Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature – 2013 to 2020

In 2013 when Dhahan Prize was in the process of being established in Vancouver, I saw it as a progressive and uplifting force for Punjabi literature and language. It was a happy occasion for me when Anne Murphy (University of British Columbia, Asian Studies) and Barj Dhahan (Canada India Education Society), the two initiators, accepted my definition of ‘Punjabi’ to then include Shahmukhi writers, representing 60% of the World’s Punjabis, to be eligible for the Prize. I facilitated it by providing contacts in the Pakistani Punjab, and by serving on the inaugral advisory committee in Vancouver. My appreciation to Barj, Anne, Harinder Dhahan, and many others for their accomplishments and contributions in pulling it together. Indeed it is the only literary award that offers meaningful monetary reward to fiction writers of both Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi scripts residing in Pakistan, India and the Diaspora- a beautiful placement for community building in our literary landscape!

In seven years, however, that vision, that hope, has been consistently eroded by the political and social interests guiding Dhahan Prize, and now, the project has become more of a conservative push that further debilitates our literary environments with money and undue influence leading to the formation of cliques (‘narrow exclusive circles’, mw) in both India and Pakistan. It seems that the prize structure follows regressive systemic values where personal likes/dislikes and clan-based interests guide literary decisions. It is interesting, for example, that in seven years, not a single Shahmukhi writer, or a woman writing in either script, was allowed to win the main prize.

I also know that Dhahan Prize is not the only one employing discriminatory values and structures to get desired results, that all literary prizes, more so the big ones, operate on similar basis. For example, we see here in Canada and the USA that most big prizes are awarded to straight middle class white men, protecting the systemic values of racism, sexism, class privilege and homophobia. That it may take years of lobbying, bribes, favors and/or public pressure for someone to win a Sitara-e-Imtiaz in Pakistan or a Sahitya Akademi Award in India, and, that the more ‘outstanding’ talent may never get either. That the Nobel is only awarded when it serves the political interests of the so called ‘Western’ governments. Periodically and as needed, exceptions are made to save the credibility of a program, to increase its profits or to enhance its influence.

Knowing this, why did i expect this prize to be any different? The unique possibility with Dhahan Prize is its physical location where it does not have to work with or through the bureaucracy or the politics of either of the governments of the Punujab. They are independent of the social, religious and financial constraints and limitations of both India and Pakistan. In so being, the Dhahan Prize is in the very best position to build non-discriminatory, non-prejudicial, democratic structures that can spearhead the nurturement of leading-edge literature in Punjabi; to provide a pathway for authors tackling themes tabooed by prevalent South Asian value systems, and to support authors coming from historically disadvantaged groups. But would they or can they do it? I hope that the Dhahan Prize recognizes this as the unique opportunity it is, and resolve to do different and better instead of adding more of the same to an already toxic mix.

I was distraught last year to find that in their media releases and events, the Dhahan Prize stage was repeatedly handed over to an English language fiction writer of Punjabi origin- in the presence of three (of their own) award winning authors. It made me feel disrespected as a Punjabi writer, and in my small way, i responded by changing the emphasis of their media release by choosing another photo and rearranging the text in my event information post on Uddari, and, by participating in the discussion in one of the events. I wonder if, like many others in our community, the organizers also are inwardly ashamed of Punjabi writers writing in Punjabi.

Earlier this year, when i was submitting my novella Keerru to Dhahan Prize, i asked Maqsood Saqib (Pancham and Suchet Kitab Ghar) who had published his second short story collection, if he had submitted it. His first collection, containing the story ‘Pappu’, is a tone-setter for the narrative of modern short fiction in Shahmukhi. He hadn’t; i asked him why not, and he said something like: ‘literature is not written to win prizes’, and i said, yes indeed it’s not but if a book is already written and there’s a prize then why not submit it. He did not agree. This points to another discomfort. If authors are asked to submit to the prize themselves, not only that it sets up a relationship of ‘patronage’ with the prize but it also means that works by authors such as Saqib, and now myself, will stay out of Dhahan Prize’s lists. I don’t know how in the long run, this ongoing process of ommission will serve Punjabi literature, language or culture.

This is sad, and at this rate, within the first decade of its existence, Dhahan Prize will become well known for generously rewarding mediocrity and opportunism in Punjabi literature- instead of encouraging excellence and ingenuity.

Earlier this month, my novella ‘Keerru’ was shortlisted for Dhahan Prize but I hesitate to accept it as a compliment or to take it as a credit. My work does not need to be endorsed by compromised juries working through processes marred by favoritism and personal career agendas. I would rather continue with my walk.

Photo by Hafsah Durrani

Fauzia Rafique
Surrey BC
October 18, 2020

Novella ‘Keerru’

Gurmukhi ebook

Shahmukhi : Sanjh Publications, Lahore

Urdu ebook

Novel ‘Skeena’

Shahmukhi, Gurmukhi and English Editions
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Punjabi Monthly magazine PANCHAM becomes a Quarterly publication


Quarterly Pancham, Jan-Feb-March 2020
Eds. Faiza Raa’na & Maqsood Saqib

Lahore’s longstanding literary Punjabi magazine, Pancham, makes a smart move to become a quarterly after a prolonged struggle to be a self-reliant monthly publication. This may allow for a larger selection and even richer literary content.

Pancham publishes poetry, fiction, literary criticism and non fiction. Edited and published by renowned authors Faiza Raa’na and Maqsood Saqib, it has been recognized as being the best literary Punjabi magazine in both the East and the West Punjab.

