A former Naxalite, Jaswinder from Punjab, has won the Sahitya Akademi Award for his poetry.
The poet's ghazal anthology Agarbatti has won this year's award.
The awards were announced on Friday in Delhi.
When he got the news on Friday afternoon, his first reaction was astonishment. "After a friend called, the first thing that came to my mind was what date is it? Then I realised that April was still four months away," said Jaswinder.
So was the reaction of his old comrades, who contributed money to get his first anthology Kaafile (Caravans) printed in the 1970s. "He was two years my senior at the engineering college. He was a darling poet of the youngsters and the villagers. I still remember, we collected a rupee or two each to amass `450 to print his first set of poems," said Mansa-based Sukhdarshan Natt, political activist of Communist Party of India (ML), who studied with the poet at Government Polytechnic Guru Teg Bahadur, Rode.
Jaswinder, 58, who hails from Kalalwalan village in Bathinda district is an engineer by profession. He is currently posted at the Guru Gobind Singh Super Thermal Plant in Ropar. He is based out of Kharar. So far, he has published six books of poems.
According to sources, he remained underground for around four years during and after the Emergency when he was a part of Punjab Students' Union. Jaswinder confirmed that. "Those were the golden days of Punjab's student movement. I was among the many who left home to make the world more beautiful," he smiled.
"Your life keeps evolving. I am now not the same Jaswinder, but my past still guides me."
However, in 1980 he came back to complete his engineering course, and took up a job.
Punjabi experts look at this award as recognition of Punjabi ghazal.
"A school of thought feels that only poor ghazal can be written in Punjabi. But Jaswinder has proved that wrong. This award is a testimony to that," said Sushil Dosanj, editor of Punjabi literary magazine Hun.
After eminent Punjabi poet Jagtar, he is the only ghazal writer to be conferred with the Sahitya Akademi Award.