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In the name of Punjabiyyat
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Mahmood Awan

WW1 and the Punjab: Mahmood Awan talks to Desi Radio (London)




In the name of Punjabiyyat
Mahmood Awan

Every year’s Mother Language Day reminds us of the linguistic brutality and suppression of the state against Punjabi




In terms of Punjabi nationality, the literature produced by Punjabis is a multi-linguistic phenomenon; be it in Punjabi, English or any other language. Some of these writers may not identify themselves as Punjabis and this sensibility may be only reflected in their writings.

When Gujranwala born, British Pakistani novelist Nadeem Aslam quotes couplets of a rather unknown rural Punjabi Poet Abid Tamimi in his novel Maps for lost lovers (2004), he is subconsciously establishing his native connectivity. He furthers this theme in his latest novel The Blind Man’s Garden (2013) by creating a whole fictional town named Heer (inspired by Waris Shah’s legend) and proudly claims that all his future novels will be set in this Punjabi town.

When Los Angeles born, Pakistani American Daniyal Mueenuddin’s book of short stories In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (2009) opens with a Punjabi proverb in Punjabi text, he is presumably asserting his Punjabi identity. More so, when one of his short story protagonists on watching a chestnut seller boy in the freezing cold of Paris pulls his American girlfriend closer and whispers: “He is one of mine, from Pakistan, from Punjab.”

Mulk Raj Anand (1905-2004) was our first global offering. Recipient of the prestigious Lenin Peace Prize, he was co-founder of the Progressive Writers’ Movement in the undivided India. He was born in Peshawar to a Sikh mother from Sialkot and a Hindu father from Amritsar. He studied philosophy at Cambridge University where he had gone on the behest of Allama Iqbal and received his PhD from University College London in 1929. He was close friends with George Orwell, TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, Herbert Read and EM Forster. His best-known novel Untouchable (1935) was issued as a Penguin Modern Classic in 1986.

Anand saw himself as a Punjabi citizen of the world. Khushwant Singh once remarked on Anand’s English as ‘Punjabi English’. In his 1982 interview with Amarjit Chandan, he termed his sense of Punjabiyat as inheritance of Punjabi culture. In response to a question regarding why he opted to write in an acquired language and in which language he thinks, Anand said: “Punjabi is my mother tongue. I frequently use Punjabi vibrations. Vibrations of the characters of my landscape, my region could only express themselves in the versatile movements of the Punjabi speech. I could not perform an operation on my mother’s mouth to make her speak like an English woman, as do other writers. I think in Punjabi mostly and transliterate or transcreate in English. At that time [pre-partition] there were no publishers and the books written about India, certainly by me, were banned and there was no way by which even one could express oneself in Punjabi to the people who were around us in the Indian national movement. Even Puran Singh started writing in English first. He was the writer of the Punjab in English language before me if you like.”

This brings us to the question of positioning those Punjabis who are writing in Urdu. Urdu is the language that is awfully closer to Punjabi. After Partition, it’s Urdu that flourished at the expense of the native languages of the people of the new republic. This hegemonic institutionalisation created a mindset symbolised by academics like Fateh Muhammad Malik and his ilk who not only dismiss Punjabi and other native languages with disgust and hatred but also ridicule one of most respected vice-chancellors of the Punjab University Sir Pirtaul Chandra Chatterji who had officially asked his students and the people of the Punjab to read and write in their mother tongue more than hundred years back.

These Urdu egoistic monopolists historically never raised a single word in support of the native languages for obvious reason of their Sarkaari bread and butter. It shows their intellectual insecurity and inborn self hate. Contrastingly, almost all those writers from the Punjab who opted to write in English always supported the cause of Punjabi language.

Krishan Chander’s Punjabi letter to Ahmad Rahi reveals the remorse and sense of loss of a Punjabi who betrayed his mother tongue. Chander is pleading and pointing that a Punjabi magazine must be launched from Lahore immediately. His repeated assertion suggests that perhaps he knew that his friend publisher, himself a Punjabi, will not spend his money on something where returns can’t be guaranteed. This letter was published in Daily Imroze on May 23, 1953. Let’s read few extracts from that long letter:

“Teri kitab nay mainu majboor kar ditta keh main tainu Punjabi day wich khatt likhaaN. Eih patta nahi Punjabi vi hay keh nahi. Nadeem naal gal baat kar kay Lahore tuN Punjabi Zuban wich ik risaala kaRña Chahi da ay. AssiN saaray rall kay uss day wich likhaaN gay tay aglay panjaaN sãlaaN wich Zuban nu kithay da kithay lay jaaN gay. Eih parcha Nazeer nu keh zaroor kadhay. AssiN saarey Punjabi likhaaN gay. Main ithay saarery adeebaaN nu tayyar kar liya ay. Nazeer nu eih Khat PaRha daiña tay ohnu kehna Punjabi da risaala jaldi kadh. Ohday editor day board wich main apna naa day diyãN ga..hor kee chahi da ay ohnu” (Your book has made me write to you in Punjabi. I don’t know what I am writing in is Punjabi or not but that’s all what I know. Ask Nadeem [Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi] and plan publication of a Punjabi journal from Lahore. All of us will write for it and in next five years we will bring Punjabi language to a new level. Please insist and make sure that Nazir [Nazir Ahmad Chaudhri of Naya Idara, Publisher] brings out this magazine. All writers here have agreed to contribute. Please read this letter to Nazir and ask him to start this Punjabi magazine as soon as possible. He can use my name in the editorial board, what else he needs?)
Any writer is free to write in any foreign language for global reach, acceptability and other related gains. However, it’s also true that in that global space they generally remain ‘categorised’ and ‘compartmentalised’ while their original place always remains vacant in the literary countryside of their mother tongues. It will also be pertinent to mention that no linguistic movement should encourage racists, bigots and chauvinists as there is nothing more sacred than humanity. We strongly believe that within one mother tongue are all mother tongues and each one of them is universal. Our main concern is not those other languages but the contagious ‘self-hate’ virus inherited by most of the ‘well educated’ Punjabis and its bankrupt elite that has consistently demeaned the linguistic uprising and their own cultural identity.
Ours is a strange country where one can earn a masters and even a PhD in Punjabi but can’t study it at the primary school level. The very first mandatory correction in this regard is induction of Punjabi language in the educational system. I have still to come across a single sane argument that can convince me why Punjabi kids can’t have their mother tongue part of their curriculum in their own province. This is the language whose classical literature is all inclusive, pro-people, anti-oligarchy and anti-fundamentalism.
Every year’s Mother Language Day reminds us of the linguistic brutality and suppression of the state against us Punjabis who are otherwise indiscriminately abused by all other nationalities of being ‘powerful’. Look at our power-less-ness that it’s our third generation since independence who is being deprived of their native language and identity.
Only when Punjabi language gets its due place in the system that the nascent concept of multi-lingual Punjabi literature would be accepted not only by the writers themselves but by the Punjabi community at large. This recognition is bound to happen as Punjab and Punjabiyat is not a regional phenomenon anymore, it’s a trans-national global experience and over the years, it has flourished much beyond the reductionist Wagha borders of our imagination. The only difference is that our lords sitting in the civil secretariats and constituent assemblies are still unaware of this new reality.
If my romanticism is not misplaced and I can ask Sophocles and Seamus Heaney to stay with me then language of Baba Farid, Guru Nanak, Damodar Das and Joshua Fazal Din is destined to flourish: “History says, Don’t hope/On this side of the grave,/ But then, once in a lifetime/The longed-for tidal wave/Of justice can rise up/And hope and history rhyme”.

Mahmood Awan

The author is a Dublin based Punjabi poet. He may be reached at mahmoodah@gmail.com

Curtsey:The News :Pubished on February 15, 2015




All The Joy in my language
Mahmood Awan

What the Punjabi elite have done to Punjabi language is beyond comprehension





On July 12, 1972, Polish Poet and Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz sent a letter — the only letter he ever produced in Russian to his recently exiled, to be fellow Nobel Laureate, Russian Poet Joseph Brodsky. In the letter Milosz wrote: “I think that you are very worried, like all of us from our part of Europe brought up on the myth that life of a writer ends if he abandons his native country.”

Milosz was right. In fact, Brodsky was not only worried but afraid as well. He spoke about his fear during a poetry reading at the Boston University nine months before his death.

“At the beginning of my exile, I was in a state of real panic and trepidation, for instance on third or fourth day after I landed in Vienna I was trying to find a rhyme for some word. I didn’t succeed and was really shocked. That had never happened before, I could get a rhyme to any Russian word or so I thought. I got scared that something horrible was happening. I started forgetting Russian. The next day I found that damned rhyme”. Brodsky was not that much worried about leaving Russia as he was concerned about losing his mother language. In his poem ‘In the Lake District’, he sobbed: “Whatever I wrote then was incomplete: my lines expired in strings of dots.” The quote above is not only about exile but also languages. Brodsky and Milosz stayed for the most part of their lives in exile but never abandoned their mother languages. Milosz went into exile in 1951 and until 1980 he was not allowed to be published in Poland; still he kept writing in Polish, knowing well his words were not reaching his people whose language he worshiped.

