Novel Skeena was hailed as a unique, artistic and prideful contribution to Punjabi literature by the members of Punjabi Lekhak Manch, one of the oldest BC Punjabi writers group.
Ten people shared their views about Skeena including both the coordinators of the Manch while four members took part in the discussion about Punjabi publishing. The meeting was held at Newton Library in Surrey on July 10, 2011.
The discussion was initiated by Sukhvant Hundal who had earlier requested the Manch to give time to Skeena.
Sukhvant Hundal said he values Skeena because of the many unique aspects of it. Unlike most other novels, Skeena depicts patriarchy in the class context. It acknowledges the oppression of Skeena’s own family whereas most other novels typically highlight the oppression of the ‘other’ family. The novel also artfully reveals the layers and layers of violence in our social systems. As well, Hundal was moved by the depiction throughout the novel of ‘sanjh’ or ‘togetherness’ of women across class, ethnicity and religion. ‘The storytelling is picturesque,’ remarked Hundal ‘once begun, the novel is hard to put down.’
Sadhu Binning said that Skeena is a work of such depth that more discussions need to take place on it. He said ‘I am happy and proud’ to have this unique novel in Punjabi literature where the style of writing is such that it seems the story is the reader’s own life, and the events are happening to him or her. The novel also shows the values of the jagirdari system through its effects and impacts on people rather than through socio-political speeches. The literary style of expression allows the readers to form their own conclusions about various aspects, characters and situations. Sadhu also appreciates that Skeena faces all kinds of difficulties in her life yet her desire to live remains strong. ‘Skeena is a prideful addition to Punjabi literature’, he said.
Sadhu asked Fauzia to speak about her experience with Punjabi publishers in Pakistan with reference to the Punjabi Shahmukhi edition of Skeena (Sanjh Publications, Lahore 2007).
Randeep Purewall said he liked the novel for many reasons but would limit himself to the mention of just two. First, the ways in which the novel references themes related to First Nations in the Canadian context from the very beginning; and second, the novel’s illustrations of people having different sexual orientations such as the two lesbian couples, in both its social contexts. He said that it is rare to find Punjabi or South Asian literature that integrates such themes into its projected social environments.
Amrik Duhra said that he enjoyed reading the novel, and was especially taken by its usage of different Punjabi dialects, and of the beauty of its language and expression.
Inderjit Kaur Sidhu said that she had just found a copy of the English edition of Skeena lying on the table, and when she opened it, she came across the following passage:
‘This is my third house arrest. First at my parent’s, second at my in-laws, and third in my own home. Seven months. Nine years. One week. Punishment, compromise, investigation.’
She said, ‘For sure, I will buy it and read it’.
Surinder Kaur Sahota said that she enjoyed reading the novel because of the beauty of its language and expression. The story deals with family values, social systems, and the hold of religious ideologies. She said, it is constructed from many ‘fictions’, events that cannot be true. Surinder gave two three examples of such untrue things including the one where Skeena is shown assaulted by an ‘educated doctor husband’. ‘But…’ she said, ‘I was most shocked to find that Iqbal Singh was Gamu’. Surinder said she was irritated by the spelling mistakes in the Gurumukhi edition of Skeena.
Ranbir Jauhal said that she also was not as happy with the fourth section as she was with the rest of the novel. As well, she said, she wanted the novel to be a lot longer but it finished too fast. Responding to comments made by Surinder she said that one of the things she most appreciates about ‘Skeena’ is in the ways it bursts various societal myths, like the myth that wife assault only occurs in ‘un-educated lower class’ families and that middle class ‘educated’ men do not assault/abuse their wives. She also affirmed Randeep’s observations about the integration in the novel of various taboo subjects such as sexual orientation.
Jarnail Singh Sekha, Co-Coordinator, said that he likes the name of the novel. The language is beautiful, characters have depth, and the story wins the reader’s heart where the reader does not want to put the novel away until it’s finished. There are however, conversion problems with the script, and they should have been taken care of before the publication of the Gurumukhi edition. He said that he has read Skeena in both Shahmukhi and Gurumukhi scripts, and Shahmukhi flows wonderfully well but Gurumukhi stalls time and again. Also, in the fourth section, the novel stoops to a low-level filmi plot when Iqbal Singh is revealed as Gamu. ‘In my opinion’ remarked Sekha, ‘Iqbal should have stayed Iqbal.’
Jarnail Singh Artist, Co-Coordinator, said that Skeena is a window into the cultural milieu of Pakistan and the status of Muslim women. He enjoyed the novel, but tends to agree with Mr. Sekha that at the end there is filmi-style plotting. ‘Nothing is added to the novel by turning Iqbal Singh into Gamu.’ Also, he said, the lesbian issues have been touched but in a superfluous manner since the lesbian characters do not move the plot. Artist affirmed that script conversion problems are irritating for the Gurumukhi reader.
