Zubair Ahmad wins Dhahan International Literature Punjabi Prize

Zubair Ahmad wins Dhahan International Literature Punjabi PrizeDhahan prizes for Punjabi literature announced


Avtar S Billing Vancouver’s Barj Dhahan is doing what he can to preserve the Punjabi language, not only in Canada but around the globe.

According to Dhahan, the United Nations has claimed Punjabi is at risk of extinction within the next 50 years because of the dominance of English, so as co-founder of the Canada-India Education Society (CIES), he launched the annual Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature, which sees $25,000 go to a modern Punjabi writer each year.

In its inaugural year, CIES received about 70 submissions from five different countries.

On Wednesday, CIES announced the grand prize winner — Indian and U.S.-based writer Avtar Singh Billing, for his novel Khali Khoohaan di Katha (The Story of Empty Wells).

Jasbir Bhullar“Punjabi speakers have been in B.C. for over 115 years now,” Dhahan told Vancouver Desi on Friday. “Punjabi has very much become a Canadian language and the community is very dynamic and well-established, so we thought this would be a wonderful way of honouring the Punjabi presence in Canada for all these years.”

While many writers’ associations, in both Punjabi and English, already exist in B.C., the Dhahan prize is global in scope, honouring Punjabi novelists and short-story writers across the world, in an attempt to “preserve and promote the rich literary heritage of the Punjabi language,” while also inspiring readership among the younger generations, said Dhahan.

Two runner-up prizes of $5,000 each were also awarded to India’s Jasbir Bhullar, author of Ik Raat da Samunder and Pakistan’s Zubair Ahmed, author of Bnairy te Galian.

Zubair AhmadThe Dhahan Prize is funded by an endowment from Dhahan and his wife Rita, family and friends. The awards are handed out in partnership with UBC’s Department of Asian Studies.

The winners will read from their books in Punjabi, with an English translation, at a public reading event at SFU Surrey on Oct. 24 at 6:30 p.m. According to Dhahan, the winning books will also be translated into English.

The Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature will begin accepting submissions for 2015 in early January.



Short story writer, poet and academic Zubair Ahmad’s book ‘Kabootar, Banairay Tey Galian’ remained a runner-up in Dhahan International Literature Punjabi Prize.

The award was launched by Barj S. Dhahan, a Canada-based businessman who was born in Punjab but moved to Canada in 1967. The prize will be awarded by his organisation — Canada India Education Society (CIES) in partnership with the University of British Columbia. The prize was launched in Lahore in November 2013 and is being given to Punjabi books written in two scripts, Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi.

Avtar Singh Billing’s novel ‘Khali Khoohan Di Katha’ won the first prize worth 25,000 Canadian dollars. Zubair Ahmed remained runner-up in Shahmukhi, winning 5,000 Canadian dollars along with ‘Ek Raat Da Samunder’, a collection of short stories by Jasbir Bhullar.

Announcing the prize, the jury said, “An important theme of Zubair’s stories is time; how it changes or transforms things, making the alive dead and the dead alive. But being a fiction writer, he does not conceive of time in abstraction. Rather we see time in terms of its effects, the pervasive marks it leaves on all aspects of life, both individual and collective.

“In his stories the forgotten past appears as a known and familiar territory, and the unforgettable present becomes a path leading to a deviously uncertain and uncertainly devious nowhere. It is there that his characters dwell. Nostalgia evokes dreams and dreams beget nostalgia. Sensitively constructed stories with artistic care reveal what we live with at both a conscious and sub-conscious level, connected to a past we think we have lost, and disconnected from a future we have yet to understand.”

It is rather strange that Zubair Ahmad, an assistant professor of English at Islamia College, finds his voice in Punjabi which shows his commitment towards his mother tongue. The first collection of his poetry ‘Dam Yad Nah Keeta’ was published in 1996. Another poetry collection by him ‘Sadd’ came out in print in 2012. But it is his short stories that are more close to his heart.

He says he is a ‘timid poet’ and his short stories got more popular among the readers, overshadowing his poetry. So far he has published two short-story collections, the first, ‘Meenh, Boohey tey Barian’ was published in 2001 while ‘Kabootar, Banairey Tey Galian’ first came in Gurmukhi in India in 2008 and then in Shahmukhi in Lahore this year.

Zubair spent his childhood and youth in Krishan Nagar area of Lahore and he could never forget the place and its magical aura. The title story of his collection ‘Kabootar, Banairay Te Galian’ is based on his own home and its pigeonhole.

Talking about his short story, he says it is based on commitment and betrayal, commitment by the poor and betrayal by the rich, and property owning class. Kabootar devoured by the cat are symbols of people, rooftops in the story represent fleeting time.

Zubair says every writer has his locale where he finds enough space to weave his stories and his locale is the place of his childhood and youth. He says his nostalgia is not escape from the present rather his stories are based more on stream of consciousness as he builds up a tension in the story or a kind of problem and goes in the past to find its causes and ultimate solution.

Zubair will travel to Canada to receive the prize on Oct 25.



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