The Dawn: Oct 24, 2014

PUNJAB NOTES: Dhahan Prize: Honouring Punjabi literature

Mushtaq Soofi 

Genuine literary prizes do not necessarily help create good writings but definitely play a role in identifying the best of what has already been produced and gone public. In our part of the world where creative writer has a marginal existence, literary prizes and awards create a cultural space for celebrating the creativity.

The Punjabi, one of the major languages of the world with a long and glorious literary history, has been denied the prestige it amply deserves particularly in the West Punjab due to a host of ill-conceived political and ideological reasons.

Realizing the need to celebrate the Punjabi language and its literary products a group of culturally informed Punjabis led by Barj S. Dhahan last year instituted the Vancouver (Canada) based the Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature in partnership with the University of British Columbia (UBC).

As to its background the management says; ‘the Dhahan Prize celebrates the rich culture and transnational heritage of Punjabi language and literature by awarding a yearly prize for excellence in Punjabi fiction. The Prize mission is to inspire the creation of Punjabi literature across borders, bridging Punjabi communities around the world and promoting Punjabi literature on global scale.

The Dhahan Prize awards $25,000 CDN annually to one best book published in either of the two Punjabi scripts, Gurmukhi or Shahmukhi. Two runner-up prizes of $5,000 CDN are also awarded, with the provision that both scripts are represented among the three winners’.

About the prize process the organization says; ‘UBC’s Professor Anne Murphy, with advice and guidance from the Prize Advisory committee, designed the process, adjudication and administration of the prize in its initial form.-- There are three juries for the prize adjudication process: one to choose Shahmukhi books, one for Gurmukhi books, and one central Jury that determines the winner’.

This year over 70 eligible entries were received from five countries. The Jury declared the following winners: First prize: Khali Khoohan Di Katha (novel) by Avtar Singh Billing (Gurmukhi script) India/USA. Runner-up prize: Ik Raat da Summundar (short stories) by Jasbir Bhullar (Gurmukhi script) India. Runner-up prize: Kabooter Banaire te Galian by Zubair Ahmed (Shahmukhi script), Pakistan.

Avtar Singh Billing, one of the senior fiction writers, was born in 1952 in district Ludhiana, Punjab, India. He is a retired English lecturer. He has to his credit four short story collections, three books for children and six novels.

About Khali Khoohan Di Katha (The Story of Empty Wells) his sixth novel, which got the first prize the citation says:“--Through its powerful narrative and careful description this novel brings into focus the social, economic and cultural changes witnessed in rural Punjab during the last eight decades.

The story of four generations woven into the novel is unique in its fictional presentation, and yet remains true to the lived experience of a joint peasant family. The novel is simply superb in its realistic development of characters and artistic use of language. The local regional culture of the Dhaha area in Punjab comes alive in all its manifestations’.

Runner-up prize (Gurmukhi script) went to Jasbir Bhullar for his EK RAAT DA SAMMUNDAR (a collection of short stories). Bhullar is an acclaimed storyteller. He was born in 1941 in Amritsar. He joined the Indian Army and retired as a colonel. He has authored over forty books.

The note on him says ‘he arouses the reader’s curiosity with just the opening sentence of his short story. He proceeds then in a causal manner as if he is in search of a theme. Groping in the dark for a while, he happens to see light at the end of the tunnel. Henceforth he shows the reader what is taking place in the story, instead of taking recourse to narrative mode.

This process of telling and showing makes such an impact on the mind of the reader that he finds himself drawn imperceptibly into a magical world. At the end of the narrative, both the writer and the reader find themselves in a kind of wonderland’.

Runner-up prize (Shahmukhi) was awarded to Zubair Ahmed for his KABUTAR, BAINRE TE GALIAN (short stories collection). He was born in 1958 in Lahore. He currently works as an Assistant Professor of English in Islamia College, Lahore, Pakistan.

His stories ‘are inspired by both the usual and the unusual, by what actually happens and what may happen. Such happenings, tangible and intangible, provide the material that can become stuff of artistic narrative.-- An important theme of Zubair’s stories is time; how it changes or transforms things, making the alive dead and the dead alive. Being a fiction writer he does not conceive of time in abstraction. Rather we see time in terms of its effects, the pervasive marks it leaves on all aspects of life’.

The Dhahan Prize will host a public reading on October 24 at Surrey, Vancouver, followed by a reception. Prize winners, it has been announced, will read from their books, with translation to English. This prestigious prize is going to be a significant literary and cultural event that would have reverberations across the world. The team that shaped it up deserves all the appreciation. —

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