Opening up a treasure trove of Punjabi literature

February 22nd, 2012 - 11:56 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 22 (IANS) Diplomat-writer Navdeep Suri opened a treasure chest of Punjabi literature with the launch of the “A Life Incomplete”, an English translation of his grandfather Nanak Singh’s iconic novel, “Adh Khidiya Phool” based on the Punjabi nationalist writer’s 10-month stay in Lahore jail in the 1920s.Written as a draft by Nanak Singh in jail, it was redrafted 18 years later as a novel.

The book, second of Suri’s English translation of his grandfather’s books, was published by Harper Collins-India. A joint secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs, Suri had earlier translated Nanak Singh’s novel “Pavitra Paapi” as “Saintly Sinner” in 2003.

“Pavitra Paapi” was also made into a movie starring Parikshit Sahni in 1970.

“A Life Incomplete” was released by Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur Tuesday evening at Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan. Unveiling the book, Kaur said, “Nanak Singh was a leading light of Punjabi literature. He wrote 59 books, including 38 novels and was honoured with the Sahitya Akademi award in 1962.”

Kaur said: “Several of Nanak Singh’s books were prescribed on high school and university syllabus, and I am told many of his novels are in their 20th and 30th reprint.” She said Nanak Singh’s books conveyed several messages pertinent to the times — “religious tolerance and empowerment of women.”

“The translation will carry the novel to new sections of Indian lovers of Punjabi literature and to the Indian diaspora around the world,” Kaur said.

Navdeep Suri calls the book a “tragedy”. The narrative begins with political prisoner Kuldeep Singh’s days in Lahore jail, where the only thoughts that sustain him are those of his beautiful wife Satwant.

Kuldeep is desperate to go home to Peshawar — and mend fences with his wife who suspected him of cheating on her. The lovesick Punjabi prisoner sporting a “brown beard” strikes a unusual friendship with a Pathan jail guard Ahmed Khan.

The friendship is a testimony of inter-faith tolerance at a time when hostility between the Hindus and the Muslims were on the rise, Suri said. But Kuldeep — an autobiographical character, cast in the shade of writer Nanak Singh — returns home to find his wife had died, leaving behind an infant child.

Kuldeep’s world collapses and he is pulled in different directions and finds himself drawn to Prakash — his child’s maid. It now falls upon Ahmed Khan to redeem the star-crossed love and reunite the lovers.

“Two principles guided me in my endeavour. One, was to try and take this work to a wider audience as he was regarded the father of Punjabi novel and a natural writer. Had he written in English or French, he would have been celebrated as a global phenomenon,” Suri told IANS.

The diplomat said: “The readership for Punjabi literature had shrunk after Partition.”

“It is a pity that a writer who produced classic after classic and whose works were made into movies does not have enough translation in English,” Suri said.

“I just wanted to render the original tale faithfully,” he said. The writer said he now try to translate Nanak Singh’s Sahitya Akademi Award winning novel, “Ek Mayan Do Talwar”, a story of a revolution set between 1914 and 1918.

The launch opened with a short documentary on Nanak Singh, who loved to spend his creative time in the hills. Born in 1897 to a Hindu in a village by the Jhelum river, he converted to Sikhism as a child. Poverty denied him education.

“But it did not stop him from writing considering that he was a man of little education not beyond the fourth grade, Nanak Singh addressed almost all the social issues that made headlines in the early 20th century,” added Suri.

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