Cultural Round-up 2020

Lalit Gupta
We will never forget the year 2020. Tales of the pandemic that swept through the world and stayed will be recounted to the younger generations. In this year, where more than 17 lakh people succumbed to the corona virus, scarring their families forever, night curfews, the prohibition of public gatherings, shutting of businesses leaving lakhs unemployed, trapped away from homes, jobless migrants walking thousands of miles on foot, but there were also a few things that we will cherish when we look back on 2020.
The post-pandemic scenario was marked by the disruption of the ‘normal’ rhythms of life. Among other things, it dramatically affected the practice and exhibition of the major forms of cultural expressions. Confined to homes, the artists and artistes, poets and writers and performers found solace and a new kind of freedom in showcasing their works on social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc. Online exhibitions, concerts, literary meets have become the ‘new normal’ virtual spaces with an enormous reach.
Many social media groups launched by cultural activists have become effective platforms to voice their concerns about the neglect of natural and man-made heritage by successive governments. A number of webinars held by such groups have brought focus on the criminal neglect of tangible and intangible heritage. The citizens’ candid expose has called attention to the lack of vigorous policies for showcasing local crafts. The continuing cold-shouldering of the tourism potential of Kishtwar, Bhadarwah, and other highland valleys of Poonch, Rajouri, has put the heritage, pilgrimage, eco, and adventure sports tourism on the backburner. Posting of telltale pictures by the members of such groups on the internet has left many in the authority to scurry and take prompt actions.

Before talking about notable achievers of this year let’s pay homage to the legendary personality of Nilamber Dev Sharma who bid final adieu this year. Former Secretary of J&K Cultural Academy and President of Dogri Sanstha, he was a gentleman to the core. His life was saga of dedication to cause of the recognition and promotion of Dogri as a modern language. The foremost Urdu poet of Jammu Arsh Sehbai (Hans Raj Abrol), popular in the sub-continent as the master of Gazal passed away leaving behind a rich corpus of Urdu poetry.
Awards and Honours: Sahitya Akademi Award: AWAITED
National Translation Award: Well known Dogri writer, Dr. Rattan Lal Basotra was bestowed with Sahitya Akademi’s national award for Translation-2019 (announced in Feb. 2020) for his Dogri translation ‘Satisar Di Kahani of ChandraKanta’s Hindi novel Katha Satisar.
Ram Nath Shashtri Award: The coveted Prof. Ram Nath Shashtri Memorial Award was presented under the aegis of Dogri Sanstha to Col. Raaz Manawari for his book ‘Haamb’, a collection of Dogri Ghazals and Rubais.
Kunwar Viyogi Memorial Award: Veteran Dogri poet and writer, Ved Rahi was awarded under the aegis of Dogri Sanstha, the Kunwar Viyogi Memorial Award instituted by Kunwar Viyogi Trust.
State Award: Eminent Urdu fiction writer, poet, critic, Balraj Bakshi , was honored by J&K UT Govt. with State Award for his contribution to the Urdu. Jatinder Udhampuri was honored by Gandhi global family for his outstanding contributions in the field of literature and social service.
Narendra Bharti, a researcher working in National Translation Mission, has been selected for the prestigious Sahapedia-UNESCO Research Fellowship 2020 for his project titled ‘Baolies of Udhampur and Naga Worship’.
Films: Internationally acknowledged creative filmmaker of the 21st century and pride of Jammu, Amit Dutta continued to make films that are eagerly awaited at the prestigious international screenings. His new film Tape-39 was premiered at Cinema Du Reel, Paris. Two films were shown in the exhibition at UC Berkeley which explored the Intersection of the Folk and the Modern in Postcolonial India. A book- ‘Modernism by Other Means: The films of Amit Dutta’ by Srikanth Srinivasan was published. The Inimitable Image – an Amit Dutta retrospective was held by MUBI (India and US). In a Special tribute to Amit Dutta, the Ca’ Foscari Short Film Festival- Venice, Italy, held a special screening of his films. His film, ‘The Game of Shifting Mirrors’ was premiered at Viennale (Vienna International Film festival).
