IN A HARD-HITTING attack on "Facebook scholars," Baldev Singh Sarraknama, the author of novel 'Suraj Di Akh', which triggered a massive controversy for its depiction of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, has now said he was shelving all his future projects including those about Akali Phoola Singh, Baba Deep Singh, Hari Singh Nalva and Sham Singh Attariwala.
"I had planned to undertake major initiatives in the years to come...I was busy researching and gathering material about Maharaja Ranjit Singh's general, Zorawar Singh. Now I have turned my face away from such warriors, epic heroes. These warriors of Sikh history may forgive me, because some scholars do not want that I should wipe off the dust that has eclipsed your persona...I thank these scholars (particularly those on Facebook) who have stopped me in my tracks rather than letting me undertake this arduous journey," Baldev Singh Sarraknama said in a hard hitting piece published on Sunday by Punjabi Tribune.
Baldev Singh's declaration that he will no more pursue projects about warriors of Sikh history brought back memories of Tamil author Perumal Murgan's declaration of the death of his own literary persona after he was forced to withdraw his 2010-Tamil novel, Mathorubhagan, following street protests called by caste-based groups.
Baldev Singh's declaration that he was shelving a number of writing projects about warriors of Sikh history brought back memories of Tamil author Perumal Murgan's declaration of the death of his own literary persona after he was forced to withdraw his 2010-Tamil novel, Mathorubhagan, following street protests called by caste-based groups.
Meanwhile, Surjit Patar, one of Punjab's foremost poets and authors, made his first detailed intervention in the debate, praising Baldev Singh for his earlier works, and referencing many dramatised depictions of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's actions in his daily life from Baldev Singh's latest work. However, Patar did take exception to depictions of the Maharaja's harem, mistresses and courtesans.
Patar, in a write up in the Punjabi Tribune's Sunday edition, advised Baldev Singh to be more sensitive while describing the flaws of personalities that have carved a niche in the public and Sikh mindscape since "such depictions can get amplified when rendered in a novel or a film."
Patar did not say if the attacks on and hounding of the author can be justified if he does not pay heed to advice about sensitised depiction of such historical personalities. Also, his argument left a key question hanging: "Is this piece of advice not also tantamount to an advocacy of forced self-censorship?”
Defending his depiction of the Maharaja, Baldev Singh said he is not the first person to write about him, and his novel carries a bibliography of the material he relied upon. His main defence was that while there is a benign representation of Maharaja, there is also a component of debauchery associated with him.
"I am simply a writer, but a responsible one. I have been associated with the world of literature for 40 years. I have remained outside the pale of institutionalised literary world. My understanding could be limited, my research may have limitations. Whatever I could find from historical references, in keeping with my limitations, was the basis of my work 'Suraj Di Akh," Baldev Singh said.
He took strong exception to use of some abusive language on the social media against his novel, and thanked the two Kendri Lekhak Sabhas, farmer and labourers' unions, writer friends and readers for standing up for him and responding to the 'Facebook scholars.'
Baldev Singh clearly seemed pissed off with some prominent men and women of the world of Punjabi literature for maintaining a stoic silence on the raging controversy.
"Jehrre mere lekhak bhra (brothers - for some strange reason and possibly some deeply entrenched patriarchal mindset, reference to female writers is missing) chupp reh ke eh sabh tamasha dekh rahe hun, uh eh na bullan - ajj main hain, kal uh nishana hon ge," he wrote.
On the SGPC's move to set up a committee of three experts to review the novel, the author welcomed it and said he will cooperate. "Suraj Di Akh is not the last word, and there is always scope for improvement," he said.