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Rupinderpal Singh Dhillon: Why I Write in Punjabi

An Interview by CITY SIKHS

 

 

City Sikhs - Q. How do you define personal development?

Rupinderpal ("Roop") Singh Dhillon - A.  For me, personal development can take three forms: One’s own goals in context of the selfish self, spiritual development and in context of seva to society and one’s own family. Overall though it is about maximizing one’s potential as a human.

Selfishly I have taken the path, despite having a family to provide for, to take time to learn about Sikhi and learn the Punjabi language and write in it, which of course is a cost benefit decision, weighing family against the self.

Spiritual development has a consequence having taken a very different path from what I ever expected. My view on what it meant to be a Sikh, prior to the influence of Punjabi Literature, is poles apart from the humanist perspective I now have. That has been my spiritual development in the context of being a Sikh.

Seva wise, I like to think what I have given to Sikh-Britons is an example of how it is still possible to attach oneself to one’s heritage and then use it to voice our feelings.

Q. What got you interested in this writing in Punjabi?

A. Purely accidental. I originally meant to write a novel in English about Sikhs in Maharaja Ranjit Singhs time, in the same manner Dumas wrote The Three Musketeers. However this path meant investigating Sikhism and just by chance led me to learning Gurmukhi. I then thought to myself what can I do with this? The idea that kids in the U.K. who learn Punjabi could not relate to the subject matter of Punjabi Literature and my own desire to make practical use of this new skill lead me here.

I was in my mid-thirties when I learnt Punjabi, and self taught by making many mistakes. My greatest ally was the internet. Initially I was derided, but now I think I am becoming accepted as something other than a freak of nature. This is proof to all Sikhs who want to learn that it can be done.

I was also fed up of the negative image of Sikh-Britons in Punjabi Literature as drug addicted, loose-living alcoholics who have no idea about what it is to be Punjabi or Sikh. I wanted to do, what we are already doing in English, write positively about Sikh=Britons, and our views to balance out the false views and exaggerated views depicted in Punjabi about us as vilayatis.

I am also experimenting in areas never dealt with by Punjabi writers before, including Science Fiction, Surrealism and manipulation of Punjabi Syntax.

I did have a novel published in the U.K. in 2007, Neela Noor (Blue Light), and another one has been sitting on the shelf of an unscrupulous publisher in India. But I am hoping all my writings on the net will be published in the next two months in book form in India.

I think I am one of only a few Sikhs born and raised in the west who have contributed to Punjabi Literature. That is seva I am proud of. The book is Bharind and will be available from Lahore Books, Ludhiana, Punjab.

How does your writing relate to Sikhi?

The obvious connection I think is the use of the Gurmukhi alphabet, which is the script that all the languages present in the Adi Granth are written in. If my books actually develop practical reason to read Punjabi amongst the minority of western Sikhs who learn Punjabi, it may also along with good Punjabi lessons from teachers and internet, give them the ability to read the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Being Punjabi and Sikh is like  nau maas relationship.

Q. What are your stories about?

A. Sikhism was one of the first movements to deal with many social and religious ills. Sadly, in practice, even after 500 years of Sikhism, in practice Punjabis don’t actually implement these ideals, many of which pre-dated western advance thought.

Caste still exists (within Sikhs), Gender Bias (which really contradicts Sikhism), and murder of baby girls, and a shallow allegiance to the 5 K’s, when 95% of what is in the Guru Granth is ignored or not understood. I apply all this to my stories, even the ones about robots and aliens.

Hidden amongst all of my work and sometimes blatantly in one’s face, are issues of racism, gender bias, incest (it does happen) and caste. All of which was wiped out by Guru Gobind Singh on creation of the Khalsa, but we only pay lip service to. For example, all 5 Piare were of "low caste", no 'jutt' had the guts to get up, and yet look at how 'jutts' treat all other Sikhs.

So although my stories have space ships, I-pods, talking octopuses, drug addicts turning into wasps, nameless Sikh warriors walking into towns and beating up baddies, there is a social conscience. I have to admit I am at the moment between a rock and hard place, because the natural readers for this are western born Sikhs, who can only read English, whilst the ones who can read the language, are at best bemused, worst disinterested.

