Science fiction writing in Punjabi began sometime in the 1970s. In the last five decades, only a few original books and translation works have been published in this field of Punjabi literature. However, in recent years, a new vigor has been observed, thereby, many science fiction stories have been published by several Punjabi writers in various newspapers and magazines within India and abroad. Some writers have also contributed to the development of this field by writing original books as well as by translating the science fiction works of various noted writers of other languages in Punjabi.
In this article, the contributions made by various persons/organizations, for the development of science fiction writings in Punjabi are discussed. The role of various government agencies, institutions and NGOs in this field is also reported. The state of art report for science fiction literature in Punjabi is presented. The role of print/mass media towards its development is discussed. Science fiction writing in Punjabi is in its infancy and has a great potential for writers to make their contributions.
Punjabi, the ‘State language’ of Punjab, emerged as an independent language in the 11th century. During the early 13th century, Baba Farid composed his Slokas and hymns in it. The golden period of Punjabi literature extends from the birth of Guru Nanak (1469) to the passing away of Guru Gobind Singh (1708). Most of the religious and mystic poetry of the period are preserved in the Adi Granth, a great anthology of Bhakti poems. The best in Sanskrit literature was also imbibed in Punjabi through translation works done from 1600 to 1800 A.D. covering the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Bhagavat Gita and Upanishads.
During the period of Mughal Raj, Sikh Raj or British Empire, the official language of the Punjab province was either Urdu or English. Thus Punjabi did not get the official patronage. Even after the independence of India, it could not get official recognition until much later. With the creation of Punjabi Suba in 1966, Punjabi was accorded the status of the state language. During the last 50 years, it has shown a vigorous development in all branches of literature.
Much of our modern way of life is based on science. Science is knowledge, and as Francis Bacon had said, knowledge is power. The common man can’t be empowered without such knowledge. If such knowledge is communicated in the language of the masses, it would be much easier to provide science communication and science popularization, which is a dire need of our times. The Punjabi language has awakened to this need only recently.
The popular science writings in Punjabi are mostly in prose form. About 90% of scientific articles published in newspapers, popular science magazines and books are generally of this genre. Thus, it is the most popular form of writing among the science writers of Punjab. Only a few Science fiction writings in Punjabi have been published to date.
Science Fiction Writings
There is no easy agreement as to when we might date the beginning of science fiction in Punjabi. Some scholars lay claim to Emam Bakhash’s Kissa Shah Behram, published in the first half of the 19th century, as the origin even though it doesn’t meet the definition of Science Fiction outlined by eminent science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.
According to Asimov, “Science Fiction must involve itself with science and technology at least tangentially. It must deal with a society noticeably different from the real one of its time and their difference must involve some change in the level of science and technology. If this is so, science fiction cannot predate popular awareness of the connection between advancing science and technology and social change.”
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English language defines science fiction as “Fiction in which scientific developments and discoveries form a plot or background; especially a work of fiction based on the prediction of future scientific possibilities.” John W. Campbell and fellow writers believed that “Science Fiction has to do with the material universe and sciences; these can include economics, sociology, medicine and suchlike, all of which have a material base.”
Keeping in view the above definitions, Kissa Shah Behram of Emam Bakhash cannot be termed as the work of science fiction rather it is a fantasy, as this literary fiction is characterized by highly fanciful or supernatural elements. The protagonist of the Kissa can become invisible, yet there is no mention of the scientific basis of this invisibility. The central theme of the Kissa is similar to the H. G. Wells novel The Invisible Man, published in the last decade of the 19th century. But it does not satisfy the established norms for a science fiction work.
In the words of L. Ron Hubbard, “It has been surmised that science fiction must come from an age where science exists. Science fiction does not come after the fact of a scientific discovery or development. It is the herald of possibility. It is the plea that someone should work in the future. Yet it is not prophecy. It is the dream that precedes the dawn when the inventor or scientist awakens and goes to his books or his lab saying, ‘I wonder whether I could make that dream come true in the world of real science.’
