Atamjit Singh. Handbook of Twentieth-Century Literatures of India. Editor: Nalini Natarajan, Greenwood Press, 1996.
Modern Panjabi literature, like other regional literatures, has been shaped by Western influences percolating in Panjabi life and letters from the middle of the nineteenth century. For many years, the Panjabi people could not counter the cultural effects of British colonization. The English rulers thought poorly of Asian cultures and literature, as evidenced in Macaulay’s 1831 Minute on Indian Education, and wanted them to adopt the European way of life. The first generation of Indians internalized this judgment and began to lose contact with Indian tradition and learning.
In Panjab, while the elite accepted the impact of the British imperialist masters, common people retained a living relationship with their land. The next generation, however, made conscious efforts to assert their past heritage and transmit it to their descendants.
Movements of Religious Revivalism
As a reaction to the Christian missionaries, the Arya Samaj and the Singh Sabha launched movements in order to preach and propagate their own respective religions by reviving Vedic learning of ancient times and preaching Sikhism as originally propagated by Sikh gurus. These movements of revival and reform started later here than in other parts of the country. Hindi and Urdu were linked through the medium of madrassas, anjumans, journals, translations, and publication staffs. But in Panjab, Persian continued to reign supreme during the Sikh rule and retained its supremacy for a considerable period of time under the aegis of the British. Later, they introduced Urdu as the medium of instruction at the school level and also at the lower rungs of administration and judiciary. This explains the relatively late emergence of a renaissance in Panjabi writing.
The Christian missionaries in Panjab had begun their proselytizing activities by converting Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs to Christianity. This triggered resentment among these communities, which, in turn, launched their own movements of religious revival. In their earlier stages, these movements attempted to insulate their respective communities against other beliefs and practices, but, with the passage of time, each of them became an instrument of religious and social reform. This was responsible for the rise of the Singh Sabha movement among the Sikhs, who were especially involved in Panjabi writings and support for the development of the Panjabi language.
Writers of the Singh Sabha Movement (1900-1935)
The major writers of the Singh Sabha movement (such as Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid, S. S. Charan Singh Shaheed, Bhai Jodh Singh, Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha, Bhai Dit Singh, Charan Singh [Father of Bhai Vir Singh], Bhai Sewa Singh, Bhai Koer Singh, and Balbir Singh) not only propagated the message of the Sikh gurus and initiated a movement to reform the religious and ethical life of the Sikhs but also made efforts to develop Panjabi language and literature. Bhai Vir Singh was committed to the use of literature to forge a Panjabi cultural identity.
The Singh Sabha movement’s primary aim was to establish a separate cultural identity for the Sikhs. It started in 1870, but it found its institutionalized existence in 1873. Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957), its chief exponent, contributed significantly to the understanding of Sikhism by the Sikh masses. More, he established a distinct literary tradition, both in the literary and in the ethical or social-historical sense. He wrote fiction, poetry, prose of ideas, and learned commentaries on the old sacred texts. He also wrote tracts and launched a weekly in Panjabi, Khalsa Smachar, in order to propagate and disseminate the teachings of the Sikh gurus and to restore Sikhism to its traditional glory. He wrote semi-novels to depict the most trying conditions for the Sikhs when they were being ruthlessly persecuted by the Mughal rulers in the latter half of the eighteenth century.
His first three novels, Sundari (1898), Bijay Singh (1899), and Satwant Kaur (1900), deal with the theme of Sikh valor and chivalry in their battles against the local Mughal chieftains and also against foreign Pathan invaders from Kabul, who would return after loot and plunder from Panjab. In Baba Naudh Singh (1921), he epitomizes the highest virtues of a Sikh. It seeks to portray the ideal character of a Sikh who has imbibed the true teachings of the Sikh gurus and who, through his conduct, reforms the religious life of all those who come into contact with him. The characters of these novels became household figures in Sikh homes for several years. Bhai Vir Singh’s fictional writings, which are more like historical romances, serve a special purpose, which he had predetermined. He tried to present the image of Sikhs as men without hate, without fear, always at the service of the people, ever ready to fight for noble causes. In his hands, the story, therefore, was merely a vehicle to throw light on the various social customs and religious beliefs of the Sikhs.
Bhai Vir Singh’s poetry is deemed his major contribution to Panjabi literature. Though much of his poetry is essentially religious in content, he introduced new themes in his poems that did not conform to the known models of the past. His poetry works include Rana Surat Singh (1905), Lehran de Har (1907-21), Matak Hulare (1920), and Bijlian de Har (1922-27). His Mere Sayian Jio (1953), the final volume of his poems, won the Sahitya Academy Award in 1955, two years after his death. His poetry portrays the longing for a mystic consummation. In his long poem Rana Surat Singh, written in blank verse, the poet attempts a search for an inner poise, tranquility, and freedom from anxiety through Sikh spirituality. Bhai Vir Singh’s poetry achieves the sublime height of mysticism. Every poem is steeped in the love of the Supreme Being, to which he gives expression in different metaphors, such as lightning suffusing spheres, a river merging into the sea, and an ever-moving brook seeking its beloved Lord.
Bhai Vir Singh also made a splendid contribution to scholarship and as an explicator of the Sikh scriptures. He edited and annotated Guru Pratap Suraj Granth (1926-33) and completed the compilation of Guru Granth Kosh (1927). It was followed by a biography of Bhai Gurdas (1940) and Asht Guru Chamtkar (1951). In short, Bhai Vir Singh in his lifetime assumed the role of father figure of twentieth-century Panjabi literature and won universal admiration, which turned into an abiding reverence. In recognition of his services to Panjabi life and letters, he was conferred the degree of Oriental learning honoris causa by the Panjab University in 1949 and was nominated to the Panjab Legislative Council in 1952. He was also nominated to the National Academy of Letters in 1954, thus achieving national eminence. He was a powerful influence on contemporary writers, such as Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha, Mohan Singh Vaid, Charan Singh Shaheed, Dhani Ram Chatrik, Puran Singh, Balbir Singh, and Bhai Jodh Singh.
Among the writers who came under the influence of Bhai Vir Singh, Puran Singh (1881-1931) broke all traditional barriers and chose free verse for his poetic composition, following the style of the American poet Walt Whitman. He wrote three volumes of Panjabi poetry, Khule Maidan (Free Meadows, 1923), Khule Ghund (Free Veils, 1923), and Khule Asmani Rang (Boundless Blue Colors of the Sky, 1926). His poetry is characterized in letter and spirit by transcendence of the limits of self, home, and country. A mood of abandon permeates his whole verse.
The most important feature of his verse is its passionate preaching of the importance of common people. The hardworking and patient farmers of Panjab and the passionate heroes and heroines of love stories have been portrayed with such a sincere sentiment that they gain a special significance in the world of the poet. They become symbols of universal love and freedom. He talks about the poor and the hungry and idealizes them, seeing in their eyes a peace and contentment that he misses in the vulgar rich. In some of his poems, he has reinterpreted the medieval romances of Hir Ranjha, Sohni Mahival, Sassi Punnu, and Puran Bhagat and made them the true representatives of the free human spirit. He sings the praises of the rather less known humble trees of the land and sees untold beauty in obscure flowers. He draws the poetic sketch of a poor village woman who is making cow-dung cakes and tries to project her as a kind of great artist. He creates scenes from everyday life of Panjab and portrays some immortal Panjabi characters. He sings in praise of Sikh gurus, particularly focusing on the 10th master, Guru Gobind Singh, whose philosophy had struck him as majestic.
Though he was saturated with an intense feeling of the life and teachings of the Sikh gurus, he strove to live a universal religion transcending barriers of various established faiths. In one of his poems, he calls on God not so he may worship him, but with an appeal that he may break all instruments of worship with his own hands so that people can be free from the shackles of man-made religions.
In Puran Singh, Panjabi literature took a firm step forward toward modernity. Other poets who flourished as contemporaries of Bhai Vir Singh were Dhani Ram Chatrik and Lala Kirpa Sagar. Both had a close, personal relationship with Vir Singh, but in their verse they strove to bring a variety to the tradition promoted by him. Chatrik identified with the Persian tradition of romance but later wrote lyrics with a mystical strain of Panjabi Sufi poets, bringing them closest to the Panjabi folk songs. In his adaptation of the narrative by Sir Walter Scott, “The Lady of the Lake,” Lala Kirpa Sagar introduced a secular theme of a Western romance into the poetic tradition of Sikh religious poetry nurtured by Bhai Vir Singh.
Whereas Puran Singh liberated Panjabi poetry from the limits of religious preaching and didacticism and made his verse intense, uncontrolled emotion, he also, for the first time, focused his attention on the common people and identified his sympathies with common people of Panjab. New Panjabi poetry follows Puran Singh in recognizing the down-to-earth problems of the common masses. His rejection of the idea of an organized religion and promotion of democratic and egalitarian self-reliance also gave strength to the progressive poetry written under the Marxist creed of writing. Among the forerunners of the new poetry, the name of Diwan Singh Kalepani (1894-1944) deserves mention, along with Puran Singh, because he, too, wrote poetry in free verse. He took an active interest in the national struggle for freedom. Despite being a government medical doctor, he supported the noncooperation movement in the 1920s. He was punished with a transfer to Andeman in 1927, where he was tortured by the British and killed. Andeman at that time was the most difficult place to live, and those who were sent there were supposed to live in very inhumane conditions. Diwan Singh chose his pen name Kalepani (black waters) because he was a victim of the British high-handedness and inhumane, barbarous treatment. He contributed two collections of poems, Vagde Pani (Running Waters, 1938) and Antim Lehran (Winding Waves, 1962), later published posthumously by his son. Some of the ideas in his poetry include revolt against the established religion and its elaborate rituals as well as political slavery and the attainment of freedom from the oppressive British colonial rule. He also champions women’s rights in Indian society. Diwan Singh’s use of free verse in his poetry is not as successful as that of Puran Singh because he lacks the latter’s freshness of imagery and vitality of expression.
The New Panjabi Poetry (1935-47)
The appearance of Mohan Singh (1905-78) and Amrita Pritam (1919) on the Panjabi poetic scene marks a revolt against the three-decade-old poetic tradition. The writers who had derived their inspiration from the religious renaissance under the Singh Sabha movement used Panjabi as a poetic medium. They also restated the mysticism of the Sikh gurus that flourished in the previous century. To these poets, ideas and feelings already expressed by the medieval religious poets provided guiding principles to creative writing, but the new poet was finding ways to admit new ideas and create new forms. Both Mohan Singh and Amrita Pritam struggled to devise unconventional verse patterns and to develop distinct, individual styles, though in their early writings they were influenced by the medieval Qissa tradition.
Mohan Singh, who, during his 50-year poetic career, contributed more than a dozen collections of poetry, stands out as one of the greatest poets of his time. His major works include Sawe Pattar (Green Leaves, 1936), Adhwate (The Midway, 1939-40), Kach Sach (Illusion and Reality, 1944-50), Awazan (The Calls, 1950-54), Wada Vela (The Dawn, 1954-58), Jandre (The Locks, 1964), and Jaimir (Long Live the Peace, 1968). In addition, he translated into Panjabi verse Matthew Arnold’s The Light of Asia and wrote Nankayan (1971), the life story of Guru Nanak in epic form to celebrate the guru’s quincentenary.
Mohan Singh sings about his personal love in his early writings, but soon his growing faith was seized by the dilemma between the social and the literary. The poet made a promising start with his early poems, which still remain popular with Panjabi readers, but in his later works, beginning with Kach-sach, he shows a strong bias in favor of progressive writing, which had become a dominant movement in the regional-language literature of northern India. The poet’s so-called progressive poems are not as striking or memorable as his poems that bring together personal and social themes. In fact, Mohan Singh, under the influence of Marxist criticism, is torn in two directions, his heart clinging to tradition and his intellect pulling toward revolutionary expression. In fact, over some period, he remains irresolute and is not able to decide which direction to follow. Later, after he himself realized that by following his head he had lost poetic finesse, he again reverted to the call of his heart and was once more able to recapture the spontaneous beauty of his earlier poetry. In his Jandre and Jaimir, the last two collections of poetry, he composed a few of the finest ghazals showing a delicacy comparable to that of the Urdu ghazal (lyric). Mohan Singh was a love poet, and he sang its immortality in varied musical forms, variations, and notations. His lyrics still enthrall Panjabi hearts.
