VANCOUVER, BC: The world’s signature prize for Punjabi fiction recently announced its 2022 winner, Balwinder Singh Grewal, of a $ 25,000 CDN award plus trophy. Alongside him, Javed Boota and Arvinder Kaur were awarded $10,000 CDN each as two finalists.
Awardees were presented with their awards during the 9th annual Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature ceremonies, held November 17, 2022, at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel, Surrey. Part of the ceremony included MLA Rachna Singh presenting a Provincial Proclamation declaring “Punjabi Literature Week in British Columbia.”
Grewal (Ludhiana, Punjab, India), received the award for his short story collection ‘Dubolia’ (‘The Diver’). He said, “The Dhahan Prize is a huge tap on my shoulder. I am happy and inspired to continue my creative journey with a greater sense of gratitude and responsibility.”
Dubolia is an impactful collection of five long stories that affirm human dignity against an almost overwhelming evil. Yet it is not a metaphysical but historically produced evil, which means there is hope for a better, more humane world. He places his protagonists in extremely trying situations to probe the limits of human endurance. Grewal scrutinizes at once the human condition, history, and the present from a point of view in which the philosophical and the political are intertwined the way they are in the most illuminating and perturbing of all literature.
Jungle 1 and Jungle 2 stories explore the motivations behind the on-going border conflicts alongside the dark inspiration behind politically and religiously charged unrest within a highly complex society. Pundath Ji Urf Purs Ram Chowkidar is a probing narration of the migrant Kashmiris and their interactions with Punjabis.
The title story with its eerie imagery won the ‘Jagjit Singh Anand and Urmila Anand Award’ in 2018. It is a fascinating look into the intricate details of the daily lives of a community of divers who make their living by searching for and bringing up drowned bodies from the rivers. The bloated floating bodies shock the reader’s senses as each body has its own history and the complicated circumstances leading to such tragic ending. The floating dead are a sad reflection of the social, religious, economic, and political ills of society.
The narration overall is rich as it surveys both the interior and the exterior spaces, and where the two intersect. This gives Grewal’s stories a rare balance that enables him to understand, not merely judge, human beings. It’s a messy, complicated world out there, he seems to be saying. And it’s no less messy and confounding inside us. He avoids cliché, does not waste a word, and weaves complex stories through an admirable blending of description, dialogue, and narrative, according to the citation.
Boota (Chantilly, Virginia, USA), was honored for his short story collection, ‘Cholan Di Burki’ (‘A Mouth Full of Rice’), written in the Shahmukhi script.
Boota shared with the audience, “From an early age I have been influenced by Punjabi culture and language. This led me to explore my interests and curiosity in Punjabi literature. With this Prize I will have more desire to write and promote Punjabi.”
Kaur (Amritsar, Punjab, India) was a finalist for her short story collection, ‘Jhanjraan Wale Paer’ (‘Feet with Tinkling Bells’).
She says, “as a storyteller, I feel the establishment of the Dhahan Prize has revolutionized the world of Punjabi literature. More reading, writing and printing of more books is a highly commendable phenomenon.”
Launched in 2013 by the Canada India Education Society (CIES) and the University of British Columbia (UBC), The Prize has garnered international recognition among Punjabi literary creators and critics.
This year, a record number of submissions arrived from India, Pakistan, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.
The Prize’s presenting partner is RBC Foundation. Barj and Rita Dhahan along with their family and friends, are primary funders.
2022 sponsors included RBC Dominion Securities – Harj & Darshan Grewal, G.L. Smith Planning and Design Inc., Westland Insurance, Adrian Keenan Personal Real Estate Corporation (ReMax, Mayne-Pender), Tim Hortons and HUB International.