Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Land of Five Rivers - Khushwant Singh

Edited and Translated by Khushwant Singh: A compilation of 21 short stories from Punjab. Stories written over a preiod spanning 40s and 70s, includes stories by some prominent writers such as Sadat Hasan Manto, Amrita Pritam ( winner of Jnanpith award) , K A Abbas, Yashpal and Khushwant Singh.

Punjab to me is a very interesting place. Spread across 2 countries ( India and Pakistan) , with 3 languages spoken - Urdu , Punjabi and Hindi ( to a lesser extent) , and population split into 3 religion ( Hindu , Muslim and Sikh) is one of the most suffered region during the painful separation of India and Pakistan. Not surprisingly, many of the stories in this book with this as the main theme. And it is around this, many of the writings from Punjab has nourished.

The book starts with the popular story by Sadat Hasan Manto ( Toba Tek Singh , translated as 'exchange of lunatics' in this book) , which is about the plan of the newly formed governments of India and Pakistan to exchange lunatics held in the asylums, to the respective countries based on the division which set two countries separate. An outstanding story, talks of the plight of the common man in the hand of lunatics, in a very powerful way.
"On one side, behind barbed wire, stood together the lunatics of India and on the other side, behind more barbed wire, stood the lunatics of Pakistan. In between, on a bit of earth which had no name, lay Toba Tek Singh. "

There are few noteworthy stories, especially Lajwanti by Rajinder Singh Bedi, Death of Shaikh Burhanuddin by K A Abbas, One Passenger, Ho! by Santokh Singh Dhir.

As in a case of any compilation, this too have some superb , some mediocre stories. While this might not have covered the entire spectrum of writers fro mPunjab, it did give the glimpses of the section of the post independent Punjabi writers.

Contrary to the usual translation from Indian Language to English, which I always found a bit low in standard, this book was translated brilliantly and does not leave a taste of the local language to the reader. Most of the writings are around the partition and the struggle, hatred , violence, loss, bravery and compassion of common man it does come out quite visibly as a non - articulative and natural style of writing. While it does not have the contemporary writers in its list, it is an important collection to for the rest of India and the world to have a peep into the Punjabi literature.
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Land of Five Rivers
Selected and Translated by Khushwant Singh
Orient Paperbacks
199 Pages
Rs 175
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1 comment:

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