Amrita Pritam, another versatile poet, like Mohan Singh, developed her poetic art in stages. She began writing poetry at a very tender age under the guidance of her father, Kartar Singh Hitkari, himself a poet and a scholar of Braj Bhasha. Her important collections of poems include her first publication, Amrit Lehran (Immortal Waves, 1936), which appeared when she was just 17, followed by Jiunda Jiwan (The Exuberant Life, 1939), Lok Peeran (The People’s Anguish, 1944), Pathar Geetey (The Pebbles, 1946), Sunehre (Messages, 1953), Ashoka Cheti (1956), Kasturi (The Musk, 1958), Kagaz te Canvas (The Paper and the Canvas, 1970), and Kala Gulab (The Black Rose, 1973). In her first book, she gave expression to her personal love in a rather traditional idiom, but later, with maturity, she became more conscious of harsh social realities around her, and her poetry turned into an informed commentary on urgent social and political complexities.
Amrita’s poetry is known for giving powerful voice to the theme of women’s agony and shame in the world dominated by man. She considers this world made sacrosanct by man’s clever laws not conducive to the growth of love. Still, this harsh and crude world of man becomes a measure of her inner strength. The metaphor of love pervades most of her poetry collections. She underlines the uniqueness of each individual love and says that a love of one person is never a repetition of the other. She is bold enough to admit the carnality of her love and does not want to hide it behind any kind of mystical or metaphysical metaphor. In fact, she believes that only when one has attained fulfillment in physical love does one attain spiritual accomplishment.
Amrita Pritam is perhaps the only modern Panjabi poet who is very popular with both Indian and Pakistani Panjabs. Her poem “Aj Akhan Waris Shah nun” (Today I Invoke Waris Shah), written at the time of partition of India, is equally appealing to the people of the two countries and has become symbolic of the nostalgic days when Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims lived together like good neighbors. It portrays the barbarity and lunacy of the Panjabis, who forgetting the message of love of the great poet Waris Shah in his immortal Heer, indulged in senseless killing rampages that spurred large-scale migration, which saw both sides abandoning their homes. Without a doubt, Amrita Pritam holds a preeminent place in Panjabi poetry. She is the only Panjabi writer who has been honored with the Jnan Peeth Award, besides numerous national and international recognitions. She also edits a poetry magazine, Nagmani, which, over the years, has become a rallying point for many budding writers.
Both Mohan Singh and Amrita Pritam as poets have some common features. Both, in their early writing, give voice to feminist feelings in a cruel, man-dominated world. Their poetry is firmly rooted in Panjabi folk idiom. In their love lyrics, both of them draw on the oral rhythms of Panjabi folk songs and dances. Even the imagery is rural, bringing into its fold the sensitive rituals of birth, marriage, memories of paternal home, departure of a daughter from her parent’s home, pangs of separation and distant living. They also share in common images based on agricultural operations, spinning, sewing, and embroidery, the domestic chores investing their poetry with an aura of romance and realism.
Besides Mohan Singh and Amrita Pritam, the two major figures, a number of other poets achieved distinction in this period. Pritam Singh Safeer (1916), now a retired Delhi High Court justice, wrote mystical poems using a mixture of Eastern and modern Western mystic thoughts. He has contributed to Panjabi poetry about half a dozen collections of poems, including Katak Kunjan (The Pelicans of Winter, 1941), Pap de Sohile (Appraises of Sin, 1942), and Rakat Bundan and Ad(i) Jugad (The Beginnings, 1958). His latest book is an epic on the life of guru Gobind Singh (1991).
Whereas Safir could not remain a significant voice in modern Panjabi letters, Bawa Balwant (1915-68), who belonged to the progressive stream of poetry, made his mark as an original and creative artist. He was profoundly influenced by Persian and Urdu poetry, as well as other contemporary, progressive writers of Urdu, and had fairly good command of Urdu prosody. He was influenced by Iqbal’s concept of “perfect man” (mard-e Kamil). In his poem “Zindgi hi Zindgi” (Life and Only Life), he gives a forceful voice to this idea of a superman. Bawa’s lyrics reflect a mystical strain. “Pippal dian Chhawan” (Shades of the Peepal Tree) is one such composition. Some of his major collections of poems are Kav Sagar (1955), Mahan Nach (1941), Amar Geet (1942), Jawala Mukhi (1943), Bandargah (1951), and Sugandh Sameer (1959).
The other poets who made their mark in this period are Avtar Singh Azad (1906-79), Piara Singh Sehrai (1915), and Santokh Singh Dhir (1920). Another tall figure, Mohan Singh Diwana (1899-1984), also made an impact on this period. Some of his well-known works include Neel Dhara (The Blue Ocean, 1935), Jagat Tamasha (The World—A Fair, 1942), Masti (Ecstasy, 1946-49), and Dhup Chhan (Sunshine and Shade, 1932).
Emergence of Panjabi Nationalism
Through Panjabi poetry, a Panjabi nationalism, cutting across denominational and religious boundaries, started emerging. The grip of metaphysical speculation loosened, and interest in secular and worldly pursuits emerged. Almost all the writers at this time supported the national struggle for independence, which was in full swing. Some of them, like Diwan Singh Kale Pani, Gurmukh Singh Mussafir, Hira Singh Dard, Master Tara Singh, Principal Niranjan Singh, Bhai Jodh Singh, and Prem Singh Prem, were actively involved in it and had been imprisoned several times. The political turmoil in Panjab made its impact on contemporary writing by bringing into the fore problems of the common people. It also aroused protest and resentment among the masses in Panjab. The kisan movement of 1907 and development of canal colonies gave fillip to patriotic sentiment. The khilafat movement and then the akalii movement for Gurdwara reform contributed to awaken the masses politically. In its early stages, the kisan movement received support from poets like Prabh Dayal and Banke Bihari (1880-1920), who composed popular verses such as Pagri Sambhal Jatta (Watch Your Turban! O My Peasant Friend!), which became very popular with Panjab peasants and later were sung as patriotic songs by the youth involved in the freedom movement. Poetry symposia played a significant role in spreading the political message to the Panjabis, who participated in the fight against the colonial rulers without consideration of any religious affiliations. The publication of literary magazines and growth of vernacular press further helped in the development of Panjabi literature, which could not be considered of much poetic worth but contributed to the creation of a feeling of sharing a common Panjabi identity. The ghadar movement, which was launched from overseas, started making its impact at home, giving impetus to patriotic writing in Panjabi. Ghadar di Gunj (The Echo of Revolt, 1914), published in many volumes, exhorted the people of India to fight the unjust imperial British rule. All these developments together brought about change in thinking and promoted secular values by breaking the barriers of narrow sectarian ways.
Panjabi Poetry After Independence (1947-70)
Secularism soon gave way to communalism. As a prelude to the partition of India, communal riots between the Muslims, on one hand, and Hindus and the Sikhs, on the other, took place on a very large scale. Reckless destruction of human life and property ensued. The migration of large populations from both sides seriously disturbed the demographic pattern and created serious problems of rehabilitation of millions of people uprooted in the process. It was an agonizing experience for the creative artist. The Panjabis on both sides of the international border saw their friends alienated, families divided, and the country dismembered. The large-scale killings, loot and plunder, rape and shame shook the conscience of every sensitive being on both sides. The trauma of partition gulfed the experience of independence.
Whereas in the prepartition Panjab literature the Sikh revivalist movement remained dominant in spite of pressure from the progressive movement starting in the early 1940s, after independence, Panjab literature under the impact of pragtivadis brought into fore the themes of revolution, violence, death, and devastation. This continued until the early 1960s.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the naxalite movement in Bengal was at its peak. It was an ultraleftist, militant movement, which was ruthlessly crushed by the then-Bengal government. The young writers from rural Panjab, often from landless peasant families, particularly from the Malwa belt, wrote fiery verses in support of revolution. Known as jhujarvadi or nakasalvadi verse, it attracted a few committed political workers who wrote verses to arouse the landless farmworkers to take to arms against the big landlords. The Panjab government suppressed this movement with a heavy hand. The poets went underground, but they had the sympathy of the common people in the villages. Their poetry during this period remained close to the hearts of a few, but now it is being published. This poetry was committed to progressive ideology, but its relationship with rural ethos was much pronounced. There is also a tendency in this poetry to reinterpret Sikh history, myths, and legends in the modern social and cultural contexts, investing Sikh lore and its traditions with new meanings. This poetry doesn’t have much poetic or intellectual maturity, but still it has considerable mass appeal. Some prominent names of this movement are Avtar Singh Pash, Lal Singh, Darshan Khatkar, and Harbhajan Halwarvi.
Progressives Versus Experimentalists
Until the late 1960s, Panjab poetry was dominated by the progressive movement. The major preoccupation of these poets was to focus on the problems of workers and landless peasantry and project their pain and suffering. They showered praise on those countries ruled by communist ideology and condemned capitalist countries for their inhumane policies. The Panjab poet repeated these subjects and reduced his or her verse to mere propaganda. As a matter of fact, the phenomenon of “progressive” writing was widespread and attained an interlanguage character. In Panjabi, it acquired more or less a communist “closed”-shop organization, and its writing became politically more explicit. This resulted in a widespread feeling that progressive, or pragtivadi, poetry was avowedly propagandist. Some of the poets who were otherwise strongly committed to the Marxist ideology reacted against it and, under the leadership of Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia, wrote as experimentalists. They concentrated on the search for a distinct idiom for their verse. They were inspired by the Hindi experimentalists, or pryogvadins. They were also influenced by the English poet T. S. Eliot. Ahluwalia, supported by one or two other poets of his group, wrote on the functions of poetry. The poets who were attracted by this reaction against progressive poetry included Sukhpalvir Singh Hasrat and Sohan Singh Misha. But this movement did not last long and in no way influenced future Panjabi poetry. Only two poets of the prayogvadi group deserve special mention. Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia, with his two collections of poems, Koor Raja Koor Parja (False Is the King and False Are His Subjects) and Kagz da Ravan (The Paper Ravan), had limited success in his attempt to evolve a new poetic idiom. His main quality is that he takes most of his imagery from the Holy Granth but, interprets it in the context of contemporary situation. Sukhpalvir Singh Hasrat’s collected poems, Hasrat Kav (1975), are considered a major work of writing in Panjabi. He is largely declamatory in tone and is recognized for his cult of Shaktivad (Strength).
This account cannot be considered complete without mention of a few poets who also deviated from the progressive stream and established their own distinctidentity. These were Haribhajan Singh (1920), Jaswant Singh Neki (1925), Shiv Kumar (1937-73), Sukhbir (1926), Tara Singh (1929-93), Surjit Rampuri (1931-90), and Jagtar (1931). These poets laid the foundations of a new aesthetics rooted in ordinary speech. Among them, Haribhajan Singh is the most prominent. He came into the limelight with his first collection, Lassan (Lashes, 1958), which departed from established taste. He has about a dozen collections of poems to his credit. A few of them are the most discussed works of this period, such as Tar Tupka (A Hanging Drop, 1961), Adhraini (Midnight, 1965), Na Dhupe Na Chhaven (Neither in the Sun nor in the Shade, 1966), Mein Jo Bit Gaya (Me, the One Who Is Past, 1970), Sarak de Safe te (On the Page of a Road, 1973), Alaf Dupehar (The Naked Midday, 1973), Tukian Jibhan Wale (Those with Cut Tongues, 1976), Mathe wala Deeva (The Forehead’s Light, 1989), Tar Tupka and a new form of a poem, “Ik Patri Kavita” (A Poem with One Interlocutor).
Jaswant Singh Neki has published five books of poetry, which include his long autobiographical poem “Simriti de Kiran Ton Pehlan” (Before the Dissolution of Memory). His other collections of poems are Asle te ohle (Illusion and Reality, 1955), Eh Mere Sanse eh Mere Gee (Here Are My Fears, Here Are My Songs), and Karuna Di Chhoh ton Pichhon (After the Benevolent Touch). Neki’s short poems revolve around themes based on spiritual values and are of a perennial nature. Though the poet deals with values related to a kind of mystical experience, a scientific approach may be discerned that gives new content to his poetry. In his Karuna di Choh ton Pichhon, he narrates his spiritual experience in a very personal and sensitive style. Samriti de Kiran ton Pehlan is also a narrative of his intense experience, born out of his encounter with near death following a frightful car accident.
