“Literature is a mirror of society and as writers, we have to tell the truth, fearlessly, which I have done in all my work,” reflects Moga-based Punjabi author Baldev Singh, better known as Baldev Singh Sadaknama, whose novel Sooraj Dee Akh (Sun’s Eye) has won this year’s Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature.
The Dhahan Prize, instituted by a Vancouver-based organisation called the Canada-India Education Society, celebrates, according to its website, “the rich culture and transnational heritage of Punjabi literature and language. The prize aims to promote the growth of Punjabi language globally” to encourage new, emerging and established writers working in the two Punjabi scripts, Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi.
Besides Baldev Singh, who won the annual prize of Can $25,000, two finalists, Nasir Baloch, a Pakistani writer, author of Jhootha Saacha Koi Na (Everything Goes) in Shahmukhi, and Harpreet Sekha of British Columbia, Canada, author of Prism, in Gurmukhi, won Can $10,000 each. Last year’s winner was Pargat Singh Satoi.
Baldev Singh was among the writers who returned his 2011 Sahitya Akademi Award in October 2015 along with several other winners of the award from across the country.
Sooraj Dee Akh is a work of historical fiction, exploring the untold saga of the famous hero of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. A historical novel, says Sadaknama, is different from history for the readers come closer to how a character feels, thinks and responds, unlike history which is based on facts and figures. “When a writer writes about war, he or she goes beyond the battlefield and soldiers, looking closely at the trials and tribulations of the family who has lost a loved one, society at large, the impact of war and this is the entire premise of Sooraj Dee Akh and I am so happy that my work has been appreciated and also awarded,” says the author, whose novels include Annadatta, Panjwan Sahibzada, Satluj Vehnda Riha.
Released last year, the novel was the fruit of four years of extensive research by Sadaknama. He studied documents and many books on Maharaja Ranjit Singh, known as the Lion of Punjab. The book, agrees the author, also evoked some controversy as he has not shied away from writing about the “human” limitations and weaknesses of the leader of the Sikh empire. This, he said, was no figment of his imagination, but based on facts and study. “The novel is the history of Punjab and India and also documents the many important world events of the time (1780-1839) and also the many dimensions of the great ruler,” adds the author.
The recipient of the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award for best book in Punjabi in 2011 for his novel Dhahvan Dilli De Kingre, on the legendary Punjabi rebel Dulla Bhatti, Baldev has also been honoured with several awards, including the Shiromani Sahitkar Award from the Punjab government.
Novels, short stories, biographies, essays, plays, travelogues, children’s literature, Baldev’s literary journey began in 1977 with the publication of Gillian Chhitian Di Agg, a collection of short stories. After working as a teacher, he moved to Kolkata, West Bengal, in search of a better life. There he worked as a truck cleaner and a driver until becoming a truck operator. His truck-driving experience became the inspiration for Sadaknama, the name of his column in Amrita Pritam’s Nagmani magazine. Later the columns were published as a three-volume novel earning him fame, with Sadaknama becoming a part of his name.
“My experiences of life, coming from a very humble background, studying in government schools, travelling three-fourths of the country as a truck driver, meeting people from varied walks of life have resulted in writings which are about people, their life, our society, what we face. I am connected to the roots and the first platform was the column which ran for 18 years and people connected my name with Sadaknama and understanding their experiences,” adds the author, whose book Laal Batti deals with life in the red-light area of Kolkata. These days, the author is researching the life of Shaheed Udham Singh, as history is a subject that remains close to his heart.