Surinder Kaur Brar said she just loved the novel. The author’s ability to express delicate feelings, concepts and situations is amazing. The language and style of writing is beautiful. It has strong subject matter but then every novel has subject matter but not every novelist can fulfil it or do justice to it. The depiction of reality is subtle and realistic even ‘natural’. ‘I like everything in it, if you ask me, i can not find anything wrong with it. Skeena is a great addition to Punjabi literature’.
Fauzia Rafique thanked Punjabi Lekhak Manch and its members for giving this special time to Skeena, for reading the novel, and for sharing valuable insights. She also thanked Sukhvant Hundal for requesting the Manch to discuss Skeena. She said, she will take the feedback on Gurumukhi conversion issues to the publisher, Libros Libertad, so that the next print run is free of typos.
As suggested by Sadhu Binning, Fauzia shared her experience of publishing Skeena in Punjabi Shahmukhi script from Lahore in 2007. She said that like East Punjab, West Punjab also has three main publishing houses, out of which one had asked her in 2006 to convert Skeena into Shahmukhi. Once the manuscript was ready, the publisher was discussing printing details but no mention was made of any royalties for the author. Fauzia said, she had to withdraw Skeena, and then offer it one by one, to the other two publishers. Amjad Salim of Sanjh Publications came through; he signed a royalty agreement with the author, invested their own money, and published not the standard 200-350 books but 750 (hardbound= 500, Paperback=250). Sanjh also acquired funding from South Asia Partnership (SAP) to launch the novel in nine cities in Pakistan. With that, ‘Skeena may be the best-selling novel in modern Punjabi literature,’ Fauzia said.
The situation of Punjabi publishing is such where in most cases, she said, authors fund the publishing of their own books or they have to buy-back a large portion of the print-run; plus they have to do their own promotion without much support from the publisher. This situation necessitates that the Punjabi Canadian writers find better solutions for the publication of their works. The formation of a Punjabi writers cooperative to publish, promote and distribute the writings of Punjabi Canadian authors is one way to go.
She said, at this time, author royalties and rights are less a matter of money and more a matter of principle. There is not much money in publishing of literature in any language and especially not in the publishing of Punjabi literature, but it ‘torments me’ she said, to find that when a Punjabi book is published, each and every contributor is paid BUT the author. In addition, the author is powerless and held at bay by the publisher with ‘Punjabi books don’t sell’ oxymoron. Nothing sells without promotion and distribution, she said.
Satish Gulati of Chetna Parkashan, visiting Canada from Ludhiana India, outlined the many problems faced by Punjabi publishers. He said that it requires consistency and dedication to continue to publish Punjabi books, and it is a difficult path to tread. He explained the process of book publishing and selling, and outlined the many barriers to its success.
The discussion brought out the need to further brainstorm on the different aspects of Punjabi publishing to make it a more beneficial and respectful experience for Punjabi Canadian authors.
Nedeem Parmar, Treasurer of the Manch, was of the opinion that there is no need to discuss this subject as Chetna Parkashan is doing a wonderful job in serving the publishing needs of Punjabi Canadian authors.
Fauzia, however, has made a request to the Manch to make some time to hold discussions on different aspects of Punjabi publishing as it impacts Punjabi Canadian authors.
Punjabi Lekhak Manch was established over 35 years back. The first meeting was attended, among others, by its initiators Surjeet Kalsey, Gurcharan Rampuri and Ajmer Rode.
The meeting was attended by Jarnail Singh Sekha, Jarnail Singh Artist, Sushil Kaur, Surinderpal Kaur Brar, Kirpal Kaur, Gurcharan Singh Gill, Inderjit Singh Dhami, Krishan Bhanot, Khushhal Singh Gloti, Pritpal Singh Sandhu, Fauzia Rafique, Hrjit Daudhria, Joginder Shamsher, Barjinder K. Dhillon, Hari Singh Tatla, Narinder Baia, Jagdev S. Dhillon, Pavinder Dhariwal, Harjinder Singh Cheema, Inderjit Kaur Sidhu, Shahzad Nazir Khan, Nirmal Kaur Gill, Jasbir Kaur Maan, Satish Gulati, Nedeem Parmar, Davinder Punia, Gian Singh Kotli, Ranbir Jauhal, Sukhvant Hundal, Sadhu Binning, Randip Purewal, Amrik Duhra, Surinder K. Sahota.
(Note: The list may not be comprehensive.)
Punjabi Lekhak Manch meets every second Sunday from 1-4 PM at Surrey’s Newton Library. Contact Punjabi Lekhak Manch: firstname.lastname@example.org
This report uses valuable input from Jarnail Singh Artist, Parvinder Dhariwal, Jarnail Singh Sekha and Randeep Purewall.