Shiv Kumar, known widely as Shiv Kumar Batalvi and a major poet of this period, is considered a rare phenomenon in Panjabi literature. He distinguished himself as a poet of rare lyrical intensity. No other poet in this period attained so much popularity. He is known for his lyrics expressing acute agony and personal pain of an individual in an idiom closest to the hearts of the people. He was very much rooted in the soil of the Panjab and imbibed the exuberance of Panjabi culture. The early works of Shiv Kumar, collected in the first volume of his complete works, Birhan Tun Sultan (O Separation, You Are Supreme), represent a varied specimen of his painful and sad lyrics. This work became less important in light of the popularity attained by his later work, a verse play called Loona. In this poem, he uses the mode of the lyric to delve deeply into the folklore of Panjab, revealing the depth of human experience in personal love from the vantage point of pain and suffering. In this epic, Shiv Kumar imparts a new meaning to a popular tale, immortalizing an oft repeated folktale with new depth.
The Pragti Vadi poets, such as Santokh Singh Dhir Surjit, Rampuri Jagtar, and Prabhjot Kaur, attained a considerable achievement in writing verse with a message. Prabhjot Kaur also composed some lyrics that have the flavor of folk songs. Santokh Singh Dhir is still on his ascendancy, but he no longer writes in a Marxist slant. Only Jagtar, with whom we have come a long way in the tradition of Panjabi poetry, has walked abreast with all the major poetic movements, such as romanticism, Pragtivad, experimentalism, and militant poetry of Jhujarvad. He has six collections of poetry to his credit, which demonstrate his deep mastery of classical Persian poetry. A keen awareness of modern Urdu poetry being written both in India and in Pakistan has enabled him to exercise a dexterous rhythmic control over his compositions, which are replete with delicate Urdu poetic imagery. Chhangya RuKh (Pruned Tree) is one of his very popular collections of poems.
Post-Independence Panjabi Poetry (1970-94)
During the 1970s, along with the old masters, rose new poets who have shown great promise such as Harnam (1934-90), Mohanjit (1938), Tarlok Singh Kan-war (1931-94), Sutinder Singh Noor (1939), Surinder Gill (1942), Joga Singh (1942), Harbhajan Halwaravi (1943), Minder (1944), Surjit Pattar (1945), Par-mindejit (1944), Manjit Tiwana (1947), Awtar Singh Pash (1950-88), Santokh Singh Shehar Yar (1947), Ravinder (1946), S. Balwant (1946), Savinderjit Savi (1947), Ravinder Bhathal (1946), Ajaib Hundal, and Gian Singh Sandhu (1936). They have shown not only a deep social awareness but also intellectual and artistic maturity in the small body of their best work. Pattar’s Hawa vich likhe Harf (The Words Scribbled in Air), Likhtam Parminderjit (Parminderjit Writes), and Uneenda Vartman (Sleepless Present) have rightly been deemed first-rate poetry. Pattar, a master of the form of ghazal, not only is aware of surrounding realities but also possesses a fine poetic sensibility for the beauty and import of the word. Irony and a highly delicate and sensuous imagery, along with lyricism, lend his poems a rare charm. Surjit Pattar, as well as Manjit Tiwana, are both recipients of the coveted Sahitya Academy Award.
Panjabi Poetry in Pakistan
In Pakistan, classical Panjabi poetry of medieval times remained quite popular for a long time, and Waris and Sufi poets are still in much demand. Curbs on the freedom of expression, particularly during the days of military rule, affected creative writing throughout Pakistan, including Panjab, where Panjabi literature suffered censure. As a result, most poets composed in an indirect way, using symbols and images as an aid. The old guard like Ustad Daman, Faqir Ahamed, Maula Bakhsh Kushta, Hakim Nasir, Hayat Pasruri, Akbar Lahori, Janab Jatoi, Pir Fazal, and Ghulam Haidar Yateem, continued writing traditional verse in Panjabi.
Along with them, some new poets of a new sensibility, such as Ahmed Rahi, Najm Hossain Sayad, Munir Niazi, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti, Majid Siddiqui, Baqi Suddiqui, Zaffar Iqbal, Munnoo Bhai, and Masud Anwar, became trendsetters. Most of them started their poetic career in Urdu or English but later turned to their mother tongue. Leading names in Urdu include Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sufi Tubbassam, Ahmad Nassem Qasimi, Habib Jalib, Raza Hamdani, Qateel Shifai, Jamel Maik, and a host of others. The ghazal, a traditional form of poetry in Urdu, was popularized in Panjabi by most of them. It is estimated that more than 200 poetry collections have been published during the last 38 years.
Panjabi Poetry in the West
A large number of poets flourish in the Western countries. Some are Gurcharn Rampuri, Ravinder Ravi, Ajmer Rode (1940), Darshan Gill (1943), Surjeet Kalsey (1944), Iqbal Ramuwalia (1946), Sukhinder (1947), Sadhu (1947), Surinder Dhanjal (1950), and Charan Singh (1950), all from Canada; Niranjan Singh Noor (1933), Avtar (1937), Santokh Singh Santokh (1938), Mushtaq Slngh (1939), and Amarjit Chandan (1946), from the U.K.; Dev (1947), who settled in Switzerland; Satti Kumar (1936) of Sweden; Ajaib Kamal (1932) in Kenya; and Gurmel (1943), Jang Singh Giani (1920), Shashi Samundra, and Sukhmin-der Kamboj, from the United States.
Young New Poets
The decade of the 1980s has produced at least two dozen young new poets, covering a wide range: college teachers, farmers, political workers, students, and homemakers. Though a few have one or two books published, some have so far published only in literary magazines but show a good deal of promise. An anthology of three to five poems from each poet, entitled Naven Dishadian Di Tlash (The Search for New Horizons), has been recently released by Gursharan Singh, the noted Panjabi playwright, on behalf of the Balraj Sahni Memorial Publications, Chandigarh. Some of the poets included in the volume are Amarjit Kaunke, Amardeep Gill, Avtarjit, Asi, Swarnjit Savi, Swarajbir, Surjit Judge, Suhinderbir, Dharam Kameana, Nirupma Dut, Prvesh, Harmeet Vidyarthi, Pal Kaur, Balbir Parwana, Lakhvinder Johal, Rajbir, Ram Singh Chahal, Madan Vira, and Jaswant Deed. Their poetry is marked by the liberation of feeling from predetermined ideological prejudices, many displaying rare skill and ingenuity.
Panjabi Novel (1900-1947)
The Panjabi novel was born with Bhai Vir Singh, Mohan Singh Vaid, Charan Singh Shaheed, Joshua Fazal Din, and others. These works can, at best, be accepted as a first tentative exercise in Panjabi fiction. Vir Singh used the novel form for didactic purpose, and so did the other writers. Though the Panjabi novel developed under the direct influence of the Western novel, its early form was somewhat deficient in literary value. Yet, these fiction writers did receive Western influence through Hindi and Urdu translations.
With Nanak Singh (1897-73), the beginning of the Panjabi novel can be traced. As the first Panjabi author of fictional works that could be called novels in the modern sense, he chose his field wisely; most of his characters come from the people he knew well—the lower middle class in the urban setting of Panjab. He also depicted the struggle of the worker against the capitalistic order, the decaying feudalistic aristocracy, and the rising intellectual. He depicted the life of the Panjabi lower middle class faithfully and with great sympathy; his novels have well-constructed plots. In his reformist zeal, he tended to sentimentalize Panjabi society, but with growing maturity he became more detached and critical, and his writing gained considerably in power. He wrote during the period when Marxist criticism had the foremost place, and, in the misguided belief that “progressive” writing necessarily meant writing about the militant worker, the so-called Pragtivad established the stock character in stock situations of conflict. As such, the works of Nanak Singh lost their storytelling charm and were reduced to mere communist propaganda. He consciously tried to free himself of this impeding influence in his later works.
Nanak Singh, is, perhaps, the first writer who made the medium of the novel an instrument of social reform, and, over his long career of more than 50 years, he reflected on the pressing problems of the growing Panjabi society. He wrote around 50 novels. A few of them became very popular with Panjabi readers. Many of his works have been translated into other Indian languages. In his first phase of writing, he brought to the fore the problems of communalism, religious hypocrisy, untouchability, widow marriage, illiteracy, and social and economic backwardness. Some of his most popular novels are Chitta Lahu (The White Blood, 1932), Kagtan di Beri (The Paper Boat), Pavitter Papi (The Pious Sinner), Agg di Khed (The Play of Fire), and Chiterkar (The Painter). After partition, he took up the problems of the independence of women. He has depicted woman fighting for her rights and gaining economic self-reliance. Katti Hoi Patang (The Kite with Cut String) and AdamKhor (Cannibals) represent this period of his writing. Nanak Singh remained active till the mid-1960s, mostly repeating the same themes. In brief, Nanak Singh is a giant among novelists. He is realistic and has portrayed the anguish of the downtrodden throughout his life. He has given voice to those who could not express their feelings and invested them with the grandeur of simple humanity.
Socialist Realism in the Panjab Novel (1947 Onward)
After Nanak Singh, the Panjabi novel developed under the impact of movements of socialist realism. Surinder Singh Narula (1919) is the most consistent exponent of Marxist ideology in his fiction. His first novel, Peo Pvtter (Father and Son, 1946), accepted as a major work of fiction, narrates the story of the city of Amritsar and its significant phases of development in the first two decades of the twentieth century, bringing into focus successive religious and political movements in the Panjab. In Rang Mahal (The Palace of Enjoyment, 1949), the writer, using Marxist and Freudian critique, draws the picture of a retired, corrupt bureaucrat and his equally corrupt wife, who live in a shish mahal (a glass palace) with four mentally retarded daughters. The couple is tormented with mental agonies, resulting in a prosperous house turning into a virtual hell. His novels also depict the duality of class disputes.
Narula has also written a historical novel, Nili Bar (1956), depicting the life of the people in one of the canal colonies developed by the British in West Panjab. It reproduces with sympathy and sensitivity the life of the tribes inhabiting the areas between Chenab and Jhelum and foreshadows the sufferings and exploitation they were likely to undergo from the local aristocracy with the help of the rulers. In another novel, Lok Dushman (The Enemies of the People, 1953), he attempts to depict the conflict between the feudal lords and the peasants. Narula, in short, is responsible for introducing intellectual realism in Panjabi fiction supported by documentation of facts. As a result, his novels turned into more or less dry accounts of social and historical facts, and the story interest in them took a back seat. Some of his novels written after independence made some attempts to liberate them from the puritanical and reformist frame given by Nanak Singh. Another feature of his works is that it shifted the domestic scene to which the Panjabi novel was confined earlier and broadened its sphere to meaningful socioeconomic perspective.
Sant Singh Sekhon with his Lahu Mitci (Blood and Soil) narrates the story of a Panjabi peasant with a background of vast agricultural and economic changes. Sekhon’s major contribution to Panjabi fiction is in the field of the short story. In fact, he inaugurated the era of experiment in the field of the Panjabi short story. He brought a whirl of fertilizing ideas, pleading for a new society, new humanism, and a “new hero.” He is responsible for introducing into the short story the pattern, technique, and realistic methods of Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield. Jaswant Singh Kanwal, who wrote profusely, like Nanak Singh, is very sentimental in his storytelling and is a committed Marxist. He is, however, puritanical in his approach while depicting love themes and also preaches revolution for fulfillment of the total human personality. Whereas Nanak Singh depicted mostly the urban life of Panjab, Kanwal moved the scenario to rural settings in which his heroes and heroines are involved in romance. He attempts to invest a charm in the rural life of Panjab. His novel Puranmashi (The Night of Full Moon, 1954), a work of his early phase, depicts village life in an exquisite manner by combining the elements of romance, mystery, and beauty. In his later novels, he becomes more and more political, and in most of his novels he superimposes abstract polemical discussion on Marxist ideology and mixes the same with Indian religious philosophy. Only in Civil Lines (1956) does he sustain fictional interest and give a realistic picture of the modern culture. He also wrote some short stories.
