“Readings in Punjabi Literature: A Post-Modern Critique” by JASPAL SINGH is heavy, large in size, vast in scope, brief in treatment and agile in movement. For readers of modern Punjabi literature, this is literary journalism at its finest. The book has five sections, through which are distributed 154 pieces, mostly reviews and articles.
No less than 115 writers are treated, most of them thankfully eliminated except for one sting drenched in sarcasm and delivered gravely with good intentions. For example, Amrita Pritam is called “a literary enchantress”, both a miracle and a mediocrity. Balwant Gargi is reprimanded for straying too far from home and advised to try a language other than Punjabi. At the same time, the book brings to light things that are often overlooked. He tells us that Randhir Singh, the legendary professor of political science, wrote some very beautiful poetry in Punjabi. Mohan Singh Dewana has written 75 books and in five languages.
Writing about linguist Prem Prakash Singh, Jaspal Singh notes that it was Maharishi Valmiki who used the Sanskrit word for the language which Panini only called “bhasha”. About playwright Swarajbir’s ‘Krishan’, he says it is a storyline that emerged from years of arduous research into a wide range of texts, including Vedas, epics, Puranas and Bhakti poetry. . Reading the poet Harbhajan Singh, he notices with a flash of insight that for him, renunciation was a kind of possession. It is not unimportant that Jaspal Singh’s book begins with reviews of two books of literary essays by Amrik Singh Sangha, so beautiful that they can be placed among the best of their kind.
Most of these articles were first published in The Tribune and a few in South Asia Post. A comprehensive essay on the development of Punjabi literature and another on Waris Shah’s timeline for Heer enrich the book. Although Singh claims to have used the tools of structuralism, post-structuralism, existentialism, Marxism, and postcolonialism in his readings, these are primarily his felt responses to writers and writing. As a result, the tools do not draw attention to themselves.