The sons of the soil, Rahit Kazami and Tariq Khan, also kept their calendar ticking with the shooting of the feature film ‘Am I Next’. Tariq Khan acted and produced eight Web series. Sameer Sharma, the talented cinematographer directed the highly acclaimed film ‘Nighebaan’ on stone-pelting. He is the DoP in Baljit Raina directed the feature film ‘Funtasiyan’. His other works include a film by the police department on Drugs (white powder) Ujadta Chaman, a Gojri film for international film festival ‘Ya Roodiyan’ and bio-pic of Prof. Chaman Lal Gupta, directed by Late Shiv Dutt.
Young Talent: Number of young persons from Jammu province have made name in the entertainment industry. Amongst those doing well in serials and TV Shows telecast by the national Satellite Channels are young actors like Mohit Raina, Saheer Sheikh from Bhadarwah, Mohit Sharma, Dinesh Dogra. Kirti Singh, daughter of Violin maestro Bahadur Singh bagged honours in Poster Painting competition held by DAV University Zoological Society. Varsha Jamwal , the young singing sensation also made her mark in national-level TV talent show.
Duggar Siblings: Ruhi Singh and Juhi Singh, the son, and daughter duo of veteran vocalist Suraj Singh won hearts of a large number of viewers for their creative song videos posted on their YouTube Ruhi Juhi Channel. Their songs like ‘Kadon Jaana tu Coroneya’, were instant hits and garnered thousands of views.
Heritage Warriors: The absence of departments of archeology, folk studies, ethnography in various state universities, has resulted in total lack of local technical resource persons to take care of documentation and preservation of heritage. Coupled with cash strapped inactive state department of Archaeology and Museums, the onus to safeguard heritage and drawing the attention of the authorities has befallen upon diehard culture enthusiasts; the heritage warriors. Anil Pabha , is one such heritage warrior. An amateur explorer and art collector, from Udhampur, he has single-handedly established Amar Santosh Museum at Udhampur. Anil Pabha has played a pivotal role in urging the Govt. to preserve holy river Devika and freshw ater springs of Udhampur. Another heritage warrior is Kirpal Singh, the force behind the NGO Heritage Society. He conducts Heritage Walks within the Mubarak Mandi Complex. His NGO organizes webinars to spread Heritage awareness. Lalit Gupta’s book titled ‘Intangible Heritage of Jammu’, first of its kind in English, a J&K Academy publication was a late arrival but was seen as making a brisk sale.
Amazing Jammu: The unique initiative of Amazing Jammu group started by young journalist Harry Walia has brought together the tourism stakeholders, artists, writers, bloggers, adventure enthusiasts, policy planners, journalists, illustrators, archaeologists, historians, heritage experts, mountaineers, advertisers, corporates from all over the Jammu region. Providing a platform for a serious discussion on tourism, art, culture, crafts, and identity of Jammu, Amazing Jammu Group has organized webinars on tourism, culture and heritage including rural tourism, Mubarak Mandi Restoration, adventure tourism potential in Jammu, working towards resurrection and recognition of the distinct and unique identity of Jammu. The group members have contributed immensely to the cultural landscape by creating digital posters, illustrations, creatives, video clips, articles, write-ups, books and social media posts.

Cultural Academy: The official cultural content creator of J&K was forced to put on hold all its field activities due to the Pandemic. Abhinav Theatre, the winter capital’s premier performance space also wore a deserted look. Cultural Academy’s offices at Rajouri, Doda, and Kathua witnessed negligible activities. However, the publication program of Academy’s languages sections in Dogri, Hindi, Punjabi, Pahari and Gojari has continued in full swing.
