Vancouver’s Barj Dhahan is doing what he can to preserve the Punjabi language, not only in Canada but around the globe.
According to Dhahan, the United Nations has claimed Punjabi language is at risk of extinction within the next 50 years because of the dominance of English, so as co-founder of the Canada-India Education Society (CIES), he launched the annual Dhahan prize for Punjabi literature, which sees $25,000 go to a modern Punjabi writer each year.
In its inaugural year, CIES received about 70 submissions from five different countries.
On Wednesday, CIES announced the grand prize winner — India and US-based writer Avtar Singh Billing, for his novel 'Khali Khoohaan Di Katha' (The Story of Empty Wells).
“Punjabi speakers have been in BC for over 115 years now,” Dhahan told Vancouver Desi on Friday.
“Punjabi has very much become a Canadian language and the community is very dynamic and well-established, so we thought this would be a wonderful way of honouring the Punjabi presence in Canada for all these years.”
While many writers’ associations, in both Punjabi and English, already exist in BC, the Dhahan prize is global in scope, honouring Punjabi novelists and short-story writers across the world, in an attempt to “preserve and promote the rich literary heritage of the Punjabi language,” while also inspiring readership among the younger generations, said Dhahan.
Two runner-up prizes of $5,000 each were also awarded to India’s Jasbir Bhullar, author of 'Ik Raat da Samunder' and Pakistan’s Zubair Ahmed, author of 'Bnairy te Galian'.
The Dhahan prize is funded by an endowment from Dhahan and his wife Rita, family and friends. The awards are handed out in partnership with UBC’s department of Asian Studies.
The Dhahan prize for Punjabi literature will begin accepting submissions for 2015 in early January.
For more information visit dhahanprize.com