In the light of the above definition of science fiction, there are notable contributions to the genre of science fiction in Punjabi language during the last five decades. Punjabi authors who have contributed to this emerging field of literature include Amandeep Singh, Jasbir Bhullar, Sukhwant Kaur Maan, Hardev Chauhan, D. P. Singh, Vidwan Singh Soni, Amarjit Singh, Suresh Rattan, Ajmer Sidhu, Rupinderpal Dhillon, Gurnam Grewal, Jasvir Singh Rana and Jasvir Singh Didargarh.
The first science fiction book in Punjabi Tutdey Tareyan Di Dastaan was published in 1989 by Amandeep Singh, a computer expert. The book contains nine stories that describe several scientific topics such as interstellar travels, life on other planets, alien contacts, emotional robots, dangers of asteroids, interplanetary romance and terrorism. Amandeep has published two more science fiction stories Neeli Roshani (2013) and Jivan di Buniaad (2015) in recent years. Neeli Roshani describes an interaction with aliens, whereas Jivan di Buniaad elaborates on a post-apocalypse scenario on the planet Senchy.
Jasbir Bhullar has authored Jagal Tapu (Forest Island)—Part 1 and Part 2—in 1989. Each part contains six stories. Most of these stories describe life in a forest, with animals and birds as the characters in the tales. Some of the stories depict human encroachment of forest-land and its ill effect on the life of forest dwellers. His recent science fiction novellas for children—Baraf da Danav, Pataal De Gith Muthiye and Khamban Vala Kachhukama—are well received by his readers.
Sukhwant Kaur Maan authored Sone Da Rukh in 1991. The book written for children, contains four stories that emphasize the need for the co-existence of humans and forest dwellers. By describing the ill effects of the death of a lake and deforestation, the author has successfully attempted to make the readers aware of their responsibility towards environmental conservation.
Satrang (1991), Dhartiye Ruk Ja (1995) and Robot, Manukh ate Kudrat (1997) are my own contributions to the genre. Satrang (Seven Colours), published by Language Department Punjab, Patiala contains seven stories. In each story, a certain scientific fact or a law informs the actions of the characters. In these stories topics such as law of flotation, discovery of levers, rotation of earth, condition of weightlessness, discovery of electricity, computerization of life and interplanetary travel have been described simply and interestingly.
The three stories contained in Dhartiye Ruk Ja, published by Punjab State University Text-Book Board in 1995, describe what would be if the motion of the earth stops, or the weight of a person or object is lost. Robot, Manukh ate Kudrat contains seven stories for children that describe various scientific facts as well as ideas about time travel, interplanetary travel and robots in an interesting manner.
Vidwan Singh Soni’s Bhiankar Kirale (Dinosaurs) (1995) contains tales from the ancient times when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Written in a simple style, the illustrated book is very informative for children.
Amarjit Singh, a physicist, based in Toronto, Canada, authored an anthology of short stories Chip De Andar in 1997. It contained twelve stories, but only three of these can be classified under the science fiction category. The story titled “Chip De Andar” describes the impact of ‘virtual reality’ on human society. The story “Ik Din Dharti Da” talks about the ill effect of environmental pollution on earth. The story titled “Kali Badali” (Black Cloud) narrates the tale of a nuclear disaster and its disastrous effects on human life.
Suresh Rattan, a biogerontologist, based in Denmark has authored Baba Kithey Gaye? in1997. This novella, written for children, focuses on the topic of aging and death. Akshu, the main character of the story, raises several questions related to birth, aging, and death of living beings. These are answered in an enlightened way by her grandfather and a scientist Uncle.
Ajmer Sidhu edited and published an anthology of stories Narak Kund in 1997. In this book, my story titled “Robot, Man and Nature” explores interplanetary travel, nuclear war, robots’ dominance on earth and the need for co-existence of robots, man and nature.
Hardev Chauhan published Jugnu Phul in 1998, which contains a story—titled “Robot” —about robots and their work.
Ajmer Sidhu’s Khuh Girhda Hai (2004) contains two science fiction stories: “Dinosaurs” and “Dilli de Kingre.” In “Dinosaurs,” he comments on a current social setup where corrupt and selfish leaders, symbolized as dinosaurs, rule over ordinary simple folks. The insatiable greed and hunger of these dinosaurs are described. In “Dilli de Kingre,” Ajmer describes the application of modern scientific technology by the police to perpetuate atrocities on revolutionaries of the contemporary era.