DOGRI: With new education policy clearing the way for the mother tongues as a medium of instruction at the primary school level, Dogri has certainly got a new lease of life. The decision, at the same time, poses challenges to create teaching material in Dogri onscientific lines so as to inculcate in young ones the love and respect for the mother tongue. Dogri Sanstha Jammu: The premier literary NGO, under the presidentship of Prof. Lalit Magotra achieved a milestone with the completion of auditorium in the Dogri Bhawan Complex. On the publication front, Sanstha came out with Books/Magazines such as Adhunik Dogri Kavita, Bawa Jitto-a play, Sarpanch- a play, Katha Kunj – a collection of short stories, Nanu Peer di Jung da Aakhri qila – a novel. It published new numbers of “Nami Chetna” such as a collection of Modern Dogri short stories, a collection of free verse Dogri poetry, Dogri Sanstha Safarnama -a brief history of Dogri Sanstha, and Platinum Jubilee Granth, containing the memoirs of senior Dogri writers regarding Dogri Sanstha. Dogri Sanstha have uploaded 60 of its published books on the Dogri Sanstha website: Sanstha released four Dogri books and One audiovisual CD; Anginit Gaas-Poetry by Lalit Magotra, Cheten di Chanani – Poetry by Puran Chandra Sharma, Hirkhi Pounger – Poetry by Inderjit Kesar, Koi te hai- Short stories by Ashok Dutta, Kankaan Pakkiyan – Audiovisual CD of songs by Manju Bala.
As a part of celebration of “Dogri Maanata Din” Dogri Sanstha conferred the Dogri Sanstha Samman-2020, upon six prominent persons from the fields of Literature, Art and Journalism. These were Gyaneshwar Sharma – a senior Dogri writer, Chaman Arora- a veteran short story writer, Santosh Sangra – a well-known theatre, radio artist and a senior Dogri writer, Deepak Kumar – a renowned theatre director, Ashok Sharma(PIX) – a senior journalist and Ratan Basotra -a writer and translator.
Suman Sharma, accomplished writer and translator, contributed by compiling and translating into English, an anthology of Dogri Short Fiction. Comprising of 40 pieces of fiction by past and present Dogri writers and also a folk-tale, the book has been published by J&K Cultural Academy. He also translated from Dogri to English, Ved Rahi’s poems. Santosh Sangra penned down an anthology of 15 stories, “Main Hole”. Narendra Bhasin authored a short story collection titled ‘Hirkhay Di Bale’. The Hindi translation of his first travelogue book ‘Char Dishan Char Dham’ by Chanchal Bhasin is awaiting launch. Smitten by the muse, the son of the soil Satish Kumar Sharma, presently the Additional Commissioner of Income Tax, Jammu, has authored ‘Jigisha’, an anthology of 11 short stories in Hindustani and two plays ‘Vaibhav’ in Hindustani, and ‘Pratibha Saadhne di Mohtaaz Nahin’ in Dogri in verse form. He also completed one short movie namely ‘Farookh’. Inderjeet Kesar published a travelogue titled ‘Fera Tora’ as his 23rd book in 23 years (1998 to 2020). Ratan Basotra did a Hindi translation titled ‘Alag Alag Sach’ of Shiv Dev Singh Susheel’s original Dogri novel ‘Bakhre Bakhre Sach’. Yash Pal Nirmal, the energetic young writer had a robust year in terms of writing and translating a number of new books and of earning accolades and awards from various literary bodies. Veteran Dogri poet, essayist, and satirist Prakash Premi remained busy in translating books from Sanskrit to Dogri and Dogri to Hindi, along with translation of award-winning book ‘Bedan Darti Di’. Jagdip Dubey, also wrote Radio and stage plays and short stories.
With Darshan Darshi as convener Dogri, the Sahitya Akademi organized women poets program Nari Chetna, at Samba. In the post-Covid phase, more than 16 programs were held under the Webline Literature series in which more than 50 writers participated. The programs such as poetry sessions, story readings, penal discussions, and special events for Women empowerment and women writers like Aasmita and Nari Chetna. Due to online mode the programs for the first time reached to audiences all over the country and also reached Dogras living abroad.