Sikh Legend, Myth, and History Welded Into the Novel
Narinderpal Singh, who wrote on the lines of Nanak Singh, attempted some novels based on Sikh history. Khanion Ti~bi (Sharper than Blade, 1960) deals with the period of Sikh history when Baba Banda Bahadur rose to power, crushing the Moghul rulers in Panjab. In Walon Nikki (Thinner than Hair, 1960), he depicts the period when the Sikh Missels were fighting with one another to gain political power. Et Marg Jana (This Path to Be Followed, 1960) deals with the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Ik Sarkar Bajhon (In the Absence of the Emperor, 1961) portrays the conditions that led to the downfall of the Sikh rule and the battles fought by the Sikhs against the British during 1845-49. These are based on a good deal of historical research and provide interesting reading. His other novels, Ik Rab Ik Para (A Path and a Stage, 1953), Shakti (Power), Tria Jal (The Spell of Women, 1957), and Aman de Rab (The Paths of Peace), either are biographical or portray the effects of war on youth.
Kartar Singh Duggal started writing novels soon after independence. He gave to the Panjabi world before the beginning of the 1960s three novels, namely, Andran (Intestines, 1949), Naunh te Mas (The Nails and the Flesh, 1957), and Eh Dil Vikau Hai (This Heart Is for Sale, 1959). Then, after about 10 years, in the late 1960s, he published a trilogy entitled Hal Muridan Da (The Poor Plight of the Pupil), with three novels in a series depicting in a marvelous detail and sensitivity the story of three generations of a family uprooted from West Panjab and resettled in Delhi after partition. This novel presents a vivid picture of Panjabi life and culture in a sociocultural and historical perspective that brings out its diversity. One of his novels of the trilogy, Man Pardesi, (Mind, the Foreigner), was very well received among the Panjabi readership.
Duggal primarily wrote short stories, but after partition his interest switched to novels. Many others who established themselves as story writers, such as Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Gurdial Singh, Jaswant Singh Virdi, and Sukhbir, found novel writing more satisfying for development of their genius. This is a significant tendency in the postpartition Panjabi literature which shows that most of the older-generation fiction writers chose to devote their energies to novel writing, and this provided an opportunity to the younger writers to take to story writing. Duggal has contributed more than a dozen collections of short stories, among which are Saver Sar (The Morning Time, 1941), Nawan Ghar (The New Home, 1951), Karamat (The Miracle, 1957), and Pare Mere (1967).
Turn Toward Depiction of the Rural Cultural Ethos of Malwa
Dalip Kaur Tiwana, who started writing in the early 1960s, has published more than half a dozen novels, but her most outstanding work till now remains Eh Hamara Jiwana, a very moving tale of a poor peasant girl who becomes a victim of reckless human lust. It narrates the tragedy of a woman belonging to a landless peasant family who, despite her best effort to preserve herself, becomes victim to circumstances in which she and her family remain caught. She wielded the regional dialect of Malwa in this novel for the expression of deep inner feelings with minimum use of words. Another novel, Rin Pittran Da (Ancestral Debts), is the depiction of suffering undergone by the Panjabis in the wake of Operation Blue Star. Bikram, an offspring of a Sikh father and an English mother, is the hero of this novel. His father dies in a road accident when he returns from England to his home in the Panjab soon after Operation Blue Star, and Bikram’s English mother dies in England, leaving him alone in this world. He wishes his stepmother in India would own him as her son, but she refuses to do so. Ultimately, his stepsister, Simmy, accepts him as her brother, thus allowing him entry into his ancestral roots. In this novel, too, she uses the dialect of Bhathinda, a district in the Malwa belt of Panjab, and minutely depicts regional cultural ethos in a charming manner. Tiwana is also a Sahitya Academy Award recipient, and her novel Pile Pattian Di Dastan (The Story of Dried Yellow Leaves) also needs special mention as an outstanding piece of fictional art. Dalip Kaur Tiwana, along with Ajti Caur (1934), Gurbachan Bhullar (1935), and Gulzar Singh Sandhu (1935), wrote very delicate stories in their own individual styles.
Gurdial Singh, whose name links him with the last 30 years of contemporary Panjabi literature, is a leading figure of the new Panjabi novel. The publication of his Marhi da Diva (The Earthen Lamp of a Tomb, 1962) marks the beginning of a new era of the Panjabi novel. It brings out in a significant manner the rural cultural ethos of a region of the Malwa area of Panjab. It, therefore, establishes an altogether different identity of the Panjabi novel, assigning it the features of both a regional novel and a pastoral parable. His other two novels, Anhoye (Nonbeings) and Adh Chanai Rat (Midnight Lit with Moon), written successively after Marhi da Diva, also portray effectively the fate of the nonperson “hero” in different settings.
Sohan Singh Sittal, now in his late 80s, earlier composed ballads and charmed large Panjabi audiences by performing them on the stage over half a century. He turned to novel writing in his late 50s. His Tutan Wala Khuh (A Well by the Mulberry Trees) displays a maturity of approach and skillfulness in weaving a story around the aftereffects of the country’s partition in the background of Panjab’s rural environment. The writer brings out the feelings of remorse in the wake of partition of Panjab, where both Hindus and Muslims were living in an atmosphere of communal amity. The village well becomes a symbol of the past life marked by mutual understanding and hope, cruelly dismembered by the forces of communalism and hatred. Another novel, Jang Ke Arnan (War or Peace), brings out forcefully the adverse impacts of war on human society. He has published nearly a dozen novels, which are marked by a very compact organization of the narrative, with a keen sense of observation of details and well-drawn characters. He, to a great extent, follows Nanak Singh in form and style, though he does make some innovations here and there in the fictional form. His Jug Badal Gaya (The Times Have Changed) also represents an ideal piece of a mature, humanistic sensibility.
The Novels of Gujjar and Machhiara Tribes
Mohan Kahlon, another Panjabi novelist of note who carved out a distinct place in this art form, is known for portraying tribal life on the bank of the river Ravi on the border of Panjab and Jammu. He also focuses on the life of Gujjars living on the Himalayan hills in the same area. His very popular novel Ret te Breta (The Sand and the Sandbank, 1969) portrays in fair detail the cultural and social life of the tribal herdsmen (Gujjars) who raise cattle in the hills and sell their milk to the people living in the surrounding plains to earn their livelihood. Likewise, his Machhli Ik Dariya Di (A Fish out of a River) highlights the life of boatmen of the riverine area on the western banks of the Ravi at the point where it enters the plains of Panjab. He has given, in a very lively manners, customs, manners, rituals, folk songs, and enormous wealth of information, which are significant anthropologically and charming as a part of the fictional world. Kahlon has given a vivid picture of the inner intricacies of their social organization and their intratribal relationships. Kahlon has also thrown light on the corruption and inefficiency of the police and judicial system that is responsible for oppression of these innocent people. The story of his second novel, Ret te Breta, revolves around the character Qadir, an outcaste, who struggles to fight the injustice done to him by his society but who finally gives way to the might of the established system. Another novel, Kali Mitti (The Black Earth, 1986), has attracted critical attention for its depiction of promiscuity. Mohan Kahlon, by capturing the conflicts lying underneath the surface of the life of these tribes of Panjab, assigns a dramatic quality to his novels.
Panjabi Novel Abroad
Some novelists who were living in India but later settled in other countries have also distinguished themselves in this field. At least two names deserve a special mention. Giani Kesar Singh (Canada) and Swarn Chandan (U.K.), who have been writing regularly, have established themselves as representatives of two different areas of novel writing. Whereas Giani Kesar Singh has devoted himself to writing historical novels based on the lives of those who sacrificed their lives in foreign lands during the freedom movement of the country, Swarn Chandan through his novels portrayed the lives of those Indians who are living in the U.K. He throws light on the economic and social life of Indians in England who have no sense of belonging to that land and are also conscious of the historical colonial background of the British. In his more than half a dozen novels, he has narrated the woes of those who work day and night shifts to earn their livelihood and save something for their kith and kin at home. He brings out the pains of the racial discrimination that they have suffered at the hands of the whites. Swarn Chandan also represents the winds of change sweeping over them. While constructing his fictional world, he has made experiments in form and employed a number of techniques and ideas. Strong feelings of rootlessness, disorientation, nostalgia, depersonalization, and isolation are replete in his novels. Kakb, Kan, Te Darya (The Straw, the Chaff and River, 1980) is his most popular work of fiction. Swarn Chandan also wrote some short stories, but due to the contribution of Ravinder Ravi (Canada) and Raghbir Dhand (U.K.), the Panjabi short story by diaspora writers acquired a distinct identity.
Giani Kesar Singh published his first novel, Lehar Vadhdi Gayi (The Current Went on Swelling), in the mid-1960s, in which he depicted the anti-imperialist struggle of the Indian community in Canada and within the country. In 1970, he published his second novel, Jangi Qaidi (The Prisoner of War), in which, besides narrating the horrors of World War II, he described the experience of Panjabis in the war and its impact on the sociocultural life at home. He later shifted his interest in writing fiction to the lives of the heroes who laid down their lives for the independence of the country. Some of his novels, such as Shaheed Udham Singh (The Martyr Udham Singh), Amar Shaheed Madan Lal Dhingra, Baba Hari Singh Usman, Shaheed Mewa Singh Lopoke, and so on, have been popular with Panjabi readers. Most of these novels are written in the style of Nanak Singh. But their merit lies in the fact that they preserve the history of the freedom movement in India, which has otherwise been neglected till now. In 1986, Giani wrote Waris Shah di Maut (The Death of Waris Shah), depicting the cultural crisis of Panjabis living abroad. He shows how the younger generations of Panjabis are forgetting their heritage and losing their own distinct identity.
Stream of Consciousness
Surjit Singh Sethi, a dramatist, theater artist, novelist, and short story writer, wrote a couple of novels on the lines of stream of consciousness as practiced in the West by James Joyce and others. His experiment with this form is very bold, indeed, but in his Ik Khali Piyala (An Empty Cup) he did not achieve much success. However, in his second novel, Kal Vi Suraj Charhega (The Sun Will Rise Even Tomorrow), the story based on the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy, he is able to establish better communication with his readers. Sukhbir, another fiction writer settled in Bombay, has written novels on the life of the metropolis and has described the elements of the alienation in this life with a good measure of success. He has also experimented with stream of consciousness with much maturity and skill. Other examples of the experimental novel are Narinderpal Singh’s Pvniya ke Masya and Jagjit Brar’s Dhup Darya di Dosti (The Friendship of Sunshine and the River), in which novel techniques of building a fictional image have been tried with unequal success.
Individual in the Crisis of Values
Niranjan Tasneem, Surjit Hans, Joginder Kairon, Ram Saroop Ankhi, and a host of young writers have written novels of new sensibility. They portray a picture of the harassed individual enmeshed in the crisis of values. They express various facets of the same theme with different techniques and varying levels of symbolic and allegorical expressions. Along with the new, some of the old novelists continued to write. Harnam Dass Sehrai, who started writing fiction in the mid-1960s, is still actively engaged in writing novels on Sikh history saturated with sentimentalism. He has published more than 40 novels eulogizing the Sikh gurus and heroes, but they lack authentic historical facts and are largely based on stories preserved in oral tradition.
Fiction in Pakistan
In Pakistan after 1947, the Panjabi novel received some encouragement at the hands of a number of writers who were earlier writing in Urdu. There were only three Panjabi novels written by Muslim authors before partition. Joshua Fazal Din and Miran Bakhsh Minhas wrote a few more novels even after Pakistan came into existence. Mohmmad Bakir and Abdul Majeed Bhatti also wrote one novel each. The main theme of these novels was social reform. They later were joined by the young writers, Afzal Ahsan Randhawa, Fakhar Zaman, Saleem Khan Gimmi, Zafar Lashari, Ismail Ahmadani, Razia Noor Mohammad, Raja Mohammad Ahmed, Nadim Asari, Kehkshan Malik, Ahmed Saleem, Muneer Ahmed Alvi, Ehsan Batalvi, and many others. Some of the novels written, notably by Rajinder Singh Bedi, Amrita Pritam, and Nanak Singh, were published in Persian script. Afzal Randhawa translated into Panjabi in Persian script Chinua Achebe’s African novel, Things Fall Apart. The novel depicts the tragedy of Okankwo, an important man in the Obi tribe in the days when white men first came on the scene. This novel tells the series of events by which Okankwo, through his pride and his fears, becomes exiled from his tribe and returns, only to be forced into the ignominy of suicide to escape the results of his courage against the white man. Randhawa selected this novel for translation into Panjabi because it looks like the story of Panjab when it fell in the last century. The story, which the British wrote on the bones of an African hero, was the same as the story written on the bones of Panjabi heroes of that period. There is marked identity in the sociocultural values of the African tribes and the Panjabi society. The motive is to rediscover the Panjab, which has been lost due to the centuries of subservience. Randhawa, in the same manner, has tried to rediscover the lost Panjabi identity in his novel Doaba.
