OfThe beginnings of journalistic efforts in Punjabi lie somewhere in the middle of 19th century and are closely bound up with the twists and turns of the Sikh political history. It was the rise of the Singh Sabha movement in 1860s that provided the necessary impetus to the whole enterprise of Punjabi journalism. In its initial stages, magazines and journals were started with the specific purpose of promoting Sikh religious ideals and so had a definitive religious character. Literary journalism, essentially a secular enterprise, was apparently a later offshoot, and became the raison de etre for the emergence of ‘little magazines’ only towards the end of the 19th century.
It was through the efforts of Bhai Veer Singh, a noted Punjabi poet and novelist, that Khalsa Samachar, a weekly, was started in 1899. Known for its conservative outlook, substantive financial standing and well-reasoned articles, this magazine gave a new direction to Punjabi journalism, enriching both language and prose in the process. No wonder it is the longest surviving magazine in Punjabi today. Apart from publishing poems, short stories and literary reviews, this paper devoted a large chunk of its space to promoting articles relating to Gurbani, Sikh philosophy, history and religion. Bhai Veer Singh’s novel Satwanti was also first serialized in this very paper.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the material and historical conditions in Punjab and elsewhere underwent cataclysmic changes. The Bolshevik Revolution in the erstwhile Soviet Union, the outbreak of World War I in Europe, growing influence of imperialism in India and sporadic acts of resistance to it resulting in the sinking of Kamagatamaru and Jallianwala Bagh episode were only some of the historical events that helped in shaping an emergent political and national consciousness all over, especially in Punjab. Shedding its religious character, Punjabi journalism was quick to adapt itself to these social and political changes. Redefining its thrust, it increasingly became a tool of mass awareness, social education and reform. Its reformist character was evident both in the content and form of Punjabi literary journalism as also the manner in which it developed in the early decades of the 20th century. The exponential growth of little magazines in this period can easily be gauged from the fact that between 1900 and 1947, as many as 300 papers were started; out of which 27 were circulated daily, 122 weekly, 7 fortnightly, 130 monthly, and almost 12 were circulated every three months, six months or annually.
One of the earliest magazines to be started in this period was Pritam, by all accounts, the first literary magazine of its kind. Conceived as a monthly, Pritam was started by S. Labh Singh in January 1923 from Montgomery (now in Pakistan). Shifting its base first to Lahore and then to Amritsar, Pritam continued to play an important role in Punjabi life and letters until 1947, when it ceased publication on account of the Partition. Later, it was revived and it continues to play an important role in the world of Punjabi letters. Among its prominent contributors one could count such luminaries as Bhai Veer Singh, Prof. Puran Singh, Mohan Singh Vaid, Lala Kirpa Sagar, Lala Dhanni Ram Chatrik, Mohan Singh Diwana and hundreds of others. Popular for its objectivity and fearlessness, this magazine provided patronage to all known forms of literary sub-genres, ranging from poems to short stories, specialized essays to articles of general interest, one-act plays to translations and from biographies to novels. Besides, from time to time, several theme-based special issues of this magazine were also brought out.
In 1924, Giani Heera Singh Dard started Phulwari, another monthly, from Amritsar, which gained immense popularity over the years, and played equally significant roles in both pre-Partition and post-Partition Punjab. But for a period of four years viz., 1942-46, when it had to cease publication on account of Dard’s imprisonment, Phulwari continued to exercise its shaping influence upon the Punjabi literary sensibility right up to 1958, when it finally folded up. As in his early years, Dard was under the influence of Akali politics and ideology, the magazine, too, bore its imprint. After 1938-39 when the editor succumbed to the charms of Marxist ideology, Phulwari also became a strong votary of the progressive ideals and philosophy. Though it published all kinds of writings, short story was definitely its most favoured, privileged form. Some of the old issues of this magazine are literally a treasure trove for anyone interested in exploring the history of Punjabi short story in its nascent form.
