystique of the Unconscious), 1998, is a book on the psychology of the Unconscious, that testifies
Dr Neki's ability to communicate with his lay reader on technical matters in easily understandable but impressive prose.
He has also given us two outstanding books in English:
The Spiritual Heritage of the Punjab, commissioned by Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, and
Pilgrimage to Hemkunt, an exquisitely illustrated spiritual travelogue, whose production matches high international standards.
His kaleidoscopic contributions to literature testify his creativity, versatility and profundity. Barring one or two,
every one of his poetry works has earned one award or another. Outstanding among these have been the following:
1. Sahitya Akademy Award (1979).
2. Bhai Vir Singh Award (1978).
3. Punjabi Sahit Samikhya Board Award (1981)
4. Asian Memorial Award (1984).
5. Shiromani Sahitkar Award (1986)
6. Punjabi Sahit Academy Dhaliwal Award (1988)
7. Punjabi Academy, Delhi, Waris Shah Award (1991)
8. Punjabi Academy Bal-Sahitkar Award (1994)
9. Punjabi Academy, Delhi, Award for Best Poetry Book of the Year (2001)
Dr Neki,'s works have been the object of serious academic study. Several Ph D theses and M Phil dissertations have
appeared relating to his work. The following books have appeared appraising his work:
1. Dharam Pal Singhal: Jaswant Singh Neki da Kav-Jagat. Delhi: National Book Shop, 1985.
2. Mohinder Kaur Gill (ed): Kala-karmi Jaswant Singh Neki. Delhi: Punjabi Academy,1987.
3. Satnam Singh Sandhu: Parabhautakta da Kavi: Jaswant Singh Neki. Faridabad: Nishant Prakashan, 1989.
4. Paramjit Kaur: Jaswant Singh Neki Kav-sansar. Delhi: Punjabi Academy. 1987