Fakhar Zaman, a poet, novelist, and intellectual, wrote three novels, Ik Mare Bande di Kahani, Sat Guacbe Lok, and Bandiwan. In the first two, he attempts to rediscover the roots of Panjabi life. The third is the gruesome story of the execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister of Pakistan. The protagonists in these novels reflect his intense desire to search for Panjabi roots in the archetypal and imaginative world of Panjab. They make a voyage into the depths of their being and search for their authentic self. The third novel, Bandiwan, is interspersed with poetry, symbols, and allusions to the depths of the inner being of Panjabi character, which form an integral part of the emotional and technical development of the story. These novels have been transcribed into the Gurmukhi script in the Indian Panjab and are well received there. Randhawa’s Doaba has also been rendered into Gurmukhi and warmly applauded by Panjabi readers in India. The search for roots is also visible in another powerful novel, Taee (Aunt) by Farzand Ali. Most of these writers have also tried their hand at story writing and have depicted lively pictures of rural Panjabi life and its personality in an uninhibited manner. There is a long list of young Pakistani short story writers who are well equipped to practice this art form because of their sensitivity and keen eye for detail.
During the last two decades, the short story in Panjabi has grown as a modern literary form identified by the presence of a conscious narrative, foregrounding a particular incident, situation, or moment of emotional intensity. The Panjabi writer has used this form with great flexibility and seriousness. The most significant feature of Panjabi fiction—both novel and short story—can be seen in its strength of foregrounding the common person.
Panjabi Drama and Theater
Panjabi drama, from the very beginning an admixture of the characteristics of English and Sanskrit drama, bears a greater impact of English drama—par-ticularly of Shakespeare—than of traditional Sanskrit drama. In fact, Sanskrit drama and poetics, though they flourished in this land in ancient times, ironically, did not have much influence in shaping the drama developed in the twentieth century.
Though Bhai Vir Singh, a Panjabi (Raja Lakhdata Singh, 1910), Kirpa Sagar (Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Dido Jamval ), Bawa Budh Singh (1878-1931) (Chander Hari and Mundri Chhall [The Magical Ring]), Charan Singh (1853- 1908) (Rani Sarab Kaur), Gurbax Singh Barrister (Mohan Bhaia, 1912), Brij Lal Shastri (Puraan Natak, 1919, Partigya, Vasva Datta, 1925) started writing Panjabi plays in the early part of this century, Ishwar Chander Nanda (1892-1966) wrote the first successful plays in Panjabi in a realistic style on the model of Western drama. His predecessors did follow models of Sanskrit plays, but Nanda started writing under the direct influence of Western drama. He came in contact with Norah Richards and Philips E. Richards of Dayal Singh College, Lahore, during his student days and started writing short plays in Panjabi. Dulhan (The Bride) and Bebe Ram Bhajni were Nanda’s two one-act plays, which pioneered modern Panjabi drama.
Nanda’s first one-act-play was staged in 1914, and his full-length play Sub-hadra was published in 1920. He has written two other full-length plays, Var Ghar jan Lily da Viah (1938) and Social Circle (1953), and a Panjabi adaptation of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice entitled Shamu Shah (1928). Besides these, he wrote over a dozen one-act plays, published in two collections, Jhalkare (Reflections, 1949) and Lishkare (Flashes, 1956).
In all his works, Nanda wrote about social problems of his day. In Subhadra, he deals with the problem of widow remarriage; in Var Ghar Jan Lily da Viyah, he contrasts love marriage and arranged marriage; and in Social Circle, he portrays the urban, middle-class elite who arrange their “social meets” merely to promote their narrow commercial interests.
The most important contribution of Nanda’s plays is that, with them, Panjabi drama is freed from religious and mythological themes. He propagated new values through young men and women educated in schools and colleges. That is why he highlights mutual conflict between the two generations of the Panjabi middle class. To Nanda’s credit, while adopting Western techniques of drama, he made full use of the folk theater tradition of Panjab, blending the two in a vivid pattern. His presentation of marriage scenes, religious ceremonies, superstitions, the ignorance of the village folks, folk songs and folk dances, and so on invests his plays with a Panjabi character. Nanda greatly influenced the later playwrights who were responsible for shaping the future Panjabi drama into a theater molded and motivated by Western drama on realistic lines. Those who followed him included Joshua Fazal-ud-din (1903-73), Harcharn Singh (1914), Sant Singh Sekhon (1908), Balwant Gargi (1916), and a few others. The writers who were almost contemporaries of Nanda were Gurbakhsh Singh Preet Lari (1895-1978), Mohan Singh Dewana (1899-1984), Harcharn Singh, Gurdial Singh Khosla (1912), Roshan Lal Ahuja (1904-87), and Gurdial Singh Phul (1911-88). Some of the writers of this generation were writing in other genres, and so drama and theater were not their mainstay. They were primarily writing drama only for enriching this form also; otherwise, they distinguished themselves in other forms of literature. For example, Dewana gained fame in poetry and literary scholarship, Gurbakhsh Singh in prose, and Sant Singh Sekhon in fiction and literary criticism, but a few of them devoted themselves wholeheartedly to drama. Except for Sant Singh Sekhon, most of these playwrights contributed to the growth of popular drama nurtured by Harcharn Singh. It was taken forward by Gurdial Singh Khosla, Roshan Lal Ahuja, and Gurdial Singh Phul, all playwrights of the first generation. These playwrights wrote on topical social, historical, and mythological themes. The dramatization of Sikh cultural ethos was also a favorite subject of these playwrights. The audiences who were not conscious of any quality theater were swayed by their religious sentimentality. However the plays of this generation gained popularity, their art remained untouched by modernism. The defining feature of these playwrights was their farcical or melodramatic impact, which did not rise above the level of Ram Lila performances.
Progressive Trends—Panjabi Drama Between 1931 and 1947
There is no doubt that Harcharan Singh and the playwrights who followed his lead added quantitatively to the body of dramatic literature in Panjabi, but they have offered little by way of quality, which appeared only when stalwarts like Sant Singh Sekhon, Balwant Gargi, and Amrik Singh (1921) made their contribution. These writers have brought vigor and freshness to Panjabi drama. With them began the trend of progressive writing. Sekhon has given a new dimension to Panjabi drama by committing the genre to a dialectical interpretation of contemporary reality. He is responsible for evolving a form of Panjabi drama that is called intellectual drama. Instead of presenting matter-of-fact details, Sekhon, in this type of play, subjects themes to intellectual insight and philosophical scrutiny. Sekhon, in his more than a dozen plays, raised exciting debate on various themes of contemporary social and cultural relevance, which has made some of his plays very controversial. Some of his very well known plays include Kalakar (The Artist, 1946), Moyian Sar na Kai (Gone and Forgotten), Bera Bandh Na Sakyo (You Did Not Bind the Logs of the Float), Narki (Denizens of Hell, 1952), Damyanti (1962), and Mitter Pyara (The Dear Friend). It is generally believed that Sekhon has failed to write plays meant to be staged, and his works do not go beyond intellectual discussions, which, of course, are stimulating. His characters are automatons and devoid of any physical action, but still his writing offers an exciting fare for mature and lively debate.
During this period, there seemed to have developed a cleavage between literary drama and drama meant for the stage. The plays of Sant Singh Sekhon, though impressive, were scarcely staged. Defending his plays, he argued that they could not be staged for they represented times ahead of him. The existing theater was not adequate to produce his plays because of its limitations. On the other hand, some Panjabi critics characterized these plays as literary plays at best, having no potential to turn into a stage reality. Roshan Lal Ahuja accepted that there could be both kinds of plays—literary meant for reading only and others worthy of stage production. Thus, for some time, there existed a state of isolation between the literary, on one hand, and stage drama, on the other, in Panjabi. Balwant Gargi, one of the most distinguished names in Panjabi drama and theater arts, brought an end to this controversy by laying the foundations of a mature, professional theater in Panjabi. His plays are a happy synthesis between the requirements of stage and the demands of literature. The dialogue of his plays has a literary grace and poetic charm. Panjabi folklore in its diverse manifestations lends meaning to his plays and makes them memorable.
His earliest work, Loha Kut (The Blacksmith, 1944), created a stir in Panjabi literary circles for its unusual theme and distinct form. It is a very sensitive play with an equally unusual theme: the problem of suppressed passions. In it, the inner dreams and aspirations of both mother and daughter are ruthlessly crushed in the suffocating atmosphere of the blacksmith Kaku’s home. The daughter revolts against the orthodoxy and oppression and elopes with her sweetheart. The mother follows the example of her daughter and leaves Kaku, even though they have been married 18 years. At a symbolic level, the play deals with the elemental and primordial in human nature.
Gargi, under the impact of pragtivad (progressive movement), wrote a number of plays with a Marxist slant. Notable among them are Ghuggi (The Dove), Biswedar (The Feudal Lord), Sail Pathar (Still Stones), Kesro (Name of Woman), and Girjhan (Vultures, 1951). These plays are on themes such as the world peace movement, the agrarian struggle, national reconstruction, and polemics on committed art. In his Dhuni di Agg (The Dark Ritual), he breaks with the realistic tradition and represents love and hatred as primeval forces through the symbolism of red flames of fire contrasted with the darkness of night. Among his plays based on Marxist ideology, Kanak di Bali (Stem of Wheat) departs from realistic tradition and introduces an element of lyricality from the indigenous folklore. He attains a rare height in Sultan Razia, a historical play that deals with an action-packed period of Indian history, from the dying Iltumish to the death of Sultan Razia. It is a period of uncertainty and conspiracies resulting in ruthless killings for the throne. This play in its Hindi version was staged by the National School of Drama under the directorship of E. Alkazi and thus brought Gargi to national fame. In another play, Saunkan (The Other Wife, 1979), he deals with the triple relationship among mother, son, and daughter. He presents the sexual rivalry between the daughter and the mother at the psychological level. This is rather a disappointing work, for it does not give rise to any powerful dramatic conflict. Gargi is also an author of a scholarly treatise on Indian stagecraft entitled Bharti Drama, which won him a Sahitya Academy Award.
Among the older generation, Kartar Singh Duggal, a leading fiction writer, wrote plays that have been produced mainly by All India Radio. He is credited with developing a form of the radio play in Panjabi. To meet the needs of the radio play, he uses his characters as symbols. His play Puranian Botlan (The Old Bottles) is a meaningful critique of the unscrupulous behavior of the urban middle class. His other notable plays include Auh Gaye Sajjan Auh Gaye (There Goes Our Good Friend, 1942), Ik Siffer Siffer (One Zero Makes Zero, 1941), and Mitha Pani (The Sweet Water), all of which have been produced successfully several times over the radio. Duggal in these plays seems to have been impressed by the technique of T. S. Eliot and Christopher Frye in the matter of the use of rhythmic prose in his plays.
Post-Independence Period (1947-70)
Most of the playwrights of the preindependence period continued writing after independence, and some, like Gurdial Singh Khosla, Harcharan Singh, Kartar Singh Duggal, and Sant Singh Sekhon, wrote plays on the problems of rehabilitation of refugees following in the wake of partition of the country, yet a group of new young writers, namely, Amrik Singh, Harsaran Singh (1929-94), Gurcharan Singh Jasuja (1925), Surjit Singh Sethi (1928), Kapur Singh Ghumman (1927-84), and Paritosh Gargi (1923), introduced a few new themes and techniques in their plays.
