For the first time, a woman has won the $25,000 Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature. Deepti Babuta received the award for her collection of short stories, Bhukh Eon Sah Laindi Hai (Hunger Breathes Like This) on Thursday (November 16).
Near the end of her acceptance speech at the Northview Golf and Country Club in Surrey, Babuta serenaded the audience with some Punjabi song lyrics. The Mohali-based author wrote her book in Gurmukhi script and it was published by Saptrishi in India.
“Words are my life. But today I am speechless,” Babuta said on winning the award. “This achievement is not mine alone. It is of every woman who starts fighting the war of her dreams from home. Then, she fights for opportunities in the world and shows she can succeed.”
The founder of the prize, Vancouver businessman Barj Dhahan, said that women are often underrepresented in Punjabi arts and literary circles.
“We started this award with an open system to consider any new works of fiction in the Punjabi language, from any author of any background,” Dhahan stated. “We are proud to say that after 10 years, we are announcing our first female winner, based solely on the quality of work produced.”
Two runners-up each collected $10,000 cash awards.
One of them, Balijit, also lives in Mohali. Caliber Publications published his collection of short stories. Uchian Awazan (Clarion Calls).
“Every Punjabi writer, whether living in West and East Punjab, or other corners of the world, dreams to have the Dhahan Prize come knocking on their door,” Baljit said. “As a writer and an ordinary man, I am happy and proud to have my book…be a finalist for this year’s Dhahan Prize.”
Babuta celebrates with runners-up
Lahore writer and professor Ahmad Paul made the shortlist for his collection of short stories, Mendal Da Qanoon (Mendelian Rules). Pakistan-based Punjabi Markaz published this book in Shahmukhi script.
Paul said that the happiest day of his life came when he received news that his book had been shortlisted.
“Writing in Punjabi has been my meditation,” Paul declared.
This year, 38 books were submitted, including 22 novels.
Dhahan Prize organizers gave judges five criteria for evaluating entries. These included originality, knowledge about the topic, a high literary standard, aesthetics including the originality of the language, and relevance.
The Canada India Education Society and the UBC Department of Asian Studies launched the Dhahan Prize in 2013. RBC Foundation is the presenting partner. Meanwhile, Barj and Rita Dhahan, along with family and friends, are the primary funders.
This year’s sponsors included RBC Dominion Securities – Harj & Darshan Grewal, G.L. Smith Planning and Design Inc., Westland Insurance, CIBC, Adrian Keenan Personal Real Estate Corporation (ReMax, Mayne-Pender), Esso, and Tim Hortons.
The World Factbook reports that 38.8 percent of Pakistanis speak Punjabi and 2.7 percent of Indians speak Punjabi. That adds up to 93.7 million in Pakistan and 37.8 million in India, based on their populations in 2023. There are almost one million Punjabi Canadians, according to the 2021 census.