In the history of Punjabi literary journalism, Preetlari occupies almost a legendary status. Started in 1933 by Gurbaksh Singh Preetlari, a prominent prose and short story writer in Punjabi, Preetlari was initially published as a bi-lingual monthly, both in Punjabi and English. It was only in 1937 that it began to be published exclusively in Punjabi. Right from its inception, this magazine was recognized as an important organ of progressive ideology. What made for its special appeal was the open, uninhibited way in which it encouraged dissemination of information which was otherwise regarded anathema to the conservative Punjabi society. Thanks to this little magazine, for the first time ever, subjects as diverse as human health, physiology, psychology, happiness, love and sex were openly discussed and debated in the columns of any Punjabi paper. Among several others, Amrita Pritam, Shiv Kumar Batalavi, Navtej Singh, Balraj Sahni, Santokh Singh Dhir et al published some of their best early writings in this very magazine.
In 1939, Mohan Singh ‘Mahir’ started a monthly Panj Darya at Lahore, from where it continued to be published until 1947. After a gap of two years, it was revived from Amritsar in 1949, and later was published first from Ludhiana and then from Jalandhar. Now it’s being brought as a fortnightly from Chandigarh, as a Global News Magazine. Self-professed objective of this magazine was to foster a sense of unity among Punjabis of all castes, creeds and religions by strengthening a sense of cultural pride in them. With this in view, it often carried Punjabi translations of the essays on politics, religion and culture by Jawahar Lal Nehru, Rajagopalacharaya, Sohan Singh Josh, Master Tara Singh and Gian Singh et al. On the literary front, it published the critical writings of such well-known scholars as Prof. Teja Singh, Prof. Harbans Singh, Sant Singh Sekhon; short stories of Kartar Singh Duggal, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Gorki, Tagore and Kishan Chander and poetry of Prof. Mohan Singh, Gopal Singh Dardi and several others. By promoting the spirit of innovation and experimentation, Panj Darya did give a definite boost to the modernist impulse in Punjabi literature.
Punjabi Sahit, another monthly magazine, was started in 1942 thanks to the efforts of S. Harbhajan Singh. Kartar Singh Duggal was on its advisory panel. It was perhaps the first little magazine in Punjabi to have appeared in the book-size, and as a digest. Apart from initiating several literary contests, it also helped institute ‘Punjabi Sahit Fund.’ While this magazine went out of its way to extend special patronage to folk literature and culture, it helped the cause of the mainstream Punjabi literary tradition just as well. Undeniably, Punjabi Sahit made a very special contribution to the development of both Punjabi language and literature.
One of the worst fall-outs of the Partition was that Lahore, which by then had emerged as the nucleus of Punjabi literary journalism, was suddenly left behind in Pakistan. Forced to bear the brunt of dislocation and displacement, after 1947, even the Punjabi literary journalism had to make a fresh beginning. In the post-Partition period, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Delhi became the alternative sites of its location. Between 1947 and 2000, as many as 250 old and new literary magazines were started, and sustained against all kinds of odds and pressures. It would not be wrong to say that in this period, literary journalism not only emerged as a specialized discipline with a distinctive character of its own, but also succeeded in creating its own niche both in terms of its marketability and readership.
Floated in 1941 and known as Saaddhi Kahani, this magazine had folded up temporarily after the Partition but saw an unexpected revival in 1951 as Kahani from Amritsar. Though this particular magazine was devoted primarily to the cause of short story as a genre, it published poems, essays and one-act plays as well. For years, it ran a column called Sadhe Lekhak, the main purpose of which was to introduce young, upcoming as well as established short story writers to the Punjabi readership. More than any other, it was this magazine that helped its readers develop and hone critical understanding of short story as a form. Both the traditionalists and the experimentalists were equally enthusiastic contributors to Kahani. Despite its immense popularity, it could only be sustained until 1964-65 when it finally folded up. Some other literary magazines that folded up abruptly, after sporadic runs, are Kavita, Jeewan Masik, Punjabi Sahit and Lok Sahit et al.
