Punjabi Causerie

For the first time (in history), Punjabi writers have been invited by the Government to a meeting where their own problems will be discussed along with the problems of the language. Arranged by the Language Department of the State Government, it is being held at Patiala on the 7th and 8th of March. The letter of invitation says that first class return fare and some daily allowance will be paid. There is no excuse now for any invitee not to attend this meeting – not even for those of us who for any sort of journey have to drop in at the publisher’s on the way to make sure about travelling expenses.

At Patiala, suggestions may also be invited on how to run the Department to a greater advantage. Meant primarily for paving the way for Hindi and Punjabi in State administration, the Department had done commendable literary work also, and has some thirty publications to its credit. It has published a sixty thousand word Hindi-Punjabi dictionary; a part of a Punjabi–Punjabi dictionary containing the first six letters of the Gurmukhi alphabet (twenty five thousand words) and dictionaries for the Pothohari and Puadhi dialects; an Urdu- Hindi- Punjabi dictionary; a Sanskrit – Hindi – Punjabi dictionary; a detailed history of the Punjabi language in five volumes and a book on Punjabi culture are under preparation. Shri M. S. Randhawa is editing the last one.

The biggest task before the Department should, however, be to edit and publish old manuscripts. Punjabi writing did not, of course, start with the coming into vogue of the printing press. But only works of the more popular sort like romances or those with a direct religious sanction e.g. scriptures and theology found their way into print. The rest of the work has not been able to attract the magic touch of the printing press. There is no reason why it should continue to be ignored even now. There is, for example, an epical biography of Guru Nanak, in verse, by Sant Rama of the eighteenth century. It is bigger even than Bhai Santokh Singh’s Guru Nanak Parkash which is in Braj. The manuscript has two thousand large sized pages (8” X 12”) and nearly twenty five thousand verses. In addition to biographical detail, it contains history and mythology. Sant Ram who was a Kashmiri Brahmin hailed from Srinagar but lived the greater part of his life in Punjab and Maharashtra as an Udasi Sadhu.

There are some manuscripts in the Punjab Public Library at Lahore. Not that the industrious and research-minded officials of the Department stand in need of being told all this. Every now and then one sees in their monthly, Punjabi Duniya, extracts from some manuscript, which one of them had been able to lay hands on. This journal has presented valuable critical literature during the last nine years of its life. Recently it has produced an excellent special issue on Shah Hussain, a Punjabi Sufi poet who lived at Lahore in the time of Akbar and on whose tomb the famous Chirghan fair used to be (is) held. Before this, special issues had been devoted to Bhai Gurdas, Damodar, Guru Arjun, Warris Shah and Guru Nanak. The Hindi counterpart of Punjabi Duniya is Sapt Sindhu. Both these journals will now publish and pay for creative literature also. This will enlarge, to some little extent, the extremely limited market for Punjabi creative writings like short stories, poems and one-act plays.

This question of payment is important because only when writing brings in a reasonable income will we have whole-time writers. Holding other jobs is not really being fair to your calling. Writing for a recent issue of Arsi, a Punjabi monthly from Delhi, Jainendra Kumar, the Hindi writer recalled, how when he went to Prem Chand at Lucknow in 1927, the latter was working with a newspaper. When asked whether writing brought in sufficient money or not for a living, Prem Chand looked at Jainendra in astonishment. He related to him how he had drifted from one job to another and had finally decided not to look for any more work. But when a publisher, after long delay, sent only two hundred and fifty rupees instead of the five hundred rupees he had promised, his wife scattered the currency notes in the courtyard of the house. That had brought him back to the newspaper job.

