Random Thoughts

Education is not literacy.
Education is not ruthless competition.
Education is not mindless chase of high percentages.
Education is certainly not a certificate for employability.
Education is opening a window in a dark wall.
Education is opening doors in a closed room.
Education is allowing free winds to swish through our minds.
Education is blossoming of the mind.
Education is awakening of the spirit.
Education is discovering who you are.
Education is discovering the world around you.
Education is stepping out of yourself.
Education is developing understanding with compassion.
Education is showing emotion for those we don’t know.
Education is wiping tears of those we don’t know.
Education is really a way of communicating with self, man, family, society and God.
Education is not what you get in school, college or university but what you get in the lab of life.
Education is an unending experiment.


Mahasweta Devi’s Mother of 1084: A Narrative of Healing


In the first half of the paper, I offer explanation as to why I’ve chosen to digress from the theme of the seminar. Thereafter, I go on to discuss four types of narratives that help us in historicizing the feminist discourse. After situating this particular novel within the total corpus of Mahasweta Devi, I offer a reading of this novel as a ‘narrative of healing.’ In the process, I do not simply define the concept but also discuss how it deviates from other forms of narrative. My methodology in this paper is partly structuralist and partly post-structuralist, as I approach narratives first to construct and classify and then deconstruct them.  

Text of the Essay: 

Before I start postulating the hypothesis proposed in this paper, I’d like to make a few preliminary observations by way of explanation, if not clarification. The title of my paper is bound to raise eyebrows, as it apparently doesn’t conform to the theme of the seminar. Not only have I taken the liberty to discuss the work of Mahasweta Devi, who by no stretch of imagination could be described as an Indian English writer, (only as a Bengali or an Indian writer), but I have also not focused upon the ‘images of woman’ as I was expected to. Let me say that both these choices have resulted not from an oversight but from a carefully worked out strategic, ideological move.

Let me first explain the dynamics of this move. By choosing to read this paper on the novel of Mahasweta Devi, I’m raising basic questions about the way in which relationships between the English and Bengali, centre and margin, metropolitan and moffusil are essentially mediated in our context. Moreover, this would also foreground the politics of exclusion that often operates in our context in relation to the regional writers, especially when they are pitted against the canonical Indian English writers. It really doesn’t take much to become a canonical writer within the range of Indian English fiction. Arundhati Roy has apparently made it on the basis of her solo effort. (Even within the domain of Indian English fiction, which is hardly homogenous and unified, one may further make distinction in terms of male and female writers, with much-too-obvious conclusions about exclusionary politics.)   

It’s significant that this ‘national seminar’ is being held in a ‘moffusil town’ like Ludhiana. Had it been somewhere in Delhi, Bombay or Kolkatta, I’d have still understood the rationale behind this exclusive focus upon Indian writing in English. In view of the location of the seminar, the neglect of the regional literatures becomes all the more glaring and pronounced. Particularly because the present venue did have the inherent potential of turning into a site of contesting, conflicting ideologies of languages, cultures and discourses, which given the theme of the seminar now has a very little chance of being realized. This is what makes the ‘absence’ of our regional literatures from the seminar all the more distressing and agonizing.  

Let me now turn to the other fancy phrase ‘images of woman.’ I was particularly struck by the word ‘images,’ which despite its plurality, has this uncanny tendency to stabilize and fossilize whatever it describes. The etymology of the word ‘image’ can easily be traced back to ‘iconography’ and therefore to the realm of religious discourse. Any attempt to create a feminist discourse around the notion of ‘images of woman’ is bound to be counter-productive, as it’d only result in giving legitimacy to the traditional or stereotypical role/function of women. As the ‘images’ are already fixed in time, space, history and culture, any attempt to construct them in context of the fictional works is not likely to provide the cutting edge to the feminist discourse. My understanding of the feminist discourse is that it constantly seeks to interrogate, overturn and undermine all stereotypical representations of women, located both in the patriarchal and matrilineal discourses. To me it appears that if feminist discourse is to constitute itself as a resistance, though not as a reactionary movement, then rather than deliberate over the ‘images of woman,’ it’d be much more profitable to historicize this discourse in terms of different narrative possibilities that are either available or are exercised by the women writers for narrativizing their stories.

Before I proceed any further, I‘d like to hypothesize, certainly not with the intention of essentializing, four different possibilities with regard to women and the narrativization of their stories. First is the ‘narrative of oppression or captivity,’ which may be created by a male or a female, and which may in turn impose restrictions upon a woman, projecting her as a tradition-bound creature, not a person, defined stereotypically and symptomatically in terms of social, historical and cultural forces. Second is the ‘narrative of self-liberation,’ which projects the woman as a social rebel, who raises a banner of revolt against the tyranny of social laws, conventions and standards, defining her distinctive, sometimes existential value-system in the process. Third is the ‘narrative of emancipation,’ within which woman becomes an instrument of change and so works not just toward her own liberation but that of her race, religion, community or sisterhood, too. Fourth is the ‘narrative of healing,’ strategically positioned half way between the ‘narrative of oppression’ and the ‘narrative of self-liberation,’ which helps a ‘woman’ ultimately become a ‘person’ or an ‘individual.’

Constituting an important stage in the evolution of woman’s consciousness, this narrative pre-supposes that much before a woman is able to raise the banner of revolt, she needs to recover from several inflictions of the ‘narrative of oppression.’ For this reason, the ‘narrative of healing’ is an intermediate form of narrative, which looks back to the ‘narrative of oppression’ and forward to the ‘narrative of liberation.’ Though it combines the elements of both, it is unable to acquire the character or function of either. Despite that, it often transcends the limitations of both.

Both as a writer and as a social activist, Mahasweta Devi has always positioned herself neither fully within the domain of her ‘bhadralok,’ bourgeoisie background nor within the space of tribals, among whom and for whom she does most of her work. Situating herself in the ‘third space,’ she has always tried to mediate the differences and negotiate the troubling questions arising from the clash and conflict between the familiar, civilized world of the ‘bhadraloks’ and the less known, primitive, subliminal world of the tribals. In a conversation with Gayatri Spivak, she is believed to have stated: “the tribals and the mainstream have always been parallel. There has never been a meeting point. The mainstream simply doesn’t understand the parallel.” No wonder, her interventions as a writer, journalist or an activist have been somewhat in the nature of an interlocutor who, gifted with a social conscience and commitment, is forever seeking to create newer meeting points, forever building bridges across the parallel lines. This explains to a large extent why the intermediate form of ‘narrative of healing’ has almost become the stock-in-trade of Mahasweta, who heals as she narrativizes and narrativizes as she constructs the discourse of healing.