Aarsi, which was launched by Bhapa Pritam Singh from Delhi in 1956 with great fanfare finally, ran aground in June 2000. After Preetlari, it was perhaps the longest surviving magazine in Punjabi and while it lasted, it was largely perceived as a forum for some of the best writing available in the Punjabi language. The main reason for this was that apart from publishing literary stuff of enduring merit, it provided space for translations from the best available in other languages of the world as well. There is not a single Punjabi writer worth the name who has not published his writings in this magazine, one time or the other, a fact that imparts a great archival value to some of its old issues. The Punjabi readership is already feeling the absence of Aarsi rather acutely, and in the years to come, it is bound to miss it all the more.
Started by Raghbir Singh in 1965, Sirjana, a quarterly magazine, initially published from Jalandhar, ran sporadically between 1970-75, after which it stabilized and gained a fair amount of consistency as well. Now published from Chandigarh, by the end of the year 2000, it had already brought out as many as 118 issues. Dividing its space equally between the creative and the critical aspects of writing Sirjana, being an organ of progressive ideology, extends patronage to both young and old writers of similar persuasion. Apart from Punjabi writers of repute, from time to time, it has published the translations of such well-known writers from other languages as Mansur Kaisar, Kamleshwar, Ramesh Kuntal Megh, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Hazari Prasad Dwivedi. Over the years, Sirjana has definitively managed to create a niche readership for itself.
Started from Delhi in 1966, Nagmani, a monthly magazine, bears an unmistakable stamp of its lifetime editor and the renowned dame of Punjabi poetry, Amrita Pritam. Its distinctive character lies in the way in which it illustrates all literary writings with artistic images and pencil drawings, most of which are done by Amrita’s companion, Imroz. Although its readership has declined over the years, it has failed to make any dent into the magazine’s quality of material or production. What really makes this little magazine stand out is its truly cosmopolitan character. Apart from the who’s who of Punjabi writers, it has published the writings of Alberto Moravio (Italian), Abraham Saleshki (Israeli Jew), Kumar Sanyal (Bengali), Nirmal Verma (Hindi), Ismat Chugtai (Urdu) and several Russian, African, Spanish and Bulgarian writers. More than a literary magazine, Nagmani is an institution, which has promoted such literary concepts as Nagmani Library and Nagmani Evenings, a monthly meeting of the writers where writings are read as well as sifted.
Floated from Jalandhar by Prem Prakash, a famous Punjabi short story writer, Lakeer has had sporadic runs since its inception in 1970. Though essentially conceived as a monthly magazine, it was changed into a quarterly for some time, before ceasing publication temporarily and being revived again. Until 2000, some 75 issues of this magazine had been brought out in almost thirty years of its existence. This magazine promotes the cause of avant-garde Punjabi literature, and shows a definite proclivity towards the experimental, progressive writing. For years, it ran a column Patni De Jharokhe (Through Wife’s Eyes) in which famous writers and their writings were perceived exclusively from the point of view of their wives. Among others, Mohan Bhandari, Ranjit Dheer, Surjeet Kaur, Amarjeet Chandan, Prem Gorki and several others have published their writings in this magazine.
Aks, a monthly, started in 1975 from Delhi by Amarjit Singh, was conceived as a literary magazine, but after 1984, having lost its distinctive literary character, it seems to have become more of a political broadsheet. It’s another matter that literary material continues to hog most of its space. One of the conspicuous features of this magazine is that it takes special interest in serializing novels of the well-known novelists. So far, among others, it has serialized Baldev Singh’s G.T. Road, Baljeet Sing Raina’s Yathaarath, Pargat Singh Sidhu’s Apni Miti Di Saajish and Jaswant Singh Virdi’s Varkha Wali Raat. Besides, it publishes articles on subjects as diverse as science, health, culture, sports and humour.