Bogdana Carpenter, Milosz’s English translator and fellow Polish scholar said during a remembrance session, “I used to get calls from Milosz at odd times and for no obvious reason, except that he wanted to talk in Polish and he had no one else to speak Polish with.”
So, a language can survive in exile. But what about a language that has been exiled by its own people and by its own state?
So, a language can survive in exile. But what about a language that has been exiled by its own people and by its own state?
Now, without any state patronage, staying original in its character and content, one wonders how Punjabi has survived and thrived over centuries. It has not only survived the colonial onslaught but also the post-colonial ‘brownslaught’.
What British Empire did to Punjabi is understandable but what Punjabi elite did to their mother language is beyond comprehension. You can’t speak Punjabi in the provincial assembly of Punjab unless authorised by the speaker. How many MPAs of Punjab are allowed to express themselves and represent their people in their language? Most of them come from a rural background. They are such a sight when trying to speak in Urdu or English.
Article 251 sub section 3 of the Constitution of Pakistan states: “Without prejudice to the status of the national language, a provincial assembly may by law prescribe measures for the teaching, promotion and use of a provincial language in addition to the national language”.
Article 28 reads: “Preservation of language, script and culture: Subject to Article 251 any section of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture shall have the right to preserve and promote the same and subject to law, establish institutions for that purpose.”
What more can I say to illustrate what has been done by the Punjab assembly in the last 67 years?
Charles Napier made a now infamous comment in 1849: “Punjab has been occupied but not conquered. The Punjabi and his language have yet to be conquered.”

The very first Punjabi Qaeda was produced by Maharaja Ranjit Singh around 1812 and every married woman was instructed to learn it so that the next generation of Punjabis would all be literate. But since annexation of Punjab in 1849 by the East India Company, Punjabi became the target. The company’s own Act 29 of 1837 which made it mandatory for the local administration to use vernacular languages, and was implemented all over India, was also discarded in Punjab.

Was it due to Charles Napier’s infamous comment in 1849 when he said, “Punjab has been occupied but not conquered. The Punjabi and his language have yet to be conquered,” or the resentment of Farsi-Urdu oligarchy towards Punjabi that this became the company policy which is still being pursued by the native “conquerors”.

The British Raj’s anti-Punjabi campaign becomes more evident when we see an arms recovery poster still available in the Lahore Museum that announces: “Two Annas for a sword and Six Annas for a Punjabi Qaeda”.

With the partition, Punjabis were compartmentalised into Hindu Punjabis, Sikh Punjabis, Christian Punjabis and Muslim Punjabis. The language has been condemned by its elite for centuries and now by its working middle-classes. It’s a shame to talk to your kids in their mother language which is soon becoming their grandmother language. Who will tell the Punjabi bureaucrats, politicians and army generals that language diversity is not a threat but a binding factor for any multi-ethnic society and state and loss of one language is the loss of all the languages spoken in that area.

Does the language of Baba Nanak, Madho Lal Hussain and Hafiz Barkhurdar deserve this?
All classic poets of Punjabi from Baba Farid to Mian Muhammad Baksh were well-versed in Farsi and Arabic yet they chose their mother language to express their thoughts. Who knows that Sultan Bahu wrote more than 40 books in Farsi; yet his small collection of Punjabi verse is sung and learnt by heart since centuries by millions.
“Mairi Maan Boli Mairay Purkhay Suttay”, let’s read Amarjit Chandan’s poem “Maan Boli” (translated by Shashi Joshi) and help the mother language find her kids: “My mother language is secure as a womb/ Warm as my mother’s lap/ To which I daily cling in fear of my being/ And then the worrying yesterdays, the anxious tomorrows, recede from me./ My mother language/ Sucked at mother’s breast/ I learnt to write/ As father held my small, nervous hand/ Beginning my endless friendship with paper, ink and pen./ I find the shade of fragrant flowering mango trees, in my mother language./ I see my woman’s body gleam and glow/ I hear the blood throb through her veins, in my mother language./ In my mother language, my forefathers sleep, dreaming of me awake./ In my mother language, Mirzas and Heers invoke God/ In my mother language, Angels sing the Gurus’ hymns./ All live and die, in my mother language.”

Baba Farid summed it all a thousand years ago; “Farida Mann Maidaan Kar/ To’ay Tibbay Lah”.

Curtsey : The News February 23, 2014



The feminine metaphor
Mahmood Awan



Recounting the women poets of the undivided Punjab, a poetic history that lies buried under male monopoly



Punjabi poetics is unique in adopting the feminine metaphor. From our classics to contemporary poets, the most intimate and challenging verses resonate in this naturalised voice. Female protagonists of our Qissa (epics) poets from Damodar Das to Ghulam Haider Mastana are not only self-assuring and assertive but are full of defiance against male authority and a martialised society. Najm Hosain Syed summed up this power of choice and rejection assumed by women in a striking one liner: “She stands outsides the cycles of time and society”.
Punjab owes all the beauties and colours of its folklore exclusively to its womenfolk. This was the art that kept us enriched and sustained us through centuries of compressions, invasions and annexations. Those nameless women poets of the Punjab narrated our collective consciousness and protected our native identity.
However, the history of Punjabi literature, starting from the 13th century CE, hardly mentions any women poets by name. Dai Phãphal Hafzani (1800-1872) and Jeevan Khatoon Nikammi (1835-1898), two sisters who were writing verses (mainly lullabies as both were attached to our last classical poet Khawaja Ghulam Farid’s family as carers) appear in some studies. But it would be a fair conjecture to say that Piro Preman (Piro the lover; 1832-1872) was the precursor of women’s Punjabi poetry in print.

Ham bha’ay udaase (I am disinclined from the world) cried Piro when she landed in the Gulabdasi Dera at Chathiyanwala, Kasur after escaping from the infamous Heera Mandi of Lahore where it is alleged that she was sold as a prostitute. Her poetic collection comprises of 160 kafis which are full of biographical details. The impression one gets from her poetry is that she was a Muslim who joined Gulab Das (1809-1873) as one of his devotees. Das was the poet and saint who started atheistic Gulabdasi sect. She almost became the co-saint of his secular establishment. Both shared an intimate relationship and lived together inspite of all social and religious pressures. Their joint shrine still exists in the village of Chathiyanwala.

Santosh Sahini, wife of actor and writer Balraj Sahini; Sheila Gujral, wife of ex-Indian Premier IK Gujral and Kana Singh are some of the names who liberated our literary imagination and enriched the Punjabi poetic landscape.
Piro’s poetry shows the influences of Bhagati saints (especially Kabir) and Bulleh Shah. She narrates in one of her kafis that she was abducted and taken to Wazirabad once from where Gulab Das’s men managed her release. During that imprisonment, she wrote this amazing Kafi that expresses her love for Lahore: Vasda chhorh Lahore ko main bande challi (leaving my flourishing Lahore I am going to a prison). She is rebellious, bold and forceful while rejecting all the religious establishments, social structures and caste relations: JãvNa assi pardes saiyon, Turak HinduaN pare kaahavNa ee
Assi tiyãg jãna mat HinduaN da,nahin TurkaN da kuj dharavaNa ee
Jithe pahuNch Nah Turak te Hinduan di, saiyon ayse makãn mein jãvana ee
Rãm jharokRe baith ke nee, mujra kul jahãn da pãvna ee
(We will go to a foreign land, friends, far away from Turks (Muslims) and Hindus/We will sacrifice the doctrine of the Hindus, nor keep anything of the Turks/Where neither Hindus nor Turks can reach, friends let us reach such a place/Piro says sitting on Ram’s window we’ll dance away the norms of the clan and the world. [Translation: Anshu Malhotra]).
Piro’s kafis are published in the Gurmukhi script by Veer Vahab (Jalandhar: R.B. Singh Publishers, 2012).
After Piro, several women across Punjab made their niche in Punjabi poetry. Bilqis Akhtar Rani, Zeenat and Imam Bibi of Pothohar are among those illustrious women. Unfortunately, very little information is available about these three poets but few of the poetic samples available are enough to register these incredible talents. Following poem by Zeenat written in resistance to the war recruitment by the British army shows the extent of political awareness and metaphorical depths of a village woman:
Chunn chunn la’ay ga’y jawãn sãrey, ajab dhang Bartanvi sarkaar day ni
Kai Barma Sudan tay Maanday wich
India India pa’ay naam pukarday ni
Koi Misr, Iraq, Iran andar
Na’ray maarday dard hunkaarday ni
Khush’eyaaN lakh hovan tere dil Zeenat
Qasid pohnch g’ay Misr bazãr day ni
(They have picked up our youth, this is how British Raj recruits/Many of our boys in Sudan and Burma/yearn for their mother land, [United] India/Many in Egypt, Iraq and Iran, fight and cry out in pain/Whatever happiness you heart yields, Zainab/It’s the slave market of Egypt and buyers have already arrived).
This was the time when women had started using their names in their poetic compositions. Imam Bibi’s devotional verse written for Sheikh Abdul-Qadir Gilani ends with her native reference portraying pains of distance and longing:
KiviN pohnchaaN Baghdad Imam Bibi
HadyaaN sukk gyãN Pothohar andar’ (How can I arrive in Baghdad to pay my respects/My bones have dried up in waiting, here in Pothohar).
Punjabi epics are so innately invoked by Bilqees Akhtar Rani in her purely romantic lyricism in this poem:
Sassi da sidq yaqeen vekho
Tatti rait andar Punnu yaar LoRay
Jatti Rangpur di baitee choochkay di
Ranjhan yaar taa’eeN bailay paar LoRay
Issay Lo’R vich Bhulli Bilqees Akhtar
Yaar kol baithay, andar bahar LoRay
(Look at the conviction and faith of Sassi, she is looking for her darling Punnu in burning sand of the desert/She is the landlady of Rangpur and daughter of lord Chuchak but is out there searching for her beloved Ranjha across the forest/In this pursuit Bilqees Akhtar is totally lost, she is sitting with her darling but still searching for him all around).
Bibi Makhfi (b.1872), Hãjan Noor Begum (b.1880), Karam Bibi Aajiz (b.1893; maternal grandmother of the poet Anwar Masood), Fazal Noor (b.1901; Poet Sharif Kunjahi’s mother), Hakim Bibi HakmaaN (b.1904) and Independence movement activist Begum Salam Tassaduq Hussain (b.1908) and many others contributed immensely to the development of Punjabi poetic sensibility.
However, Harnam Kaur (1898-1976), Baljit Kaur Tulsi (1915-1997), Amrita Pritam (1919-2005) and Prabhjot Kaur (b.1924) remain major influences of the pre-partition years. Amrita’sThandiaaN KirnaaN (1935), Harnam’s Arshi KaniaaN(1939), Prabhjot’s Latt Latt Jot Jaggay (1943) and Gujrat born, Kinnaird College Lahore’s graduate Baljit Tulsi’s Neel-Kanth (1944) are the foremost women Punjabi publications. Most women poets of the post-Piro generation were born in West Punjab and although many among them started writing Punjabi quite late in their lives, they never abandoned their mother tongue. Santosh Sahini (b.1918 in Bhera; wife of actor and writer Balraj Sahini), Sheila Gujral (b.1924 in Lahore; wife of ex-Indian Premier IK Gujral), Surjit Sarna (b.1930 in Lahore; mother of diplomat Navtej Sarna), Mohinder Kaur Gill (b.1937 in Multan; mother of singer Rabbi Shergill), Kailash Puri (b. 1925 in Rawalpindi) and Kana Singh (b.1937 in Gujjar Khan) are some of the names who liberated our literary imagination and enriched the Punjabi poetic landscape. Pain and agony of all these uprooted daughters of the West Punjab was captured by Parbhjot Kaur in one of her remarkable poems. She was born in Langrial, district Gujrat and earned her graduation from Khalsa College for Women, Lahore before partition. Her poem Janam BhooN di Yaad Vich (In the memory of my birthplace) opens with a whimper:
Aaee yaad Lahore di, pain dillay wich ho’l
Pujji pehlaaN jind tu, khanb kalapna khol/
Jamman vaali bhoeen vi, aj hoi pardes
Jithay khaidi guddyaaN, ohee begaana des
MuR muR pooraN poorney, likh saanjha Punjab
Langrial geraaN hay, zilla paway Gujrat
(I recall Lahore and my heart sinks/My soul has arrived there before I could gather my body/The place where I was born is not mine anymore/Where I played with my dolls has become a foreign land/I am repeating and writing word “Undivided Punjab” line after line/I belong to village Langrial and my district is Gujrat.)
Female Punjabi poetic scene was about to flourish when Punjab got bloodied and partitioned. It eventually took off with an epitaph to Waris Shah composed by the ever-lamenting daughter of Gujranwala. Let’s conclude this piece in pain and in the memory of those (to be) poets of the Punjab who were separated, erased and annihilated before they could even write a verse:
Dharti tey laho varhya, qabraan payyãn cho
Preet diyan shahzãdiãn, ajj vich mazãraan ro
(Blood upon the earth has even seeped into graves/Love’s princesses cry today in their mausoleums).
Curtsey:The News : Published on January 25, 2015





