- Publisher: Caliber Publication, Patiala, Punjab, India
The stories in ‘Uchian Awazan’ hold a wide range of themes relevant in contemporary Punjabi rural and urban society. With precision, Balijit digs deep into the inner turmoil and conflicts of varied characters. The title story, ‘Noooan’ or ‘Loooan’ (‘Salt’) is a compassionate description of the mundane work of Sudagar, a Chamar (Dalit), his wife Parsini and their family’s grinding poverty. Wanting to have milk and butter for their children, they purchase a weak buffalo calf. They raise it with tenderness. For nearly 12 years, the buffalo has been bearing one calf almost yearly, providing the desperately needed milk. Ecological in scope, the story ends with profound poignancy as the main character is about to skin the dead buffalo which he had raised like his own child. He is sad as he sprinkles salt on the buffalo skin for curing. He faints and collapses on the stretched-out skin. The Gurmukhi jury says the author “elevates the dignity of this poverty stricken family’s difficult work to survive.”
Another story, ‘Sirr Dae Val’ (‘Scalp Hair’) is about the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Delhi. The narration is incredibly original, showing how religious identity in Indian society has been weaponized. Religious symbols themselves become enemies blinding people to each other’s common humanity.
“There is so much magic in Balijit’s words. They become lofty voices giving agency to hidden thoughts. They enrich the enjoyment of reading these stories,” cites the Gurmukh jury.
A quote from the book’s title story, ‘Salt’
“He spread out the buffalo’s skin upside down on top of the pile of cured skins in his barn. For the past eleven to twelve years, he used to enjoy the warm touch of the hairy side of this buffalo. Today he filled a bowl with salt and liberally sprinkled it on the raw hide. In the darkness of the room, he sat down on the skin with legs crossed like in a ‘sukhasna’ pose. Eyes closed. Tears flow as Sudagar remembers the first time he saw the buffalo calf in Dadoo’s animal enclosure. His legs and knees turn feeble, unable to get up.”