Mother of 1084 (orig. Hajar Chaurasi Maa) is essentially such a ‘narrative of healing,’ positioned strategically both within the realm of Mahasweta’s corpus of work (in her literary oeuvre consisting of forty one novels, fifteen short story collections, some plays, five children’s short stories and two historical biographies) and that of Indian fiction, not necessarily of the Indian English variety. Originally written as a story for the periodical Prasad in 1972 and adapted for the stage by the writer herself in 1973, it grew into a full-scale novel a year later in 1974. (Govid Nihalani made it into a film, too, in 1997). In its journey of rapid transformation from a play into an extended narrative, Mother of 1084 has, interestingly enough, sought to reverse the traditional mode of adaptation, in which it’s often drama that originates or grows out of a familiar or popular story, legend or myth. The revolutionary potential of this narrative is, therefore, inscribed in the very process of its creation. Not without a reason has Mahasweta described it as a narrative about “the awakening of an apolitical mother.”

Focalized around Sujata, a middle-aged woman belonging to a bhadralok, bourgeoisie Calcutta family, narrative of Mother of 1084 is strikingly rich in its layered intensity and complexity. Born into a conservative, affluent family, Sujata is allowed to do her B.A. so that it helps her marriage prospects, but is ultimately married off to Divyanath Chatterjee, a Chartered Accountant, despite the fact that his financial situation is far from encouraging. In thirty-four years of their married life, Sujata gives birth to four children, two sons (Jyoti and Brati) and two daughters (Nipa and Tuli). When the novel opens, two of her children are already married, Jyoti to Bina and Nipa to Amrit. In the eyes of the world, all of them are leading perfectly happy and settled lives, but as Sujata goes on to discover later, this happiness is only skin-deep. Significantly, Sujata makes this and several other such discoveries only after the sudden and mysterious death of Brati, her younger son, with whom she had always shared a very special relationship. For instance, she discovers that all of thirty-four years of her married life, she has been living a lie as her husband, being an incorrigible philanderer, always cheated on her with his mother’s and worse still, his children’s tacit approval.

If he fixed up a petty bank job for her when Brati was barely three years old, it wasn’t out of any consideration for her economic independence, but essentially to help the family tide over a temporary financial mess. And as soon as the tide turns, he wants her to give up the job, something Sujata simply refuses to do. She also discovers that her children, too, are leading lives very similar to her own. If there is someone who has dared to be different, it’s Brati. Sullenly rebellious, right from his childhood Brati has made no secret of his disregard, even contempt, for his familial code and value-system.

Turning his back upon this decadent and defunct code, Brati decides to join the Naxalite movement sweeping through the state of West Bengal in late 1960s and early 1970s. Unaware of his secret mission, Sujata is not even able to dissuade her son from taking the plunge. During his period of struggle, he comes into contact with a young girl, Nandini, who is also a member of the underground movement and with whom he shares his vision of a new world order. On being betrayed by one of his comrades, who is bought off by the state, Brati and three of his close associates, Somu, Parth and Laltu, are brutally murdered by the goons hired by police. Later, the police call up his father, asking him to come and identify the dead body of his son, who, has in the meantime been divested of his identity as a person, and given another ‘dehumanized identity’ as corpse number 1084. Not only does the father refuse to go, but he also forbids other family members from doing so. Outraged at the manner in which his associates, his immediate family and the state have abandoned the dead Brati, his mother, Sujata decides to go, throwing all pretensions to false social respectability and the fear of public censure to winds.

In a way, Mother of 1084 is a story of Sujata’s multiple oppressions within a stifling, familial, patriarchal and feudal order. However, it could also be read as a story of how Sujata moves out of her cocoon of social respectability and civilized façade, only to discover the little known, primitive, underground world of the Naxalites or that of her son, about whom she knew very little while he was alive. Going beyond, it’s also a story of how an “apolitical mother,” ultimately pushed over the threshold, is compelled to recognize the basic human need to formulate or re-formulate her moral/political or ideological position in a crass narcissistic, utterly commercial world of ‘bhadraloks’ such as Chatterjees. If it’s any indication of what Mahasweta actually wanted to communicate, I’d like to believe, her position is unambiguously clear. It’s only in the process of formulating or defining one’s moral/political, ideological position that an individual could possibly hope to heal several inflictions of oppression, or prepare himself/herself to fight the mechanics of ‘oppression’ at personal or collective level, thus paving the way for self-liberation.   

It’s important to point out here that this particular work of Mahasweta does stand apart from the rest of her oeuvre, in more ways than one. Unlike some of her earlier short narratives such as Standayini, Draupadi and Gohumni, which are focalized around the tribal women, this particular novella is centred on an upper middle-class, bourgeoisie, “apolitical” woman. Moreover, unlike so many of her stories, which by virtue of their location in the oral/folk tradition often betray stark simplicity of the folk narrative, Mother of 1084 possesses a rare sophistication in its handling of the temporal/spatial design as well as in the complex structuration of the events/situations. Conceived on the lines of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, the entire action of this narrative, too, is confined to a single day. And if the comparison is extended a little further, it also makes use of “stream of consciousness” technique the way Virginia Woolf often does. The only difference is that Mahasweta has schematically divided the entire span of twenty-four hours into four timeframes viz., dawn, afternoon, evening and night, one succeeding the other. Superficially, it may even be seen as an oppressive, linear narrative that has been so designed as to project the multiple oppressions Sujata is made to suffer in the Chatterjee household. But a closer examination shows how the linearity is constantly ruptured and disrupted through a series of memory snapshots and flashbacks, which not only help Sujata in the reclaiming her personal memory, but also provide her the much-needed psychic healing. By thus consciously disturbing the chronological, sequential and linear pattern of the narrative, Mahasweta Devi is clearly pointing out that the narrative of Mother of 1084 is anything but a “narrative of oppression.” As Sujata ultimately collapses into a heap, much before she can walk out on her husband, unlike Nora’s in A Doll’s House, hers is not a narrative of self-liberation either.

Each of the four chapters in the narrative marks a new stage in the evolution of Sujata’s consciousness, as it enables her to re-order her fragmented and chaotic life in search of a cohesive identity. Each time she visits either her own past or that of Brati, Somu’s mother or Nandini, her long-suppressed personal loss/grief is slowly released into the ever-widening, eddying spirals of collective framework of betrayal, guilt and suffering. Now whether it’s a question of becoming acutely conscious of other people’s suffering or that of her own situation, or simply gaining a more enlightened understanding of the circumstances that compelled Brati to make the kind of choices he did, all of these do facilitate Sujata’s transformation. From a weak-willed, hopelessly dependent and a non-assertive moral coward, Sujata is transformed into a morally assertive, politically enlightened and a socially defiant individual.

