SINGH, NANAK (1897-1971)
Singh, Nanak, the father of Punjabi novel, was born at Peshawar. Like most Hindu families in the West Punjab in those days, Nanak Singh\’s parents were devoted to the Sikh faith. Their son, Hans Raj, embraced Sikhism under the influence of the Singh Sabha Movement of the early twenties and was named Nanak Singh. Nanak Singh was jailed for some time as an Akali Satyagrahi, and while in jail, he read the famous Urdu novelist, Munshi Prem Chand, who stood for a Gandhian egalitarianism.
Being a Sikh though, Nanak Singh found Gandhism compatible with Sikh humanism. He reacted to the developing social environment around him in this dual spirit and wrote his novels in this vein. Chitta Lahu (1932) marked the end of the first phase, but in fact, it is a novel of transition. Fauladi phul was published in 1934, followed by Kagtan di beri (1936), Piar di duniya (1946), Dhundle parchaven, Love marriage (1945), Garib di duniya (1949), Adh khiriaphul (1948), Pavittar papi, Jivan sangram (1950).
All these novels of the second phase immortalised Nanak Singh as a Punjabi novelist. With Tutti vina (1945), Ganga jal wich sharab (1947) and Dur kinara (1948) he touches 1947, the fateful year of Independence and bloody Partition. Partition and its tragic consequences threatened Nanak Singh\’s indomitable optimism. But he refused to give up hope. Khun de sohile (1949) and Agg di khed (1948), both written just after Partition, are two linked novels.
In them Nanak Singh\’s heroic Sikh and Muslim characters fight last ditch battles against overwhelming odds and would rather perish fighting than give in to inhumanity. From 1947 onwards Nanak Singh was a shaken man, trying to uphold his idealism against mounting odds. Khun de sohile and Agg di khed marked the transition to the final phase of his career, when he wrote Katti hoi patang (1953), Suman Kanta (1952), Adam khor (1953), Nasoor (1954) and Banjar. In a few novels like Pujari, Astik nastik, Chhalawa, Gagan damama bajia and Ikk mian do talwaran, which was given Sahitya Akademi Award for 1961, he demonstrated that he had acquired a facile pen and the ability to link contemporary reality with the stories he wove.
His novels became longer as well as more varied in theme. He grappled with new problems and was obliged to discuss the old, now fast-changing moral values. In Katti hoi patang (1953) he created three different situations. In Adam khor (1953), Nanak Singh is far less sentimental and far more realistic than in Garib di duniya (1949) discussing the problem of man\’s exploitation by man with far greater insight.
In advocating a non-violent educative campaign as the way to salvation, he is much more with Vinoba Bhave than with Marx. During his long span of creativity, he wrote more than 60 novels and a number of short stories. A facile short autobiography Men duniya was published in 1948. He also edited a monthly journal Lok sahitya for quite a long period.
1. Amarjit Singh, Punjabi sahit da itihas ”Qissa kal, Amritsar, 1981.
2. Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature, 6 Vols., Delhi, 1995.
3. Sekhon, S.S. and K.S. Duggal, A History of Punjabi Literature, Delhi, 1992.
4. Singh, N.K., En cyclopaedia of Indian Biography, Delhi, 2000.