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Above: Gurbax Singh, photographed by Amarjit Singh Chandan in Preet Nagar, 1973.

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Saving Preetlari

NIRUPAMA DUTT

 

 

 

"Readers would stand on their terraces, looking for the postman who would bring their copy of Preetlari," says Punjabi writer Gulzar Singh Sandhu, commenting on the great yesteryear popularity of the monthly magazine.

"To be published in Preetlari meant that you had made it as a writer," adds short fiction writer Mohan Bhandari.

Late Ram Sarup Ankhi, novelist, confessed to stealing Preetlari from the letterbox of a neighbour in Barnala.

Such was its pull.

Its decline began with the death of its founder-editor Gurbax Singh Preetlari (1895–1977), but it has survived the onslaught of time.

This is no mean task, whereas other popular Punjabi magazines like Mohan Singh’s Punj Dariya, Bhapa Pritam Singh’s Arasi or Amrita Pritam’s Nagmani are now a thing of the past.

Readers have issues with its content and quality as of now but it has survived and there are no two opinions on the fact that it was the forerunner of a movement of literary magazines in Punjabi. It is for this reason that first an offer came from P.C. Joshi Library at the JN University in New Delhi and then Mushirul Hasan, who was Director of the National Archives till recently, approved its acquisition.

At an intimate function in the premises of the Archives on Janpath, New Delhi, issues of the magazine covering a period of 24 years, were formally handed over and the others are to follow.

According to Poonam Singh, Editor, "Preetlari has seen many ups and downs but we have somehow survived and by doing so also kept alive the secular and progressive values it stood for."

This magazine, multi-lingual at first, was started by Gurbax Singh -- sometimes spelled Gurbakhash -- a US-educated Civil Engineer in 1933. He also set up a cultural village named Preet Nagar, at a spot equidistant from Lahore and Amritsar. The magazine’s name was suffixed to his own name.

Preet Nagar had the best of litterateurs and artists of the times associated with it. To name but a few: Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Balraj Sahni, Sahir Ludhianvi, Nanak Singh, Amrita Pritam, Balwant Gargi, Upendra Nath Ashq, Sobha Singh and Mohan Singh.

It may have become Punjab’s own Shantiniketan but for the Partition of Punjab in 1947. It was cut off from Lahore and reduced to a border village in the Indian part of Punjab.

The magazine continued and so did the founder’s popularity among the readers but its English, Urdu and Hindi editions closed down.

It then passed to the Gurbax Singh’s writer son, Navtej Singh, after his father’s death -- who died young of cancer -- and his son Sumeet Singh, who tried to keep it alive against all odds, but was himself killed in 1984 when he was barely 30.

Sumeet’s wife Poonam, still in her twenties, decided to carry on with it, saying: "Preetlari still has a lot of blood to shed, so what if Sumeet is gone."

In a few years, remarried to Sumeet’s younger brother, the two steered it together.

Gulzar Singh informs: "Former Chief Secretary, Punjab, late P.H. Vaishnav, put it on terra firma by establishing a trust."

A corpus fund of Rs 2.5 million was sanctioned by the Punjab Government and the interest could be utilised for its publication.

"The old glory may not be there but Poonam has bravely gone on with the task," says Bhandari.

It remains to be seen if Gen-next will enthuse it with fresh vision and thought. To steer it to a hundred years or even more. Amen!

 

[Courtesy: Tribune. Edited for sikhchic.com]

June 30, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 30, 2013, 4:59 PM.

This has opened the floodgate of memories. I was a subscriber of Preet-Lari and had already read a number of Gurbax Singh's books, including his autobiography in two volumes. His idealistic Preet Nagar was a well known haven for all manners and shapes of celebrated writers, poets and artists due to his personal charisma ... attracting the likes of Balraj Sahni, Nanak Singh, Amrita Pritam and several others including the celebrated painter, Sobha Singh. Unfortunately the Partition of Punjab took a heavy toll and then, with the passing away of Gurbax Singh in 1977, began the slide. Today Preet Nagar is but a mere shadow of a mystical Camelot.

2: Harinder Pal Singh (Patiala, Punjab), July 01, 2013, 3:34 AM.

Not to forget "Bal Sandesh" - A super mag for kids at that time! I suspect it bred the love for reading in most of us kids of our generation. The style and content was lucid and spell-binding. So was Preetlari and the urge to sneak a quick look mostly because its views were ahead of its times. Gurbax Singh was a votary of free love!

3: Harminder Singh (Jalandhar, Punjab), July 01, 2013, 5:11 AM.

During my college days, I used to purchase Preet-Lari regularly from my meagre pocket money. S. Gurbax Singh ji's articles were very encouraging and worth reading.

4: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), July 02, 2013, 6:04 PM.

I was a regulr subscriber of Preetlari during my high school and college years. In my later life, I was of the conclusion that it made its readers lose faith in God. When I started reading Guru Granth Sahib, then I knew the difference. I read Gurbux Singh's autobiography. He was a man of deep faith who took a small copy of Guru Granth Sahib with him in his allowed baggage when posted in Iraq. But later on, becoming a card holder of the Communist Party, he lost faith in the existence of God.

5: Amarjit Singh Chandan (Ealing, United Kingdom), July 06, 2013, 1:54 AM.

Gurbakhsh Singh was never ever a card holding member of the Indian communist party and he never lost faith in the existence of God either.

6: Bikramjit Singh (London, United Kingdom), July 06, 2013, 8:59 AM.

It is sad if a literary magazine which has such a long history, winds down. However, we need to be aware that this magazine is probably responsible for the large number of atheist communists, both keshadhari and otherwise, who sit on the committees of gurdwaras at various places. I would be interested to know if the magazine, during the dark decades of the 80s and 90s, ever wrote anything critical of the governments of the day or did it hide behind the label of being a 'literary' magazine.

7: Poonam Singh (India), July 14, 2013, 12:28 PM.

God comes from the word 'khud' -- literally, 'self' -- i.e., Khuda ... God ... Gott ... are the same. So anything born by no mother but by itself, such as nature itself, is God. Who can be an atheist then?

8: Bhupinder Rai (Jalandhar, Punjab ), August 24, 2018, 9:24 PM.

Being a student of Journalism, I feel that Preetlari must be preserved. Hats off to Mrs Poonam Singh for steering the way forward.

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