The novel begins on the “dawn” of January 17, the day Sujata’s youngest daughter Tuli is to be engaged to Toni Kapadia, a Sweden based exporter. As her son Brati was born on the same day and died barely two years ago on the night of January 16, Sujata cannot help but walk down the memory lane. As a new beginning threatens to collapse into the memory of a tragic end, Sujata’s mind races back to the day Brati had come into her world. She remembers how she had packed up her bag, hired a taxi and rushed to the hospital on her own, with no assistance from her mother-in-law or husband. Indifference of her husband, hostility of her mother-in-law and her own isolation in the Chatterjee household hit her in a single momentary flash. With epiphanic clarity, it dawns on her that her husband only lusted after her, never loved her; he was willing to impregnate her with child after child, but was never around to own up responsibility for her. Soon after marriage, he had begun to run a secret liaison with a typist in his office, for whom he had later rented out an apartment, too. As a result, all her children were born out of a combination of lust, hatred and self-recrimination. But Brati’s case was somewhat different. On learning that Brati’s life was in danger, her heart had “melted with maternal affection,” thus forging a special bond with him while he was still in her womb. He was a fear-stricken child, who clung to his mother for security and comfort and was often dubbed by her father as “Mama’s boy.” With equal clarity, she remembers how twenty years later, the news of Brati’s death had thrown “the settled life of Chatterjees into a state of turmoil and confusion.” Disowned by his family, Brati had died in a state of disgrace, so much so that the family had refused to cremate him, even locked up all his memories into an attic room, not even allowing Sujata the luxury of articulating her grief. Now Sujata realizes that her son was no criminal, as his only crime was that he refused to “accept the code of a decadent society.” She also realizes that “death is the only punishment for those who lose faith in the system.” (p. 27). In the first chapter, significantly titled ‘Dawn,’ Sujata primarily returns to her interior, private world of personal suffering, torture, betrayal and loneliness. Negotiating the inner space/time in relation to her immediate familial situation, she becomes aware of how she and Brati were not just fellow sufferers but also soul mates.             

In the second chapter, ‘Afternoon,’ Sujata’s visit to the bank to get jewellery from the locker is only a pretext for her intended visit to the house of Somu’s mother. A close associate of Brati, Somu had been killed in the same encounter as him. More significantly, before his sudden, mysterious disappearance and later death, Brati had spent his life’s last night in Somu’s house. While Sujata goes to Somu’s mother with the specific aim of retrieving the memories of Brati’s last few hours, it turns out to be her entry and then initiation into another world altogether, which simply is not within the range of her conception or comprehension. It is the world of world of primitive squalor, filth, poverty, degradation and subhuman existence that only hovers tentatively on the margins of bhadraloks’ consciousness. Breaking the glass ceiling of her cloistered, though unprotected existence in a false, hypocritical world of bhadraloks, Sujata enters into the little known world of slum dwellers. The sight of Somu’s ageing mother, her disgruntled daughter and that of their ramshackle tenement with a straw roof is enough to complete the rituals of initiation. While talking to her, she suddenly discovers that Somu’s mother had known “the spontaneous, tingling laughter” of Brati, something she as his biological mother, had also not known ever. It was only in company of his associates that Brati recovered his primeval innocence and spontaneity temporarily, as he otherwise maintained a studied façade in the presence of his family. Across the class and the caste divide, a strange bond develops between two suffering mothers, enabling Sujata to see the chaotic nature of her personal loss, suffering and grief within a much wider framework of social and historical injustice and/or denial. Recovering from her over-romanticized, narcissistic notions of self-pity and grief, Sujata suffers the reality assault, internalizes the sufferings of those less privileged than her, and thus heals herself, at least partly, through gestures of empathy and compassion.     

This process of healing is not only about recovering memory, personal and collective, but is equally about becoming a moral/political being. For Mahasweta Devi, political naiveté is as much a sin and a social crime as is political indifference or an immoral political choice. For this reason, Sujata’s healing process runs a complete circle only in the third chapter, titled ‘Evening,’ when she visits Nandini, who apart from being Brati’s comrade-in-arms was also his beloved. It’s Nandini who reconstructs for Sujata all the events leading up to Brati’s betrayal and murder. In the process, she also initiates Sujata into the little known world of the underground movement, explaining to her the logic for an organized rebellion, giving her first hand account of state repression and its multiple failures. It’s through Nandini that Sujata is finally able to understand the reasons for Brati’s political convictions and his rejection of the bourgeoisie code. All this leaves her so completely bewildered that she openly admits to Nandini, “I didn’t really know Brati.” (p. 87). Mahasweta Devi has captured the impact of Sujata’s meeting with Nandini in very poetic terms. Commenting upon it, she says: “With the flow of time, the grief and pain settle into layers of sedimentation. Then one day, penetrating these layers, new buds sprout forth, stretching out their little fingers. These fingers ache to touch the sky. The buds of hope, sorrow, joy and bliss – the buds with little aching fingers!” (p. 81). Healing is possible only because the dynamics of grief, loss and pain is finally understood and accepted by Sujata; in doing so, she manages to break the vicious cycle, even transcends it. 

Once healing is over, it remains to be demonstrated how far Sujata could go now in re-adjusting her priorities and re-ordering her life. In the last section of the novel titled ‘Night,’ therefore, we meet a transformed Sujata, one who is more self-assured, morally confident and politically sensitive. She decides to leave the house in which Brati never felt at home, where he wasn’t valued while he was alive, nor his memory respected after his death. Having found a soul mate in Brati, she turns her back on Divyanath and his decadent value-system. Bound by a sense of moral responsibility, she does go through all the rituals and ceremonies connected with Tuli’s engagement, but during the party, she maintains stiff, studied silence. Her insistence on wearing a plain, white saree for the party is also a significant gesture. Though she had earlier committed all her jewellery to Tuli, now she changes her mind, refusing to part with what her father had given her, only passing on Tuli what Divyanath had gifted her with. Had Sujata been somewhat younger like Nora, she would have possibly made a dramatic gesture of shutting the door in her husband’s face. But being physically weak and fragile, (for a few years, she had living with a rotten appendix inside her system), and traumatized by her younger son’s death and subsequent repression of grief, she simply gives up on life. When she screams and collapses into a heap, her husband is quick to speculate that her “appendix” has burst. Whatever the symbolic overtones of his statement, she certainly succumbs to the slow process of inner/outer rot and decay. Finally, as she herself says, “Now that Brati is dead, I, too, wouldn’t like to go on living.” She recovers her humanity, but loses her will to live and survive. Had she lived, hers would have been a “narrative of self-liberation” or even that of “emancipation.”  

