By Firoz Bakht Ahmed
New Delhi : Eminent Punjabi writer Kartar Singh Duggal was conferred the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, the highest honour bestowed by the state-run body on a writer, elevating him to the ranks of the "immortals of Indian literature".
The award for lifetime achievement brings Duggal on the same platform as other eminent litterateurs like Nirmal Verma, Sumitra Nandan Pant, Amrita Pritam, Firaq Gorakhpuri, A.S. Radhakrishnan, U.R. Ananthamurthy, Krishna Sobti, Mahadevi Verma and Qurratulain Hyder.
The fellowship was conferred Saturday evening by Akademi president Prof Gopi Chand Narang in the presence of I.K. Gujral, former prime minister, Gursharan Kaur, prime minister Manmohan Singh's wife, L.M. Singhvi, eminent lawyer, Kartar's wife Ayesha and other renowned writers.
Four books of Duggal in English, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu too were released at the function.
The award carries a plaque, shawl and citation. In his presidential address, Narang stated that the Sahitya Akademi was in fact honouring itself by honouring Duggal.
Narang emphatically mentioned three incidents from the autobiography of Duggal that depicted the fact how well knit the social fabric has been in India since times immemorial in terms of the gelling in of interfaith harmony. The incident of a Maulvi curing Duggal in his childhood of skin disease through reciting Quranic verses was very touching.
Also emphasised was the love story of how Duggal married Ayesha, a Pakistani girl doing her medicine course at Lady Harding Medical College in Connaught Place, Delhi. Incidentally Ayesha happens to be one of three Lahore-based sisters – Khadija, Sultana and Ayesha – of whom Sultana was married to great Urdu poet Ali Sardar Jafri.
Kartar himself stated that as a creative writer, he has always insisted on discipline in personal life. His basic aim has been to portray the pains and pleasures of life and intertwine these with the story in such a way that the truth of life is depicted to the reader.
I.K. Gujral commended the Akademi for providing a huge platform to India's rich literary traditions and said the organisation through its work had provided a crucial input in strengthening the democratic system of the country. He lauded the effort of Duggal for having rendered a fine translation of the holy Guru Granth Sahib in poetic English in tune with the spirit of the scripture.
Gursharan Kaur, in chaste and refined Punjabi, stated that she wasn't the right choice to speak on a writer of the stature of Duggal who has written more than 26 volumes of short stories, 13 novels, 15 plays, eight volumes of poetry, two autobiographies, nine volumes of criticism, seven volumes of general writing in four languages namely, Punjabi, English, Hindi and Urdu.
This, she stated, proves the profligacy and versatility of Duggal who happens to be the only writer to have been writing in four languages with equal proficiency and ease.
Duggal was born in 1917, in Dhamal, Rawalpindi district, Pakistan. He writes with equal ease in Panjabi, Urdu, Hindi, and English and excels in all genres of writings. He has served as director, All India Radio, and director, National Book Trust. He has also been advisor (Information), Planning Commission of India.
His works have been translated into several Indian and foreign languages. He has received many honours and awards including the Padma Bhushan, Sahitya Akademi Award, Punjab Ratan Award, Ghalib Award, Nishan-e-Khalsa Award, Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid Award, Bhartiya Bhasha Parishad Award besides many others.
According to Dr Satinder Singh Noor, a distinguished Punjabi writer, Duggal mostly translates his own work into Hindi, Urdu and English. He rates "Haal Muridan Da", an autobiographical novel, as his best.
Karanjit Singh, another eminent Punjabi writer from Punjabi Academy, said the most touching work of Duggal is "Man Pardesi", a story of the agony of the post-Partition Muslims in India.
His well known works are "Phulan Da Saath", a tender love story in the background of the violence in Punjab of the 80s, "Sharad Punam Di Raat", a novel based on a mother who spells disaster on her daughter on account of her wrong doing, "Ek Chhit Chandan Di", a novel based on the travails faced by the middle class, "Ab Na Bason Eh Gaon", a story of refugees and their rehabilitation culminating in the liberation of Bangladesh and "Jaat Ki Pyas Na Jaye".
Even at 90, the pen of Duggal is at its most poignant and lethal when it comes to describing human travails and agonies!
(The author is a commentator on social, educational and religious issues. He can be reached at [email protected])