IPTA and Panjabi Drama
During the freedom movement before independence, theater activity had assumed a far greater relevance than before, and links between the Indian arts, especially theater arts and the resurgence of Indian people, had become stronger. The Indian Progressive Theater Association (IPTA) movement in the realm of drama and theater was responsible for greater participation of the masses in different art activities, particularly in theater, as a result of which drama went closer to the day-to-day routine of the life of people. The theater arts were no longer conceived as mere means of entertainment, but they were reoriented toward playing a greater role as instruments of social awakening. IPTA also worked for obliterating the link between the theater and audience and bringing it closer to their hearts. It also brought about a significant change in the Panjabi theater in the sense that it extended its area of operation by making possible its convergence with theater activity in the rest of the country. This resulted in the liberation of Panjabi theater from inhibitions of academicism and middle-class prudery, and the IPTA movement in Panjab made it possible for appearance on the theater scene of artists like Shiela Bhatia, the well-known film star Balraj Sahni, Balwant Gargi, Tera Singh Chan, Joginder Bahrla, Pandit Khalili, and others, who made serious efforts to take Panjabi theater to the masses and evolve a powerful idiom of dramatic conflict.
Exploration of Inner Recesses of the Mind
In contrast, some of the new playwrights started introducing experiments in their plays under the influence of some Western dramatists and theater artists. Their focus of interest shifted from the portrayal of economic and social problems to the exploration of inner recesses of the human mind. Amrik Singh, in his Parchhavian Di Pakkar (The Grip of Shadows), makes use of episodic technique in building to a sharp climax the crippling grip of past events on the ife of an innocent victim of circumstances. In Atit de Parchhaven (Shadows of the Past), the design of the play is clearly influenced by August Stindberg, the Swedish playwright. In Bujharat (The Riddle), he again plunges into experimentation of form while dramatizing the life of Stindberg. Here, he makes use of the dream technique and symbolism of the sea to unfold the inner workings of his protagonist’s mind.
Harsaran Singh, another experimentalist, in his plays Jigra (Courage) and Udas Lok (The Dispirited People), has shown unusual vitality by bringing to bear critical realism on contemporary social problems. He brings out forcefully in Udas Lok the tensions in a joint family and its gradual disintegration. In his historical play Nizam Sakka, he presents in dramatic form the brief rule of Nizam, a water carrier, on whom the Mughal emperor Hamayun had bestowed kingship for one day in reward for saving him from drowning. The writer has tried to make this incident relevant to the contemporary situation by projecting Nizam Sakka’s rule as concretizing the dreams and aspirations of a socialist democratic welfare state.
Surjit Singh Sethi, another playwright, started writing social plays with a realistic slant and soon turned into an experimentalist. His King Mirza te Spera (King Mirza and the Snake Charmer) is reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It is an attempt to find meaning in the futility of existence. In another play, Nangi Sarak Rat da Ujala (The Naked Road and the Light of Night), Sethi attempts to focus on the experience of alienation and loneliness being suffered by modern individuals. In yet another play, Eh Zindgi Hai Dosto (This Life, O Friends), he wrote a powerful satire on corruption in contemporary social life. He profitably makes use of Artaud’s theater of cruelty in its production. Sethi is a bold experimentalist and has been able to translate Western ideas into play-writing and stage production in Panjabi.
The experimental drama received a further fillip from Paritosh Gargi. His Luk Chhip Jana (Ay! Hide You Yourself) and Chhleda (Illusion) are authentic pieces of experimental structuring. The former recalls Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs and later focuses on a social problem using experimental techniques.
Gurcharan Singh Jasuja, who stands out prominently among the new dramatists, writes his plays with down-to-earth common sense. By remaining away from all kinds of theories and fashions, he is able to dramatize small-time conflicts of the lackluster middle class. Still, he has made some significant innovations and a meaningful analysis of the inner self in his plays. In Kandhan Ret Dian (The Walls of Sand) and Andhkar (The Mist), he moves from visual symbols to verbal symbols, which not only help to unfold meaning but also intensify the action in the plays. One of his recent plays, Rachna Ram Banai (God Made the Creation), a play based on the verse of Guru Tegh Bahadur, implies that the Lord is the creator of this world and that every object in it takes its shape according to his will. The play, a fine example of the dramatization of an idealistic theory creation, is a distinguished work possessing literary grace and artistic excellence.
The quincentenary of the first Sikh guru, Baba Nanak was celebrated in the year 1969. In 1966, the 300th birth anniversary of the 10th master, Guru Gobind Singh, was celebrated with great fanfare. In 1977, the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city of Amritsar by Sri Guru Ram Das was celebrated. During these anniversaries, the art of drama and theater was used to pay tributes to these Panjabi heroes, and many aspects of their life and teachings were projected in various theatrical performances. A lot of dramatic literature was produced during this period. Some critics give a name to this period as shatabdi kal (centenary period) of Panjabi drama and theater, when a large number of playwrights and theater artists devoted themselves to the task of writing religious plays around the legends and history of the Sikh gurus. It was a challenge for a playwright to write a play about the Sikh gurus without their presence on the stage. The Sikh religious sentiments cannot tolerate any flesh-and-blood character portraying the great guru. Some plays revolve around an idea or a character that appears but briefly on the stage, but any play based on Sikh history depicting the gurus and their times has to present the main character only as a reported speech. In these plays, Panjabi playwrights drew the character of the off-stage hero in a superb manner. Balwant Gargi, in his Gagan Mien Thal (The Sky, the Worship Plate), presents, in absentia, guru Nanak as its hero. A bulk of drama literature produced in this category lacked quality and overwhelmed large audiences due to religious fervor. Some of the titles that became popular during this period are Sabh Kichh Hote Upaye (Everything Could Be Possible) and Jin Sach Pale Hoye (Those Who Possess the Truth, 1969) by Gurdial Singh Phul, Itihas Juab Mangda Hai (History Demands Answer, 1967), Zafarnama (1969), and Chamkaur Di Garhi (The Fortress of Chamkaur, 1969) by Harcharan Singh, and Amritsar Sifti da Ghar (Amritsar—the House of Praise) by S. S. Amole.
Some very eminent poets have written memorable verse plays in Panjabi. Haribhajan Singh wrote Tar Tupka (A Drop Hanging by a String, 1957); Ravinder Ravi of Canada, Bimar Sadi (The Ailing Century); Shiv Kumar, Luna (Name of a Woman); and Ajaib Kamal of Kenya, Langra Asman (The Lame Sky).
On the other side of the border, some efforts have been made to promote the genre of drama by some Pakistani writers. Some of them wrote for radio and television. Ashfaq Ahmad, Sajjad Haider, Nawaz Sheikh Iqbal, Baqi Siddiqui, Saleem Rafiqui, Akram Butt, Agha Ashraf, and, above all, Rafi Peer made important contributions in this regard. Those who wrote for television and made a mark in this sphere are Safdar Mir, Munnoo Bhai, Younis Javed, Ashfaq Ahmed, and Bano Qudsia. Munnoo Bhai’s serial “Jazeera” (Island) was very popular with viewers on both sides of the border. Later, it published in book form.
There has been some stage activity in the cities of Pakistan, particularly at Lahore, which had grown into an excellent center of Panjabi theater arts before partition. There has been a spurt in the commercial theater, but very little can stand out as a genuine art. Pug (The Turban) and Aj Akhan Waris Shah Nun (I Address Waris Shah Again) are rare exceptions.
There have been some very good plays in Panjabi written over the years on this side of Panjab. The late Ishaq Mohammad’s Mussali (Water Carrier) and Quqnus (name of a mythological bird), Najm Hussain Sayad’s Takhat Lahore (The Throne of Lahore) and Ik Raat Ravi Di (A Night on the Banks of the River Ravi), and Sarmad Sehbai’s Punjwan Chiragh (The Fifth Earthen Lamp) and Shak Shubhey da Vela (The Time for Doubt and Suspicion) all deal with the history of Panjab and attempt to identify and rediscover Panjabi “roots.” Najm Hussain Sayad’s plays are already translated into Gurmukhi in the Indian part of Panjab and are quite popular with Panjabi readers. Ishaq Mohammad’s Mussali is also available to Panjabi readership on the Indian side in Gurmukhi script. The play has been staged successfully a number of times in Chandigarh, Ludhiana, and Amritsar by Kala Mandir Mohali and has received great applause from large audiences. It has been produced and directed by the noted author and theater artist Atamjit. The play charms audiences for its dialect of the Bar area in West Panjab. Its story goes back to the times when the Aryans invaded the subcontinent and destroyed Harrapa. It is the sad story of Mussallis who were subjugated by the Aryans, being labeled as daso achhoots (untouchables) and made to do low, menial work in the farms without home and hearth.
Experimental drama made its presence felt in the hands of a couple of young playwrights and directors, like Atamjit (1950) and Ajmer Aulakh (1949). Atamjit’s Rishtian da Ki Rakhiye Nan, Ajit Ram, Seenan, and Farash Vich Ugiyya Hoya Rukh are very popular with Panjabi audiences. His short plays Murghi Khana and Pallu di Udik Vich are equally well known to the Panjabi world. Aulakh has become a household name in the world of Panjabi theater with Begane Bohar di Chhan, Ik Ramayan Hor, and Bhajian Bahin.
Panjabi Theater and Its Present Position
The early Panjabi theater catered primarily to the urban middle class, and its intent was to bring about social reform. Whatever the conflicts presented, these plays focused on the domestic and the romantic. The characters were generally stock types, and the denouement proceeded on familiar lines. According to Sant Singh Sekhon, Panjabi theater in its early days was rhetorical, with emotions and sentiments having great importance.
During the 1940s, there emerged a significant Panjabi theater in Lahore. But the partition of the country was responsible for checking its growth. Uprooted from its nuclear cultural center of Lahore, theater activity received a serious setback when it dispersed to Shimla, Jullunder, Patiala, Amritsar, Delhi, and, later, Chandigarh. Nowhere could it make its presence felt. In all these places, Panjabi theater remained a localized affair with no distinctive character of its own.
National School of Drama (NSD) and the Panjabi Theater
Only in the 1960s did the theater movement in the regional languages attain maturity and professional skill. The National School of Drama, established in Delhi in the early 1960s, became a strong center for bringing about a purposeful dialogue among theater folks of the different regions of India. With coming into contact with the theater being done elsewhere in India, Panjabi theater found a new orientation in the Panjab and Delhi and Bombay. It had an opportunity to avail itself of the services of well trained professional theater artists like Harpal Tiwana and his talented wife, Neena, Bansi Kaul, Suresh Pandit, Gurcharan Singh Channi, Devinder Daman, Sonal Mann Singh, Balraj Pandit, Kewal Dhaliwal, Kamal Tiwari Mahender, Navnindra Behal, and Rani Balbir Kaur, who have brought into it a new vitality and vigor. The establishment of the departments of Indian drama and Asian theater at Panjab University, Chandigarh, and speech and drama at Panjab University, Patiala, under the guidance of two theater stalwarts, Balwant Gargi and Surjit Singh Sethi, respectively, has led to some bold experiments in theater. Some playwrights, such as Gursharan Singh and Atamjit, though they did not have formal training in theater arts, are absolutely so slick in their profession that they are bringing a professional touch to Panjabi theater.
In the 1970s, Prem Julundry, with his Sapru House shows, regaled middle-class Panjabi audiences in Delhi. These shows, a craze of those times, offered what may be termed “hilarious adult comedy,” which were also called “laugh-a-minute sex comedies.” These Panjabi farces with salacious titles have been attacked, defended, even threatened, yet they were big box office hits.
In this very period, Panjabi theater started having its impact, for some of the theater groups made a serious effort to free themselves from the bonds of tradition. The Delhi Art Theater of Shiela Bhatia, Gursharan Singh’s Amritsar School of Drama, which later took the name of Chandigarh School of Drama after his moving to Chandigarh, Balraj Pandit’s Natakwala, and Atamjit’s Kala Mandir, first at Amritsar and now at Mohali, have combined dramatic dexterity with ingenious devices while exploring new modes of expression on stage. Aj-mer Aulakh has evolved a new, robust theatrical idiom from the folklore of Panjab. Devinder Daman and Jaswant Damanthe, a director-actress, husband- wife team, have, through their Norah Richards’s Rang Manch, introduced new modes of action in religious-historical plays.
