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Posted at: Dec 2, 2019, 6:49 AM; last updated: Dec 2, 2019, 6:49 AM (IST)DHIR’S BIRTH CENTENARY YEAR

Man who dared to be ‘professional writer’ in Punjabi

He chose writing over family’s profession, but lived in ‘abject poverty’
Man who dared to be ‘professional writer’ in Punjabi
Santokh Singh Dhir

Vishav Bharti

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 1

“I am a writer! Is it a lesser profession?” That was how literary doyen Santokh Singh Dhir would defend the dignity of his craft till the last breath. He was one of the few “professional writers” the modern Punjabi literature has ever produced. But when birth centenary celebrations of Dhir starts on Monday, the question remains: Can one really survive being a professional writer?

Dhir, who hailed from Bassi Pathana, shook the Punjabi literary world with his path-breaking short story “Koi Ekk Sawaar” in 1954. The story depicts conflict between modernity and tradition. It was written in the times when Punjabi short story as a genre was still in its infancy.

But the challenging life of a professional writer was not as easy as it looks from a distance. Dhir, who chose to be professional writer over family’s profession of tailoring, had warned others against this in his autobiography “Birhaspati” (Thursday). “I have led life of a professional writer. It is a hard one. Especially, it is very difficult to be a writer in ill-fated language like Punjabi, and more so if you are a professional writer. One shouldn’t do that. Until someone should be as rich as Tolstoy or there should be some alternative source of earning. Otherwise one is bound to starve as I have.”

Dhir mentioned that even well-educated and scholars posed him the question about his profession. “I find it very difficult to answer the question.”

When Dhir chose to be a professional writer in the 1950s, it was beyond imagination of anybody in the Punjabi society. “It was shocking for a family like us which lived in abject poverty. There were times when we had to go to bed without food, but my brother will still proudly say that he is a professional writer,” says Dhir’s Mohali-based younger brother Ripudaman Singh Roop, who is a retired school teacher and financially supported the writer throughout his life.

It is impossible to be a professional writer even today. Agrees Dhir’s Canada-based journalist-grandson Ramanjit Singh Sidhu. “It’s a matter of pride that my grandfather’s not only survived, but followed his passion against all the odds. The most surprising part of his life was his uncompromising lifestyle. He used to say he lived like a king while sitting on the ground with poor masses. He would often say that he was financially challenged, but not poor.”

The wordsmith 

  • Santokh Singh Dhir was conferred Sahitya Akademi Award for his short story collection ‘Pakhi’ in 1996
  • State’s top literary honour Shiromani Sahitkar Award
  • Boldly opposed Khalistanis and Hindu fundamentalists 
  • Passed away in 2010; body was donated to PGI, Chandigarh


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