Nirupama Dutt has done a stellar service to Punjabi literature—and to non-Punjabi readers—by bringing 40-odd Punjabi stories into the mainstream.
Building upon the oral tradition of immortal kissas like Heer-Ranjha and Sohni-Mahiwal, the Punjabi short story began its journey about a century ago. Dutt picks up this trail beyond the early didactic period and divides her selection into eight themes. The classics include the parable-like stories of Nanak Singh and Sant Singh Sekhon as well as the provocative voices of Amrita Pritam and Balwant Gargi, known better as poet and playwright respectively. These are followed by stories of the Partition, the violence that rocked Punjab in the eighties, gender and caste issues, love and nostalgia as well as yearnings of the diaspora. One section is devoted to post-Partition Pakistani writers, allowing the reader to glimpse composite Punjabi culture, what it was and what it could have been.
Historical themes however do not submit easily to neat, balanced divisions: a few more Partition-related stories, even at the cost of some lightweight ones, would have reflected its huge impact on Punjabi life. That aside, Dutt’s love of Punjabi and her understanding of Punjab’s social and literary milieu help her achieve a fluid translation. Her labour of love is as important for what it includes as for what had to be left out and should point other translators to the neglected treasure trove of Punjabi literature.