With kabaddi matches, comedy shows and film stars occupying the centre stage to gather crowds, the funds for the art and culture akademis in Punjab are few and far between. The state languages department at Patiala has not been able to give the annual prestigious Shiromani Sahitkar awards for the past four years for want of funds. Last December, the writers whose books were selected in the ‘Sarvottam’ (best) category were given mementos sans the cash award.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg in Punjab,” says Ludhiana Punjabi Sahit Akademi president Sukhdev Singh Sirsa, “They starve their own languages department of funds but a grant of Rs 2 crore was given to the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan at Ghumman village in Gurdaspur district to celebrate the poetry of Sant Namdev, whose verses are included in the Guru Granth Sahib, since the event had religious and political colours.”
On the other hand are prominent registered literary groups such as Kendriya Punjabi Sabha and Ludhiana Punjabi Sahit Akademi, which despite large memberships and a significant body of work in the state for decades have never received any government grant. The languages department building was allowed to go to seed for want of funds and the salaries of the employees delayed inordinately. However, department director Chetan Singh has indicated green light to the accumulated grant of `3.25 crore. Deepak Manmohan Singh, member of the department’s advisory board, says: “The worst is over. The pending grant will be released and all pending awards given soon.”
Deviation from original path
Punjab Arts Council instituted by late MS Randhawa in 1979 has also deviated from its original ideals of functioning in a liberal and autonomous manner. Recent years have seen political appointments of people unrelated to the fields of art. Since 2008, Shirmoani Akali Dal (SAD) councillor, former mayor and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee member Harjinder Singh is chairperson of Punjab Arts Council.
From this term, the government has even started making appointments to the akademis. Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi has senior artist Malkit Singh as vice-president, while its president is Harvinder Singh Khalsa, a folk art, implements and antiques collector from Bathinda. One benefit of the political appointment is that the chairperson has been able to bring in an annual grant of Rs 1 crore to the council, a first. It was provided for in the government’s budget after a struggle of about six years. “This is a major achievement,” says Harjinder Singh.
The curious case of 'Imroz'
A curious situation arose at Punjab Arts Council, Chandigarh, when Harjit Singh’s film ‘Imroz’ — featuring the artist companion of celebrated poet late Amrita Pritam, who brought many a laurel to Punjabi — was not allowed to be screened on the premises. “The objection raised by an Akali office-bearer was that she (Amrita) was nicotine inhaler,” says Harjit, “so it was screened under the aegis of the Chandigarh Sangeet Natak Akademi at the Government Museum.”
Poor replicas of Nek Chand's art kept on the Punjab Arts Council premises. (HT Photo)
There is a constant tug-ofwar between those with art expertise and those otherwise. One of the two impudent schemes was halted thankfully when one of the office-bearers who got some amateur artists to start making a mosaic mural across the face of the Punjab Art Council building in Sector 16 was advised that it would be not only against the city bylaws but also an affront to the architect. The second misadventure was to get some children to make some cement-and-tile sculptures a la Nek Chand for a corner in the compound to be named after the master creator. Somebody pointed out that copying was no art and the poor replicas would trivialise the art of Nek Chand, who did not need a corner anywhere, because his art was spread across acres of the internationally acclaimed Rock Garden.