But as it stands, it ends up essentially as an intermediate form, as a narrative of healing. In this bi-focal narrative, time constantly swings back and forth, and so does the pendulum of two interconnected, intertwined lives, that of Sujata and her son, Brati. Interestingly, it is death that unites them both, irrevocably asserting the authenticity of their lives, too. For death, as the existentialists believe, is the ultimate form of transcendence. Not only does it put us beyond the pale of class or caste conflict, but also dissolves the compulsions of politics or history into an endless spiral of nothingness. In this realization lies our survival, or perhaps our redemption, too. 


This paper was presented at a seminar on Images of Woman in Indian English Writing, held at GG.S. College, Ludhiana on November 19, 2004.




Spoken English in Rural Punjab: Problems, Reflections & Directions

Problematizing the Issue 

Much before I start addressing the given topic, I would like to issue two inaugural statements or the disclaimers, if you like. First, I have to confess that I’m not a trained linguist and as such do not possess the much needed professional expertise to either engage with or theorize about this intricate linguistic problem. Therefore, much of what I may ultimately end up saying in this paper shall emerge not so much out of my thin grasp of various theories of second language acquisition, but from the empirical observations premised upon my experience of teaching English for close to 28 years, both in and outside Punjab. Second, I must also say that I’m rather perplexed, even somewhat unnerved, by the enormity of the task this deceptively simple though richly layered problem imposes upon me. The unproblematic, ‘essentialist’ nature of many of the suppositions built into this topic, have only made my task more difficult, not easier.

For instance, I’m not too sure if it is possible for us to ‘essentialize’ the nature and character of rural Punjab today with the same ease and felicity with which we may have done so, say, a hundred years ago? Hasn’t rural Punjab witnessed unprecedented changes in the cultural forms; socio-economic, religious and political, especially in the last two or three decades? And if so, is there some way of documenting the exact nature of these changes or measuring the quality of their impact on the linguistic choices/abilities/habits of the second language learners in and across rural Punjab? One may as well ask: Is it right to postulate rural Punjab as a unified, homogenized category? Shouldn’t we instead be talking of the bewilderingly complex, even muddled picture of uneven growth it often presents in terms of literacy levels and second language acquisition? And if these processes show an uneven spread and/or distribution across various regions of Punjab, would it not then be legitimate to talk of rural Punjab as a site of perpetual conflict, even contestation?

Let me add that by thus drawing your attention to several questions this proposition apparently begs, I’ve mainly tried to prop up a ready-to-manage conceptual framework, which may serve my own theoretical needs, later. It’s within the contours of this framework that I wish to operate, using it for processing my worries, concerns and confusions over the subject as much as my random reflections, resulting from them. Finally, it may help me negotiate a way out of this theoretical impasse, and if possible, locate alternative modes of defining or re-defining our agenda for the future course of action, too. 

Rural Punjab: A Bewildering Complexity

One of the first questions, we must ask ourselves is: whose rural Punjab is it anyway and who is describing it and with what intent and purpose? Obviously, I’m not in favour of constructing stereotypical image(s) of rural Punjab, the kind that are often purveyed through the multiple organs of mass culture and mass media. Such images fix rural Punjab in time-space continuum, and call attention to its static, unchanging and non-dynamic nature. Rural Punjab is certainly not a metaphor in poetry or an allegory in history. It is a pulsating reality, a historical materiality, constantly changing and renewing itself, always absorbing and assimilating the residual and archaic patterns from its own past, always looking for newer ways of synthesizing them with the emergent patterns thrown up by the twin forces of modernization and urbanization.

Rural Punjab is that cultural space where human creativity and inventiveness is constantly being tested against the odds posed by the human as well as natural forces. Some thirty years ago, the word ‘Maruta’ was not part of the operative lexicon in rural Punjab. It’s only after the first model of Maruti-Suzuki hit the Indian roads that the Punjabi spirit of inventiveness and enterprise decided to indigenize the Japanese technology in the form of a home-grown model of Maruta. In less than fifteen years, it has become an inalienable part of the rural landscape in Punjab.

Thanks to the Green Revolution, there has been phenomenal increase in the number of tractors and tractor-owners in rural Punjab. It’s another matter that introduction of this technology has, over the years, only pushed the marginal and small farmers deeper into the debt-trap, something that the growing number of suicides among the farmers easily stands a testimony to. Marriage palaces dotting the landscape of rural Punjab tell their own story of how the economic realities and the social customs or conventions are also in the process of being re-defined. Add to this the growing trend among the youngsters in rural Punjab to find alternative modes of sustenance not necessarily through land-related activities, but as singers in the urban centres or as low-paid work force in the foreign climes.

My purpose in mapping out some of these changes is mainly to point out how the rural Punjab today posits a bewilderingly complex socio-economic and cultural reality, and that the dialectics of tradition and modernity is constantly threatening to re-define the contours of this reality.

Language & Linguistic Environment 

My contention is that much before we can decide on the nature of intervention we need to make to improve the spoken skills of the second language learners in rural Punjab, we must define the exact contours of the rural reality we wish to service. Thereafter, we need to do another empirical exercise whereby we collect primary data pertaining to the socio-economic and educational profile of the second language learners, identify their specific needs, prepare an estimate of their differing levels of competence and then start thinking in terms of the pedagogical strategies that might help them.

Though I haven’t really grown up in a typical rural environment, I have vivid memories of Verka, an industrial suburb, where I spent better part of my childhood and adolescence and which lay encircling a typical Punjabi village. From what I recall, it was a socially stratified society, with its well-defined and well-differentiated network of social and economic relations. Even in 1970s, Verka had two schools, one middle and the other higher secondary, though both were run by the government. The medium of instruction in both the schools was Punjabi and at that point of time, English was introduced only in class VI. Though I never attended any of these schools (as we were sent off to a Hindi-medium school in the city, which essentially provided bourgeois education and taught three languages, two from class I and the third from class IV), I had friends who were educated in both the schools located in the village. As their medium of instruction was Punjabi, their teachers hardly ever expressed themselves in English. What to speak of others, even the teachers of English taught their subject in Punjabi, a grammar-translation method that worked well both for the teacher and the taught. Both inside and outside the class, they never found any real situation where they ever heard anyone speak or use English. Of course, at home, they mostly used Punjabi to transact their daily business of living. As a result, they never found the right kind of linguistic environment within which they could develop the necessary confidence or the fluency to use English.

