|Saturday, February 2, 2002||
most striking aspect of Dalip Kaur Tiwana, after her little-girl
laughter that reaches her eyes and lights up her being, is her utter
lack of any pretensions or airs that signify her "writerly"
status. Born on May 4, 1935, in Rabbon village in Ludhiana district to
a wealthy land-owning family, this eminent novelist has published 27
novels, seven collections of short stories, the first part of her
autobiography and a literary biography. The eldest of five sisters and
a brother, she was adopted by her paternal aunt who had the
apprehension that her husband would marry again because they didn’t
have a child. Recipient of regional and national awards, including the
Sahitya Akademi, the Saraswati Samman for the year 2001 was an apt
recognition of a literary career spanning more than four decades.
Instituted by the K.K Birla Foundation, the Saraswati Samman carries a
cash prize of Rs 5 lakh and is given every year for an outstanding
literary work written in any Indian language during the past ten
years. Dalip carries the crown of her achievements lightly because
honours and awards have chased her rather than it being the other way
around. She has many firsts to her credit: the first girl to top in
M.A. in Punjab, first one to do her Ph.D, head a department in the
university and become Dean, Faculty of Languages — as she says:
"After all I am also the first-born!"
Excerpts from an interview:
Though you have received numerous awards, what was your reaction at being awarded the Saraswati Samman?
I have never chased awards but awards have chased me. What makes me happy is the response and joy of all those who have reached out to me. A wider readership and more awards also mean more responsibility. Honestly, I feel I have no achievements to my credit and have done nothing in life and am yet to write my best book.
In your novel Puchchte ho to Suno you have made a distinction between a kaarigar (craftsman) and a kalakar (artist). Why so?
A craftsman will only hone things that are need-oriented but an artist will strive for perfection and give a voice to deeper longings. The manner in which an artist strives for perfection is almost divine. No individual can create literature that is greater than his own self — Koi vi apne to wadah sahit nahin rach sakda.
The Mahabharata and the Ramayana could have only been written by rishis — not an ordinary mortal.
What, according to you, is the test of a good book?
The ability to survive time. Agaar jeeon joga hoyega te rahega. It is what remains after 100 years that matters. Just as it is the level of your creation that is of consequence and not your physical name which will pass on as it is. The Vedas have no name and there is no identification as to which rishi gave which shloka. Your work should outlive you. Instead of focusing on transitory things in life, we should attend to fundamentals. As it is, the age we are living in is an age of information alright but there is little knowledge and absolutely no wisdom. Even the education being imparted might equip you to tackle the material world but does not have the ability to transform your life and mould your thoughts or make you a better human being.
You did not write anything for five years after your brother’s death in 1995. Did Kaho Katha Urvashi help you?
I had almost lost my balance in trying to cope with the intensity of my grief. I had literally brought up my brother who was younger to me by 15 years. It was a blow when he commited suicide and when my nephew (his son) too committed suicide within a year of my brother’s death, I couldn’t handle it. It was a double blow. I tried to explore the times we were living in, what are we looking for in life, relationship with the self, and creation. It was a quest for trying to seek answers to questions that bothered me as I tried to overcome my grief.
Punjabis are usually perceived as Epicureans who do not engage with philosophical questions and prefer the superficial pleasures of life. Is it not unusual to get a response to the philosophical element in your novels?
We only see the superficial self but it is a fact that it is the same sort of problems that engage the deeper selves of people, cutting across boundaries of culture, community and religion. In fact, my book is dedicated to all those children who get lost while searching for a home. Kaho katha Urvashi is divided into six parts: Katha kale kohan di (A difficult journey), Katha Kalyug di ( The tale of Kalyug), Katha ankahi (The untold tale), Katha ek hauke di (The tale of a sigh), Katha kaal akal (Of time and beyond) and Te katha turdi rahi(And the tale carries on).
How long do you take to finish a novel and do you have a neurotic need to write…I mean is it a compulsive need?
