An honest celebration of the Punjabi short story : The Tribune India

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An honest celebration of the Punjabi short story

An honest celebration of the Punjabi short story

The Greatest Punjabi Stories Ever Told Edited by Renuka Singh & Balbir Madhopuri. Aleph. Pages 324. Rs 799

Book Title: The Greatest Punjabi Stories Ever Told

Author: Renuka Singh & Balbir Madhopuri

Ranjit Powar

Short stories are making a comeback the world over, fitting cosily into the brief snatches of time people afford for reading in their roller-coaster-ride lives. Merely a century old, the Punjabi short story has been taken to great heights by brilliant, insightful writers who have portrayed a wide gamut of human interaction, emotions, depravity, individual pain and alienation. Also included are Partition, political resistance, heroism, cultural change, gender bias, tongue-in-cheek humour and episodes from everyday life. Fed on the standard mish-mash of global fiction, the serious reader is curious to savour regional literature with its specific flavours and sensibilities.

‘The Greatest Punjabi Stories Ever Told’ tickles the literary palette by introducing the non-Punjabi reader to unsavoured territories of the Punjabi rural and urban milieu. The current collection has been mainly curated from 20th century writers influenced by the Progressive movement, marked by secularism and defiance toward theism, discrimination based on caste and gender, imperialism and feudalism.

Suppression, sexual violence and disguised cruelty towards women are recurring themes in many of the stories. The first story, ‘Bhabhi Myna’ by Gurbaksh Singh, is a sensitive tale about a lonely Jain widow living a restricted life. She develops an innocent affection for Kaka, a school-going adolescent in the neighbourhood. Fascinated by her elusive beauty and unusual life, Kaka returns her love without awakening sexual feelings. In ‘The Stench of Kerosene’, Amrita Pritam manifests the steel grip of family and society over both men and women, rendering the man unable to stand up for his beloved wife, forcing her to commit suicide. Mohan Bhandari’s ‘Doe’s Eye’ also narrates the trauma of a helpless woman driven to end her life. Ram Sarup Ankhi’s ‘That Woman’ portrays the sad existence of a mother with five sons waiting for her end after giving away her land to them.

Horrors of Partition continue to haunt the writers’ imagination, their works capturing the anguish of a nation torn apart and the destruction, violence and utter human depravity it engendered. Sujan Singh’s ‘Sunrise at Last’, Mohinder Singh Sarna’s ‘Savage Harvest’, Sant Singh Sekhon’s ‘Dance of the Devil’ and Gurdev Singh Rupana’s ‘The Wind’ jolt the reader’s conscience with episodes of extreme violence, immorality, debauchery and cruelty committed by otherwise sane people. Women were hunted like animals, abducted and raped; children were snatched away from mothers; and orphans abandoned.

The authors have included humorous stories about the exaggerated Punjabi hospitality, the alienation of a young man who returns to his family after many years abroad and the recent tragedy of migrants who survive the coronavirus but are brutally beaten up by the police who deny them passage to their native villages.

The book is an honest collection of stories written by the most celebrated Punjabi authors and translated with the best efforts to sustain their original flavour. Many themes analyse complex computations of human behaviour and contradictory social phenomena, gripping the reader’s interest through page-turning inquisitiveness and stimulating questions.