When in 1979 Amrita Pritam started publishing a young Kolkata-based Punjabi truck driver’s life in her literary magazine “Nagmani”, she faced a question repeatedly: “Is it literature?”
On Tuesday, that young driver reached the top of Punjabi literary world when the Punjab government announced the Shiromani Punjabi Sahitkar Award— the highest state award for literature — for Baldev Singh Sadaknama. The award comprises a prize money of `5 lakh.
“It feels nice when mainstream accepts people like me as a writer,” the Moga-based writer said while talking to HT over phone. He still remembers when he sent first dispatch of his daily life experiences as a truck driver to Amrita Pritam, she immediately wrote back to send more such pieces. “She continuously published his dispatches in the name of ‘Sadaknama” till last days of Nagmani in 1999,” said the 72-year-old author. And this is how Baldev Singh added suffix “Sadaknama” to his name. Later, his writings came as a book titled “Sadaknama”.
Recalling his journey from a truck cleaner to a transporter, Baldev Singh said: “Truck drivers are treated as villains in society. But not many know how challenging and difficult their life is. With their hardships, everyday jokes, their little fights, I tried to tell that they are also human beings,” he said.
Baldev Singh is known for originality in his works and strong story telling skills. In the mid-90s, his touching work “Lal Batti” (red light) about the life in brothels of Kolkata’s Sonagachi is considered as the great literary works in Punjabi literature. Later, his novel Anndata (giver of food) about Punjab’s agrarian crisis was also critically acclaimed.
In 2011, he received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his Punjabi novel “Dhaawaan Dilli De Kingrey”.