Punjabi review
Slice of real Punjab
Shalini Rawat

Khehde Sukh Vehde Sukh
Avtar Singh Billing. Publishers Ravi Sahit Parkashan, Amritsar. Page 396.
Price Rs 350.

Khehde Sukh Vehde SukhTHE novel under review is a specimen of the forgotten Punjabi novel. Further speculation and research reveals definite traces of a unified form, a concentric plot and a set of unique, well-defined characters. Deliberate simplicity has been sustained over the three-quarters-of-a-century slice of time that the novelist delineates can be compared to the writings of Pearl S. Buck and Nanak Singh. The novelistís love for indigenous rural landscape and dialect can compete with Hardy or Sholokov, while the wonderful melee of characters reminds one of Rushdie or Rahi Masoom Raza (remember the intimitable characters of Aadha Gaon?.

The characters, Jagat Singh, Chinto and Bhago shoulder most of the plot, while the secondary characters - good, bad and ugly, viz Basta Singh, Jai Kaur, Bishna, Kutba Fakir, Khazana, Daya Kaur, Inder Singh etc. have their own tales to tell and are symbolic of the colourful eclectic mix that defines rural Punjab.

However, what emerges as the Achillesí heel are the threadlike storylines running parallel to those of the main charactersí stories. These sometimes trip over each other, depleting the plotís momentum and creating gaps in the main storyline. Also, a couple of new characters sometimes pop up as in a popcorn machines, making it difficult to keep up with them. Certain stereotypes, especially the Freudian explanation of sexual repression or suppression as the root cause of some female charactersí illness of being possessed has been worn thin too.

Yet there is a lot of truth in the way the characters live up to their surnames, the nonchalance (or fortified patience) of the villagers in view of the plague, the money-lenderís opaque dealings, the fate of wives purchased and the depiction of the farmerís lot. The novel definitely paints a vivid picture of rural Punjab and lives up to its name.

Abu Adib when offered the finest foreign wines by Rasool Hamzatov (author of Mera Daghistan) favours the local Vodka over all of them, explaining Ė "If you donít mind, take away these bottles. You could offer these to people who have forgotten the taste of their motherís cooking. As for me I donít know these wines and they donít know me either. How, then, are we going to talk? Now go get some good old Vodka for me. I shall wait for you to return."

Wish more of this good home-brewed stuff is made and consumed so that people world over realise that Punjabi doesnít translate merely into pop Ė the bhangra pop and the popping off of the cork of a bottle of whisky.