Punjabi Stories Excel in Realistic and Moving Portrayal of Socio-Economic Problems of Farmers

A recent collection of Hindi translation of Punjabi short stories brought out by the National Book Trust deserves wide attention and appreciation due to its exceptionally brilliant portrayal of socio-economic issues combined with high literary merit. This book titled ‘Kisani Jeevan Ki Punjabi Kahani’ (‘Punjabi Stories on Peasant Life’) has been edited by Ravi Ravinder with translation by Preet Arora and Navjot Kaur Mann. The editor, translators and the publisher deserve our thanks for introducing the wider Hindi readership to several gems of Punjabi literature.

Kisani Jeevan Ki Punjabi Kahani

As is evident from the title of the book, this book deals exclusively with stories on rural life, mainly the life of small and medium farmers although life of farm workers and other sections of villagers also receives some attention in these stories. As the most prominent ‘green revolution’ state of India there has been much interest in the problems and prospects of Punjab’s farmers which further increased during the recent farmers’ agitation which had a very prominent presence of Punjab’s farmers. However in most discussion, in academics as well in media, the economic issues have received the main attention. A great merit of this book is that here we find the economic issues very well integrated with social and cultural issues, greatly enhancing our understanding of contemporary and recent rural issues in the context of Punjab.

Yet most of the stories are so well-written that it is the story and its characters which keep the reader engrossed deeply; the socio-economic understanding is an additional contribution. The literary merit would have reduced if the socio-economic understanding had appeared imposed, but in most of these stories this follows from the free-flowing narrative and the situations in which the characters find themselves; there is no need for the writers to draw any conclusions or explain the larger context.

There are 31 stories in this 482 page book and some of these are quite long ones. Yet I got so absorbed in reading these stories that I could not leave a story in the middle despite urgent work awaiting me. One feels so close and sympathetic to several characters caught in difficult and tragic situations that their memory lingers for a long time.

This also shows the strength of writers from regional languages compared to English language writers. I have seldom seen such realistic portrayals from much more famous writers who write mainly in English.

Despite my great admiration for this collection, I have two reservations. There are very few women writers in this collection, if any, although their presence is very much there as translators. Most of the writers (although not all) have given only peripheral attention to women characters. In the context of several social issues in particular, the reader would like to know more about the women characters that figure in these stories.

Secondly, farm workers have also received much lesser attention. This is particularly true of the migrant workers from Bihar, UP and nearby places who are referred to as bhaiyas in these stories and are time and again mentioned in the background but no attempt has been made to understand their problems and issues or consider their perspective.

On hopes that these aspects will get more attention whenever the next edition of this book is published by including some more short stories. There are also some mistakes here and there which appear to be due to Hindi font related problems, as sometimes the same mistake appears time and again. One hopes that this too will be taken care of in the next edition.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His collection of Hindi short stories is available in the book ‘Navjivan’ and of Hindi poems and songs in ‘Ummeed Mat Chhorna’, while his collection of English stories and novellas is available in ‘A Day in 2071’.    

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