The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 30, 2001

Written with prejudice
Review by Jaspal Singh

GURBACHAN, after his retirement from Delhi University, has turned out to be one of the most prolific writers in Punjabi. Apart from writing a regular column for a Jalandhar based literary magazine "Lakeer", he has published four books - "Sahitnama", "Sahit de Sikandar", "Kis kis taran de Sikandar" and "Parsang dar parsang" in a couple of years or so. In addition, two more books "Maha yatra" and "Innah mundian jaldi mar jana" are in the pipeline.

The last among them is an interesting study of the process of alienation of the youth of Punjab living in the West because of the ruthless socio-economic structure spawned by the western capitalist system that rarely allows a chance for its human face except at times of a collective catastrophe like the one the world witnessed a few days ago.

Gurbachan is one writer of Punjabi who is endowed with a rare gift of the gab that he can commit with equal felicity to writing. Most of his writings are a product of his penchant for rhetoric whether in life-style or in the style of writing.

The present book "Kis kis taran de Sikandar" (Lokgeet Parkashan, Chandigarh) is an elaboration of the earlier version that appeared a few years ago, which was very well received. In the present collection 27 poets, novelists, short-story writers and playwrights have been commented upon.


Almost all big names in the Punjabi world of letters have been included. Writers like Gurbaksh Singh Preetlari, Sant Singh Sekhon, Balwant Gargi, Haribhajan Singh, Mohinder Singh Sarna, Sukhbir, Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Ajit Cour, Prem Parkash, Gulzar Singh Sandhu, Atamjit, Paash, Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Jagtar, Amarjit Chandan, Surjit Pattar, Harnam, Gurcharan Rampuri, Lal Singh Dil, Nirupama Datt, Waryam Sandhu and Satinder Singh Noor are in this galaxy of litterateurs.

Luckily or unluckily, some prominent names like Kartar Singh Duggal, Amrita Pritam, Gurdial and Ankhi have been spared. Gurbaksh Singh Preetlari is the pitashree of Preet Nagar who appeared like a meteor in the Punjabi world of letters in the mid-thirties of last century. He had been dazzled by the glare of American life where he was trained as an engineer in the early years of the 20th century. He brought back to Punjab some of this magical impact.

Gurbaksh Sigh became a vendor of dreams, adding sparkle to listless eyes. His romantic words carry the innocent Punjabi reader to the illusory dream world. But towards the end of the fifties many writers who were influenced by his personality were disenchanted with him. Nanak Singh wrote "Sangam" exposing his hypocricy. Opendar Nath Ashk wrote "Bari bari ankhen" again on the same theme. Sant Singh Sekhon named the column "Sanehian da panna" in Preetlari as the "Thaggi wala panna" (the cheating column).

Harbans Singh Jolly from Amritsar wrote the story "Cheekan" (screams) about Gurbaksh Singh’s family and so on. Sant Singh Sekhon, Gurbachan says, was a transparent person though full of contradictions. He appeared as a unique event in the literary and cultural life of Punjab but was always carried away by cupidity and desire. In addition to this, he remained a votary of "jatwad", Marxism, Sikh fundamentalism, progressivism besides being a libertine.

Balwant Gargi, according to Gurbachan, is an elegant writer of the mores of metropolitan life. He is a master of sensuous prose full of carnal desire. His sentences are smart like a dandy, standing out for their amatory titillation and sparkling wit. He quickly transcended his earlier progressive phase of the forties and the fifties in order to fly high on the ecstatic wings of Eros. He writes with equal felicity in English. His "Naked Triangle" and "Purple Nights" created quite a flutter.

Haribhajan Singh, one of the most decorated poets of Punjabi is known for his magical spell through his linguistic manipulation. Gurbachan is rather attracted by this trait of the great old man of Punjabi letters and it seems the main motivation behind this write-up is the politics of literary awards in Punjabi.

Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Gurbachan says, is absent from herself. She was motivated to become a writer by illustrious people like Principal Teja Singh, Dr Mohinder Singh Randhawa and Prof Pritam Singh. If one is eager to interact with her one has to explore her writings which anyway have been well recognised.

Out of the four women writers portrayed in this collection, the second most important yet more colourful is Ajit Cour, a Delhi-based Punjabi writer who has created more literary events in the metropolitan Punjabi circles than any other individual except Balwant Gargi. Gurbachan says that no Punjabi writer in Delhi can manage public relations as efficiently as Ajit has done.

While in the middle of this piece, I tried to learn something about her from a friend who spent a few decades rubbing shoulders with all big names there. He volunteered, "She is a very enterprising woman. She started from a scratch and has reached the top." Now the million dollar question is, how does an enterprising woman reach the top in a cosmopolitan environment?

Prem Parkash, editor of "Lakeer", is a former naxalite. He is a senior short story writer. Now he has said goodbye to revolutionary zeal in favour of lust. He believes that "The greatest reality of India is its traditions, rituals, its caste system and religious beliefs. Even the communists are not free from them. Jat communists are equally caste-minded." Now Prem Parkash’s stories are more concerned with the crises in man-woman relationship.

Gulzar Singh Sandhu for Gurbachan is the errand commander-in-chief of the capital. The story of Shiv Kumar is like that of a bird’s melancholy songs. He changed the tenor of Punjabi poetry and at his hands it became a stage performance. He hated contemporary poets. He did not need any admiration, review or critique.

Jagtar is one poet who captivates Gurbachan. Among all contemporary poets, he is the least vocal and thus gives the impression of being an angry young man, full of rebellion. Though he is past sixty, he still exudes youthful verve.

Two other favourite poets of Gurbachan are Paash and Lal Singh Dil the standard-bearers of Naxalite movement.

Paash was done to death by terrorists when he visited the state from the USA.

Surjit Pattar receives harsh blows. According to Gurbachan, Pattar is a tomb of poetry-lovers and his literary reputation is at stake. How far this comment is right only history will show.

The most colourful write-ups in this collection are those on Nirupama Datt and Sutinder Singh Noor. About Nirupama Datt Gurbachan says, "She is one person who laughs after every sentence that she utters like an adolescent girl."

Sutinder Singh Noor, according to Gurbachan, has acquired the status of literary Pope of Punjabi literature. His "letterdom" is almost cosmic in nature and is strictly run on medieval feudal lines.

Quite a few write-ups are licentious if not libelous, thus making it spicy and gossipy to attract certain popularity. No doubt they enhance the book’s saleability. But the author himself is so touchy about his own "image" that he often fails to tolerate even a whit of criticism. "Naughty" prose, in any case, is not decent prose even though one has the pretensions of doing a "psycho-critique".