What is interesting is that despite being located in the urban area, and despite following a different pattern of teaching, our school, too, didn’t offer any advantages in terms of this linguistic environment I have spoken of. Unlike the convent or the public schools, where the students are often forced into speaking or using English, even penalized in case of default, no coercive methods were ever used in our school. Though we learnt English right from class I, and our English teachers always insisted on using English, at least, within their class-room situations, we were neither encouraged nor pushed into using English. Though in class IX, we switched over to the English medium in all the subjects, the emphasis on the spoken English remained, at best, only peripheral, and at worst, minimal. It is interesting, however, that despite a different orientation, my competence in spoken English until class X was in no way better or superior to that of my friends educated in the rural surroundings. It makes me wonder whether it was simply a case of personal inadequacies or it does actually speak for the situation of English in Punjab in late 1960s and early 1970s. Despite the urban-rural divide, what my friends and I had in common was lack of high personal motivation to speak and use English, low family pressure and also near absence of a stimulating linguistic environment either at home or in school within which a fair amount of fluency could possibly be attained.     

The Written V/s the Spoken  

The psycholinguists are of the view that not only do the human beings have this rare ability to learn several languages at the same time (MAD) but in the process of language acquisition, all the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing form some kind of synergic inter-animation. But my contention is that in the kind of dispensation that obtains in a majority of Hindi-medium private or Punjabi-medium government schools, often the written skills develop, if at all they do, at the cost of the spoken skills. Though this, too, might appear speculative, considering that a majority of the students passing out of the government schools are not even able to phrase a letter, let alone an essay, in grammatically correct language. But if somehow we were to hypothesize all those cases where the written skills do develop, it shall be found that they often supersede the spoken skills. I’m reminded, once again, of my own case, as I hadn’t begun to speak English until I was already out of my B.A. Even at that point of time, the kind of English I spoke can hardly be classified as the spoken English.

One of the problems of those who haven’t had the benefit of elite, convent/public school education is that when we finally do start ‘speaking English’ or as post-colonialists would say, ‘start talking back’, our syntactic constructions often bear the imprint of our written skills. The socio-linguists talk about the interference of the mother tongue in case of second language acquisition, which is a legitimate claim, but here I wish to hypothesize another kind of interference that they don’t really talk about i.e. the interference of the written skills in the acquisition of the spoken ones. To make my point somewhat clearer, let me emphasize that the written and the spoken, though often perceived as complementary processes in any language acquisition, first or second, operate in two distinct registers. For instance, if I had to make an oral presentation, which fortunately I’m not doing here, I don’ think I would have been able to say things as lucidly as I think I’m doing now. The spoken is often the contracted version of the written and functions through a far more colloquial and informal register than the formal, written one.

To say, therefore, that it doesn’t really matter which skill we acquire first is then to refuse to recognize the way in which this hierarchical relationship of the spoken over the written functions. In other words, what I’m suggesting is that in this respect, at least, it’s rather naive on our part to say that the first and the second language processes are totally distinct and dissimilar. My point is that even in case of the second language, the learner needs to be introduced first to the spoken word and then be encouraged to develop his written skills. In effect, what I’m suggesting is that if at all we are serious about developing the spoken skills of our children in rural Punjab, the first thing we need to do immediately is to introduce the teaching of English from class I itself and not wait for it to happen until much later. (I’m conscious that this would entail major policy decision, which we, as class-room teachers, are certainly not in a position to legislate or implement.)

At the same time, we have to ensure that their English teachers don’t teach English in Punjabi and also initiate them into the spoken skills much before they develop their written skills. (I know, this also means that the spoken skills of the English teachers in schools need brushing up.) It’s my considered opinion that the children need to develop familiarity with the sounds, a process that shall help them develop empathic identification or a personalized equation with the language at some level. To a large extent, this would also help fight the mind-set the students in rural areas often develop against English as some kind of a ‘special language’ that demands special acquisition devices or strategies as well.

Global Desires & Local Contexts

So far, my effort has been to map out some of the gaps, fissures and silences both in our thinking on and also the practical experience of the second language acquisition, especially in semi-urban or rural Punjab. I have also dealt with the existing situation in our schools, particularly the status and position of the spoken skills vis-à-vis the written ones, and emphasized the need to overturn this hierarchy by initiating our students into the spoken skills much before they could acquire the written ones. However, most of the gaps and fissures I’ve pointed out here have largely to do with the long-term policy measures and less to do with the practical schemes that could work at the grass-roots level.

There is another kind of ideological gap that needs to be underlined here, which, apparently is built into the very nature of the premise we are examining. Regardless of the context in which it originates, this desire to gain proficiency in the spoken English is, at some level, an extension, even an expression of the desire for empowerment. Born out of a strong personal, social and cultural need for integration with the global system and economy, it could actually assume well-orchestrated, standardized forms of articulation. In view of the growing, almost clamorous demand for spoken English (we are well aware of how it has spawned all kinds of underground and over-ground institutional networks all around), it becomes all the more imperative to examine the local contexts within which it either originates or is articulated.

This is the only way we can hope to strike some balance between the global desires and the local contexts, something that shall have to be done if we are to resist the inevitable, almost naturalized process of incorporation into the globalized space. In other words, what I’m suggesting is that consciousness of the local context and its delimitation is as much a necessity as is the recognition of this overwhelming global desire. I’m acutely conscious of the fact that we are deliberating over this question in a college and not in a school, and as such we have a responsibility to address the peculiar problems of the college students, located in small towns and suburbs, as is the case of the host college. I would be falling short of duty if I were not to address the local problems and issues, and thus not make efforts to become relevant to this context I’m operating in.

And if I have to follow the logic of my own arguments, perhaps it will turn out to be another of those long-term measures. As in that case, we’ll be required to do some empirical research, collect data on the familial and educational background of the students of this college, their proficiency levels in both spoken and written, their individual problems and also their levels of motivation, as suggested earlier. I’m confident that Prof. Atamjit Singh, Director and Principal of this college shall get this kind of empirical research done at some future date to identify the specific needs and requirements of his own students. However, until that comes about, we apparently can’t just sit and wait, allowing the situation to go from bad to worse till it starts getting better on it own, a la Indian style.

As a goodwill gesture, I suggest we informally introduce a self-help plan I have devised over the years and also shared with several generations of students. Let me say that this plan was born out of my personal and professional compulsions to actually acquire fair degree of competence in the spoken skill, without which I couldn’t have possibly transacted my day-to-day functions as a teacher. My first assignment as an English teacher was at St. Bede’s College, Shimla, where most of the students came from the public/convent school background and as such had much better proficiency levels in the spoken skills than I could boast of. At that point of time, my spoken English sounded more like the text-book English, and thus was devoid of simplicity, felicity, fluency, some of the characteristics we often associate with the spoken language. Right from day one, I was clear about one thing that if I was to retain my job in this college, then I’ll have to master the spoken skills of my students, who certainly used them with much greater aplomb.

