Turn the pages of Gurdial Singh’s life, and you will read a story that is stranger than fiction. For, it is the story of a man whose spirit could never be broken and whose writing and life were inseparable.
The Padma Shri recipient and the second Punjabi writer after Amrita Pritam to win the Jnanpith Award, Gurdial (83) died Tuesday in Bathinda after a long illness. He leaves behind a legacy of work that provides readers an insight into the human mind.
Gurdial scripted a life that translated the trials and tribulations of the oppressed, dispossessed and marginalised into a language that went beyond boundaries.
His father, a carpenter and blacksmith, pulled him out of school after Class VIII, as he could not fund his education. But Gurdial chose not to step into his father’s shoes. He managed to complete his basic education, took up a job of a school teacher and went on to become a professor at the Regional Centre of Punjabi University and a writer.
According to Prof Rana Nayar, who has translated four novels and a collection of stories by Gurdial into English, he “radicalised Punjabi novel writing by infusing into it a new consciousness about the underprivileged and the oppressed”.
The Malwa region of Punjab remained the centre of his work. He took his readers closer to the rural life, telling the story of its economic backwardness and the plight of the landless labourers.
Gurdial’s fiction ranged from short stories to longer works such as Unhoye (1966), Kuwela (1968), Addh Chanini Raat (1972), Anhe Ghore Da Daan (1976) and Parsa (1991). Initial success came with Marhi Da Deeva (1964). Translated into English as The Last Flicker (Sahitya Akademi, 1991), it was hailed as a modern classic. Recently, the Sahitya Akademi awarded Gurdial a life fellowship.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal condoled his demise.