Any language that becomes part of a communal framework or a religious narrative not only creates complexities of mistrust among its multi-religious communities but also breeds an unending crisis of identity and politics.
In the Colonial Punjab, there were four major religious communities whose mother tongue was Punjabi. In the census report of 1901, as per the Imperial Gazetteer of India (1908), out of a total population of around 24 million Punjabis, 49 per cent were Muslims, 41 per cent Hindus, 9 per cent Sikhs and 0.27 per cent Christians. By 2014, we mainly see Sikhs and Muslims in the Punjabi language ownership debates while Hindu Punjabis who were second largest majority of the Punjab are almost in absentia. What happened after partition and during the last decades of the colonial raj needs a full scrutiny.
However, as most of us (Punjabis of West Punjab) don’t even know the statistical self-dilution of Hindu Punjabis and how easily and systematically Hindi became their mother tongue, I will try to make sense of the whole narrative in this limited space as there are some serious lessons to be learnt in a fragile environment of the West Punjabi politics where another division of the land and language has become bread and butter of the few.
In a globalised world where people are busy creating synergies, we are hell bent on dividing ourselves further into insignificant pieces.
Although Punjabi language historically never provided its speakers the much needed political national identity, surprisingly our language and literature continued to thrive in spite of all the communal differences and colonial onslaught.
British colonialists and their embedded researchers always associated Punjabi language with the Sikhs and tried their best to make it a religious and a communal symbol without accepting it as a cross-religious cultural identity of all the Punjabis. Christopher Shackle continues this colonial diatribe by claiming Punjabi as the “sacred language of the Sikhs” and helps market the divisive engineering of Saraiki and Pothohari. Then Sikh religious leadership also propagated that reductionist narrative.
Sikh games, Sikh dances, Sikh sacred music, Sikhs and the WW1 and all other Punjabi events and cultural symbols being marketed under Sikhism even today spearheaded primarily by the post 1984 Sikh diaspora unfortunately confirm impressions of that communal game. Indian state’s brutal attack on the Golden Temple and Sikhs as a community in the 1980s has furthered this thought of ‘separateness’ among many East Punjabis.

After partition another division within division unfolded as almost all the Hindus and Sikhs of the Punjab had migrated to India. Sikh population was however concentrated in many districts of the then Indian state of Punjab but they still remained one-third of Punjab’s total population, with majority being Hindus. Akali Dal, the political wing of the Sikh reformist organisation, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC estd. in 1920) demanded a separate state for Sikhs on religious grounds immediately after partition in 1949. When Nehru and the Union Government of India refused and agitations didn’t work either, Akali Dal approached the States Reorganisation Commission for a “Punjabi Suba” based on linguistic rather than religious grounds in 1953. Hindu Punjabis should have supported that approach but due to other factors coupled with Singh Sabha and Akali Dal’s previous claims to associate Punjabi language specifically with Sikhs, Hindu Punjabi leaders decided to play their own game.

Under the influence of Hindu right wing organisations like the RSS and Arya Samaj, Hindu Punjabis started declaring Hindi as their mother tongue and in the census of 1951 and 1961 they became ‘non-Punjabis’. The most saddening part is that the community who provided Punjabi literature with legends like Damodar Das, Peelu, Shardha Ram Phillauri, Bihari Lal Puri, Bishan Das Puri, Dhani Ram Chatrik, Ishwar Chander (IC) Nanda, Bawa Balwant, Balwant Gargi, Balraj Sahni, Davider Sathyarthi, Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Prem Parkash, Raghubir Dhand, Mohan Bhandari, Sati Kumar, Amitoj and Bhooshan, there were no dissenting voices against this lingual apartheid.
A lone sane Hindu voice was that of Vishwanath Tiwari, who was dismissed by many as a self-publicist.
Tiwari was father of ex-Union Minister of India, Manish Tiwari. He was married into a Sikh family and was head chair of Bhai Vir Singh Studies (in Punjabi) in Panjab University, Chandigarh when he was shot dead by Sikh militants on April 3, 1984. He wrote a statement ‘PunjabiãN dey nãm Appeal’ (An Appeal to the Punjabis) with his blood to plead for the cause of Punjabi. He wrote in his blood: “MaiN Punjab Wich Punjabiyyat tay BoliãN Lai Sohirdata paida karran lai sãhaeeta chahonda haaN (I need your support to create good will for Punjabiyyat and Punjabi dialects in the Punajb; V N Tiwari: 1.1.1961).

However, the influence of Swami Dayanand’s Arya Samaj (which since 1880s had been promoting Hindi as the language of Hindus in the region) worked and with the death of Jawaharlal Nehru [who was against “Punjabi Suba”] in 1964 and Indo Pak War of 1965 that highlighted the sensitivity and stability of East Punjab for the centre, Akali Dal’s demand for a separate province was accepted. In 1966, Punjab state was trifurcated. Its eastern hill districts were merged into Himachal Pradesh. The southern districts became the new state of Haryana and the remaining districts constituted the new Punjabi Suba that we now know as East Punjab that constitutes just 15 per cent area of the undivided pre-1947 Punjab.

PaRhni hai tãN paRho Gurmukhi /NahiN tãN jã kay baitho ghar (If you want to read then read Gurmukhi (Punjabi)/ Otherwise stay at home) Bihari Lal Puri , a Hindu Punjabi poet of late 19th century wrote this grief-stricken verse for his fellow religious hawks but no one listened to him then.

However, with all the globalisation, interconnected economics and concept of soft borders, we still have time to reclaim our lost territory. Punjabi language and literature has the capacity to become the centre of gravity for all Punjabis, irrespective of their geographical locations and religious zeal. It will need a conscious effort and an all-inclusive mindset to own our roots.
We need a few cultural icons who are not ashamed of their Punjabiness and are intellectual enough to inspire our youth and children that can trigger a top down ownership of language and identity. Only an unconditional love and longing for our land and heritage can heal those self-inflicted wounds: Daikh Farida Jo Th’ya, Shakkar Hoee Viss / SaeeN BajhuN ApNay, VeydaN Kahy’ay Kiss (See, Farid, What has happened: Sugar has become Poison / without my lord, who can I tell my sorrow).

Curtsey:The News: April 12, 2015




Shipwreck of a generation
Mahmood Awan



A recollection of Anwar Chaudhary brings all those wanderers and post-partition Punjabis to mind who grew up with high hopes of a just society




With Anwar Chaudhary’s death on March 6, at the age of 68, an era came to a close. He belonged to a generation of post-partition Punjabis who grew up with high hopes of a just society and open politics. They spent their formidable years in the activism of late 1960s and early 70s but, once the power brokers had filled their plates, they were left alone in the land of ever-growing pain and delusion with shattered pieces of those dreams.

Painters Ahmed Zoay and Iqbal Rashid (Bãla), singer and activist Tahir Yasoob Shah and journalist Zafaryab Ahmed are a few of those disconsolate souls who were lost in the wilderness of a socialist struggle and political activism. A recollection of Anwar Chaudhary brings all these wanderers to mind.