The trend, now, is in the opposite direction. Recently Mohan Rakesh, the Hindi writer, left his college job in Jullundur and packed off for New Delhi. Some Punjabi writers can supplement their income in India with that from other countries. Amrita Pritam has been featured in the January issue of ‘Poetry’ London, New York, which is devoted to Indian poetry. An anthology of Punjabi poems has been published in the USSR and a collection of short stories is under print. Odd short stories keep appearing there every now and then; a story earning anything up to two thousand roubles. The trouble with roubles is, that you cannot use them at home, but have to go to Russia to spend them. Once there, you can also bring home odd things with you. Rajinder Singh Bedi, on return from the Tashkent Conference, brought a washing machine for his wife and, Sant Singh Sekhon, a tape recorder for himself. There are any number of Russian cameras, electric kettles, wristwatches and radio sets knocking about in writers’ houses as consequences of the conference.

In other respects, the Afro-Asian Writers’ Conference at Tashkent, is considered by some, to have yielded less spectacular results. 

Writing in the latest issue of “Indian Literature,” Krishanlal Shridharani, the Gujarati poet and playwright says, 

“What was India’s point of view? It was a simple one. It simply said that a conference of writers should be a conference of writers and not of politicians or of willing or unwilling tools of politicians. Starkly put, a conference of the Afro-Asian Writers should be somewhat different from a conference of the Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee. This thought, so self-evident to us, proved strange to others. While Indian speakers continued to trace the roots of the Tashkent Conference to the Delhi Conference of Assam writers, Sharaf Rashidev, that charming and dignified pivot of the Conference, squarely traced its origin to the Cairo Conference of the Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee. Indian spokesmen asserted that life is one and that politics cannot altogether be avoided in a discussion of literature, but it is a question of emphasis of focus. The phenomenon of colonialism can indeed come in while considering the freedom of the writer and the growth of an indigenous literature, but it would not be a writers’ conference, which mainly discussed colonialism and thought of writers and literature in so far as they have fought against colonialism and are capable of fighting against colonialism. One after another, papers were read which enumerated plays and playwrights; poems and poets who had fought against colonialism; and writers went back to their respective homes without a single new thought on artistic expression. (It was natural, because quite a few delegates knew more about politics than about literature). It is quite another matter that they departed with a glow of that proud and valid feeling that the writers of Asia and Africa had come together and that it is a good thing that they should continue to come together.”

This is remarkably in line with our own experience at home. Hardly would a literary meeting have begun, when a Communist writer would stand up and propose a resolution against nuclear tests. Naturally, no one would like to oppose a resolution like this. As soon as it is passed, another person stands up with a resolution against writers’ arrests in Pakistan. Politics is, of course, very, very important and, it does not meet you at the breakfast table for the first time in the morning, as some Communists seem to think; it meets you as soon as you get up in the sort of newspaper you get, or in the sort of lessons your child is doing for the school and so on. But a writer seeks to influence it in ways other than voting for resolutions.

There is, again, a talk of Hindi agitation. One may derive comfort from the attitude towards it, of the writers, as reflected in a review of last year’s literary events written by the well-known Hindi poet and critic, Balakrishna Rao for ‘Indian Literature’.

“There was to be further occasion – more than one occasion, as a matter of fact, for general satisfaction, if not rejoicing, in the Hindi area. One of them was the popular decision of the Uttar Pradesh Government to give up the ‘reformed’ Devanagari script, which they had introduced in primary schools as an experimental measure. Another occasion for general satisfaction was furnished by the Gauhati Congress resolution and a third by the cessation of the Punjab Hindi agitation. A jarring note was undoubtedly introduced by a speech here, a statement there and a formal conference at a third place, but these did not rattle the man in the Hindi-speaking street. On the contrary, his appreciation of the other side’s viewpoint had grown so much keener that these jarring notes, far from throwing him off balance, rather, sharpened his desire to do something to dispel the doubts and suspicions of his non-Hindi-speaking countrymen. I am speaking, needless to say, of the vast bulk of the Hindi-speaking people; exceptions there must always be, but exceptions are only exceptions.” 

This is ample compensation for the dignified and restrained attitude of the Punjabi writers towards this agitation.

699 Model Town 
Jullunder City

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