Panjabi Drama and Theater from 1980 Onward
From 1980, Panjabi drama and theater passed through most difficult times. In this period, the people of Panjab suffered the most painful conditions of reckless killings and tensions between the two major religious groups of Pan-jab—Hindus and Sikhs. There was an atmosphere of total darkness and dissolution, with ever-increasing terrorist activity of looting and killings and fake police encounters, with women widowed and children orphaned. The killings were not confined to only one community, as the men, women, and children of both communities were being shot dead in cold blood. The people, terrified by the harrowing atmosphere, dared not stir from their homes at night. Mothers prayed for the safe return of their children; the shrieks of widows and orphans continued to rend the sky. Ironically, theater activity was triggered by militancy. Most of the theater groups concentrated on the Panjab problem and churned out scripts and staged plays on this problem. Gursharan Singh, the most notable of the artists, took his crisp, message-oriented plays from village to village and, in a loud voice, warned the masses of the dangers of religious fundamentalism. His plays written and enacted during this period were repeatedly applauded, enjoyed, and reenjoyed by the common people. Ik Kursi, Ik Morcha te Hawa vich Latkde Lok (A Chair, an Agitation and People Hanging in Midair), Curfew, Hitlist, Baba Bolda Hai (The Old Man Speaks), Bhai Manna Singh, Chandigarh Puare di Jarh (Chandigarh, The Root Cause of Discord), and others were being staged at every corner of the state, and people in large numbers would witness these plays. There was no artistic quality in them, nothing that would make them a good example of professional theater, yet they had a sway on the people. Gursharan Singh himself does not boast their finesse, but he measures his success in terms of their delivery of a message. He represents the Janvadi (the people’s) movement in Panjabi theater. Other theater artistes, such as Atamjit, took a different position. They do recognize the importance of a message, but for them theater is a unique art: it must be conceived in terms of dramatic metaphor, it must be transformed into a metaphorical mode of existence, and these metaphors should unfold meaning in a future-oriented movement of time. Therefore, there must be a significant experiment in form. His Seenan (Stitches) and Ajit Ram are not just tear-jerkers; they are mature pieces of new experimentation in form. Even his Rishtiyan da Ki Rakhiye Nan (How to Name the Kinship Relationships), staged by a number of theater groups, is found to be relevant to the communally charged atmosphere of the 1980s and early 1990s. An adaptation of Sadat Hassan Manto’s short story “Toba Tek Singh,” it presents in spectacle the story of the country’s partition in an ironic mode. Happily, it is still a powerful story with which the people can identify even after 40 years. It will be interesting to note that, in spite of disturbed conditions, some good theater has also been possible. Sonal Mann Singh, Atamjit, Charan Das Sidhu (Delhi) Kewal Dhaliwal, Navnindra Behal, and a host of other directors and producers are engaged in widening the vision. But still, drama and theater remain the weakest link in twentieth-century Panjabi literature. Panjabi theater is still not flourishing due to paucity of scripts, and very few playwrights can write good scripts. In their absence, the theater has to depend on adaptations and translations from other languages. There is no doubt that the new interest in theater in Panjab is here to stay, yet there is much to be done to improve the future of Panjabi theater.
The short story came into existence in the late 1930s, the stories of Nanak Singh, Naurang Singh, Lal Singh Kamla Akali (1889), Gurbakhksh Singh (1895-1978), Sujan Singh (1909-91), and others of an earlier period being either bald narratives or abbreviated novels developed on similar lines as novels. These stories were written on themes of social reform. They dealt largely with the domestic scene and poverty through sentimentality. Though Nanak Singh distinguished himself as a major novelist, his five collections of short stories also charmed the Panjabi reader for their simplicity and directness. He touched upon themes such as communalism, untouchability, litigation, innocence of childhood, the sometimes rather embarrassing affection and hospitality of Panjabi elders, wasteful expenditure on weddings, and evils of dowry, and he treated them from an idealistic point of view. Some of his popular stories are “Bhua” (Aunt), “Chhota Doctor” (The Little Doctor), and “Rakhi” (A Hindu Festival). The name of his popular short story book is Hanjhuan de Har (The Necklaces of Tears, 1949).
Gurbakhsh Singh Preetlari, who wrote in all genres of literature, wrote some short stories on social reform, portraying the evils of Panjabi society. He upheld the values of traditional morality. His ideas revolve around the philosophy of love not as possession but as understanding. Many of his stories impressed the reader of those times and had a great impact on society. “Anokhe te Ikale” (The Strange and the Distinct) “Bhukhi Atma” (A Hungry Soul), “Bhabi Maina” (Maina—the Sister-in-Law), and “Veena Vinod” are some of his stories in which he illustrated his idea of an ideal love. Some of his stories shower praise on American life as he saw it in the early 1930s. He contributed seven collections of stories to Panjabi literature, namely, Preet Kahanian (Love Stories, 1940), Anokhe te Ikale (The Strange and the Unique, 1940), Veena Vinod (Veena and Vinod, 1941), Nag Preet da jadu (The Magic of Serpent Love, 1949), Bhabi Maina te hor Kahanian (Bhabi Maina and Other Stories, 1949), Preetan di Pehredar (The Guard of Loves, 1950), and Shabnam (Dewdrop, 1950).
Sujan Singh, who remained active till the early 1990s, started writing short stories under the influence of socialist realism. He made his debut in the early 1940s with “Dukh Sukh” (Pain and Pleasure, 1941). Those were the days when the Panjabi people witnessed an awakening caused by consciousness about the liberal democratic setup in the West. It lent a new awareness of realities to Panjabi writers. Even earlier, Panjabi writers were portraying social and cultural realities, but with Sujan Singh and Sant Singh Sekhon, socialist realism came into prominence. The Progressive Writers’ Association was set up in 1936. A majority of short story writers who later became very eminent grew under its influence. Sujan Singh in his stories, which were closer to the form of the novel, depicted the misery of the underdog. He has eight collections of short stories to his credit, of which Sabh Rang (All Color, 1950), Manukh te Pashu (The Man and the Beast, 1958), Khumban da Shikar (The Hunt for Mushrooms), and Shehar te Gran (The City and the Village) are quite popular. His stories, along with those of Gurbakhsh Singh and Sant Sekhon, held their spell on Panjabi readers until the early 1960s. Later on, they failed to retain their tenderness of treatment and plasticity of structure that marked their earlier works.
Sant Singh Sekhon (1908) is, by all measures, the father of the Panjabi short story. He inaugurated the era of experiment in the field of the Panjabi short story and brought a whirl of fertilizing ideas that pleaded for a new society, new humanism, and a “new hero.” Marxist realism, the inspiration of young intellectuals working in colleges during those days, assigned a new content to the short story. Sant Singh Sekhon led the vanguard of this brand of young writers. He introduced the pattern, technique, and realistic methods of Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, and Edgar Allan Poe to his writing. He presented small incidents of life and expressed the delicacy, beauty, and importance of ordinary incidents of life. Though a die-hard communist, Sekhon, at least in the stories of his early period, does not preach communist dogma. Instead, he narrates small incidents of life in such a manner that they become meaningful creations from the ordinary life of common people. His first collection, Samachar (The News, 1943), held out great promise, and some of the stories in it attracted keen critical attention. His “Pemi de Niane” (The Children of Pemi) became a classic. Likewise, “Anaukh Singh di Vohti” (The Wife of Anaukh Singh) is considered unique as a character sketch. Sekhon abandoned the straightforward narrative and made dexterous use of allusion, understatement, situation, psychology, and suggestion. His best-known books of stories include Kame te Yodhe (The Workers and Warriors, 1950), Adhi Wat (The Half Way, 1954), and Teeja Pehar (The Late Afternoon, 1958).
Sekhon is a prolific writer who wrote extensively in the fields of poetry, drama, novel, short story, poetics, literary criticism, and journalism. He is a recipient of the Sahitya Academy Award for his play Mitter Piara (Our Beloved Friend). He also made an important contribution to the area of translation, his notable work being the English translation of Waris Shah’s Hir.
Devinder Satyarthi (1908) made his contribution to the Panjabi short story by writing lyrical stories modeled on folk songs. His persistent interest in the study of folk literature has provided him ground to write about events in regional color, which, at the same time, takes a universal meaning. His stories are collected in three volumes, Kungposh (Kungposh), Sona Gachi (Cake of Gold), and Devta Dig Piya (The Fallen God).
During this period, the Panjabi short story echoes and reechoes the manifesto of the “progressive” school. Besides Sujan Singh and Sekhon, Santokh Singh Dhir, Hari Singh Dilber, and Navtej Singh (1925-80) were all committed Prag-tivadi writers who wrote on themes related to the evils of capitalist society, under which humanity was groaning with poverty, ignorance and superstition, hunger and starvation, and it appealed to the poor, the have-nots, the workers to unite to give a fierce fight to the existing regime of bigotry and exploitation. Yet, some of them, like Dhir and Navtej Singh, each in his own way, contributed to the development of Panjabi short story. Their imaginative energy breaks through all the dikes of customary form and style and has helped them to carve out new channels. They are concerned with the inner movements of impulse as much as social and sociological problems. Santokh Singh Dhir’s “Ik Sawar Hor” (One More Passenger, Please) and “Desh Vapsi” (Returning Back Home) are the best specimens in point. Here we find art and life artistically blended. But, in many cases, the stories, unfortunately, are adolescent in their sex appeal and are overbold and loud.
Yet, Kartar Singh Duggal, one of the finest Panjabi short story writers who took his cue from Sekhon, is still the best-known master of this genre. In his earliest writings, he was profoundly influenced by Maupassant and Chekhov. He also opened his doors to Urdu writing and was in a fruitful dialogue with contemporary Urdu short story writers like Krishan Chander, Rajinder Singh Bedi, and Sa’dat Hassan Monto, dialogue that developed in him the touch of delicate expression. Monto, himself a master practitioner of this art, inspired him to take to the naturalist trend. His forte is his knowledge of the Pothohari dialect of the area around Rawalpindi, which he uses in his fiction with remarkable ease and felicity. He made his debut with Sver Sar (The Morning Time, 1941) and till now has contributed more than a dozen collections. Some of his short story books, written over a period of 40 years, include Pippal Pattian (The Leaves of Peepal Tree, 1941), Kuri Kahani Kardi Gayee (The Girl Continued Narrating the Story, 1946), Dangar (The Cattle, 1946), Agg Khan Vale (The Fire Eaters, 1948), Nawan Ghar (The New Home, 1951), Karamat (The Miracle, 1957), Aje Mhaja nahin Moya (Mhaja Is Not Yet Dead, 1960), Phul Torna Manah Hai (No Plucking of Flowers, 1964), and Pare Mere (1967).
Duggal’s writings have depicted the tragedy of the country’s partition with detached irony. His “Nawan Ghar” and “Tun Khah” (You Eat) are good specimens of this kind. Some other writers, such as Mohinder Singh Sarna (1925) and Kulwant Singh Virk (1921-88), wrote powerful pieces on this theme. “Ladhewala Varaich” (The Varaich of Ladhewala) by Sarna and “Khabal” (A Wild Grass) by Virk are still fresh in the memory of Panjabi readers. These stories may not have attained the popularity of Urdu stories on the same theme such as Krishan Chander’s “Hum Wahshi Hain” (We Are Barbarians) and Ismat Chughtai’s “Sone ka Anda” (The Golden Egg), which are intense appeals for sanity and toleration. Still, Duggal’s stories have lyrical humanism and are artistically successful.
Kartar Singh Duggal wrote on many themes, but the dominant themes of his stories are sex, nudity and the ugliness of society. Under the influence of Freud and Jung, he attempts to portray the inner mind of his characters and unravel the causes of their abnormal behavior. He emphasizes the forces of sexual repression in human beings and tries to show how this suppression of the natural flow of feelings has led to abnormality in some individuals due to inflexibility of social rules. “Meera Mussali” is an example. In his “Vadh Vich Ik Saver” (A Morning in the Harvest), he has also portrayed the rather immature adolescent sex attraction of young boys and girls toward one another. Duggal’s leaning toward too much sex and pornography has been, by and large, disapproved by critics. Its effect, however, has been not so unpleasant due to the fact that he consciously depicts negative character in his stories like “Main Bhukkha Han” (I Am Hungry), “Ho Sauhri” (Go to Hell), and “Nawan Admi” (The New Man).
Duggal is still very active and writes short stories occasionally, though his major interest has shifted to novel writing. His stories offer the most readable examples of technical virtuosity in themes. Later writers in the 1970s through the 1990s have grown maturer in experience and have tried to weave symbol and theme upon a groundwork of naturalistic detail, which we examine in some detail in the section on postpartition literature. Kartar Singh Duggal played a major role in shaping the development of new trends in the contemporary Panjabi story.