I first met Anwar Chaudhary in 1998 at Najm Hosain Syed’s house during a regular Sangat session. When the discipline of seriousness broke and we all came out of that big archaic hall of Jail Road to puff a cigarette, Chaudhary appeared a different man. A free flowing conversationalist, strongly opinionated, a man of his own, mercurial and maverick who was ready to take the world head on. At Kitab Trinjan, over a period of many years with Zubair Ahmad and Nisar Khan, he became a towering presence, sweet and bitter at the same time. It was Anwar Chaudhary who had come up with the idea of Kitab Trinjan, a Punjabi-only bookshop that ran successfully for more than a decade at Temple Road, Lahore to serve his beloved mother tongue.

Chaudhary was born in Bahawalnagar in June 1947. Though he wrote a Punjabi political novel Saanga (Rut Lekha, 2000) and also edited a few books on Punjabi classics for his organisation South Asia Partnership (SAP), he was primarily a political worker. From Pakistan People’s Party of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Mazdoor Kisãn Party of Major Ishaq Muhammad, he was on the forefront of all the losing battles of workers’ rights.

It’s a mystery how one genius fulfils its promise and other fails in the same process.
These selfless, passionate, dedicated and honest men were betrayed by those in politics as well as by reductionist ideologues. Their entire journey was marred by early idealism and later disillusionment especially during Bhutto’s regime and his eventual fall. That was a time when old Punjab University campus grounds facing the National College of Arts became living graveyards of these haunted souls. They were hurt and hopeless. Drugs, drink and disillusionment became their daily narrative. They became dangerous as they were unwilling to listen to anyone even slightly lesser than a Lenin or a Mao Zedong.

Their ultra-sensitive natures, acute stubbornness and self-destructive genius did not help them either. If most of them were not accommodated by the NGOs and their personal comrades, their limited intellectual and social survival would have been extremely difficult if not entirely impossible. There were very few among them who were able to manage themselves and were successful in compromising their way out of this state.

Anwar Chaudhary was one of the casualties of this system. Painters Iqbal Rashid and Ahmad Zoay, two most talented artists of their generation, were the other fatalities. Addicted and dejected, Iqbal Rashid left his home and family and started living in a rented room inside the auto market of Mozang, Lahore surrounded by all sorts of suicidal material. Ahmed Zoay stayed isolated most years of his life, painting all by himself in a house in Samanabad Lahore. When he died, no one knew of his death for days.
In 1984, both painters in their frenzy of defiance crossed the Wahga border without visas declaring that the Punjab, their Sapat Sindhu, is one and the rest we can imagine. They were arrested on the Indian side by their very own Punjabi kin and imprisoned. Zafaryab Ahmed, the bold and blunt who spent all his life fighting with others and his own demons, used to call his close friends from his hospital bed in America during midnights to cry and lament until sunrise. Depressed and deserted, he too died in agony.
Tahir Yasoob Shah was another such intellectual, activist and Sufi singer. I never heard anyone sing Shah Hussain as soulfully as he did. His soft, sweet singing belonged to a different world. He never left a proper recording although he sung in Sangat for many years. Painter Akram Varraich has secured a few of those bits and that’s all we are left with. He too was consumed by his own bitterness, righteousness, disillusioning loops and, above all, his own sheer brilliance.
I can never forget that hurtful night of December 2003 that we spent with him in his secluded room. He had stopped meeting his comrades and had already gone into seclusion. When we arrived, he kindly let us into his sad world. His harmonium was heavily dusted as if it wasn’t touched for years. When we insisted he reluctantly removed packs of medicines placed atop of his harmonium, cleaned and tuned, he started singing: Chor karran nit chooriaaN/ Amlee nu amlaaN di thoRiaan/ Kaami nu chinta kaam di/ AssaN talab sain day naam di.
He kept singing for hours and time stopped at least for a night on Wahdat Road.

Tahir Yasoob also wrote a few Punjabi poems and the only one I could find from Rut Lekhamagazine narrates all the rage and silences that ended on a bed of Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital on November 2, 2013: “AssaN aaeay tay assaN ga’ay / sanu vaikhan vaala kon / Nah sanu kissay aondiaan ditha / nah koi taksi jaondian nu”. He ended his poem in intense lyricism: “ MaiN Shah Hussain di aajzi / MaiN Heer di Thanddi Hah / MaiN paani ratta JehlmoN / JihRa suttya piyya nu tarah/ Main Treh khayRiaaN di ratt lai/ jehRi la’hvvay nah lahnday lah/ MaiN laal haneri chaRhdioN/ Tay lehnday maut da bhah/ MaiN apni aap shahdat/ mairi zaaman vagdi va”.

These were fine, loving and caring human beings if you were able to capture their distorted frequencies. They lived in the mist of an awaited revolution and died in the fog of betrayed political activism. They were never able to come out of that early romance of late 1960s. Talent needs to be nourished and safeguarded not only by the society blessed with that gift but also by individuals themselves. However, no one has ever been able to comprehend the sublime mercurial delicate human brain and that too of an artist. It’s a mystery how one genius fulfills its promise and other fails in the same process.

Anwar Chaudhary, Iqbal Rashid, Ahmed Zoay, Tahir Yasoob, Zafaryab Ahmad and many others were part of an ill-fated generation that never found peace. They were born to be disillusioned and betrayed. No one has written their full story so far. Prose and poetry of their mother tongue awaits the story tellers who will compose this tearful sublimity one day and lessen the burden of history and life: GhaRi baith nah keetiaaN rajj gallaN/Jhothee preet laga kay turr gaiyyoN/ Sunjjay pa’ay nay mahl veeran mairay/ Qadir Yaar jaaney dukh dukhiaaN day.

Curtsey:The News: March 15, 2015



True daughter of the Punjab
Mahmood Awan



Afzal Tauseef, a progressive writer and columnist, fought too many battles, faced so many betrayals but never surrendered




Amrita Pritam called her “Suchi Dhee Punjab Di” and the book she compiled about her in Hindi was titled Doosre Aadam Ki Beti. Both these titles so grievously symbolise the uprooted daughter of the Punjab who fought too many battles, faced so many betrayals but never surrendered.

Jeth maheenay di tat Ree dopehr dhallay, main jammi taaN Dai Jhanddo boli: ‘Ha’ay Ni, eih taaN KuRi Jamm Pa’e, Ha’ay Ha’ay Palothee di KuRi (When I was born on a hot afternoon of May, Dai Jhanddo lamented “Oh God! It’s a girl, Oh No…the very first child is a girl!). Afzal Tauseef composed this unwelcomed arrival in her biography where she narrated voices who suggested of killing the baby girl and telling others that it was a boy who was born dead.

Afzal Tauseef was born in Simbli, Nawan Shahar, Jalandhar in 1936. At the time of partition, all her paternal family members were massacred. She depicted this horrible tragedy in Lahu BhijjiaN BatkhaaN where family ducks are slipping on the blood wet floors of her family house. She and her mother survived because they were at her grandmother’s house in Pind Qaum, Ludhiana while her father who was a police officer was on training in Phillaur (Jalandhar). She was the only surviving child of her family.

Tauseef then moved to Balochistan where her father got posted. She eventually came back to Punjab for higher education and completed her MA English from Government College Lahore. She then started teaching at the College of Education until her retirement. Actively associated with Pakistan People’s Party, fought against the military regimes of Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq, spent years in hiding and detentions and courageously faced intelligence agencies, cases of treason and military trials.

She authored more than thirty books including her autobiography Mann diyaaN VastiaaN(Where the heart is), East Punjab travelogue Vailay Day Pichay Pichay (Following the past), essays about Punjab Ke’da Naa Punjab (What is Punjab) and remarkable short story collections Tahli mere bachRay (My kids, O Sheesham tree), Amman vailay millaN gay (We will meet in the time of peace) and PanjjeevãN ghanta (The 25th hour). She was a permanent member of Punjabi Adabi Board and also served as board’s vice president for years.

She won numerous literary awards in West and East Punjab including Masood Khaddarposh, Lambra Sath, Naag Mani as well as the Millennium award. She also received the Life Achievement Award given by the Denmark-based Asian Writers Association that was awarded to her in an emotional event held in her birth town Simbli. Many of her books have been transliterated into Gurmukhi script and published in India. Tauseef was nominated many times for the prestigious Pride of Performance award by the military and civilian governments of Pakistan but she always rejected. However, in 2010 she agreed to accept the same offer. While talking to Newsline in November 2009, she gave her reasons which explain her principled life and times, she said: “When a senior police officer representing Ziaul Haq came to me offering the Pride of Performance with a prize of eight murabbas of cultivatable landholding, I had refused point blank. Because, one, all my life I had written against the very system that was being perpetuated by Zia. Two, my acceptance would have led to the indictment of 41 other comrades in the Libya Conspiracy Case in which I had been named a party. So, my answer had been that to be remembered as a freedom fighter and revolutionary were far greater awards. That having been named as the best teacher by 25,000 students was a far greater honour. That I did not care for the bait of a landholding because my grandfather had owned three villages in undivided India. That my late father who had been the Quaid’s security officer in Ziarat had made no claims against his ancestral holdings, despite being in a position to do so, even while others were making fortunes. But yes, now I will accept the Pride of Performance because I have been convinced by friends that the award comes as an honour not from the establishment, but from the country that I have fought for. That it is my right.”

Tauseef was a strong advocate of provincial autonomy and was one of the few Punjabis who voiced her support for the Baloch cause within the confines of the federation. She was utterly against the landholding elite as well as the Baloch Sardari system. She was a people loving secular thinker who considered growing Mullahism as an existential threat to her homeland.