NGOs like Duggar Manch organized e-goshti’s and online meets for poets and writers. Nami Dogri Sanstha also organized monthly literary meets and e-programs such as Lok Sangeet Sabahas, Mahila Kavi and Kahani Goshties, Dogri Kavi Goshties, Dogri Kavi Goshti in Collaboration with NZCC. The Udhampur based literary group with Facebook page Meri Mitra Mandli: Ek Sahityak Kranti, is working towards development of mother tongue and literature in the Udhampur area. It published three anthologies: Lalten-2-Dogri Bal Kavita, Lalten-3-Dogri Gazals and Lalten-4-Hindi Kavita and organized ‘Bholiyan Shaklan Mitthe Bol’, the online poem recitation competition for under-14 children, and a 10-day online literary workshop.
HINDI: Founder of Sanskriti Manch, the firebrand poet, Manoj, published his fifth anthology of translations of selected Punjabi poems in Hindi titled Meel Pather. The NGO Hindi Sahitya Mandal (HSM), Jammu held its regular meetings and literary events and later shifted book release, award-giving ceremony, poetry recitation, and conferences on digital platforms. Sumeet Sudan, a Sunderbani (J&K) based Hindi poetess was honored by HSM with Second Hindi Sahitya Mandal Heerak Jayanti Navlekhan Tej Puraskar for her poetry book ‘Sangam’. Eminent Hindi writer and poet Agnishekhar translated in Hindi series of post-Independence Modern Kashmiri Poetry starting from Great poet Master Zind Kaul (b.1884) to Nighat Sahiba (b.1983) numbering 90 representative Kashmiri poets. M.K. Santoshi wrote short stories, published poems in ‘Vipasha'(Shimla), ‘Aadharshilla’ (Dehradoon) and ‘ Bahuvachan’ (Vardha). He also completed his diary ‘Lest Not Forget, a telling tale of the existential crisis in migration. His translation of the selected verses of Nund Rishi is awaiting launch. Rashtriya Bhasha Prachar Samiti organized multilingual poetry symposia, national seminar on Human Values in Indian Literature, and a book release function of Kewal Kumar Kewal’s three books at village Burai.
Punjabi: Bhavneet Kaur’s English novel ‘The Spirit of Chiron’ was translated by Dr. Manojit under the title ‘Teen Sunehre Darwaze’. Other new additions in Punjabi were four novels by Bhupinder Singh Raina and MS Kamra’s poetry collection Boond Banegi Sagar. Khalid Hussain’s new short stories collection Ishq Malangi in Gurmukhi script Punjabi was also released. Punjabi Lekhak Sabha held fortnightly/monthly literary meetings. Punjabi Sahitik Sabha, R.S. Pura also conducted literary events. Guru Nanak Chair in Jammu University was established and UGC approved Punjabi Magazine Aabru was also regularly published.
Pahari: Swami Antar Neerav, the prolific poet of the Pahari language continued to enrich the corpus of modern Pahari literature.
Urdu: A poet/writer of international repute Liaqat Jafri participated in number of many national and international online programs. The song ‘Bhool Chuke Hain’, written by him was released by Zee Music Company while his other song ‘Surma’ was released by T-Series. He has also started a website called . Khalid Hussain’s Urdu short stories collection, ‘Jannat Grehan’ was also released.
Gojari: Javed Rahi’s @JavaidRahi YouTube Channel, by posting videos on topics like Gujjar origin, history, culture, folklore, socio-economic issues, nomadic way of life, has done a great service in building the Gujjar identity.
Cartoon: Manoj Chopra’s work titled ‘Book’ got selected at the World Press Cartoon, Portugal for the sixth time. His works were also exhibited at exhibitions at Croatia, Egypt, Iran, Romania, etc. Cartoonist Chander Shekhar organized online cartoon exhibition of his works on the Coronavirus outbreak.
