Celebrating Literary Legends: A Tribute to Punjab’s Poets and Writers

by Manjari Singh

In the twilight of his life, poet Surjit Patar imagined the impermanence of physical art, envisioning paintings fading, sculptures eroding, but words enduring forever. This poignant reflection, captured in his revered poem ‘Kuj keha taan’, resonates deeply with those who cherish his literary legacy.

On June 9, Barnala’s grain market will become a beacon for thousands of farm and industrial workers, along with litterateurs and intellectuals, gathering to honor Patar. As the paddy-sowing season approaches, these individuals will brave the summer heat to pay homage to a poet whose words vividly depicted their struggles. Patar’s poems, such as ‘Jaga do mombattiyaan’ and ‘Ki hoya je aayi patjhad’, which speak of hope and resilience, will echo in their hearts as they celebrate his enduring influence.

This celebration is reminiscent of another significant literary homage. In the summer of 2019, the village of Dhudike in Moga came alive with festivities marking the 100th birthday of novelist Jaswant Singh Kanwal. A five-day Puranmashi Punjabi Jorr Mela, inspired by Kanwal’s classic novel, drew writers, scholars, and activists from across the state. The event, spearheaded by Kanwal’s grandson Sumail Sidhu, a historian, continues annually even after Kanwal’s passing, commemorating his profound impact on Punjabi prose and rural diction.

Dhudike, home to both Kanwal and Lala Lajpat Rai, has become a hub of literary activity, celebrating not only Kanwal but also other literary giants like Shiv Batalvi and Balraj Sahni. Sahni, a devoted admirer of Kanwal’s work, spent considerable time in Dhudike while writing his travelogues. This vibrant literary ecosystem nurtures the memory of these writers, fostering a deep connection between their works and the community.

Gursharan Singh, another towering figure in Punjabi literature, is remembered through various initiatives. His daughters have preserved his legacy with an online archive and a museum in Chandigarh, which housed a permanent photo exhibition and numerous scripts, letters, and recordings. Although the Chandigarh house has been sold, plans are underway to establish a new museum in Amritsar, dedicated to his life and work.

Singh’s impact was profoundly felt during his lifetime, with the Gursharan Singh Naat Utsav in Chandigarh and a massive gathering in Kussa village in 2006 celebrating his contributions. These events, like the Prof Mohan Singh Mela in Ludhiana and other commemorations across Punjab, highlight the enduring significance of Punjabi literature and culture.

In the picturesque Andretta in Palampur, students from Punjabi University once performed plays in honor of Norah Richards, the grande dame of Punjabi theatre. Although this tradition halted post-Covid, a bust of Richards now stands there, symbolizing her lasting influence. Similarly, the Dr. Balbir Singh Sahit Kendra in Dehradun and the renaming of Silvi Park in Mohali after Santokh Singh Dhir serve as enduring tributes to these literary icons.

A recent addition to these memorials is a complex dedicated to Pash and Hans Raj in Talwandi Salem, Nakodar, where they were martyred in 1988. This complex stands as a testament to Pash’s enduring legacy as a symbol of resistance.

However, amid these celebrations, concerns about the sustainability of such memorials persist. Ramanjit Sidhu, Dhir’s grandson, emphasizes that while symbolic gestures are appreciated, they are insufficient. He highlights the lack of reprinted works and significant awards for Punjabi writers, fearing that only those stories included in school syllabi will endure.

Amarjit Chandan echoes this sentiment, urging Punjabis to learn from the West in commemorating their literary figures by naming streets and institutions after them. He laments the absence of memorials for many great Punjabi icons, emphasizing the need for more tangible and lasting tributes.

Despite these challenges, the efforts to honor writers like Ram Sarup Ankhi in Barnala and the ongoing preservation of original manuscripts by scholars like Prof Pritam Singh illustrate a steadfast commitment to keeping Punjabi literature alive. As new generations step into the shoes of these literary giants, their words will continue to inspire and resonate, ensuring that their legacies endure.

Manjari Singh

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