Among all these challenges, love for Punjab and Punjabi language became her green corner. She worked tirelessly for the language rights of her beloved people. She spearheaded the concept, actualisation and establishment of the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture (PILAC) in Lahore. However, when everything was accomplished bureaucrats arrived in their chauffeur-driven cars and she was silently sidelined. Pain of this betrayal stayed with her till the end.

In one of her last public appearances while addressing a charged gathering of Punjabi writers and workers in Lahore on August 8, 2009 she summed up her lifelong Punjabi language activism. This is like her ‘Nobel lecture’ to us, she said: “I may not be a Punjabi nationalist in the sense you are but I write at least 35 essays in favour of Punjabi Language every year. After reading all the world’s literature I can proudly say that Punjabi is one of the best languages of the world. However, it seems we are doomed; there is nothing left except pain. We are surrounded by darkness, there is no hope for the light. Rains have disappeared in the skies and river Ravi has dried up. Since long no one has fought the case of our Punjab. Our songs have muted, since long. Punjab is without a guardian (Nah Bullah, nah Waris, Punjab La-Waaris). There was a Punjab once from Delhi to Peshawar and from Shimla to Rajasthan. That was the blessed land, the Punjab of Baba Nanak. Then they snatched our language, our identity and our pride. They talk of dividing Punjab again. Every day new vultures arrive to prey on our land and demand their portions. They [vultures] even start fighting among themselves.” Tauseef was a naturalist who loved animals, flowers and gardening. She spent most of her life in Governmental residences and in one of her short stories she herself appears as a protagonist and narrates the story of a woman who spends many months in growing various seedlings and creating a garden. When spring arrives and flowers start blossoming, she receives an order to vacate the house as new allottees have arrived. Her blooming garden was ruined in Simbli and all her life, she remained a homeless child of the divided Punjab.

She never came to terms with this division and wrote so painfully in her East Punjab travelogue while visiting her birth town: “Kal loki jaduN mainu vaikhan gay tay kehn gay ‘Eih Simbli vãliaaN di dhee ay, Chaudhary Niamat Khan di Bhateji, Mehndi Khan di dhee, Vichaari pehli vaar aaee ay’. [Miary Vadkaay] Mussalmaan kiss tarah ho’ay mainu patta nahi par Mussalmaan hoN day Jurm wich 1947 vich apni dharti tay maaray ga’ay mainu patta ay. UnhaaN apna des chaddaN tu inkaar keeta….issay wajja tu ohnaaN day ghar da sona tay sonay vargyaaN dhiyyãN Lutte’aaN GyaaN.”
She never married and during the last years of her life she went into deep depression, grew bitter and stopped seeing even her very close comrades. During the last days of her life she used to stay awake all night busy arranging her bookshelves. She always wished for a Punjab research library as big as The Library of Congress for the sole purpose of holding all Punjab related books written in any language.
In one of her last meetings with her writer friends Nasreen Anjum Bhatti and Parveen Malik she didn’t utter a single word. When pushed to talk she mourned: “SaryaaN gallaN ai mukk gayyãN nay” (There isn’t anything left). Rest in peace mother, downtrodden kids of your muted land will always miss the shine of your presence: Khaali reh ga’ay matt Muhammad, khãnay majlas vaalay.

Curtsey:The News: January 11, 2015



Poet of lonely dreams
Mahmood Awan



Mazhar Tirmazi’s incredible poetry revolves around the loss and pain of relocation




In the 20th century there were very few Punjabis who didn’t have to leave their homes, from ancestral villages to opted cities and from cities to overseas. They are arguably the most uprooted nation of the world. This loss and pain of relocation is a central theme of Mazhar Tirmazi’s Punjabi poetry. Tirmazi’s ancestors had migrated from Jalandhar to Chichawatni after partition; this is where he received his early education and started his poetic life. He had the opportunity to interact with one of the great Urdu poets of modern era, Majeed Amjad, for years on a daily basis. It was Amjad who inspired him to write poetry. He was so close to Majeed Amjad that in one of his letters in 1970 while hearing about his illness, Amjad wrote: “I’m extremely worried about your illness and praying continually for your recovery. Please go for a four mile morning walk on the service lane at the bank of canal adjacent to Montgomery road, quit smoking and eat ice cream. Come over to Bhandari Chowk soon otherwise I will have to travel to Chichawatni to see you”.

Tirmazi has published four collections of Punjabi poetry: Jãgda Sufna (Dream of Awakening; 1983), Thandi Bhubal (Cold Ashes; 1986), Kãya Kãgad (The Body is Paper; 1998) and Dooja Hath Sawãli (My Other Pleading Hand; 2001). He has also written a play on partition titled ‘A Lifetime on Tiptoes — Healing the Wounds of Partition’ that has been performed in English, Welsh and Punjabi in India, Pakistan and UK. It was nominated for Shared Freedom of Expression award by Amnesty International in Edinburgh Literary Festival, 2007. The same play was performed by Ajoka Theatre as Surkh Gulãban Da Mausam in Lahore and Amritsar.

He also conceived and poeticised Basant Lahore, a fusion of puppetry and poetry event in collaboration with the London-based Fetch Theatre where performances were given at thirty different locations across England and Wales including a full house show at Ledbury Poetry Festival, 2011. Tirmazi performed his poetry about the street and cultural life of Lahore, and his reaction to the banning of Basant featuring his poem “Tere Shehr Basant Nahi Hondi Madho Laal Husaina (No more Basant in your city Madho Lal Hussain) among others. Tirmazi is the master of punch lines, brevity and striking images of nature and longing. His poetic craft is at its pinnacle in his most popular poem UmrãN LanghyaaN PabbaN Bhãr which was immortalised by Asad Amanat Ali Khan.

His poetry has been translated into English and Welsh. Five of his poems appeared inMother Tongues issue of Modern Poetry in Translation established by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort. His poem After Listening to Beethoven’s Fifth was selected for the Waiting Room Project as part of arts in National Health Service in UK. He received Lifetime Achievement Award from the Punjabis in Britain, All-Party Parliamentary Group in 2006. Tirmazi has also worked as a journalist in London for Urdu daily newspapers Awãz and Akhbar-e-Wattan.

Currently he is working on his latest book Adh (The Half) which is expected to be published soon.
He belongs to the prominent group of Punjabi poets of 1970s who re-established Punjabi poetics in Pakistani literary space. The group included names likes Mushtaq Soofi, Abid Ameeq, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti and Irshad Taunsvi among others. While talking to Jameel Paul and Zubair Ahmad for monthly Sver, Tirmazi said that he used to write Ghazals in Urdu but when he came to Lahore, it was Najm Hosain Syed who inspired him to write in Punjabi and, since then, he has never looked back.

Tirmazi is the master of punch lines, brevity and striking images of nature and longing. His poetic craft is at its pinnacle in his most popular poem UmrãN LanghyaaN PabbaN Bhãr(A lifetime on tip toes) which was immortalised by Asad Amanat Ali Khan and by the same token blatantly confused by the veteran singer as far as poetic credits were concerned. Asad added Dohdas (couplets) of Khawaja Ghulam Farid in between Tirmazi’s verses and never acknowledged the poet publicly. Listeners got impression that all lines he sung belong to Khawaja Farid.

Very few people know that Tirmazi wrote this poem in 1973 and it was published in the 2nd issue of Punjabi magazine Rut Lekha a year later. Asad was asked by one of Tirmazi’s friends in PTV to sing this poem when Amanat Ali Khan had died. It was composed by Hasan Latif but later when neither Asad nor his recording company EMI credited Tirmazi for this song he had to approach the courts against them where the case was decided in his favour.

One of his most evocative poems isSarhaal QaziyaaN, named after his ancestral village in Jalandhar, East Punjab which he often recalls as his mother’s home. He had the opportunity to visit the place, and what he saw there was emotional, disturbing and grievous. Poem opens up like a corpse; Mo’eyaaN Di Iss Dheri Tu MaiN Kee Labhan AyaaN, KhloeyaaN Andar Chup Ugdi Ay. Kaag Ajjay Vi Bolda Ay Kissay Bannay Beh Kay, BhaawiN GyaaN Nay MuRna Nahi: ‘What am I searching among the dead? Deserted rooms breathe silence. Rain is falling on the dying house for half a century. Moon rises in the village, even now. Crow still crows sitting on the roof wall. Even though, departed ones will never return’.

There is a wave of sadness and alienation that runs through almost every poem he has written, it emerges when reader is least expecting it and instantly captures the silent space: ‘A pair of doves rooting in my garden patch for food, Why do they make me sad? Time seems to stand still for me. I am not at all happy in my humanity. Man lives only to die. I am afraid, I will do the same’.
Then he sneaks out of that grief and vulnerability and Sufna (Dream) becomes his refuge. This is one of his favourite metaphors that frequently appear in his poems not in the revolutionary context but as an ordinary being’s intimate experience. Amarjit Chandan wrote a short essay on Sufna: “When I heard first few lines of the poem I got nervous thinking that Tirmazi will start telling the dream like most of our progressive writers do but no, he didn’t. He rather mystified the reality. This simple act made this poem an incredible poetic delight. Such an intricate perception and conception of dream has never happened before in our poetry. This poem is a declaration that dreams have a future, so do poetry and humanity”.

Let’s read his poem eternalised in this line, Eih sufna mere naal schoolay PaRhya : “This is not the first time I have seen this dream. I am living with this dream since my childhood. This dream flew me to the worlds unknown (Tasting forbidden fruits). Witnessing what must not be seen, Listening to what should not be heard. This dream is eternal, everything else ephemeral. A curious rite of passage dream demands, whoever lives it perishes each day”.

