60 seconds with Punjabi Writer – Roop Dhillon
Name: Rupinderpal Singh Dhillon
British born and raised Punjabi Sikh Writer and Accountant
Location: Reigate, Surrey
Topic: Punjabi Literature
How do you define personal development (PD)?
For me personal development can take three forms: One’s own goals in context of the selfish self, spiritual development and in context of sewa to society and one’s own family. Overall though it is about maximizing one’s potential as a human.
Selfishly I have taken the path, despite having a family to provide for, take time to learn about Sikhi and learn the Punjabi language and write in it, which of course is a cost benefit decision, weighing family against the self.
Spiritual development has a consequence taken a very different path from what I ever expected. My view on what it meant to be a Sikh, prior to the influence of Punjabi Literature is poles apart from the humanist perspective I now have. That has been my spiritual development in the context of being a Sikh.
Sewa wise, I like to think what I have given to British born Sikhs is an example of how it is still possible to attach oneself to one’s heritage and then use it to voice our feelings.
What got you interested in this writing in Punjabi?
Purely accidental. I originally meant to write a novel in English about Sikhs in Maharaja Ranjit’s time, in the same manner Dumas wrote the Musketeers. However this path meant investigating Sikhism and just by chance led me to learning Gurmukhi. I then thought to myself what can I do with this? The idea that kids in the UK who learn Punjabi could not relate to the subject matter of Punjabi Literature and my own desire to make practical use of this new skill lead me here.
I was in my mid thirties when I learnt Punjabi, and self taught by making many mistakes. My greatest ally was the internet. Initially I was derided. but now I think I am becoming accepted as something other than a freak of nature. This is proof to all Sikhs who want to learn that it can be done.
I was also fed up of the negative image of British Sikhs in Punjabi Literature as drug addicted, loose living alcoholics who have no idea about what it is to be Punjabi, Sikh or Indian. I wanted to do, what we are already doing in English, write positively about British Sikhs, and our views to balance out the false views and exaggerated views depicted in Punjabi about NRIs and Valaitis.
I am also experimenting in areas never dealt with by Punjabi writers before, including Science Fiction, Surrealism and manipulation of Punjabi Syntax.
I did have a novel published in the UK in 2007, Neela Noor, and another one has been sitting on the shelf of unscrupulous publisher in India. But I am hoping all my writings on the net will be published in the next two months in book form in India.
I think I am one of only 2 or 3 Sikhs born and raised in the west who have contributed to Punjabi Literature. That is sewa I am proud of. The book is Bharind and will be available from Lahore Books, Ludhiana
How does your writing relate to Sikhi?
The obvious connection I think is the use of the Gurmukhi alphabet, which is the script that all the languages present in the Adi Granth are written in. If my books actually develop practical reason to read Punjabi amongst the minority of western Sikhs who learn Punjabi, it may also along with good Punjabi lessons from teachers and internet, give them the ability to read the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Being Punjabi and Sikh is like nau maas relationship.
What are your stories about?
Sikhism was one of the first movements to deal with many social and religious ills, Sadly in practice, even after 500 years of Sikhism, in practice Punjabis don’t actually implement these ideals, many of which pre dated western advance thought.
Caste still exists (within Sikhs), Gender Bias (which really contradicts Sikhism), and murder of baby girls, and a shallow allegiance to the 5 K’s, when 95% of what is in the Guru Granth is ignored or not understood. I apply all this to my stories, even the ones about robots and aliens.
Hidden amongst all of my work and sometimes blatantly in one’s face, are issues of racism, gender bias, incest (it does happen) and caste. All of which was wiped out by Guru Gobind Singh on creation of the Khalsa, but we only pay lip service to. For example, all 5 Piare were of low caste, no Jat had the guts to get up, and yet look at how jats treat all other Sikhs.
So although my stories have space ships, I-pods, talking octopuses, drug addicts turning into wasps, nameless Sikh warriors walking into towns and beating up baddies, there is a social conscience. I have to admit I am at the moment between a rock and hard place, because the natural readers for this are western born Sikhs, who can only read English, whilst the ones who can read the language, are at best bemused, worst disinterested.
On Punjabzm I have discovered a market of young Punjabis in India, who get it. They are internet savvy, many professionals. Fingers crossed, one day those in the UK may take up their heritage language as something more than to swear in, or speak to parents in!