Medhavi, daughter of the soil hailing from Udhampur, has come out with a novel initiative titled ‘Parolaa’, to explore and revive awareness about Dogra culture through art. Currently pursuing Masters in Textile Design at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, she aspires to bring forward the forgotten stories of Duggar through her Dogri character such as Bobo ji, the elder sister, Lambad-Daar ji (her husband) and Durga (daughter). Medhavi’s characters created through illustration and animation have emerged as quintessential symbols of cultural Dogra identity. Her videos of animated series gone viral on social media are a hit with young viewers.
NGO Jammu & Kashmir Centre for Creative Arts (JKCCA) conducted a National Artists Workshop at Mansar. Later, making the use of Digital Platforms, JKCCA, organized Online International Art Exhibitions, including one dedicated to Late Gobind Kaur, 1st Woman Contemporary Sculptor of Jammu. NGOs: Viraj Kala Kendra, Jammu: Under the aegis of Raj Bharti, the Kendra organized on-line children competitions of singing, dancing, solo-acting and poster making and also literary program on the theme Relevance of Theatre in bringing social change. The Kendra commemorated the Birth anniversary of Late V R Khajuria in collaboration with Verman Cultural celebrations, Jammu and K H Art Gallery, Hiranagar by organizing online sculpture art exhibition. Art NGO Master Sansar Chand Baru Trust, in collaboration with ICCR, New Delhi, held a five-day National Art workshop and other programs in Jammu.
Documentaries: Senior film maker Sudesh Verma produced for Sahitya Akademi a documentary on the life and works of late Pran Kishor Koul, well known writer/actor/broadcaster of J&K.
Theatre: With its founder-director Balwant Thakur away to Johannesburg, South Africa, on a prestigious assignment, the prominent theatre group Natrang along with its regular Sunday Theater series, held a virtual theatre festival titled ‘Quarantine Theatre Festival’ which featured 25 plays in 25 days. It also organised International Theatre talk Show, which featured eminent theatre practitioners/directors all over the globe. The Theatre workshop for new entrants conducted by Neeraj Kant and coordinated by Mohd. Yaseen culminated with the presentation of the play ‘Dur Se Kisi Ne Aawaaz Di’. Samooh Theatre’s calendar included 18 shows of Nukkad Natak “My Dream City”, written and directed by Ravinder Sharma, and release of Documentary on work and achievements of the group on its foundation day. It also organized a theatre workshop at Vijaypur under the guidance of Dr. Sudhir Mahajan and a One-day Theatre Festival at Luthra Academy. Rajneesh Kumar Gupta, wrote features for Radio, plays like ‘Prashno Ke Maayajaal, long solo play ‘ Buddha Ke Pita’ based on the life of the father of Lord Buddha. He was honored by Gandhi Global society with Mahatma Gandhi Seva Puraskar for contribution in the field of Theatre. He wrote/ directed short movies- Mousami Ka Juice & House No. 570 which was selected for Jaipur International Film Festival (JIFF ) 2020. Ek Saath Rangmandal, under the guidance of Vijay Malla, performed nukkad plays on various themes. Aarushi Thakur Rana, renowned theatre personality and culture activist of Jammu & Kashmir was `conferred with ‘She Award- 2020 UK Arts and Culture’ in the U.K. Natraj Natya Kunj also participated in an online theatre festival and dis studio performances. Amateur Theatre Group, under the direction of Mushtaq Kak staged in Kolkatta, the play Ishaq Malangi in Hindustani based on two stories of Khalid Hussain and dramatized by Pritam Katoch.