Kaya Kagad’s poem Iss Sialay (This Winter) sums up Tirmazi’s poetic concerns: “Don’t worry about me, I can exist in my words, But what about those who have no words, For them the world is bread-loaf lying in a chaabba (bread basket) What do they know of the art of living who are scared by the sadness that stares from the eyes of others. It is raining outside. A man and a woman are squabbling next door. Flowers have just blossomed”. And this is exactly what happens; flowers greet us, a slow sadness blends in with the smell of mangoes, lyrics fill the air and sparrows start chirping when we open any of Mazhar Tirmazi’s book. There is no excuse to miss out such an incredible poetry if you are a poetry lover.

Curtsey:The News: August 31, 2014



Poet of lonely dreams
Mahmood Awan



Mazhar Tirmazi’s incredible poetry revolves around the loss and pain of relocation




One language, two scripts, many religions and divided land; this is how the Punjabis had been decisively atomised by history. When the red clouds of partition cleared and Punjabis tried to make sense of all the blood and dust, literature became their only refuge. Laments were written and stories told, narrating a collective sense of grief and shame but partition of the scripts didn’t even let them cry together. West Punjabis were the foremost losers of the script divide as almost all the Punjabi writers who migrated to East Punjab were well-versed in both scripts, Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi as Urdu and Farsi were compulsory subjects at primary level in public schools of the pre partitioned Punjab. On the other hand majority of the Pakistani Punjabi writers could only read and write in Shahmukhi.
So distances furthered, common literary heritage faced existential threat and coming generations of Punjab got alienated from their collective ethos.

But the language of Baba Farid, Guru Nanak and Damodar Dãs has something special about it. In the darkest of times and against all odds, it has had the resilience to survive. Soon after partition, this situation was realised and damage control was initiated. Darshan Singh Awãra’s Baghavat (Rebellion), Mohan Singh’s Savey Pattar (Green Leaves), Amrita Pritam’s NaviN Rutt(The New Season) and Ahmad Rahi’s Trinjan (The Joint) were the first few books to appear in both scripts and across borders.
In East Punjab systematic transcription of ‘Pakistani Punjabi Literature’ (PPL) started in the mid 1970s with the publication of Dukh DaryaoN Pr Dey (‘With angst from across the river’: anthology of poems by 61 West Punjabi poets) edited by Attar Singh and Jagtar in 1975. The transliteration of this collection was done by Jagtar. He did transliterate a number of West Punjabi writers afterwards. A decade later Punjabi got another group of passionate workers in the shape of Jatinderpal Singh Jolly, Karnail Singh Thind, Prem Parkash and later Talwinder Singh. Jolly was the Professor in School of Punjabi Studies, Guru Nanak Dev University. He completed his doctorate on ‘Pakistani Punjabi Literature’ (PPL) and transliterated many works of West Punjabi poetry and fiction. He used to transliterate books with the help of his wife Jagjit Kaur. He transcribed Afzal Randhawa’s book of short fiction Rann, Talwãr te Ghorha(Woman, Sword and the Horse) which found a place in the university curriculum in East Punjab. Sufne Leero Leer (Shattered Dreams), poetic compositions of Pakistani poets about partition was another major transliteration he did. He used to credit Pakistan Television (PTV) for helping him learn Shahmukhi. Untill his death in 2009, he was actively pursuing new publications and authors. But the language of Baba Farid, Guru Nanak and Damodar Dãs has something special about it. In the darkest of times and against all odds, it has had the resilience to survive.

Amritsar born Talwinder Singh (1955 – 2013) was an awesome friend of the West Punjabi writers. He was a versatile writer and had served as the office holder of many Punjabi literary organisations of East Punjab. His transliterated works included selected short stories of Anwar Ali titled Gurh di Bheli (The Sugar Lump) in 2006 and Zubair Ahmad’s Meenh, Bohay tay BãriyãN (Rain, Doors and Windows) in 2008. Ironically during his last trip to Lahore, he was stopped from crossing the Wagah border in spite of a valid Pakistani visa and the gifts and books he was bringing for his friends had to be left in cold hands. Later, Indian authorities returned the favour by rejecting visa requests of his West Punjabi friends whom he had invited to attend his daughter’s wedding.
Prem Parkash, a renowned Punjabi writer, also introduced Pakistani Punjabi Literature (PPL) on the pages of his prestigious magazine Lakeer. Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Habib Jalib’s Punjabi poetry was also transliterated. Balraj Sahni transliterated many poems of Faiz and Amarjit Chandan the Punjabi poetry of Habib Jalib and published it from Jalandhar in 2003.
Jinder, fiction writer and editor, is the new unifier of Punjabi literature after the sudden deaths of Jolly and Talwinder in road accident. His latest efforts include “1947, Ujaaday Di Dãstãn” (1947: a story of devastation), a collection of short stories penned by Pakistani Punjabi writers about partition. He has also published Khalid Farhad’s Vatãndra and Malik Mehr Ali’s Dhaa Laggi Vasti in Gurmukhi. Latest issue of his magazine Shabd (The word) is dedicated to the fiction writers of West Punjab. As Pakistani Punjabi Literature is part of post-graduate Punjabi syllabus in East Punjab and many dissertations are done on it, there is hardly any notable West Punjabi book which is not published in the Gurmukhi script.
In West Punjab these efforts were reciprocated by Sibtul Hasan Zaigham, Ahmad Salim and Afzal Ahsan Randhawa. Then came Ilyas Ghuman, Iqbal Qaiser, Maqsood Saqib, Afzal Saahir, Javed Boota, Kitab Trinjan and APNA (Academy of the Punjab in North America). APNA published fifteen transliterated books from Lahore, out of which twelve were transliterated from Gurmukhi to Shahmukhi including works of Baba Nanak, Puran Singh, Balwant Gargi, Nanak Singh, Kartar Singh Duggal, Shiv Kumar, Pãsh and Surjit Patar. APNA also printed Mushtaq Soofi’s Taa and Najm Hosain Syed’s collected poems into Gurmukhi. Fictional works of Santokh Singh Dhir, Kulwant Singh Virk, Waryam Sindhu, Gurdial Singh, Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Davinder Satyarthi, selected poems of SS Misha and complete poetry of Pãsh were made available by Suchet Kitab Ghar.
Kitab Trinjan introduced us to Amarjit Chandan’s essays and poetry and published selected poems of Lal Singh Dil. Akhtar Husain Akhtar’s monthly LehrãN was the first to publish East Punjabi content and then Safir Rammah’s Sãnjh became the only magazine published in both scripts in separate volumes with identical content, from Lahore and Ludhiana.
I hope that these bridges stay intact, the friendship lives on, the publishers on both sides start respecting copyrights and we the bare-footed, meshed hair Punjabis keep rejoicing every message transmitted from across our five rivers in the name of Bulleh Shah “PayroN Nangi, SirroN Jhandoli, Aaya Saneha PãrouN; Annhi Chunnhi Di Tikki Pakkay, Dayla Sandal BãrouN”.

Curtsey: The News: June 22, 2014



The one-room shop in an old building
Mahmood Awan



Kitab Trinjin vanished from the Punjabi literary scene some years ago but is still missed




(From left to right) Anwar Chaudhry, Nisar Khan and Zubair Ahmad. — Photo by Akram Varraich. The story began in Mian Chambers, 3 – Temple Road, Lahore in February 1998, when I was searching for books by Najm Hosain Syed. From Vanguard Books to the old book stalls on the footpaths of Anarkali, I could not find a single print. Tired and dejected, I went to Regal Chowk, where a photocopier boy guided me to Temple Road.

After gathering my breath that pleasant afternoon, I found myself in a single room shop on the second floor of an old building. With Akram Varraich’s watercolour landscapes of Punjab hanging on the walls, it looked like an artist’s workroom from a previous life. I instantly fell in love with the place and, for the next 11 years, Kitab Trinjan became an integral part of my intellectual journey. History of printing press in Punjab is not that old. The first press was established in 1836 in Ludhiana by Christian Missionaries. In Lahore, indigenous press started between late 1840s and early 1850s. These start-up press houses were financed and facilitated by the East India Company. Kohinoor Press was tasked with printing a pro-Company Urdu newspaper Kohinoor and the Chronicle Press published the city’s first English-language journalThe Lahore Chronicle.

