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Portrait of an Artist

Rumina Sethi

Edited by Tejwant Singh Gill
Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 578, Rs. 300.00


Owing to the inordinate emphasis on English writing in India, there has been hardly any perceptible recognition of writings in other Indian languages. Recently, Sahitya Akademi has published two big volumes comprising selected writings of individual authors. One of them contains portions from the novels, short stories, and prose-writings of Mulk Raj Anand. During his long life spanning almost a century, Anand wrote a lot in magnitude. Whether this magnitude is commensurate with variety is however doubtful. Or so it seems when we compare it with the other volume comprising the writings of Sant Singh Sekhon, termed “the most innovative writer” by Tejwant Singh Gill, its editor, who has produced an indispensable collection from Sekhon’s enormous repertoire of Punjabi literature. The volume may be divided into two groups: half of it comprises Tejwant Gill’s translations of Sekhon’s short stories, one-act plays, one full-length play, excerpts from his autobiography and articles on diverse aspects of history, culture and society; the other half contains Sekhon’s English poems and literary criticism, a full-length play, excerpts from a novel and samples of Sekhon’s own translations into English. There is a fidelity in the section consisting of the translation of Sekhon’s works which is indicative of the inherent correspondence in the mode of writing of both the writer and his editor.   Sekhon was a Punjabi writer of the generation of Mohan Singh and the legendary Amrita Pritam. Unlike them, he started his literary career as a writer of English. A votary of W. B. Yeats for his poetic span and of Gerald Hopkins for his style, Sekhon sought to write poems with W. H. Auden’s intellectual vigour and Stephen Spender’s lyrical angst in mind. Several of these poems appeared in New Verse and Modern Poetry. In all, Sekhon wrote more than one hundred poems, of which 27 are included in this volume. The interlocutor in them is always the Punjabi male, aspiring to be liberated and libertine. At the same time, he is anti-colonial and anti-imperial, conscious of the fact that his poetic discourse should be distinctive not only in form and content but in style and accent as well. The full-length play, Eve at Bay was also written around this time. With Gandhi’s Non-cooperation movement in the background, it explores the paradoxes that have become part of the social and marital relations at that historical juncture. ...

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