He leaves home at 2.30 am to reach the brick-kiln at his village Jawaharke and starts moulding clay into bricks. He would work till 8 AM when he ends the first shift. That is the time when he starts for Nehru Memorial Government College at Mansa where he is pursuing graduation degree in humanities. He returns at the kiln again at 5 PM for second shift. In two shifts, he moulds at least a thousand bricks, fetching him Rs 500 in pay.
As he continues to juggle between his graduation and shifts at the brick-kiln, Jagdeep Singh Jawaharke says he did not let die what he says “taught him how to live” — his passion for writing. The 21-year-old has two published books of poems to justify his statement. A third one is in the offing. Jagdeep is now the protagonist of a short film by ‘Kirrt’, a project of a series of such films aimed at “highlighting artists, workers, and other creative individuals in Punjab”.
“Jaddon likhan lagge taan zindagi vi changi laggan lagi. Jeyona sikh leya (The day I started writing, life started feeling good. Writing has taught me how to live),” says Jagdeep, who started writing when he was in class 9. His first book — ‘Oh main hi si‘ — was published in 2016 when he was in class 10 and the second — ‘Kithey Hai Meri Kavita‘ — was released when he in class 12.
He has been working at the brick-kiln along with his family since when he was in class 6. “I had to leave schooling for a year because of some personal reasons. We used to get books issued from the library and then a book ‘Tarkved‘ by Narinder Singh Kapoor stayed back with me. I still have that book and that’s from where my journey of reading and writing started,” he says.
He remembers being scolded by teachers for not properly writing prasang and vyakhya poems as part of curriculum in class 9. “But it is said that one good teacher can change your life. That’s what happened to me. We had a teacher shayar Gurpreet ji who introduced me to poetry and encouraged me to write,” says Jagdeep, adding, “I think it was my loneliness in school, that taught me how to write. At one point, I had no friends. I was a bright student and studied at government school till class 12. Despite being financially poor, my family never stopped me from writing or attending kavi darbars.”
His first books didn’t get him much in way of royalty but Jagdeep says what matters more is that now a section of people know him as a published poet. “Ittan di bhatti tey kam karan wala kavi (a poet who works at a brick kiln)” is how he is known.
More fame is likely to come his way with an online platform, Project Kirrt, an online platform showcasing work of artists and craftspeople of Punjab, making a short film on him.
Jasdeep Singh from Chandigarh, co-founder of Project Kirrt, says, “In our series of short films, we will be telling stories of the people who are both workers or labourers and artists. The aim is to highlight such people who did not leave their creative passions despite the financial or other struggles. Kirrt basically means manual and creative hard work. For this series, in which first film is on Jagdeep, we have tied up with Androon Films.”
Meanwhile, Jagdeep says that at the brick kiln where he works with his family very few people know that he is also a published poet. “At the brick kiln, I am known for the work I do there,” says Jagdeep whose poem ‘Patherey’ describes the work and life of brick moulders.
A portion of the poem reads: “Swere jaande raat nu mud dey, modhey kahiyaan hauli turdey; mitti pattdey paani paunde, saanchey dhaundey, ittan paunde; sukkiyaan ittan dhalke aaunde; fatti maarde reta launde.. mera ghar dekh mainu patherey yaad aaunde. (They leave in the morning, and come back in the night, They dig the mud and mix the water in it; washing the moulds, putting the bricks in, turning the dried bricks over, leveling with the plank, peppering them with sand.. When I look at my home, I remember the brick moulders).”
The young poet says he writes what he sees and experiences. “I have been working at brick kiln since I was in class 6 and have seen my father doing this work his entire life. I have still not seen peacocks dancing in the rain. The day I see that, I will write about it. You have poems on farmers, other workers… But have we ever read anything on brick kiln workers? Engineers make buildings but can they do it without bricks? Can anyone’s dream home be made without bricks? So I penned this poem for all those brick kiln workers whose work is hardly acknowledged in any literary work.”
In his words, brick kiln workers hardly earn anything, even as they spend their entire lives toiling in mud. “Paalan viddh dey phir ittan launde, mitti vich mitti hoke ki kamaundey, thakkey haarey mud ke aaunde… mere ghar dekh mainu patherey yaad aaunde (Starting the new columns, laying the bricks… Working in the mud, they become mud.. but what do they earn? They return home tired and defeated… When I look at my home, I remember the brick moulders),” goes his poem.
Satpal Bhikhi, who too has written three books on poetry, and helps the financially poor in getting their books published free of cost, remembers first reading Jagdeep’s poems in 2016. “We realized that his writings had soul stirring mature thoughts because of his life’s circumstances. Children write about their carefree life, playing with friends etc but he was writing about his mother stitching clothes to raise him and his siblings, his father working as daily wager etc. Children don’t love or idolise the mazdoor, but he does. Two years back, writer Gurbachan Singh Bhullar from Delhi wrote a critical piece on Jagdeep’s works and especially came to Bhikhi in Mansa to honor him. When Bhullar came to honor him, Jagdeep was transplanting paddy in a farmer’s field and his employer did not allow him to leave work. We paid that farmer to get Jagdeep freed for few hours.”
Gurpreet Mansa, who too has published four books on poetry, and is the inspiration behind Jagdeep taking to writing poetry, says, “Beauty of Jagdeep’s poems is that he writes about what he sees in his surroundings. He writes about reality of lives.”