Both these publications were meant explicitly to further British colonial policy.
Those were the days when Urdu was being pushed as the predominant language of Punjab. According to a colonial survey of 1883, Urdu was the language of 11 of 13 vernacular newspapers published in Lahore.
Although Punjabi never featured in the press of its own land, Punjabi literature was still prospering on its own and by the late 19th century the demand for Punjabi books was soaring, mainly due to a huge market of folk epics, qissas. Kashmiri Bazar in Lahore was the main place for book trade.
After the partition, Sikhs and Hindus left behind their forefather’s graves, houses, buildings and material belongings, but took with them their magazines, books and newspapers. Whatever was printed and published from Lahore — from Preet Larhi to Panj Darya — re-emerged from Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Chandigarh and Delhi with the same names within a few years of the partition. East Punjabis never lost self-ownership of their language, heritage and literature. But West Punjabis sank deeper into oblivion. The result was obvious — Punjabi publishers of Kashmiri Bazar started evaporating from the scene within years of the partition. For decades not a single book of Punjabi was published. Even the poetry of Baba Bulleh Shah and other classics disappeared from the shelves of bookshops.
Kitab Trinjan had developed into a brand. Book events were being organised, music played and poetry composed. That tiny little room and its courtyard had become a grand Punjabi spectacle.
Twenty eight years after the partition, Punjabi Adabi Markaz emerged from the basement of Sanam Building in Mozang Chungi. This was a first such effort, managed and run by columnist and former academic Manzur Ejaz. It published over two dozen books, including Major Ishaq Muhammad’s play Quqnas and reprinted classics. But it closed down within 18 months due to financial constraints. Some 30 years after the Punjabi Adabi Markaz was closed down, Anwar Chaudhry, Nisar Khan and Zubair Ahmad gave birth to the idea of Kitab Trinjan at a weekly meeting of thesangat (literary gathering) held at Najm Hosain Syed’s place at Jail Road. Akram Varraich, Mazhar Tirmazi, Irfan Malik, Nadir Ali, Sarwat Mohiuddin, Saeed Bhutta, Ayesha Ali, Amarjit Chandan and many other friends joined in and an executive council was established.
A list of objectives was developed which contained idealistic targets, such as publishing new writers, especially those who have no resources to get published; facilitate research on Punjab and preserve the folklore; transliterate and publish books of East Punjab writers; launch a tri-monthly Punjabi magazine and organise conferences of Punjabi writers and arrange book festivals in villages, tehsils and cities all over Punjab.
Funds were collected and so began a love affair… Punjabi lovers supported Trinjan in whatever capacity they could, from donations of Rs100 to 20,000. Alongside Najm Hosain Syed stood lawyer and activist Raza Kazim and journalist Amin Mughal in the ‘call of duty’. They can never be forgotten.
The place for Kitab Trinjan was secured in September 1997 and poet and fiction writer Zubair Ahmad was entrusted with the responsibility of managing the shop on voluntary basis — which he did passionately and tirelessly. Without him, Kitab Trinjan may not have survived at all. The shop officially opened in December and Dr Amjad Babar, a lecturer at LUMS, made the first purchase of Rs590 on December 14, 1997.
A separate entity Rutt Lekha was established as Kitab Trinjan’s sister organisation to print new titles. Gradually, Trinjan became the sole distributor of the Punjabi Adabi Board and Rutt Lekha publications at a very cheap price. It sold around 40,000 Punjabi books worth Rs1.2 million.
Figures are not important as Kitab Trinjan was not just a provider of Punjabi books but it offered much more. It became a cultural centre that linked Punjabi writers of East and West Punjab and lured the Punjabi diaspora. It started transliterating Gurmukhi scripted books. Amarjit Chandan had his all four books printed in Farsi script by Trinjan. It made Baba Nanak, Puran Singh, Surjit Patar available to the West Punjabi readers.
Kitab Trinjan had developed into a brand. Book events were being organised, music played and poetry composed. That tiny little room and its courtyard had become a grand Punjabi spectacle.
Then on Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 11.42am, friends of Kitab Trinjan received an email that read “The executive Council of Kitab Trinjan has unanimously decided to close Kitab Trinjan from 30th September 2009”. It was a sudden death without any pathological reasoning

Curtsey:The News: June 1, 2014



Sajjan for Everyone
Mahmood Awan



Celebrating Sajjan, a Punjabi newspaper that was closed down twenty two years ago




It seems unreal — a legend, a folklore or storyline of a cliff-hanger — that a Lucknow-born, Urdu speaking renaissance man leads a group of passionate volunteers to launch their first ever mother language Punjabi newspaper in the Farsi script. It was the unparalleled dedication and commitment of those young enthusiasts which changed the language scene in Lahore and veteran journalist and activist Hussain Naqi was the man. What a name they opted for: Sajjan (Friend, Partner, Soulmate), this Punjabi word makes me believe in love and life in the darkest of times.
Sajjan was launched on February 3, 1989 from Lahore with a meagre amount of Rs1,76,606 from ordinary Punjabi lovers. All the staff except a few office workers was voluntary and without allowances or perks. Many of them did day jobs in far-off cities, travelling hundreds of miles, spending from their own pocket and landing back in the Sajjan office every evening, working till late. For about 21 months they did this just for the sake of their mother language. Ajeet Cour, a Lahore born, short story writer based in Delhi wrote about the endeavour, “I came to know about Zafaryab Ahmad, Jameel Paul, Iqbal Qaiser, Siddiq Babar, Abbas Ali Siddiqi, Ilyas Ghumman, Zubair Ahmad and other Punjabi enthusiasts who are working voluntarily for Punjabi newspaper Sajjan. In just eight months they are printing 30,000 copies and each copy is being read by forty odd people so their circulation has reached millions. Looking at their sincerity, dedication and passion, I wish to bow my head in respect.” This effort will have entered the history books if ancient Harappans were still alive or the land of five rivers had not gradually dried up. Thanks to Iqbal Qaiser’s RãtãN HoiyãN VadyãN(Nights have got longer): Rvel publications, Lahore, 1992 that this love story is not all lost yet.

First newsprint of Sajjan.
Qaiser has done a great job by compiling the details immediately after the newspaper was closed down when all the memories were fresh and wounds open. He has not only collected day to day events but has also provided photographs, contributions and brief biographical sketches of all involved in this effort. They were from all over Punjab: Lahore, Kasur, Vehari, Sialkot, Toba Tek Singh, Sahiwal, Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Khushab to the name the few. But friend Akram Varraich and his Wazirabad topped the list; there were above twelve volunteers from that one city. Mushtaq Soofi took leave from PTV to work at Sajjan’s editorial board and Zafar Jamal was there each evening after finishing his day at college. Najm Hosain Syed, Shafqat Tanvir Mirza, Cartoonist Feeqa, Painter Ahmed Zoy, Maqsood Saqib, Waseem Dukhya and only female volunteer Najma Parveen Najmi along with many of their comrades were Sajjan’s support system. Qaiser elaborates how the Punjabi elite shunned them when they knocked at their doors for support. He has named and humiliated them from Fakhar Zaman, Hanif Ramay, Meraj Khalid, Aitzaz Ahsan, Abida Hussain to the Sharif brothers. Eventually they turned to ordinary public for help and the response was awesome: a housewife sent Rs100, a school boy promised to buy Sajjan from his pocket money, a painter offered to paint banners for free, theatre director Huma Safdar and short fiction writer Zoya Sajid donated their gold jewellery and a gentleman from Karachi even offered to sell his kidney to help.
Sajjan was launched on February 3, 1989 from Lahore with a meagre amount of Rs1,76,606 from ordinary Punjabi lovers. All the staff except a few office workers was voluntary and without allowances or perks.
Back in those days, they had no telephones, no tele printers and no advertisements and within first four months initial funds were exhausted: “Very JãN Da Kull Jahãn Hoya, Sajjan Ik Nah Aadmi Shehr Da Ay” (Whole world has turned against me; I can’t find a single friend here). Therefore, it was decided to print and appeal to its readers for their suggestions and help. Response was overwhelming, so price of the newspaper was increased, Sajjan committees were formed in all major cities and a street theatre play written by Raja Rasalu was launched to collect funds.
In those hard times alongside Benazir Bhutto’s federal government it was Sindh provincial government who came to their support offering them advertisements till the end. If there was one discouraging hand it was the provincial government of Punjab. On the first anniversary of Sajjan one of the banner carried a slogan coined by Aslam Dogar Shukriyya Punjab Sarkaar, Ik saal wich Ik Ishtehaar (Thank you Punjab government for your generosity of giving us one ad in one year).

Veteran journalist and activist Hussain Naqi.

Sajjan also got support from National Press Trust and Syed Ajmal Hussain memorial trust but it was not enough to sustain the newspaper. The Marquezian moment was soon approaching and closure seemed inevitable. We experience a grievously sad scene when the final decision was made to seize its publication. Raja Rasalu is dragging himself downstairs, Iqbal Qaisar and Mustajab Gohar are sitting silently on the corners of the sofa and tears are flowing down their eyes and the reporting table is empty.
Was Sajjan an idea that never dies or failure of a community as a whole or success of the impossible? Will there ever be another Sajjan; who knows?
Sajjan was closed down twenty two years ago but we can still breathe the love and passion which was instilled in the air by those selfless Punjabis at the expense of their own lives, families and careers: “Tainu Hor Mandda Kee BolãN, Vay Taira Kittay Neoh Lag Jã’ay” (Let me wish you the worst, May you fall in love)
Curtsey:The News: May 4, 2014



Chandan’s world
Mahmood Awan



Amarjit Chandan’s poetry enriches and elevates; it’s a timeless travel not to be engaged in haste




After a marked absence of accessible translations of Punjabi poetry in England for more than eighty years, Amarjit Chandan’s Sonata for Four Hands (Arc Publications), prefaced by the great writer and long-time admirer of his work John Berger, appeared in 2010. It was the first ever bi-lingual volume of a Punjabi poet published in the UK and elsewhere. This was a landmark publication but much before this, Chandan was the most anthologised and broadcast Punjabi poet in Europe and the Americas. Apart from the Indian languages (Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, Telugu, Urdu and others) his poems are translated into Arabic, Greek, Italian, Portuguese-Spanish and Turkish. English versions of his poems have appeared in various collections and magazine like; All That Mighty Heart (2008), The Best British Poetry(2012), Modern Poetry in Translation and Poetry Review among others. He was one of the 10 British poets selected by Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate of England, for the National Poetry Day in 2001.

Chandan was born in Nairobi (Kenya), educated in Chandigarh (East Punjab) and is living in London since 1980. He is undoubtedly the global face of modern Punjabi poetry. Any writer opting to write in his mother language is an indication of not only his sense of rootedness but the much needed political sensibility.

When such efforts are acknowledged at the international level, it becomes an individual achievement as well as a success of the native lingual tradition. Chandan has not only achieved that but has echoed sounds of the Punjabi words globally. He is a sensational poetry reader and the most thrilling part of his poetry reading events from Aldeburgh, Ledbury and King’s Lynn poetry festivals to Arc tours is that in all such events he always reads in Punjabi followed by the translation by an English speaking poet or actor. Chandan has published seven collections of poetry, and five books of essays in Punjabi. Four of his books have been published in the Farsi script by Kitab Trinjan, Lahore. He is friends with all the major Lahori writers and artists. He is in love with Lahore and his book of sixty poems inspired by the city is due late this year titled Lahore diyaaN PohRiaaN (Stairs of Lahore). He has edited and translated over thirty anthologies of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction among others, Brecht, Neruda, Ritsos, Hikmet, Vallejo, Cardenal and Berger in Punjabi.

