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World’s most lucrative Punjabi literature award—the Dhahan Prize—will be awarded in Surrey

Dhahan Prize finalists 2022
These three books are finalists for the $25,000 Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature.

On Thursday (November 17), fans of Punjabi literature around the world will set their eyes on Surrey, B.C.

There, at a gala event at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel, one talented writer will win the Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature .

The Punjabi-language equivalent of the Giller Prize, it’s the most lucrative award for fiction books in Gurmukhi or Shamukhi script. It comes with a $25,000 cash award to the winner. The two runners-up will each receive $10,000.

Vancouver businessman Barj Dhahan, his wife Rita, and family and friends fund the prize. It was created in 2013 by the Canada India Education Society and UBC’s Department of Asian Studies.

Ts’msyen Nation author Lynda Gray will be the keynote speaker. The Vancouver resident’s book, First Nations 101, is a popular teaching tool about Indigenous life, past and present.

The finalists are listed below along with the jury citations for each book.

Dhahan Prize 1

Cholan Di Burky

Short stories by Chantilly, Virginia-based Javed Boota, written in Shamukhi script and published by Kitab Trinjan in Pakistan.

“Javed Boota’s maiden book of seventeen short stories is the winner of the Sulaikh Chittar Award from Lahore,” the citation states. “These stories explore the lived lives of ordinary people in both East and West Punjab, and the growing Punjabi diaspora around the world. The title story reveals the deep pain of partition and separation of those who survived the horror. The displaced girl who now is an aged woman living in East Punjab is hauntingly beautiful. The reader’s imagination is captured as she breaks down during a meal with a guest from West Punjab. Her trauma is so real and immediate as she has a flashback to the tragic moment when she was ripped apart from her Muslim friends in 1947 leaving an unfinished meal of rice.

“Another powerful story is Ustad Shgird in which a young individual has an erotic experience. The vulnerable boy character upon seeing an indiscreet portrait of a woman becomes emotionally disturbed. His neurotic obsession with the female body leads to shocking behaviour. ‘Mardum Shamari’ (‘Census’) exposes the pressures of political correctness in the struggle over language and identity as both census taker and responder lie about their mother language in Pakistani Punjab. All the stories are lasting testament to human resiliency and the spirit to live with zest despite pain, trauma, and suffering.”

Dhahan Prize finalist

Dubolia

Short stories by Ludhiana-based Balwinder Singh Grewal in Gurmukhi script and published by Chetna Parkashan in India.

“This is an impactful collection of five long stories from the prolific pen of Balwinder Singh Grewal,” the citation states. “These stories 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.”

Dhahan Prize third finalist

Jhanjraan Wale Paer

Short stories by Amristar-based Arvinder Kaur Dhaliwal and published by Chetna Parkashan in India.

“The broad theme of Arvinder Kaur Dhaliwal’s ten stories is the world of complex relationships between men and women marked by romance, love, loyalty, deceit, duty, obligation, betrayal, lust, and depraved sexuality,” the citation states. “These are emotionally demanding subjects, even draining, but she deals with them with great restraint and lucidity, never surrendering to the temptations of sentimentalism and overstatement.

“Some of these stories such as ‘Lip Gloss,’ ‘Neela Morana Wali Chaddar’ and ‘Hash Tag’ may be shocking to the reader with a traditional view of social norms within a closed culture. One story portrays the unthinkable depth of human depravity where male undertakers sexually assault dead female bodies in their care. This story reminds one of Saadat Hasan Manto’s classic story ‘Thanda Gosht’.

“These stories are astonishing feats of moral and artistic audacity. The author goes where not just angels, but demons too fear to tread. Her point of view is a woman’s. And precisely for this reason her narration achieves a universal resonance that goes beyond gender, class, and caste to reveal the human core.

“Dhaliwal demonstrates her mastery of the art of implication in the dialogue crafted in the story titled ‘Jhanjaran Wale Paer’. One character’s words amply evoke the other’s presence. The idiom is ‘caught’ on the go, as if. And the spoken words engender whole, breathing, writhing characters.”

The section below is for those who prefer reading in Gurmukhi or Shahmukhi script.

 ਚੌਲਾਂ ਦੀ ਬੁਰਕੀچولاں دی بُرکی

ਜਾਵੇਦ ਬੂਟਾ (ਕਹਾਣੀ ਸੰਗ੍ਰਹਿ), جاوید بُوٹا (کہانی سنگریہہ)

ਸ਼ਾਹਮੁਖੀ, ਕਿਤਾਬ ਤ੍ਰਿੰਞਣ (ਪਾਕਿਸਤਾਨ), گُرمکھی ,کتاب ترنجن (پاکستان).

ਡਬੋਲੀਆڈبولیا

ਬਲਵਿੰਦਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਗਰੇਵਾਲ (ਕਹਾਣੀ ਸੰਗ੍ਰਹਿ), (کہانی سنگریہہ) بلوندر سنگھ گریوال

ਚੇਤਨਾ ਪ੍ਰਕਾਸ਼ਨ (ਭਾਰਤ), (بھارت) چیتنا پرکاشن

 ਝਾਂਜਰਾਂ ਵਾਲੇ ਪੈਰجھانجراں والے پیر

ਅਰਵਿੰਦਰ ਕੌਰ ਧਾਲੀਵਾਲ (ਕਹਾਣੀ ਸੰਗ੍ਰਹਿ), (کہانی سنگریہہ) اروندر کور دھالیوال

ਚੇਤਨਾ ਪ੍ਰਕਾਸ਼ਨ (ਭਾਰਤ), (بھارت) چیتنا پرکاشن

Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.