Visual Arts: While Institute of Music & Fine Arts continues its downward slide under the myopic policies of the University of Jammu, it was left to individual visual artists to keep the art scene alive. Veteran artist Rajinder Tikku remained active in consultative assignments and worked in his studio, Sunanda Khajuria, the Painthal born contemporary visual artist received awards and participated in various exhibitions such as Visiting Artist Fellowship, Harvard University, USA, The Princess Sirivannavari Cultivated Arts Foundation, Thailand, Jinan International Art Biennale, Shandong, Qianjiang International Art Biennale, Hangzhou, Indian Contemporary Art, Kunstetagerne Hobro, Denmark, Mask International Art Exhibition, WHO, Lebanon, International Art Exhibition, Ningbo Art Museum, Challenge and Opportunity, International forum, School of Art and Design, WHUT, China. Ravinder Jamwal, the well known sculptor, along with sculpting statues of war heroes and other personalities also created a number of installations in a creative response to the disruptive imprints of the Covid pandemic. His large scale installations titled ‘Trap’ made mostly from waste materials lying in his studio at Birpur while reflecting upon the havoc unleashed by the deadly virus emphasize upon the human will to fight it so that life can start anew. Well known painters Suman Gupta and K K Gandhi participated in national and international exhibitions. Udhampur born sculptor Chander Prakash, who is dividing time between his studios at Sangrampur, Jammu, and Baroda, held a prestigious solo show at Hutheesing Visual Art Centre, Ahmedabad. Ganesh Sharma, best known for his free form sculptures in wood, participated in a number of national, international online art exhibitions, group shows, and sculpture symposiums where his works won accolades. Rohit Verma participated in an International group art exhibition to commemorate Centennial Celebration by Lucknow University, wherein 100 artists across the world participated. A national awardee, Sukhjeet Singh, was appointed as a member of the Selection Jury for National Art Exhibition organized by Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA), New Delhi. Milan Sharma and Jasleen Singh, participated in the National Art Exhibition organized by LKA, New Delhi.

AIR Jammu: The public broadcaster played a pivotal role in disseminating information to the masses especially those in the far-flung areas about the COVID-19 at times of Lockdown. It organized a lecture by renowned poet, writer, and scientist O. P. Sharma Vidyarthi on the topic “Dogra Sanskriti Aur Jaiv Vividhata”, before invited audience. AIR switched over to online “Artist Booking System/Talent Booking System” this year to help ease and streamline the artists’ bookings. Under a nationwide initiative to promote and preserve the rich Indian culture, AIR Jammu recorded Sanskar Lok Geet (from birth to Death) of Duggar region. The Sanskar Lokgeet from various Districts identified and recorded at the doorsteps have been documented, videographed with notations have been preserved at the Central Archive of All India Radio under its prestigious Mega Project.
INTACH: Jammu Chapter of INTACH, under its Convenor, Sarishti Mohan Sahani, organized Handloom craft workshop at Govt. High School, Bajalta, Straw-craft workshop at Govt. High School, Raipur Satwari, Interactive meet on handloom craft at Udyog Bhawan Jammu and Online Heritage awareness lessons for school children on Built Heritage of Jammu, Forts of Jammu, Water Bodies of Jammu, Wellness Tourism, World Environment day, World Heritage Day, World Museum day, Ethnic foods of Jammu, Heritage temples of Jammu District, Traditional Vaishno Devi route. It also organized Heritage drives to Wetland Gharana as a part of World Heritage Week celebrations. It held interactive meet at Panchbakhtawar Mahadev temple Jammu, coverage of Karvachouth traditions at Udhampur and Samba Districts, the listing of Military Heritage of Jammu Cant and Water Bodies of Jammu District, survey of Clay Crafts and Heritage Temples of Jammu.
Tree Talk: The unique initiative of weekly Tree Talks started by Om Vidyarthi has completed ten years. Tree Talk campaign from 19th Dec 2010 to 19th Dec 2020 has organized over 1054 sessions. Many Biodiversity experts from Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine, SKUAST Jammu/Kashmir, State Universities Jammu/Kashmir, Department of Agriculture, Horticulture, Forestry, Wildlife, shared valuable inputs from time to time during 10-year long journey. Om Vidyarathi has won appreciation for uninterrupted zeal to spread Biodiversity education across J&K.