Grand old man of Punjabi letters Jaswant Singh Kanwal going strong at 99
The legend remains the most read story-teller of Punjab wielding a charmed penUpdated: Jun 27, 2018, 11:53 IST
The Punjab Gaurav Samman to living legend Jaswant Singh Kanwal, born in 1919, on the eve of his centenary is a befitting tribute to the writer who has always had a direct relationship with his readers. His popularity never suffered as he changed isms or took radical decisions in his personal and family life.
Born to a Jat Sikh family in Dhudike village in Moga district his stories and novels captured the rustic spirit of the peasants of Punjab in flawless Punjabi Interestingly, the writer who went onto receive much fame he was a school dropout. Kanwal often recalls that as a teenager he fled Punjab and went to Malaya (Malaysia) to escape the matriculation examination as Algebra was his Waterloo.
A son of the soil, Kanwal had never planned to be a writer but he read a poem dedicated to Guru Gobind Singh at a function in a gurdwara in Malaysia. “I got such appreciation for it that I turned to reading. When I returned to my village after some two-years-and-a-half, I started tilling the land as my brother separated from the family and the land was divided. Whenever I could collect about Rs 20, I would go to Lahore and bring back books to read,” he said.
From reading, he moved to writing stories and his first novel was ‘Sach Nu Phaansi’ (Gallows to Truth). The novel, based on a feud followed by murder and punishment to the perpetrator, was an instant hit and there was no looking back. He has published over 50 volumes of short stories, novels and essays.
The list of awards Kanwal received is an impressive one even if the honours came a little late in life. He received the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship for his book ‘Pakhi’ (The Hand Fan) in 1996 and the Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel ‘Taushali Di Hanso’ (The Hanso Of Taushali). He received the Sahitya Shiromani Award of the Punjab government in 2008. The same year he received the degree of Doctor of Literature by the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.
His politics has wavered between Sikh religiosity and Left movements in Punjab. From a Marxist, he moved to support the Maoists and later the Khalistanis. As a writer he is loved most for his novels ‘Lahu Di Lao’ (The Dawn of Blood) and ‘Puranmashi’ (The Full-Moon Light). The former was inspired by the Naxalite movement in Punjab and the latter was a lyrical novel of love and longing in the Punjab countryside.