That is when the process of self-learning started as I quietly began to overhear and pick up the speech rhythms, the syntactic patterns, the idiomatic expressions and the simple phrases or clauses, even the ‘lingo’ my students occasionally used. It was by listening to my students that I managed to brush up my spoken English. That’s how I learnt the first lesson about sharpening the spoken skills of the second language, that is, one needs to either create or discover the necessary linguistic environment within which a great deal of conscious and unconscious assimilation of the verbal/semantic patterns could happen on its own. It was this insight that later motivated me to design a self-help programme for those students, both at the college and the university level, who would often come by to seek my help in the matter. One problem of being an English teacher is that almost everyone believes that we possess some magic wand or formula, with the help of which we can help all those who are often as de-privileged as I once was and who like me, do dream of acquiring high proficiency levels in the spoken English.

Self Help Programme: An Experiment

Here’s a rough and ready outline of my self-help plan, which is purely non-institutional and operates on the simple premise that only those who wish to empower themselves shall ultimately succeed in doing so. This plan is in the nature of an experiment I have tested on hundreds of students, though I’m not really in a position to make any claims with regard to its success or failure rate, for quite simply, I haven’t devised a mechanism to assess either. The total duration of this plan, as I visualize it is, three months. 

a)      Anyone who expresses the desire to improve his/her spoken skills is asked to first identify two or three other candidates, preferably in the same age group, with similar background and with an equally high degree of self-motivation.

b)      In the first month, the group is advised to follow a particular schedule which necessitates that they meet once a day for an hour and simply use English without correcting each other. The idea is to help the learners shed their basic inhibitions about speaking English, to overcome the fear of being corrected, and thus gain some modicum of fluency. In other words, the candidates are encouraged to create their own linguistic environment so necessary for the acquisition of the spoken skills.

c)      In addition to this, they are also asked to maintain a regular dairy in which they are expected to note down ten words/phrases/idioms each day along with their meanings and usage. In course of the day, especially during that special hour of self-created linguistic ambience, the candidates are encouraged to use words in such a way that these become part of their active vocabulary. They are advised not to note down big words/expressions but only the ones that are usable in day-to-day conversation.

d)      It is assumed that by the end of the first month, the group members would have gained some measure of confidence and overcome their inhibitions, too. In the second month, the group is advised to open itself to the notion of self-correction or correction by other members. Now is the time to smooth out the rough edges, identify a whole range of grammatical, syntactic and semantic errors the members commit in the process of conversation.

e)      In the third month, the group members break their insularity and start interacting with other people with a view to test out their strengths and limitations. While continuing with their daily routine of one-hour of spoken English, at this stage, they need to assess how far they can fit in with other groups that enjoy better competence levels as far as the spoken skills are concerned.

It is my considered opinion that if this programme is scrupulously followed by those who feel deficient in and so disempowered in relation to their spoken skills, they may actually be surprised by the results it produces. Though this has largely been conceptualized as a non-institutional and voluntary effort, it could also be institutionalized by assigning different groups to different teachers, who may then be made responsible for monitoring their progress and handling their personal queries. The success of this particular self-help programme, like that of any other, shall depend, to a large extent, upon the good faith and self-commitment of the members, as also the homogenous nature of the group.

I do not know to what extent I have been able to make my presentation relevant to the assigned topic. In my own small way, I have tried to reflect on my experience as a teacher of English language and literature and suggest some of the practical techniques from which I’ve personally benefited. If I have shared my narrative of self-empowerment, I’ve done so in the hope that it would, at some point, become someone else’s agenda, too. My dream is to see, not just the rural but the semi-urban Punjab, too, go through a linguistic revolution on a much wider scale than the one at which it once experienced the Green or the White Revolution. Though it may seem difficult, let me say, it is not entirely beyond our reach. 


Of ‘Little Magazines’ in Punjabi: A Historical Overview

The beginnings of journalistic efforts in Punjabi lie somewhere in the middle of 19th century and are closely bound up with the twists and turns of the Sikh political history. It was the rise of the Singh Sabha movement in 1860s that provided the necessary impetus to the whole enterprise of Punjabi journalism. In its initial stages, magazines and journals were started with the specific purpose of promoting Sikh religious ideals and so had a definitive religious character. Literary journalism, essentially a secular enterprise, was apparently a later offshoot, and became the raison de etre for the emergence of ‘little magazines’ only towards the end of the 19th century. 

It was through the efforts of Bhai Veer Singh, a noted Punjabi poet and novelist, that Khalsa Samachar, a weekly, was started in 1899. Known for its conservative outlook, substantive financial standing and well-reasoned articles, this magazine gave a new direction to Punjabi journalism, enriching both language and prose in the process. No wonder it is the longest surviving magazine in Punjabi today. Apart from publishing poems, short stories and literary reviews, this paper devoted a large chunk of its space to promoting articles relating to Gurbani, Sikh philosophy, history and religion. Bhai Veer Singh’s novel Satwanti was also first serialized in this very paper.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the material and historical conditions in Punjab and elsewhere underwent cataclysmic changes. The Bolshevik Revolution in the erstwhile Soviet Union, the outbreak of World War I in Europe, growing influence of imperialism in India and sporadic acts of resistance to it resulting in the sinking of Kamagatamaru and Jallianwala Bagh episode were only some of the historical events that helped in shaping an emergent political and national consciousness all over, especially in Punjab. Shedding its religious character, Punjabi journalism was quick to adapt itself to these social and political changes. Redefining its thrust, it increasingly became a tool of mass awareness, social education and reform. Its reformist character was evident both in the content and form of Punjabi literary journalism as also the manner in which it developed in the early decades of the 20th century. The exponential growth of little magazines in this period can easily be gauged from the fact that between 1900 and 1947, as many as 300 papers were started; out of which 27 were circulated daily, 122 weekly, 7 fortnightly, 130 monthly, and almost 12 were circulated every three months, six months or annually. 

One of the earliest magazines to be started in this period was Pritam, by all accounts, the first literary magazine of its kind. Conceived as a monthly, Pritam was started by S. Labh Singh in January 1923 from Montgomery (now in Pakistan). Shifting its base first to Lahore and then to Amritsar, Pritam continued to play an important role in Punjabi life and letters until 1947, when it ceased publication on account of the Partition. Later, it was revived and it continues to play an important role in the world of Punjabi letters. Among its prominent contributors one could count such luminaries as Bhai Veer Singh, Prof. Puran Singh, Mohan Singh Vaid, Lala Kirpa Sagar, Lala Dhanni Ram Chatrik, Mohan Singh Diwana and hundreds of others. Popular for its objectivity and fearlessness, this magazine provided patronage to all known forms of literary sub-genres, ranging from poems to short stories, specialized essays to articles of general interest, one-act plays to translations and from biographies to novels. Besides, from time to time, several theme-based special issues of this magazine were also brought out. 