Sidhu’s 2015 book Shayad Rammi Mann Jaye te Hor Kahaniyan features his latest science fiction story, “Kabar vich daphan hazar vareh,” about the human desire to achieve immortality. His science fiction story “Keoota Keoota Tare Tare” (2017) elaborates on the intricacies of the law of inertia.
Rupinderpal Dhillon’s book Bharind (The Hornet, 2011) contains two science fiction stories: “Kaldaar” and “Vikas.” In “Kaldaar,” the author acquaints us with intelligent, thinking and scheming robots. In a futuristic set-up, using robots as a tool, he reflects on the prevalent attitudes towards stratification of society. In Roop’s utopia, robots are treated as low-castes and are politically suppressed, but they ultimately rise aggressively against the system.
In “Vikas,” Dhillon tells a tale of a world at its end, sending out many spacecrafts to look for another habitable planet. With an amazing sweep of imagination, he presents a mix of social and eco-global concerns of the world. As an underlying theme, he presents a mirror to the social ills prevalent in the contemporary Punjabi society. Dhillon has also authored several other science fiction stories such as “Bharind,” “Dunga Pani,” and “Chori Da Natija” during 2007-2010, describing metamorphism and alien life.
My science fiction anthology Samen de Vehan (The Flux of Time) features twenty stories that cover a wide range of topics such as interplanetary travels, search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, emotional and artistic robots, time travel, relativity, multiverse, genetic mutations, cryogenics and resurrection of life. The socio-economic impact of the advancement of technology on human society is depicted.
All these stories have earlier been published in various Punjabi newspapers internationally, including The Punjabi Daily, Canada, and Parvasi Weekly, Canada during 2010-12. Pukheroo, a children magazine, edited and published by Ashraf Suhail of Punjabi Bal Adbi Board, Lahore, Pakistan, have published several science fiction stories in Shamukhi (Punjabi) during 2016-18. Some of these include my own contributions: “Tohfa,” “Ek Navi Dharti,” “Chahat,” “Pani de putle” and “Bahroopia.”
My latest science fiction stories “Kepler Grah de Ajab Vashinde,” and “Bhatkan” have been published in Aks magazine, Delhi, India, and Parvasi Weekly newspaper, Canada, during 2018. These stories relate to interplanetary travel and extraterrestrial intelligence.
Jasvir Singh Didargarh’s 2019 anthology of environmental stories Pavan Guru Pani Pita contains thirteen stories. All the stories, while successfully portraying the current environmental crisis, depict an alarming scenario for the near future. Another science fiction writer, Tipu Sultan Makhdoom, Lahore, Pakistan has authored a science fiction story “Machini Athroo” in 2019 about emotional robots.
With advent of Dharatstan (2008), the first science fiction novel in Punjabi by Gurnam Grewal, UK has led to the dawn of new era in Punjabi science fiction writings. In this novel, Grewal describes impact of the loss of sun on the life on earth. Another science fiction novel Etho Registan disda hai, by Jasvir Singh Rana, was published in 2017. It deals with the contemporary as well as futuristic ill effects of environmental crisis.
In 2018, Rupinderpal Dhillon published a dystopian novel Samurai, which includes time travel and a future society under dictatorship with sophisticated technology. His other novel Chita te Kala, which includes physical operations using technology, leading to changing white people to brown and vice versa, is forthcoming next.
Recently, some of the Punjabi writers have started writing plays. The volunteers of Taraksheel Society, Punjab have enacted the play Te Dev Purash Haar Gaye several times all over Punjab. The play portrays the ill effects of superstitions and shams prevalent in modern society.
In 2007, I wrote a play title Rukh, Manukh te Vatavarn about environmental awareness. It was performed by students of National Public School Passiwal, Ropar in their annual function, and was well received by the audience. In 2013, Mandeep Singh Aujla wrote and directed a short drama Aab; it is a story of the awakening of the human race to the significance of water in their life.
