Chaman Lal Chaman. 1934-2019

Volume 16, Issue 1  | 
Published 07/06/2019

Life is a dew drop.

This I know.

And yet. And yet!

This Japanese Haiku (traditional three-line poetry) sums up the life of Chaman Lal Chaman. Penned by a poet in agony at the death of his beloved, it deserves a deeper understanding. ‘Life is a dew drop.’ Like a shiny diamond in the morning sunlight on the blade of grass, life shines brilliantly. ‘This I know.’ According to the law of nature, he knows it will end as time goes on. There is no escape from death as ordained. The head understands this. ‘And yet. And yet!’ The heart protests; why?

As long as Chaman lived as a super active person, he was glowing with love and laughter. And above all, a bubbling energy. His puckish humour and his positive attitude was infectious. He glowed, bubbled, flowered.

Born in 1934 in small village near Jalandhar in Punjab, he lost his mother at the age of three. He grew up with his step-mother whom he loved no end till she passed away.

During his high school, he recited his first poem on Guru Nanak’s birthday which was well appreciated and he got a prize of One Rupee! After passing matric, he enrolled for a degree course but had to leave for Kenya in 1953. On passing the Kenya Civil Service examination, he joined the posts and telecommunications department as a clerk.

After a year, he resigned to enroll for a teacher training course but he veered towards broadcasting and in 1956 joined the Asian Service as an announcer and news reader.

There was no looking back. He rose steadily based on his hard work, imagination and commitment. From 1962 to 1974, he moved on from Cable and Wireless to Kenya Broadcasting Services to Voice of Kenya, he shone brilliantly and became a producer, and finally, the director of Radio Operations; responsible for allocation of airtime and programme planning for all radio services in English, Kiswahili and 16 Kenyan languages.

In 1962, he attended a BBC Radio Production Course in London and later embarked on a four-month study tour of All India Radio and Radio Pakistan. Later he had a stint as a War Correspondent in India covering the India-China war and interviewing Prime Minister Nehru and other ministers. At the peak of his career, he left for Britain in1974.

Again, he made a name for himself as a broadcaster. Starting as a freelancer, he carved a niche for himself with his ‘Geet Mala’ programme, the first Asian commercial radio programme on London Broadcasting Company for the next five years until 1981. In 2000, he joined Panjab Radio as a senior presenter and continued until he breathed his last.

Changing tracks, he took up an appointment as Senior Supervisor of Ealing Community Relations Council. In 1981, he became a cultural officer at Hounslow Multi-cultural Centre and nine years later, he had his big break when he was appointed Ethnic Arts Officer, London Borough of Hounslow, a post he retained until he retired at the age of 65 in 1999. During this period, he came in contact with a multitude of artists, singers, musicians, poets, dramatists and performers.

During all this time, his love for poetry blossomed as he regularly attended and addressed poetic symposiums, first in Nairobi and later in Britain. In Nairobi, he rose to become the chairman of Punjabi Kavi Sabha while in Britain he was invited to all major poetry sessions by various communities. In 1991, he published Guthli, his first collection of Punjabi poems. In 2004, a second book of his poems ‘Sabrang’ was published. Another anthology, Phoot Khile Chaman was published and well received in 2010. He regretted that he did not author a book in English and he worked on translating his top radio interviews into English for a book, Face to Face, which was almost complete when he passed away suddenly. Honoured with dozens of awards for his poems and his contribution to communal harmony, he was always striving for excellence.

When his good friend, ghazal singer Jagjit Singh sang his lyric, Saun da Mahina, it soon became a super-hit. Well-known film producer, Gurinder Chadda, requested him to write lyrics of a Bhangra song for her film Bride and Prejudice’ which he did and met the super star of this film Ashwariya Rai on the sets in London. His lyric, Zindgi Ko Sanwaar De Maula, was sung by Kavita Seth, and borrowed for the film WAADA. In addition, he provided hundreds of lyrics to Bhangra bands in Britain.

During the official visit of President Jomo Kenyatta, Chaman
As a popular compere Chaman livened up many events such as this one with an Indian impresario, singers Anil Dave and Deedar Singh
Time tested friendship, Chaman Lal Chaman catches up with Sunil Dutt in Mumbai during one of his frequent visits

As a journalist, he contributed articles and reviews in English to the East African Standard before he left Kenya. He continued to write for the Asian media in Britain and in Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi for an audience in India.

As a spiritual seeker, he was influenced by Swami Krishnanand Saraswati in the early Sixties and enhanced his social welfare work in Nairobi and London.  On 500th Celebrations of the Birth of Guru Nanak in 1969, he wrote and obtained sponsorship for a radio programme for 32 days. Impressed by his contribution, the local Sikh community organization sent him to Addis Ababa to present a cultural programme which was well received. Since then, he worked closely with the Sikh community. When he first visited the Osho International Commune in Pune in 1995, he was impressed by Osho’s vision and his meditation techniques. Since that time, he visited Oshodham in New Delhi and Osho Nisarga in Dharamshala, whenever he visited India for meditation and celebration.

As an avid traveller, he visited Europe, USA, Canada, India, Pakistan, Thailand and Indonesia among other countries. I had the pleasure of accompanying him to Scotland and Bali and hosting him in Vienna and New Delhi.

A gregarious person, he loved all; his family friends and the world at large. In his sixties, he became the patriarch of his immediate family of two sons and a daughter, all married and also for his brothers and sisters and relatives. His touch of love and laughter brought extra sparkle to any meeting which became memorable.

He had a heart bypass four years ago but he recovered and was back on the air and also driving his car. After a routine medical check, he was told he needed an urgent operation. He protested but of no avail, he was put on the surgeon’s table and a few days later another operation was performed. And he was gone. Incredible!

This dew drop that shone for so long with such brilliance was no more. This we know. And yet. And yet!

Kul Bushan, Chaman’s biographer

For an additional obituary by Shamlal Puri see the online version.

Last modified on Friday, 07 June 2019 23:46

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