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Centenarian with a charmed pen

By July 1, 2019No Comments

Source ; The Tribune

Throughout his various phases as a writer, Jaswant Singh Kanwal never lost connect with the masses, voicing their aspirations, sufferings and struggles


For eight decades, centenarian Jaswant Singh Kanwal has captivated millions of readers. A heady mix of realism and romanticism, narration of vicissitudes of youth in love, poetic description of village life, crafty touch of folklore and relentless fight against injustice, inequalities and exploitation makes his writings throb multitudes across ages even today.

His themes are socially and politically relevant. Starting from the elementary Vedanta, he became a progressive writer, turning into an ardent supporter of ultra Left, Naxalism, and a champion of the Sikh cause. He never lost connect with the masses, voicing their aspirations, sufferings and struggles.

Ruminating on the formative years of his creativity, he mentions Heer Waris as the prime mover. Born in Dhudike on June 27, 1919, he fled to Malaya to skip matriculation examination, algebra being the humbug for him. He worked as a watchman for about two years. It is there that he composed and recited some couplets in congregations celebrating the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh. Love from the audience encouraged him to take up poetry seriously. Chanan Singh, a literary connoisseur, advised him to learn prosody and have Kanwal as nom de plume, which he has carried all along since then. As a teenager, Kanwal was caught in a romantic affair with a woman who was keen to marry him. However, he had to rush to Punjab to settle family affairs. Coming back to Dhudike, he devoted most of his time to reading and writing. Strangely, his first book was Jeevan Kanian, an anthology of stray thoughts in prose and not that of poetry. It was followed by two novels, Sach Nu Phansi and Pali, which were instant hits.

Novels like Puranmashi, Raat Baaki Hai, Civil Lines, Hani, Mitter Piyare Nu, Tarikh Vekhdi Hai, Jera, Baraf Di Agg, Jangal De Sher and anthologies of short stories, like Kande, Sandhoor, Zindagi Door Nahin, Gora Mukh Sajjana Da, followed in quick succession, making him the most sought-after writer of his times. Punjabis, who earlier fed on medieval qissa poetry, became avid readers of his fiction that had usurped its basic ingredients of love, revolt, sacrifice and narration, giving it a progressive slant in contemporary space and time. Fragrance and vitality of language of simple rural folk made him a household name. His exposure of misdeeds of the unscrupulous rich and impassioned exhortation for the exploited lot to fight back did magic.

Raat Baaki Hai turned innumerable young men into dreaming revolutionary comrades. Interestingly, this novel swayed 32-year-old Jaswant Gill into love with Kanwal and the two ended up marrying each other. Kanwal’s popularity climaxed with Lahoo Dee Lou, which is a heart-wrenching story of tortures, killings and suppression of Naxalite movement. The novel was published in Singapore during the Emergency. Later, it ran into several editions in Punjab and won Kanwal a state award which he spurned.

The Sikh struggle, Operation Bluestar and countrywide anti-Sikh riots turned him into a bitter critic of those who denied Punjab its rights. Without mincing words, he gave vent to his feelings in novels like Ainian Vichon Utho Surma, Morha and anthologies of prose, like Lalkar and Qaumi Virasat.

He is acerbic in exposing step-motherly treatment meted out to Punjab by the Centre and the political parties and leaders who acquiesced spinelessly. He is worried about the future of the country as a whole and that of Punjab in particular. He is a strong votary of secular federal India. He thinks it is a tragedy that our talented youth is being eaten up by drugs and the dream to emigrate to foreign lands, which is fast endangering the identity and cultural topography of Punjab.

Because of his anti-establishment tone, awards and honours for him came late but came in plenty. Punjabi Sahit Academy Ludhiana Award, Shiromani Punjabi Sahitkar Award, Sarv Sresht Sahitkar Award, National Sahit Academy Award, Honorary D Litt by Guru Nank Dev University, Sahit Shiromani Award and Punjab Gaurav Award are some of these.

Kanwal has visited several countries around the world, but never thought of leaving Dhudike. Dr MS Randhawa offered him a two-kanal plot in Chandigarh and a soft loan to build a house, but he refused saying that snapping the umbilical cord with the village would kill his creativity and the creator in him is still alive and kicking.

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