In 2019, Punjabi Bal Adbi Board, Lahore, Pakistan published my book Satrangi Peengh te hor Natak in Shahmukhi (Punjabi). Transliterated in Shahmukhi by Ashraf Suhail, it contains eleven environmental plays. As only few science-based plays have been published to date in the Punjabi language, work on science-based Nukarh Natak (skits), radio and television serial scripts remain scarce.
Unfortunately, Punjabi films still largely focus on beliefs in the unbelievable: fantasy rather than science fiction. Consequently, anything is possible in Punjabi’s mythical films. In May 2018, ‘Raduaa’,the firstPunjabi science fiction film (as claimed in the media), directed by and starring Nav Bajwa was released. The film’s plot is based upon how a scientific experiment unexpectedly results in time travel from the present day to 1955.
Fortunately, several Punjabi Newspapers and magazines publish original/translated science fiction stories from time to time. In general, the themes of the Punjabi science fiction range from hard science fiction elements to the light fantasy.
Some of the writers have translated science fiction works of other languages in Punjabi as well. The main role in encouraging such work is being played by National Book Trust, New Delhi, Sahitya Academy, New Delhi and Punjab State University Text-book Board, Chandigarh.
In 1973, B. S. Batra translated George Gamow’s Mr. Tompkins Explores the Atom. The book, published by Punjab State University Text-Book Board, Chandigarh, deals in various aspects of atoms in an entertaining manner.
In 1993, Gulwant Farigh translated The Legend of Planet Surprise authored by Tajima Shinji. The Punjabi edition was published by Sahitya Academy, New Delhi.
Karanjit Singh translated It happened Tomorrow authored by renowned science fiction writer Bal Phondke in 1992. The Punjabi version of the book was published by National Book Trust, New Delhi in 1995. The book contains nineteen stories that are quite diverse and have a refreshing mix of male, female, adult and child protagonists. They explore how people are affected by minor and major changes in prevalent technology, and consider the political, social and even spiritual ramifications of an altered present or future.
I have also translated, edited and published an anthology of science fiction stories Bhawikh Di Pairh in 2003. The book contains twelve stories written by eminent science writers such as Isaac Asimov (“Sacha Piar”), Jayant V. Narlikar (“Maha Nagar di Maut”), G.P. Phodke (“Pound of Flesh”), Dilip M. Salwi (“Chetavani-Samen di Salvat di”), Amarjit Singh (“Kali Badli”), Neeru Sharma (“Dhund Gubar”), Parvin Kumar (“Chan Ute Manukh di Talash”), Sonia Bhatacharia (“Kaal Chakar”), Yogesh S. Soman (“Pehli Janvari, 3001”), Ajmer Sidhu (“Dinosaurs”), Amandeep Singh (“Machine ate Manukh”) and D. P. Singh (“Dharti Aapo Aapni,” “Khabat,” “Parampara,” and “Parakh”).
The settings of these stories are quintessentially Indian – a Mumbaiwala worrying about the increasing chaos and environmental pollution in the city (“Mahanagar di Maut”). An unexpected ice age befalls Delhi in “Chetavani-Same di Salvat di.” The protagonists are Indian not because of their “otherness” or exotic traits, but because, naturally, emerging technology should take place in their milieu.
The translation and publication of popular science works in Punjabi is only at a preliminary stage. In 2013, David Downie and Tea Seroya published the Punjabi edition of David and Jacko: The Janitor and The Serpent. During 2019, Mollusca Press, UK published Punjabi translation of four science fiction novels by three internationally renowned science fiction writers: H. G. Wells’ two novels Time Machine and The Island of Dr. Moreau, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novel A Princess of Mars, and Edwin A. Abbott’s novel Flatland.
Science fiction in the Punjabi language remains in infancy. Both emerging and established writers and publishers should focus their attention on this field to enrich the language. Government organizations, non-government organizations and private publishers should help and encourage the science writers of Punjabi by publishing and promoting their science fiction works.
- D. P. Singh, ‘Science Fiction Writings in Punjabi’, Proc. 8th Conference of Indian Science Fiction Writers’ Association (ISFWA), Aurangabad, 11- 12 Nov. 2006 https://www.academia.edu/6878294/On_Science_Fiction_Writings_in_Punjabi_Language