I try and finish my novel (or a part of it) in five days because I want to rest on weekends. I often feel that I am a medium and the story is being written through me. Once, I had gone to visit my sister at Ludhiana. I was restless, even had fever. I asked for a pen and paper. Once the story finished, the fever was gone.
I do not revise or work at crafting my novels. Once the first draft is done, I have to write it neatly before sending it to the publisher because my writing is particularly bad.
What would you like to say about the state of Punjabi literature and are there any writers who have influenced you?
It is the lack of philosophical writing that bothers me as also the absence of serious and evaluative criticism. It is important to do your work honestly without bothering about hype, publicity and the need to make it big. There is no one author but works of many authors that have engaged my attention. I like the early poetry of Amrita Pritam, Shiv Kumar Batalvi, stories of Kulwant Singh Virk, Chekhov, novels of Doris Lessing, Virgina Woolf, Ayn Rand, Afzal Tauseef, Qurratulain Hyder, Sarat Chandra, Vishnu Prabhakar, Agye, Raja Rao. The source of inspiration is, I feel, the collective unconscious.
Aren’t writers exempt from all codes of conduct and can they flout all norms and justify everything in the name of creativity?
In fact, writing is all about linking yourself with a higher consciousness and if you have no control over your own life, gaining a higher consciouness is a remote possibility. One can lead any kind of life but you should not justify your actions with your writing.
What would you like to say about the man-woman relationship, are the sex-specific streotypes breaking down?
As far as the man-woman relationship is concerned, there is a demarcation and in a majority of the cases it is as if they are leading two separate lives and there is no commonality of experience. If sex-specific stereotypes are breaking, it is only at the level of intellect, not in reality. So you have some men who spout Marxism and talk of bettering the lot of humanity but beat their own wives. Are their wives not a part of humanity?
Your heroines are too passive and accepting and you do not dwell on economic problems.
Many people have asked me why my heroines don’t rebel. The books’ pages might end but the narrative continues in the hearts and minds of the readers and forces them to ask questions, offer solutions or nags them. Even if the seeds of rebellion are sown in the minds of the readers, it is worthwhile. As far as economic problems are concerned, I have never had to plan and wait to buy anything. So, obviously, I have no firsthand experience and cannot write about these matters.
Do you specifically visualise yourself as a woman writer?
A writer has no gender, but I do feel that because of their sensibilities women might be closer to some concerns. The manner in which a woman and a man relate to a child is different. Similarly, the relationship a woman has with her creative work is different from the one a man has. Modern women commit the mistake of thinking that they are the same as men. They are equal, but not the same. Due to culture and conditioning, there are bound to be differences. It does not bother me when people react to my work without even reading it or dismiss it as being about auratan da rona dhona.
Any defining moments or something that has remained with you all this while?
Two things that my mother once said remain with me even now. A deeply religious person, when someone told her about how I had attained fame as a writer, she had quipped: Akal taan batheri si... agar chujj de passe laandi. (She has enough intelligence, if only she had used it for a good cause.) I am still searching for that good cause
The second thing that she said was agar mangna hi hai te bhagwan kolon mungo kuenke ohi hai jehra hisaab nahin mangda. Similarly, once Tarsem Purewal offered me the editorship of Des Pardes, with a salary that was ten times more than the one I was drawing at that time along with a house, car and a trip to India twice a year. When I told my mother about the offer, she promptly shot back, "If you get everything ten times more then will you eat twenty chapppatis and wear ten suits at the same time?"
How does your husband react to your work?
He is an extremely mature and serious-minded scholar and feels that my novels can definitely be much better if I work harder. He feels I am much more intelligent than my novels portray me as and am definitely capable of better work.
In a career that has spanned more than four decades, you have been known for your stress on merit but that has also made you difficult to work with.
I have never been overawed by those in
authority or believed in kowtowing. When one of my detractors thwarted my
PhD viva, I had shot back: Main vi jattan di dhi haan, Kanakan ne uggan
ton nahin hatna, meehan ne varhan ton nahin hatna taan main vi bhukhe nahin