Published in the Shahmukhi script since 1998, Pancham is a continuation of Maan Boli, a magazine that was brought out from Lahore by some of the same team leaders and members that had continued publishing from 1986 to 1997. For more, connect with the Pancham community on Facebook:
Pancham Sulaikh SaNg (Punjabi Literary Group)

Yearly Subscriptions
Pakistan RS1000
India RS1000
International US$20

To subscribe, contact Maqsood Saqib at
+92 306 1679936
suchet2001@yahoo.com
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Uddari Weblog is published from
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the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

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Brilliante Punjab: Offering to a writer, an editor, and a reader!

This offering of appreciation is made to three individuals who have nurtured Punjabi with creative excellence for many years; and, in different ways, all three have inspired content at Uddari Weblog during its first year.

Likhari Amarjit Chandan
Sodhi Maqsood Saqib
PaRihar Bharat Bhushan

As we all have a bit of a likhari, a sodhi and a paRihar in us, it is height of pleasantness to find individuals who are brilliant in any one area. All three have a luminous aura of work that has enriched Punjabi literature and literary communities in South Asia and Abroad.

Indeed, our writer is also an activist and a photographer; the editor, a publisher and fiction writer; and the reader, a blogger and web publisher.

Amarjit Chandan
amarjit-chandan-self-portrait-london-1989
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Amarjit Chandan may be only one of the eight contributors and authors of Uddari Weblog but his presence is way more than his number share. Here are the top three.

Chandan made this most amazing contribution of over fifty portraits of Punjabi and South Asian writers, artists and poets to Uddari Art: Amarjit Chandan, a photographer’s profile

And, the second, by sending original photos of over a dozen great inspiring women, he hurried the creation of ‘Great women of Punjabi origin‘ in the very first month of Uddari. Photos included activists Gulab Kaur, Kewal Kaur, Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, Vimla Dang and Sophia Duleep Singh.

Its only befitting than to begin the second year of Uddari with Amarjit Chandan being the first author to be added to Punjabi MaaNboli Writers Page next month. Till then, view:
Chandan’s website
And
Search results for ‘amarjit chandan’ at Uddari Weblog

Maqsood Saqib
saqib-4
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Maqsood Saqib belongs to the breed of editors (and publishers) who will always prioritize quality over for example, a pressing dateline or social and monetary concerns. Though this breed may be rare in Punjabi literary journalism and at that, disappearing fast, Maqsood Saqib continues to gain strength with his ongoing output of high quality Punjabi literature in the form of books and magazines.

Saqib works out of a second floor office on a busy intersection in Lahore. The editing, production, retail and management of both Suchet Kitab Ghar and Monthly Pancham takes place in an equivalent of a two bedroom apartment with no balcony.

In 2007, i had the pleasure one time of entering that office and finding Maqsood Saqib not in his usual chair at the entrance behind a table and four guest chairs, but sitting in a fully furnished bed that had made an unexpected appearance in the middle of the production room.

The area designated here as ‘the middle of the production room’ is a 9’/12′ space erstwhile being used to get to the washroom in the right corner, to the kitchen counter straight ahead, the safe room in the left corner, photocopying and printing machines by the right wall, and the desktop publishing station by the left. Let me not forget however, that this exact area also works as a drawng room for staff and guests.

There, sitting upright in his sick bed with feverish red eyes, our editor/publisher was guiding the production of monthly Pancham from the tent of his comforter.

The second endearing episode relates to the camera ready Shahmukhi copy of my poem ‘Social self de loR’ (Need for a Social Self) that i had been asked to come and proofread for a 2006 issue of Pancham. There were a couple of typos, sure, and i handed it back to him. But… he said, this does not make much sense ‘performer dae leeRiaN andar vekhan vaal da pinda? (‘In the guise of a performer, the body of a spectator’). I said, yes, ‘vekhan vaal’ from Urdu ‘tmaashbeen’; he said, sure but ‘vekhan vaal da pinda?’

It was not until he actually held an imaginary solitary strand of hair above the table in front of me that i saw the mistake. The verse read as ‘viewing the body of a hair’ instead of ‘the body of the spectator’… It was hilarious to me but without affording a smile, he wrote it down: ‘vekhan-vaal’ as one word instead of ‘vekhan vaal’ as two.

I wonder if any other editor of Punjabi literature would have found, and then corrected, this ‘vaal-brobar’ mistake that was big enough to condemn a poem to an unintended hole of hilarity.

Here is some information on Maqsood Saqib’s work:
Another image in Uddari Photo Album

Bharat Bhushan
bhushan
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The first person who bought a book at Punjabi Books turned out to be none other than the Blogger at paash.wordpress.com who is determined to preserve everything written by Paash and about Paash. Bhushan believes that ‘the tragedy of Punjabi literature and culture has been that we have not done enough to preserve our history’.

Residing in UK, Bhushan bought the Shahmukhi edition of collected works of Paash titled ‘Paash, Sari Shairi’, edited by Maqsood Saqib and published by Suchet Kitab Ghar. Bhushan considers himself to be a ‘voracious reader of literature, especially Punjabi poetry’. He is a Paash enthusiast, and shares with us his motivation to collect materials about him:

‘I noticed from so many blogs in Hindi and Punjabi that there are some excerpts from Paash poems, and people are asking for more information about Paash poetry in Punjabi, Hindi, English and other languages, and more about his life and times. So I thought why not collect all of his poetry and other writings, the stories behind his writings, his life and times, his photographs, and academic research on his poetry, all at one place– a sort of reference point whereby it would be easier for others to access all this information. Hence my Paash blog.’
Bharat Bhushan

Brilliante Weblog Award is heartfelt appreciation of this community to Amarjit Chandan, Maqsood Saqib and Bharat Bhushan (i wonder about it too! Bhushan Jee, is this your real name?).

Fauzia Rafique
gandholi.wordpress.com
frafique@gmail.com

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