Friday, October 31, 2008

Little Magazines in Punjabi

Small but sincere efforts

Nirupama Dutt

Preetlari, Punjab`s monthly magazine, turned 70 in October. To celebrate the long journey of this magazine, functions were organised in different towns and villages of Punjab. Preetlari has been a front-runner to the `little magazine movement` of alternative publishing in Punjab. Today over 100 different `little magazines` are printed across the state, publishing poetry, fiction and stories on social issues in Punjabi.

Poonam Singh, the editor of Preetlari (which means chain of love in Punjabi), says, "The magazine has seen many ups and downs but we have come through. Its survival is not just the survival of the written word but also the values of a secular and composite culture that the magazine has stood for."

Preetlari was started by Gurbax Singh, a US-returned civil engineer in 1933. He also established a cultural colony in Preet Nagar, a village equidistant between Amritsar and Lahore. The best talents of the time - film actor Balraj Sahni, fiction writers Upendra Nath Ashq and Kartar Singh Duggal, playwright Balwant Gargi and poets Mohan Singh and Sahir Ludhianvi - were associated with it.The first blow to this model village, which Singh wanted to develop into another Santiniketan, came when the country was partitioned in 1947. Preet Nagar was reduced to a far-flung border village, too close to the barbed wire. Although the dream of a commune fell apart, Singh transferred his dreams to Preetlari. He continued to publish the magazine in Punjabi, but the English, Urdu and Hindi editions were discontinued. Singh`s writer son Navtej helped him in this venture.But after Singh`s death, and the untimely death of Navtej, the editorship of the magazine, which was already suffering a financial crunch, passed on to Navtej`s young son, Sumeet. The young man made an effort to involve writers and restore the lost glory of the magazine. However, Sumeet was just 30 when militants led by Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale gunned him down in February 1984.A shutdown seemed imminent, but Sumeet`s brave wife Poonam, only 26 then, took on the role of the editor and lashed out against the fundamentalists. She refused to hold a religious ceremony for her husband`s funeral, saying, "If religion means violence and killing of innocent people then we have nothing to do with it."Looking back at those dark days of terrorism in Punjab, Poonam, now 44, recalls: "The situation made me bold and courageous. I got moral support from my mother-in-law, Mahinder Kaur, and assistance in arranging advertisements and marketing from my younger brother-in-law, Ratikant Singh." Poonam and Ratikant started bringing out the magazine like crusaders and Poonam was one of the few to take a stand against the militants in those days."I was trained as a theatre actress and had no experience of writing and editing. However, I gradually learnt these skills. I felt the magazine had to continue not just to support the family but also to uphold the values of secularism dear to most Punjabis. We were not prepared for another partition. Sumeet`s blood had been shed and we were prepared to shed ours."It was at this time that Poonam and her brother-in-law started the `Save Preetlari Fund`, to which Punjabis responded in a big way sending big and small contributions. Subsequently, Poonam married Ratikant. The couple has three children. While the editorial and business work of the magazine has shifted to Chandigarh (where the couple has settled), it is still printed and published from Preet Nagar.Preetlari inspired several other writers to start `little magazines` in Punjabi. In fact, the tradition of these magazines is so dynamic today that despite financial losses, publishers and editors continue to publish them.In Ludhiana, fiction writer Surinder Kaile has been bringing out a monthly magazine Anu (atom) for the past two decades. Anu is roughly the size of a human hand and publishes only poems and short stories. In Barnala, fiction writer Ram Swarup Anakhi has been bringing out a quarterly magazine-Kahani Punjab - which is dedicated solely to the Punjabi short story.Poet Parminderjit publishes a very popular bi-monthly from Amritsar called Akhar (a letter of the alphabet) with a wonderful selection of poetry.From time to time, enthusiasts bring out magazines printed on inland letters!Sahitya Akademi award winning fiction writer Prem Prakash, who edits Lakeer (line), a quarterly literary journal published from Jalandhar says, "My first short story was published in Preetlari. In a way, the magazine acted as a catalyst." However, with the rise of Naxalite movement in Punjab, the young breed of writers disassociated themselves with Preetlari (which did not subscribe to the Naxalite ideaology) and started several small magazines.Poonam acknowledges that the Naxalite movement did prove to be a setback to Preetarli, but adds, "The magazine however managed to retain its place and still has the widest circulation at home and abroad." While other magazines do not have a print order of more than 500, Preetlari touches the 5000 mark."As the magazine has completed its seventieth year, our effort is to strengthen the magazine and also publish books. The tradition must continue and thrive," says Poonam.Preetlari has also inspired poet and novelist Amrita Pritam (now 84), who founded Nagmani (The Serpent`s Gem), along with her partner, artist Inderjit Imroz, in 1961. The monthly magazine, published from New Delhi, discovered young writers over two generations and translated some of the world`s best literature in Punjabi.Published on a shoestring budget, Nagmani had a very artistic layout with Imroz designing the cover and doing the sketches inside. The only advertisements allowed were literary in nature and these were few and far between. It survived over three decades purely on subscriptions. But two years ago, due to Pritam`s poor health, Nagmani was forced to shut down. Sahitya Akademi award winning Punjabi poet Manjit Tiwana, who made a debut in the magazine says, "It was one magazine free of all bias. If the poems or stories were good, they would be published. Its closure of is a big loss to the world of Punjabi letters."Recently however, Sidhu Damdami, a journalist, started Sankh, another Punjabi magazine, to fill the vacuum created by the closure of Nagmani. "I belong to a village near Bathinda in Punjab and I grew up reading Nagmani. It was here that we were introduced to writers like Nirmal Verma and others. I was also first published in it and I still preserve the letter of acceptance - for my short story - which Pritam wrote. Nagmani also acted as a social monitor recording change in society and particularly the man-woman relationship."Pritam, who is bed-ridden says, "We brought out the magazine as long as we could. I get sad letters from readers and contributors. But there is no need to be sad. More magazines will come up."

November 17, 2003, Women's Feature Service