A Chilliwack author has been recognized on a global level for excellence in Punjabi literature.
Harkirat Kaur Chahal of Chilliwack was one of two finalists in the Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature for her novel Aadam-Grehan (Humanity’s Eclipse) which is about gender identification.
She was also the first woman to win the award, and the only Canadian among this year’s three winners.
The Dhahan Prize was established in Vancouver and is named after Canadian Punjabi businessman, Barj Singh Dhahan. It promotes Punjabi literature on a global scale by awarding $25,000 annually to the best book of fiction published in either Gurmukhi or Shahmukhi scripts, along with two additional finalist prizes of $10,000.
“These Dhahan Prize winning books touch upon the themes of memory, loss, pain, trauma from abuse and violence, and the long journey of hope and healing,” Barj Singh Dhahan said.
Chahal was one of the two finalists who was awarded $10,000, along with fellow finalist Zubair Ahmad of Pakistan. The winner of the best book was Kesra Ram of India, who won the $25,000.
“Dhahan Prize is thrilled to be making history in awarding for the first time a female author Ms. Harkirat Kaur Chahal for her ground-breaking novel Aadam-Grehan,” Dhahan said. “This novel is a gripping account of human longing for intimacy, belonging and acceptance by those who are marginalized and oppressed due to their ambiguous gender identification.”
The Dhahan Prize is the largest literary award in South Asia’s indigenous languages celebrating the rich history of the Punjabi literature. The prize aims to inspire the creation of Punjabi literature across borders, bridging Punjabi communities around the world, and promoting Punjabi literature on a global scale. It has been established by the Canada India Education Society in partnership with the Department of Asian Studies in the Faculty of Arts at University of British Columbia, and is funded by Barj and Rita Dhahan, and family and friends.
About the book Aadam-Grehan by Harkirat Kaur Chahal:
Aadam-Grehan (Humanity’s Eclipse) is a daring and heart-wrenching account of the despair and longings of Meera, an intersex individual and Chirag, a child she raises as her own in a Khusra community. Khusras, ‘the third gender’ in India and Pakistan, are marginalized and often abused people who are hermaphrodites, transgender, intersex individuals, transvestites and eunuchs.
The story starts with a Muslim family of Salman and her husband Nazamuddin and their three sons and a daughter in the village of Aligarh in the District of Malerkotla, Indian Punjab. Their fifth child is born at home. “Neither boy nor girl” sadly says the wizened mid-wife Nand Kaur to Nazamuddin. A devastating news for the parents. Nazamuddin freezes in shock, fear, and shame. But the parents embrace the child as a gift from Allah and keep Ameeran’s secret hidden.
As she grows older her brothers notice that she is different. Ameeran is forced to leave home and joins a colony of Khusras. Her name is changed to Meera. Soon the maternity ward of a local hospital calls and she goes to receive an intersex baby whom she names Chirag. She raises him with love and tenderness and hopes of a bright future. Chirag goes to school and college where he is repeatedly abused, raped, and catches Aids. He dies having just completed a law degree. Meera mourns his death in an ecstatic Sufi whirling dance and song ritual. And she dies, finally finding freedom.
Chahal holds a B. Sc. from Agriculture University, Ludhiana and B. Ed. From the College of Agriculture. She and her family have lived in Canada since 2005.