In 1924, Giani Heera Singh Dard started Phulwari, another monthly, from Amritsar, which gained immense popularity over the years, and played equally significant roles in both pre-Partition and post-Partition Punjab. But for a period of four years viz., 1942-46, when it had to cease publication on account of Dard’s imprisonment, Phulwari continued to exercise its shaping influence upon the Punjabi literary sensibility right up to 1958, when it finally folded up. As in his early years, Dard was under the influence of Akali politics and ideology, the magazine, too, bore its imprint. After 1938-39 when the editor succumbed to the charms of Marxist ideology, Phulwari also became a strong votary of the progressive ideals and philosophy. Though it published all kinds of writings, short story was definitely its most favoured, privileged form. Some of the old issues of this magazine are literally a treasure trove for anyone interested in exploring the history of Punjabi short story in its nascent form.

In the history of Punjabi literary journalism, Preetlari occupies almost a legendary status. Started in 1933 by Gurbaksh Singh Preetlari, a prominent prose and short story writer in Punjabi, Preetlari was initially published as a bi-lingual monthly, both in Punjabi and English. It was only in 1937 that it began to be published exclusively in Punjabi. Right from its inception, this magazine was recognized as an important organ of progressive ideology. What made for its special appeal was the open, uninhibited way in which it encouraged dissemination of information which was otherwise regarded anathema to the conservative Punjabi society. Thanks to this little magazine, for the first time ever, subjects as diverse as human health, physiology, psychology, happiness, love and sex were openly discussed and debated in the columns of any Punjabi paper. Among several others, Amrita Pritam, Shiv Kumar Batalavi, Navtej Singh, Balraj Sahni, Santokh Singh Dhir et al published some of their best early writings in this very magazine. 

In 1939, Mohan Singh ‘Mahir’ started a monthly Panj Darya at Lahore, from where it continued to be published until 1947. After a gap of two years, it was revived from Amritsar in 1949, and later was published first from Ludhiana and then from Jalandhar. Now it’s being brought as a fortnightly from Chandigarh, as a Global News Magazine. Self-professed objective of this magazine was to foster a sense of unity among Punjabis of all castes, creeds and religions by strengthening a sense of cultural pride in them. With this in view, it often carried Punjabi translations of the essays on politics, religion and culture by Jawahar Lal Nehru, Rajagopalacharaya, Sohan Singh Josh, Master Tara Singh and Gian Singh et al. On the literary front, it published the critical writings of such well-known scholars as Prof. Teja Singh, Prof. Harbans Singh, Sant Singh Sekhon; short stories of Kartar Singh Duggal, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Gorki, Tagore and Kishan Chander and poetry of Prof. Mohan Singh, Gopal Singh Dardi and several others. By promoting the spirit of innovation and experimentation, Panj Darya did give a definite boost to the modernist impulse in Punjabi literature.

Punjabi Sahit, another monthly magazine, was started in 1942 thanks to the efforts of S. Harbhajan Singh. Kartar Singh Duggal was on its advisory panel. It was perhaps the first little magazine in Punjabi to have appeared in the book-size, and as a digest. Apart from initiating several literary contests, it also helped institute ‘Punjabi Sahit Fund.’ While this magazine went out of its way to extend special patronage to folk literature and culture, it helped the cause of the mainstream Punjabi literary tradition just as well. Undeniably, Punjabi Sahit made a very special contribution to the development of both Punjabi language and literature.

One of the worst fall-outs of the Partition was that Lahore, which by then had emerged as the nucleus of Punjabi literary journalism, was suddenly left behind in Pakistan. Forced to bear the brunt of dislocation and displacement, after 1947, even the Punjabi literary journalism had to make a fresh beginning. In the post-Partition period, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Delhi became the alternative sites of its location. Between 1947 and 2000, as many as 250 old and new literary magazines were started, and sustained against all kinds of odds and pressures. It would not be wrong to say that in this period, literary journalism not only emerged as a specialized discipline with a distinctive character of its own, but also succeeded in creating its own niche both in terms of its marketability and readership.  

Floated in 1941 and known as Saaddhi Kahani, this magazine had folded up temporarily after the Partition but saw an unexpected revival in 1951 as Kahani from Amritsar. Though this particular magazine was devoted primarily to the cause of short story as a genre, it published poems, essays and one-act plays as well. For years, it ran a column called Sadhe Lekhak, the main purpose of which was to introduce young, upcoming as well as established short story writers to the Punjabi readership. More than any other, it was this magazine that helped its readers develop and hone critical understanding of short story as a form. Both the traditionalists and the experimentalists were equally enthusiastic contributors to Kahani. Despite its immense popularity, it could only be sustained until 1964-65 when it finally folded up. Some other literary magazines that folded up abruptly, after sporadic runs, are Kavita, Jeewan Masik, Punjabi Sahit and Lok Sahit et al. 

Aarsi, which was launched by Bhapa Pritam Singh from Delhi in 1956 with great fanfare finally, ran aground in June 2000. After Preetlari, it was perhaps the longest surviving magazine in Punjabi and while it lasted, it was largely perceived as a forum for some of the best writing available in the Punjabi language. The main reason for this was that apart from publishing literary stuff of enduring merit, it provided space for translations from the best available in other languages of the world as well. There is not a single Punjabi writer worth the name who has not published his writings in this magazine, one time or the other, a fact that imparts a great archival value to some of its old issues. The Punjabi readership is already feeling the absence of Aarsi rather acutely, and in the years to come, it is bound to miss it all the more.

Started by Raghbir Singh in 1965, Sirjana, a quarterly magazine, initially published from Jalandhar, ran sporadically between 1970-75, after which it stabilized and gained a fair amount of consistency as well. Now published from Chandigarh, by the end of the year 2000, it had already brought out as many as 118 issues. Dividing its space equally between the creative and the critical aspects of writing Sirjana, being an organ of progressive ideology, extends patronage to both young and old writers of similar persuasion. Apart from Punjabi writers of repute, from time to time, it has published the translations of such well-known writers from other languages as Mansur Kaisar, Kamleshwar, Ramesh Kuntal Megh, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Hazari Prasad Dwivedi. Over the years, Sirjana has definitively managed to create a niche readership for itself.  

Started from Delhi in 1966, Nagmani, a monthly magazine, bears an unmistakable stamp of its lifetime editor and the renowned dame of Punjabi poetry, Amrita Pritam. Its distinctive character lies in the way in which it illustrates all literary writings with artistic images and pencil drawings, most of which are done by Amrita’s companion, Imroz.  Although its readership has declined over the years, it has failed to make any dent into the magazine’s quality of material or production. What really makes this little magazine stand out is its truly cosmopolitan character. Apart from the who’s who of Punjabi writers, it has published the writings of Alberto Moravio (Italian), Abraham Saleshki (Israeli Jew), Kumar Sanyal (Bengali), Nirmal Verma (Hindi), Ismat Chugtai (Urdu) and several Russian, African, Spanish and Bulgarian writers. More than a literary magazine, Nagmani is an institution, which has promoted such literary concepts as Nagmani Library and Nagmani Evenings, a monthly meeting of the writers where writings are read as well as sifted. 

