Prof Pritam Singh’s legacy

“This is Prof Pritam Singh,” said the voice on the phone.

Ji, Professor Sahib,” I replied, even as I instinctively sat up in my chair. I was talking to a legendary scholar whose work spanned fiction, autobiography and scholarly studies of the ancient Punjabi manuscripts.

He was calling me regarding his latest book: Sri Guru Granth Sahib Wale Sheikh Farid di Bhal. Even as I marvelled at the person who was so mentally agile at 90, I congratulated him on finishing a work that had been so long in the making. We had been out of touch for a while and this call came earlier this year. With it we renewed a relationship that had begun by his carrying me in his lap.

Prof Pritam Singh spent the next few minutes reminiscing about my parents, Giani Gurdit Singh and Mrs Inderjit Kaur; he spoke about newspaper articles on current affairs, Punjab and the Punjabi language.

Although he had Master’s degrees in English (1940), Persian (1941) and Oriental Learning (1941) from Panjab University, Lahore, Prof Pritam Singh was totally committed to Punjabi language and literature. He joined Government Mahendra College, Patiala in 1950 as the first Head of the Post-Graduate Department of Punjabi and taught there along with Principal Teja Singh and Prof Gulwant Singh. Prof Pritam Singh retired as Professor, Department of Guru Nanak Studies, from Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, where his son Jai Rup Singh is Vice-Chancellor now.

Honours came his way, but not as many as he deserved. He was awarded the Doordarshan Panj Pani Sanman (2005), Shiromani Sahitkar award (1998) by the Languages Department, Punjab, and a Honoris Causa D-Lit degree by Panjab University and Honorary Professorship by San Jose University, CA, USA.

Prof Pritam Singh wrote a two-volume autobiography Kachian Pakian de Bhaa and his collection of biographical sketches, Murtan, was much discussed. He also wrote for children, and in order to enthuse such writing, he had instituted an award in the name of his mother. His works in children’s literature have been translated in many languages.

In writing Sri Guru Granth Sahib Wale Sheikh Farid di Bhal, Prof Pritam Singh brought out his research on a subject that he had been working on for decades. He was involved in writing and literary activities till the last, even as he fought age-related physical infirmities.

Prof Pritam Singh was a teacher, a writer and a linguist. To him goes much credit for modern and scientific study of Punjabi language and literature, and for shaping the life of many students and scholars.

We had been exchanging calls with each other. He wanted to discuss some issues, to share memories about my parents and his interaction with them. He said he would like me to visit him and I promised to do so.

This was not to be. Dr Mohinder Singh of Delhi called me to say that the last scholar of an era of giants had left us.

Many dons, students and friends will remember Prof Pritam Singh and proudly recall their association with this scholar. As for others, he has left behind a rich body of written work that will ensure that his legacy lives on.

—Roopinder Singh

This article was published in The Tribune on October 28, 2008.