LAHORE: Punjabi writer Jameel Ahmad Paul is among the three finalists for the first prize in the Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature for 2023. His collection of Punjabi short stories Mendal Da Qanoon made it to the list of final three writers this year. The other two finalists are Deepti Babuta for her book, Bhukh Eon Saah Laindi Hai, and Balijit for his book Uchian Awazan.
Paul was among the six shortlisted writers announced by the Dhahan prize about 10 days back. The only other author from among the Pakistani Punjabi writers was Mustansar Hussain Tarar. The winner of the award would get 25,000 CAD while the two runners-up would receive 10,000 CAD each.
The announcement was made by Barj Dhahan in Vancouver, Canada.
Addressing the ceremony, he said 38 books were submitted for the prize this year, including 22 novels and 16 short stories collections. The writers included 26 male and 12 female writers from Canada, Australia, India, Pakistan and the UK.
Harinder Dhahan announced the name of Jameel Paul and introduced him and his book, Mendal Da Qanoon, to the audience.
“Paul has taken the characters in his short stories from his surroundings,” Harinder said.
She added that the first story in the book was drawn from Paul’s childhood spent in East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) when the struggle of Bengalis started for their language. She said Bengalis’ language movement inspired Paul to write only in his mother tongue. Quoting his short story, she said Paul depicted the lifestyle of Bengalis and their dealings and injustice meted out to them by the army during the resistance and rape of women. “Paul says that it was easy for Punjabis as they had raped themselves in 1947,” she said, adding that the Punjabis had committed rape against people of their own race.
What’s noteworthy in the address of Barj Dhahan was that he pointed out that less number of submissions for the prize in Shahmukhi from Pakistani Punjab or Pakistani Punjabis from across the world. The number was not enough to create a jury for the prize for the Shahmukhi script and the responsibility was given to the central jury.
Explaining the selection of books, Barj Dhahan said that each year three new juries were created with each having three members. There are separate juries for Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi scripts besides the central jury and it’s must for the members of the central jury to know both scripts of Punjabi used in India and Pakistan. “The jurors are all scholars and we require every juror to sign a confidentiality agreement with us where it’s clearly stated how the books are to be adjudicated. They are required to look at the book, not the writer, his past, age, caste and country.”
Mr Dhahan said that the jurors were required to look at the certain elements in the books, including newness, depth, milestone achieved, aesthetics and social relevance.
After announcement of the award, in an interview with Navjot Dhillon, he had told the name of the members of the central jury this year, saying that Dr Karamat Mughal, assistant professor of Punjabi at the Punjab University, Lahore, chaired the central committee while Dr Jagjit Jolly from Haryana, India, and Dr Khalid Hussain from India-held Kashmir were its members.
In the interview, he said that it’s not the first time that not enough Shahmukhi books were received this year as it had happened a couple of times earlier too.
He explained that the award was for the books, even if they were of young writers, but it was not a lifetime achievement award. He said he was really perturbed by the grouping and negativity in Punjabi literary circles as he had seen nothing like that in the whole world as he closely followed the western literature as well as awards.
This year as well, two submitted books were promoted to win the prize but the jury thought they didn’t deserve the prize, Barj Dhahan said and added that in the past years, old works of certain writer(s) were collected to print new books to make them eligible for the prize and very renowned personalities were involved in the conspiracy.
Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2023