Kulwant Singh Virk, who died in Canada on December 24 last year, is best known to his friends and admirers as a short story writer. Even his family members would not know that he was the first to plead the case of a Punjabi-speaking State within the Indian Union. That was in the mid-fifties. That did not then mean more than putting Akali leader Giani Kartar Singh’s ideas in book from became a living reality a decade later.
This is not to attribute the ills of today’s Punjab, “if any,” to one who loved the land and its people so much that he wrote only about them.
A stage came when he started saying, “Every story I write seems to be my last piece as I would not wish to write on old themes. Nothing really new comes to my mind.”
It was in this context that he titled his short story collection published by Nav Yug as “Merian Sarian Kahanian” (all my stories). Then he left for Canada, never to come back to his people. That he was planning to write a novel came to light from his jottings published in the current issue of the Punjabi monthly Preet Lari.
Speaking of compact States, he would always dwell on the progress made by trifurcated Punjab, Haryana and Himachal as compared to the tardy progress of bigger States like UP and Madhya Pradesh.
Lest we start debating the pros and cons of bigger and smaller States, let us revert to remembering a man so dear to his friends and all. It was sad and ironic that he had to die so far away from his homeland. He was with his children in Canada for the treatment of a stroke he suffered some time earlier. Sadder still, is the fact that only one of his five children was in India for any one of us to share the grief. All others had settled in West Germany, Canada and the USA.
Virk served Punjab first as the Editor of Advance and Jagriti and the as an officer-in-charge of the resettlement of refugees from Pakistan. Later, he headed the communication set-up of the Punjab Agricultural University and was Press Secretary to the then Chief Minister, Mr. Prakash Singh Badal. He was a regular contributor to newspapers and was held in high esteem by Editors.
The Department of Cultural Affairs, Punjab, is giving finishing touches to a film on him, and Lyallpur Khalsa College, Jalandhar, has instituted an award to commemorate the man and his writing. The USSR has published his short stories in the Russian language.
There is very little doubt that he would be remembered for the towering short stories he gave to Punjabi. His story “Khabbal” (blades of grass) and “Toori di Pand” (bundle of fodder) and telefilms, “Dharti Hethla Bahld) (bull beneath the earth) and “Dudh daa Chhappar” (pool of milk) will remain evergreen.
Virk was of the view that no treachery was greater than letting down a friend and no sin greater than not respecting the feelings of others. His stories portray these ideas.
It is felt that in pleading the case for a Punjabi-speaking State, he took too much of a load on his shoulders. One also cannot help feeling that the turmoil in Punjab gave him the fatal stroke. It had toned down his usual laughter. Being a highly sensitive man, his agony could be seen. He seemed to carry the burden of the masses of Punjab.