On Punjabizm I have discovered a market of young Punjabis in India, who get it. They are internet savvy, many professionals. Fingers crossed, one day those in the U.K. may take up their heritage language as something more than to swear in, or speak to parents in!

 

[Courtesy: City Sikhs]

June 3, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Harminder Dhillon (London, United Kingdom), June 03, 2011, 11:10 AM.

Wow ....very inspirational. We need more people like Rupinderpal to lead the way.

2: Harinder (Jalandhar, Punjab ), June 03, 2011, 11:35 AM.

Great job! We need an army of such brilliant writers amongst us.

3: Gurpal (Wolverhampton, United Kingdom), June 03, 2011, 3:04 PM.

Correction: there was a 'jutt' of Delhi who became one of the Punj Piaras. All five were from "low castes" - but once they became Sikh, they became equal and as good as the best. Some Sikhs in all 'communities' are guilty of leaning on the crutch of casteism. We need to remember: we're all in it together and we all need to make an effort to sort it out.

4: Jaspal Singh Kohli (Mumbai, India), June 04, 2011, 10:56 AM.

Spread the good work ... A step in the RIGHT direction. It's an inspirational initiative. May Satguru bless His Sikhs.

5: Bal Singh (London, United Kingdom), June 04, 2011, 6:02 PM.

Great stuff! I hope more and more Punjabi diasporans use the language to produce fresh literature.

6: Kuldip (London, United Kingdom ), June 08, 2011, 5:27 AM.

After reading this I googled Rupinderpal Singh Dhillon, as I can read Punjabi. I found lots of short stories, mainly on 5abi.com and rubru.ca. Wow! I can't believe he is from the U.K. as he writes so well! However, the themes could not gave been written by a native Punjabi. If I had these stories to read at A-level Punjabi, I would have enjoyed it much more. That said, I cannot find his books. "Neela Noor" is listed on Amazon from Diggory Press, but they seem to have gone into liquidation. His "Bharind" is supposed to be available from Lahore Books Ludhiana, but I can't see it on their website. Maybe if someone local in India can find out, as this guy deserves to be in print. Is there a U.K. publisher that publishes diaspora books in Punjabi? Roop should approach them, or vice versa. I think if students of Punjabi who don't have the Internet were aware of these modern progressive writings, they would choose this author to study. I loved Kaldaar! It is a shame we don't promote Punjabi books like we do bhangra and films on the diaspora. If we can't read or write Punjabi, we can't call ourselves Punjabis!

7: Satnam (Crawley, United Kingdom ), June 09, 2011, 5:30 AM.

I just read his "Dunga Paani" online. If others in the West follow his example, it could be our second wave of contribution to Punjabi culture, as Bhangra trends set by the U.K. a generation ago, was the first. Superb command of Punjabi and storytelling. Might be one of our great writers in the future. Hope he carries on. Keep rocking.

8: Gurinderjit (West London, United Kingdom ), June 09, 2011, 7:55 AM.

I'm a keen reader and enjoy all manner of books, and having read this interview I would like to congratulate the author Rupinder, on following his dream and becoming a Punjabi author in the United Kingdom. I now wish I could read Punjabi! Keep up the great work, I'm so proud of what you've achieved.

9: Ginde (Isleworth, United Kingdom), June 09, 2011, 7:59 AM.

My mum has one of your books and she commented that she was extremely impressed with your effort. Well done and keep up the good work. Perhaps sikhchic.com will be able to add a link on their site so that interested readers would be able to buy the books directly.

10: Harjot (New Jersey, U.S.A.), June 14, 2011, 4:12 PM.

Roop, your writing is for the intellectuals. Most Punjabi papers cater to the common man, not the intellectuals. It would be great if someone in the diaspora set up a publishing business for people like you.

11: R. Singh (Canada), June 18, 2011, 3:29 PM.

If only we could get over this fetish of calling people "low" caste without the qualifying it with "as per brahmanical laws". By repeating the term 'low' caste, we ourselves keep perpetuating that which is a stupid social engineering construct to begin with, merely to preserve the hegemony of some over others. 'Under-priveleged' is more like it, for no one is of "low caste" by any stretch of imagination. We need not stigmatize people ourselves.

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