Floated from Jalandhar by Prem Prakash, a famous Punjabi short story writer, Lakeer has had sporadic runs since its inception in 1970. Though essentially conceived as a monthly magazine, it was changed into a quarterly for some time, before ceasing publication temporarily and being revived again. Until 2000, some 75 issues of this magazine had been brought out in almost thirty years of its existence. This magazine promotes the cause of avant-garde Punjabi literature, and shows a definite proclivity towards the experimental, progressive writing. For years, it ran a column Patni De Jharokhe (Through Wife’s Eyes) in which famous writers and their writings were perceived exclusively from the point of view of their wives. Among others, Mohan Bhandari, Ranjit Dheer, Surjeet Kaur, Amarjeet Chandan, Prem Gorki and several others have published their writings in this magazine.           

Aks, a monthly, started in 1975 from Delhi by Amarjit Singh, was conceived as a literary magazine, but after 1984, having lost its distinctive literary character, it seems to have become more of a political broadsheet. It’s another matter that literary material continues to hog most of its space. One of the conspicuous features of this magazine is that it takes special interest in serializing novels of the well-known novelists. So far, among others, it has serialized Baldev Singh’s G.T. Road, Baljeet Sing Raina’s Yathaarath, Pargat Singh Sidhu’s Apni Miti Di Saajish and Jaswant Singh Virdi’s Varkha Wali Raat. Besides, it publishes articles on subjects as diverse as science, health, culture, sports and humour.       

Samdarshi, a quarterly, was started by Punjabi Akademi, Delhi in 1985, once again, under the editorship of Amrita Pritam. There was a time when people like Balwant Gargi, Kulwant Singh Virk, Wanjaara Bedi and Harbhajan Singh were members of its editorial board. Since 1992, Prof. Satinder Singh Noor has been editing this magazine, and this change of guard has certainly brought about a consequent change in the editorial policy as well. Now it has lost its exclusive character and like any other literary magazine, it offers an odd assortment of poems, stories, articles, news items and research-based essays. One of the consistent features of Samdarshi is that, from time to time, it does bring out theme-based issues on extremely provocative and meaningful subjects.

Janakraj Singh started Sirnavaan, a monthly magazine, from Chandigarh somewhere in 1987. This magazine gives ample space to both poetry and short stories. On the one hand, it’s showcased a number of contemporary poets such as Manjit Indra, Amar Jyoti, Sidhu Damdami, Ajmer Rode and countless others. On the other, it has also brought into critical attention and focus short story writers such as Baldev Singh, Sharan Makkar, Narinder Bhullar, Jinder, Tarlochan Tarsi et al. For years now, Bhushan Dhyanpuri has successfully run a humour column in this magazine called Mooh Aai Baat. Occasionally, it publishes Punjabi translations of literature available in other languages of the world as well.   

Though Kahani Punjab is a late entrant into this extremely competitive field, it has already created a secure niche for itself. Started as a quarterly in 1993 by Ram Sarup Ankhi, a famous Punjabi novelist and a short story writer, this magazine is devoted exclusively to the promotion of Punjabi short story. In one of its regular columns, Gurbachan Bhullar, a renowned Punjabi writer, offers a critical commentary on different aspects of some of the well known Punjabi stories, which could be said to enjoy the status of modern classics.

Pancham is the only little magazine in Punjabi that claims to support the cause of Dalits or strives for consciousness-raising among them. Started in 2002 as a monthly and brought out from Jalandhar, this magazine doesn’t only publish writings of the Dalit writers in Punjabi, but also offers liberal space to those who write in a manner sympathetic to the marginalised and oppressed. Without restricting itself to any specific genre, this magazine offers a diverse reading material, including thought-provoking essays, research-based articles, short stories, poems et al.             

From this survey, it is evident that the little magazines in Punjabi have had a fascinating journey down the decades. In over 120 years of their existence, these magazines have been through several incarnations and re-incarnations, from religious to secular and from secular to purely literary and/or semi-literary. Despite the constraints of funding, readership and limited circulation, the qualities that have really sustained and nurtured the institution of little magazines in Punjabi are dogged perseverance, determination and personal commitment of the literary artists and workers at the individual level.

The ideological spectrum of these magazines has been truly astonishing and in historical terms, it helps us understand the rise and fall of various literary trends, impulses and movements in Punjabi literature/culture. While rendering a yeoman’s service to the cause of Punjabiat, these magazines have enriched both Punjabi language and literature in ways that are hard to quantify. Without the risk of quantifying the foregoing analysis, one could also suggest that, historically, it is the short story that has emerged as the most favoured, if not the privileged, form of these little magazines. Well, it only points towards a simple fact that, in the ultimate analysis, short story is the representative genre of our times and that in our languages, it’s not only alive and kicking, but is flourishing as well.



Atari, Ishaar Singh, Bharat Wich Patarkari Da Itihaas, Patiala: Punjabi University, 1987   

Khera, Surinder Singh, Punjabi Patarkari, Patiala: Sukhraj Prakashan, 1983 

Megha Singh, Punjabi Patarkari Da Itihaas, Chandigarh: Lokgeet Prakashan, 2001 

Suba Singh, Punjabi Patarkari Da Itihaas, Chandigarh: Punjab State University Text Book Board, 1973

Walia, Harjinder, Patarkari Ate Punjabi Sahitik Patarkari, Delhi: National Book Shop, 2008. 







Here’s wishing you a very happy and joyous Diwali

My thoughts on Diwali, just for you


A festival of lights

Is an opportunity

To light the dark corners of our hearts

To light the dark lives of others

To spread good cheer among the joyless hearts

To infuse strength among the weak and oppressed

To share what we have with those who are not as blessed

To snuff out the burning desire inside us to harm others

To burn the monsters of envy, greed and anger

To attain peace, contentment and eternal light

To renew our pact with knowledge and wisdom

To make life little more bearable for the ones we care

To serve Him by serving those who are left uncared 

To renew our promise to our Creator

To keep His eternal flame alive in our hearts and minds

To make sure that no heart bleeds in neglect

To make sure that no mind slips into darkness

To live life just the way He wants us to live

To continue to light one torch with another

And spread so much of light through the year

That ‘Amavas’ is shamed into hiding and quietly disappears.     

(Composed by Rana Nayar)

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