Mohindyer Singh Sarna, another prominent fiction writer, has written some good short stories in Panjabi. His focus is on the depiction of the inner realities of the human mind, and he has tried his hand at depicting “durational flux” in both his novels and stories. Most of his stories that have attracted critical attention are psychological and employ stream-of-consciousness technique. Two of his collections, Patthar de Admi (The Stone Men, 1950) and Shagnan Bhari Sver (The Auspicious Morning, 1951), were very well received by Panjabi readership. Since the late 1980s, his major interest has moved to poetry, and he has recently composed a long narrative on the life of guru Gobind Singh, the 10th guru of the Sikhs.
Some of the leading writers who attained eminence in other forms of writing also wrote short stories. Amrita Pritam in her stories tries to awaken a social consciousness. She not only denounces outworn traditions but also draws a realistic and lively picture of the conflict of life of the urban middle class. Her famous story entitled “Shah di Kanjari” (The Prostitute of the Shah) is an example in which a strumpet who was an old concubine of a quickly grown rich businessman is invited to his house to give a singing performance at the wedding of his son. Amrita, in an ironic mode, builds a meaningful tension between the traditional and the new moral values. Similarly, her “Panj Warhe Lammi Sarak” (A Road Five Years Long) is a remarkable story with a keen sense of detail. Mohan Singh, a prominent poet, was an equally proficient practitioner of the art of the short story. His story entitled “Nikki Nikki Washna” (The Sweet Smell), until now, remains a landmark in Panjabi short story writing. Balwant Gargi, who established himself as one of the best playwrights and a theater artist, also wrote stories, which are immaculate in their form. His “Budhi di Peepi” (The Tin Container of the Old Woman) is an excellent vignette of narration and character sketching in ironical contrast.
Post-Partition Panjabi Short Story (1947-70)
After partition, some of the major short story writers, such as Gurbakhsh Singh, Sant Singh Sekhon, and Sujan Singh, either switched over to some other form of literature or became lackluster and started marking time, repeating what they had achieved earlier. Kartar Singh Duggal, a major short story writer, turned to novel writing. Some others who established themselves as story writers some time after him also transferred their allegiance to the novel because writing merely short stories was proving rather inadequate for their genius. Kulwant Singh Virk, Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Gurdial Singh, Jaswant Singh Virdi, Sukhbir and others found novel writing more satisfying for them to flourish. Sekhon turned to writing literary criticism. Gurbakhsh Singh and Sujan Singh did not do much writing in this period. This provided the opportunity to younger writers to take to the field of story writing. A number of young writers shone in the art of the short story, some of them becoming prominent in the 1970s and 1980s. The majority of the new writers who entered the field of short story writing, such as Gurbachan Bhuller, Ajit Kaur, Rajinder Kaur, Sukhwant Kaur Mann, and Mohan Bhandari, made their mark in the practice of this art. These young people who entered the field of the short story through literary journals were uninspired by the ideals of social reform or revolution and had very little in common with the progressive ideals of their ancestors. To most of them, didacticism was taboo. Influenced as they were by the tensions generated by the speedy industrial development, they attempted to focus on creating meanings from changing patterns of life. Social commitment to them was not an axiom, for their very relationship with the social environment was ambivalent. Hence, the entire problem of the social significance of their themes was thrown open.
Kulwant Singh Virk was the first among the comparatively younger writers to establish himself as a significant name in the field. His stories were marked by a simplicity of structure and sensitivity of approach. With a few light strokes, he was able to write stories with profound human interest, defying a socialist realist’s tendency of providing a social message. On one side, he could see the dying civilization and, on the other, a glittering town life, and his experience between the two led him to write stories depicting tension, disappointment, and yearning. In his Sahitya Academy-winning book Nawen Lok (The New People, 1959), he responds in a subtle manner to the stresses and strains of increasing urbanization in Panjab. His other well-known books are Chah Vela (The Breakfast Time, 1952), Dharti Te Akash (The Earth and Sky, 1953), Turi Di Pand (The Truss, 1954), and Ekas Ke Hum Barik (We, the Children of One God, 1955). Virk dominated the Panjabi writing scene till the 1970s.
Santokh Singh Dhir, who dealt with rural themes, added tragic dimension to the depiction of the social life of the poor and the landless in the villages. Some of his stories, like “Saver Hon Tak” (Till Dawn), “Ikk Hor Swar” (One More Passenger, Please!), and “Sanjhi Kandh” (The Common Wall), are known for their pathos and economy of expression. Among other writers who shot into prominence in the 1950s and 1960s were Lochan Bakhshi, Davinder, Mohinder Singh Sarna, Mohinder Singh Joshi, Amar Singh, and a few others who tried to bring technical refinement to their art and enjoyed a high reputation as sophisticated artists. But, occasionally their art became too arty, resulting in the loss of purposeful discourse. These writers turned toward a highly urbanized city life, ignoring rural realities, creating, thus, some kind of imbalance.
Soon after, a crop of new practitioners of this art form, some with an orientation for the rural, also made their appearance. Ajit Kaur (1934), Gurbachan Bhuller (1935), Gulzar Singh Sandhu (1935), Gurdial Singh (1930), and Dalip Kaur Tiwana (1933) carved a new and individual form and style of their own. Some of them focused on urban life and its conflicts, and some concerned themselves with Panjabi rural life. Whereas the first two dealt with the complexity of urban problems, the rest depicted glimpses of rural life. Gulzar Singh Sandhu makes lively pictures of village life and its personality in an uninhibited manner. Gurdial Singh, as in his novels, portrays simple, nonhero characters who are corroded due to economic deprivation. He portrays poverty in its various manifestations without being sentimental or a preacher. Dalip Kaur Tiwana in her stories attempts to depict the decline and fall of feudal values against the changing rural life of the Malwa region. She has also presented the psychological study of human characters in urban settings.
Gurbachan Bhullar in his stories portrays common people who are unable to fulfill their dreams and aspirations for better treatment. He is very well equipped to practice this art form because of his sensitiveness and keen eye for detail. He deals with situations both in city life as well as in villages. Bhullar is known for his skillful and chiseled finish of his pieces. Wakhtan Mare (The Oppressed, 1974) is his collection of stories, which has a few memorable pieces of short fiction. In another collection entitled Main Ghaznavi Nahin (I Am Not a Ghaznavi, 1985), he offers a meaningful commentary on the plight of the modern individual who is a victim of the strains and stresses of urban life. Car Khidauni (Car—The Play Toy) and Dhund te Suraj (The Fog and the Sun) throw light on the widening schism between the haves and have-nots. The story lending its name to this collection expresses the view that the beautiful images that get enshrined in someone’s mind during the period of youth must be protected from the ravages of time. To be an iconoclast like Gaznavi in this respect would be committing a sacrilege.
Ajit Kaur Kaur, a recipient of the Sahitya Academy Award, is perhaps the most outstanding practitioner of this art form among this generation of writers. She deals with the complex phenomenon of the man-woman relationship in a bold manner with rare frankness and incisiveness. Her stories on these themes, written from the vantage point of a woman, focus on mutual hatred, suspicion, and frustration of the man-woman relationship, which very often appears quite smooth outwardly. She is completely free from the traditional moral overtones of romantic love of the previous generation and attempts to depict the problems of primordial man-woman relationships in a rather allegorical manner. She has more than six collections of short stories to her credit. Her stories with the titles “Hot Water Bottle” and “Maria Hoya Pal” (The Dead Moment) are considered the best pieces in the language for giving an effective expression to feminine feeling with poignancy and restraint.
Gurdev Singh Rupana, Navtej Puadhi, Bachint Kaur, Rajinder Kaur, Prem Prakash, Mohan Bhandari, Jaswant Singh Virdi, Davinder, Jasbir Bhullar, Dilbir Chetan, Sukhwant Kaur Mann, Prem Gorki, and many others who are engaged in writing short stories till now have extended the frontiers of this literary form. Virdi, better known for his collection of short stories Apo Apni Seema (Limitations of Each One), throws light on the sensibilities of the Panjabi lower middle class living in urban areas in their period of trials and tribulations.
Maheep Singh, who had earlier earned a name in the field of the Hindi short story, took to writing stories in Panjabi since the mid-1960s. His focus is on the life of the people of Delhi and Bombay. He portrays the life of the lower middle class, gnarled and defeated by years of despair. His stories are characterized by an acute power of observation, tender poetic touches of characterization, and a sensitive style of expression.
Among the latest young short story writers of Panjabi, mention may be made of Waryam Sandhu, Nachhatar, Joginder Kairon, Mukhtiar Gill, and Mohinderjit, who, over the years, have given evidence of remarkable freshness of approach and great complexity of skill. Many of them have written very touching stories on the theme of the Panjab problem. Notably, Waryam Sandhu seems to be the most powerful artist in this regard, and his “Bhajian Bahin” (The Fractured Arms) offers a penetrating analysis of a poor peasant’s family crumbling under the weight of communal tensions resulting from the sociocultural and political situation. This story became extremely popular with Panjabi readers and received dramatic form at the hands of Ajmer Singh Aulakh, one of the most talented young playwrights and theater artists.
Whereas some of the short story writers who flourished during the last decade have been able to develop their own distinct personalities, a few are showing considerable promise. A couple of writers deserve special mention for contributing to this form of literature while living in foreign countries. Of those, Raghbir Dhand in the U.K. and Ravinder Ravi in Canada have been in the field for more than two decades. Raghbir Dhand’s collection entitled Uss Par (Yonder) is focused on the problems of nonwhites settled in the U.K., who are the worst victims of racial discrimination. They are made to work in the most humiliating and inhuman conditions and feel very much alienated there. They feel the pangs of separation from their families back home. Yet, they are determined to fight for their rights, however fierce the struggle may be. Some of his stories, such as “Nawin Qism de Nag” (The New Kind of Serpents), “Ganda Rang” (The Dirty Color), and “Lal Lakir” (Red Line), eloquently portray these problems. Ravinder Ravi, who is known for his contribution to other genres, wrote stories on the life of Panjabis settled in Kenya, where he lived for a long period before moving to Canada. He is a short story writer of considerable accomplishment who, in his collection of short stories entitled Kon-Pratikon (View—Counter-view), depicts the problems of Panjabis in the context of East African life. His stories are marked by objective analysis and convincing art. Ravi has also portrayed the life of the tribals of East Africa and accentuated the human element in them.
The short story in Panjabi developed on the other side of the international border with equal enthuasism. Sajjad Haider, Agha Hameed, and Nizam Tawakkli were already established short story writers at the time of partition. They continued writing short stories even after partition. Nawaz was another fiction writer who turned to story writing and published a collection of short stories entitled Doonghian Shaman (Deep Evenings), which impressed his contemporaries. Riffat, now an Urdu columnist, also switched to writing short stories in Panjabi. Some women writers, such as Khalida Malik, Kehkshan Malik, Farkhanda Lodhi, Nasreen Bhatti, Naheed Akhtar, and at least two dozen more writers have contributed to the art of the short story, and some of them have made significant contributions to it. Some of the writings, such as Akbar Kahanian by Akbar Lahori, Charkhe di Maut (Death of the Spinning Wheel) by Hanif Bawa, Sitian Akhan Wale (The Men with Sewn Eyes) by Nasir Balauch, Mitti Ute Leek (A Line on the Earth) by Rashad Javed Ahmed, and Shehar te Sufne (The City and Dreams) by Hasin Shad, are outstanding collections of Panjabi short stories. Chaunvin Kahani (The Selected Short Story, 1986) by Sajjad Haider offers a fairly broad spectrum of Pakistani Panjabi short story in a historical perspective and includes some of the most sensitive pieces of varied human experience.
To conclude, Panjabi literature of the twentieth century reflects the experience of trauma and dissent, reconstruction and cohesion. It reflects connections with other literatures such as Urdu, Dogri, and Sindhi, with which it has had connections since medieval times. It evolved in new directions in Pakistan, where large proportions of Panjabis settled. While preindependence Panjabi was under the great influence of the Sikh religion, it is now more cosmopolitan. Earlier, it attempted to resolve sectarian issues but now attempts to counter fanaticism and revivalism. It reflects the modernization, under the influence of scientific development, of the Panjab.