Samdarshi, a quarterly, was started by Punjabi Akademi, Delhi in 1985, once again, under the editorship of Amrita Pritam. There was a time when people like Balwant Gargi, Kulwant Singh Virk, Wanjaara Bedi and Harbhajan Singh were members of its editorial board. Since 1992, Prof. Satinder Singh Noor has been editing this magazine, and this change of guard has certainly brought about a consequent change in the editorial policy as well. Now it has lost its exclusive character and like any other literary magazine, it offers an odd assortment of poems, stories, articles, news items and research-based essays. One of the consistent features of Samdarshi is that, from time to time, it does bring out theme-based issues on extremely provocative and meaningful subjects.
Janakraj Singh started Sirnavaan, a monthly magazine, from Chandigarh somewhere in 1987. This magazine gives ample space to both poetry and short stories. On the one hand, it’s showcased a number of contemporary poets such as Manjit Indra, Amar Jyoti, Sidhu Damdami, Ajmer Rode and countless others. On the other, it has also brought into critical attention and focus short story writers such as Baldev Singh, Sharan Makkar, Narinder Bhullar, Jinder, Tarlochan Tarsi et al. For years now, Bhushan Dhyanpuri has successfully run a humour column in this magazine called Mooh Aai Baat. Occasionally, it publishes Punjabi translations of literature available in other languages of the world as well.
Though Kahani Punjab is a late entrant into this extremely competitive field, it has already created a secure niche for itself. Started as a quarterly in 1993 by Ram Sarup Ankhi, a famous Punjabi novelist and a short story writer, this magazine is devoted exclusively to the promotion of Punjabi short story. In one of its regular columns, Gurbachan Bhullar, a renowned Punjabi writer, offers a critical commentary on different aspects of some of the well known Punjabi stories, which could be said to enjoy the status of modern classics.
Pancham is the only little magazine in Punjabi that claims to support the cause of Dalits or strives for consciousness-raising among them. Started in 2002 as a monthly and brought out from Jalandhar, this magazine doesn’t only publish writings of the Dalit writers in Punjabi, but also offers liberal space to those who write in a manner sympathetic to the marginalised and oppressed. Without restricting itself to any specific genre, this magazine offers a diverse reading material, including thought-provoking essays, research-based articles, short stories, poems et al.
From this survey, it is evident that the little magazines in Punjabi have had a fascinating journey down the decades. In over 120 years of their existence, these magazines have been through several incarnations and re-incarnations, from religious to secular and from secular to purely literary and/or semi-literary. Despite the constraints of funding, readership and limited circulation, the qualities that have really sustained and nurtured the institution of little magazines in Punjabi are dogged perseverance, determination and personal commitment of the literary artists and workers at the individual level.
The ideological spectrum of these magazines has been truly astonishing and in historical terms, it helps us understand the rise and fall of various literary trends, impulses and movements in Punjabi literature/culture. While rendering a yeoman’s service to the cause of Punjabiat, these magazines have enriched both Punjabi language and literature in ways that are hard to quantify. Without the risk of quantifying the foregoing analysis, one could also suggest that, historically, it is the short story that has emerged as the most favoured, if not the privileged, form of these little magazines. Well, it only points towards a simple fact that, in the ultimate analysis, short story is the representative genre of our times and that in our languages, it’s not only alive and kicking, but is flourishing as well.
Atari, Ishaar Singh, Bharat Wich Patarkari Da Itihaas, Patiala: Punjabi University, 1987
Khera, Surinder Singh, Punjabi Patarkari, Patiala: Sukhraj Prakashan, 1983
Megha Singh, Punjabi Patarkari Da Itihaas, Chandigarh: Lokgeet Prakashan, 2001
Suba Singh, Punjabi Patarkari Da Itihaas, Chandigarh: Punjab State University Text Book Board, 1973
Walia, Harjinder, Patarkari Ate Punjabi Sahitik Patarkari, Delhi: National Book Shop, 2008.