His emotions, responses, suspensions and every related expression are derived from his Punjabi sensibility, connectivity, history and heritage.

Chandan moved to Nakodar, his ancestral village in Jalandhar, East Punjab when he was eight. As a student in Panjab University, Chandigarh he got involved in the Maoist Naxalite movement of late 1960s where he ran their publication section and befriended fellow poets Pash and Lal Singh Dil. He was later captured and imprisoned in 1971 which included two years in solitary confinement. His Punjabi essay KandhãN (The Walls) is a sad piece describing that trauma. Those two years of horrible psychological torture never left him, his poem ‘Voices’ so delicately signals about that: “I hear voices: Mother says something and laughs. There is a lump in my father’s throat as he talks. Hair is beginning to sprout on my face. A bell rings. School’s over. I have kissed her again. The train is leaving for Nakodar. This is the voice of Baba Bhãg Singh [revolutionary] visiting our house. The Prison gate is opening. My baby son chokes as he sucks at his mother’s breast. Travellers throw flowers and coconuts in the sea. One sound only is missing, the one I am longing to hear” (Translation: Ajmer Rode and John Welch).

There are sixty one poems in Sonata for four hands. Book cover is done by painter and filmmaker Gurvinder Singh. Sonata is a musical piece played on one or more instruments and when that piece is played with four hands (two persons) on the same instrument it becomes Sonata for four hands. A lot has been written about his poems and most reviewers have mentioned eloquent silences and solitude in his poetry as its main characteristics. While Satya P Gautam wrote: “The best moment is the moment when poetry and philosophy become one. This unity is the achievement of Chandan’s poetry.”

Short poem carved in 40-foot long stone by Eric Peever
For me the most striking feature of his poetry is its rootedness and Punjabiyyat. His artistic system boots with it. Punjabiyyat is his way of thinking that is reflected in his each and every creative exploration.
The force of this unified Punjabi identity is so strong in his poetry that its pull is not even lost in translation. His emotions, responses, suspensions and every related expression are derived from his Punjabi sensibility, connectivity, history and heritage. He lives and relives in his mother language with all its colourful and holistic manifestations. All the pains and pleasures of the five rivers flow inside his poetry even when he talks about the London Eye or Californian Farms.
Lassan (Garlic) is one such poem, a delightful read; this is the poem in which I will like to live forever: “In a distant country when you come across a compatriot you are thrilled to the bones. Your eyes and your hands reach out to him and a chain of words is formed. I came on it once, the Punjabi word “Lassan” written up on a huge billboard for women farm workers in a far-flung corner of California. And I felt my language had welcomed me, shaken my hands, embraced me, wished me good luck. For a moment the taste of the word Lassan was like a sugar lump on my tongue.” (Translation: Amin Mughal).

In one of his other poems he celebrates Punjab with such an absolute passion: “Punjab Maira tãN Dunya Jedda, Punjab Maira Anhad Hay, Iss Wich Sabhu Darya Vehnday, Eih Kissay Faqeer Di Sadd Hay, Punjab Maira Anhad Hay”.
He once told me that many of his poems started with the thought and search of a single Punjabi word and the fear of its loss. This compassion and longing for his mother language then sends him on a poetic journey. One of such words that captivated his soul and imagination for years was ‘Dhareja’ (Child of the Soil). This is the name of his distant father, inspiration behind many of his poems and to whom Sonata for Four Hands is dedicated: “To Dhareja, In Memorium. The seed of my family tree”.

In his foreword to the book, John Berger deciphered hospitality and Chandan’s poetic strategy, he wrote: “Amarjit Chandan’s poetry transports its listeners or readers into an arena of timelessness. What he does is to fold time; time in his poems becomes like an arras or a hinged screen. The listener or reader is encircled by a multiplicity of times. His poetic practice assumes that there are more space-time dimensions than the four we habitually recognise”. Chandan considers Berger his Guru/Murshid and a close friend. In one of his earliest letters written from France, Berger talks about his poem To Father: “I find your poem so beautiful … like an avenue in a city I was wanting to reach. Thank you for it. And tell your father I thank him. May I hold both your hands?”

Chandan received several awards and honours which include the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 from the Language Department, Government of the East Punjab; and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 from the Punjabis in Britain, All-Party Parliamentary Group, London and Anãd Poetry Award, India in 2009. His short poem was carved in 40-foot long stone by Eric Peever, both in Punjabi and its English version and is installed in High Street Slough, England: dur bahut dur kisey nachhtar [planet] uttey, piá hai pathar geeta. Eh ankháN muNd ke takkná paiNdá, jeoN chetey ávey sohná mukh sajjanaN dá (Far far away on a distant planet, There lies a stone unseen untouched. It can be seen only with closed eyes, as you see your loved ones).
So is Chandan’s poetry that enriches and elevates, it’s a timeless travel not to be engaged in haste.

Curtsey:The News: September 21, 2014




The rebel stylist
Mahmood Awan



One of the most gifted poets of our time, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti stands tall among all the women Punjabi poets of her generation





Nasreen Anjum Bhatti belongs to that saintly tradition of poets who are true not only to themselves but to the spirit of their very own people and land. Her first book of Punjabi poetry Neel KaraeaaN NeelkaaN was published in 1979 when dictator General Zia-ul-Haq had taken the whole nation hostage. This book is a fascinating read. It’s organised in sections with thirty-two different poems but it reads as a one long poem composed in a lengthy monologue. It’s a book of intense and stimulating poetry where the poet has let herself completely free.
Overpowered by the muse of poetry, it turns out to be an extremely emotional piece of writing that is full of rage and rebellion. Poems oscillate from one expression to another, making each line a separate poem in itself. It is penetrating poetry that brutally exposes a stinking socio-political order and laments a damned era.
Feminism is at the core of Nasreen’s poetry but her feminism is one that is pure, genuine and rooted in the native soil. It embodies experiences and observations of generations, internalised for centuries by the suffering womenfolk: MaaN mainu fir jamm tay reejh kar kay jam pachtãva kar kay nahi
DhiyyaN kioN jammiãN ni ma’ay, puttar kioN jammay jehRay Punnu ho ga’ay
Dullia Ladhi nu aakh ik dhee jammay, main kiklee pavNi ay.
Neel KaraeaaN NeelkaaN was reprinted in 2003 by Suchet Kitab Ghar. It also contains her most read and loved poem “Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto di vaar” that was written immediately after Bhutto’s hanging. This eulogy was composed in an unending lyric of longing, liberation and loss. Let’s read few lines of that poem:
MaiN Mirza saagar Sindh da mairi Rawal janj chaRhee
main turya sooli chumm kay, mainu eho reet baRi/[…]
maira chola rang dio ratRa, mairi ajrak ghallo jail
ni sunn SahibaaN Punjabñay asmãneeN hosan mail
main jhootay lay la’ay maut day, main chãRhee peengh svail
main Shah Hussain di aajzi, main Shah Latif di vail
Nasreen Anjum Bhatti that we know will never ask for anything from anyone but we know she needs immediate assistance and care before it’s too late.
(I am the Mirza [Punjabi folk legend of epic Qissa SahibãN] of Sindh and my final celebrations were held in Rawalpindi / I walked like a rebel, ready to die, carrying forward the heroic tradition of dissent/ Colour my shirt in red and send my Ajrak to the prison cell/ Punjab, my SahibaaN, my darling, [Dont cry] We will be reunited in the next life/ I was hanged in the darkness of night but a new sun rose from my blood/ I, the humility of Shah Hussain and an ode of Shah Latif [Bhitai]). (Translation by the author) In the book there are ten consecutive poems starting with the same line “vay kehRa aiN?”(Who is it?) These poems have the power to shake our whole social system and send shivers down our male spines. This is how the poem opens:
Vay kehRa aiN mairiaN aan drãN naal manjji uñda
maira dil dvãñ aalay pãsay rakhiN tay akhãN sirhanay bannay
main sirhanay tay phull KaRhnay nay
Dharti di dhon niveeN hovey tay ohday tay asmaan nahi chukka dai da
Baba dhiyyãN puttar ikko jahay kioN nahi honday?
jay dhee vaddi hovey tãN tussaN tukk tukk kay puttar jiddi kar lainday o
jay puttar vadda hovey tãN dhee fir poñi, fir adhi, fir khanni
(Hey, who are you weaving my bed with my insides / Place my heart at the foot and my eyes at the head/ I have to embroider flowers on the pillow / When the earth’s neck is bowed / You don’t load the sky on it /Baba, why are daughters and sons not equal and alike in worth / If the daughter is older, you gnaw at her / Till she is reduced to the size of her brother / If the son is older, then again the daughter, a quarter, half, damaged.) [Translation: Waqas Khwaja].
Athay Pehr Tarah (Sanjh, 2009) is Bhatti’s second collection. Most poems of the book are heavily influenced by Najm Hosain Syed whom she calls her ideal and guru. In all those poems she doesn’t appear to resist Shah Ji’s poetic influence; rather she feels like celebrating that borrowed diction and elegance. She too wrote ghazals and kafis in a non-traditional form challenging the “Uroozi” and conventional pigeon holes.
In a few of the kafis, she comes up as considerably fresh and relieved of the previous burden and baggage of her usual themes: NaviN suna faqeera! sanu pichli hoee purãni / Navvay banae’ay paatri tay naviN kahani hor/NaviN ghaRaee tayg uthaa tay Ishq da naaRo kapp/ faqeera pichli hoee purãni.
One of the most gifted poets of our time, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti stands tall among all the women Punjabi poets of her generation. She is an undisputed stylist. The only limitation I found is the constant repetition and monotony of thought. What a treat it will be if one day she can come out to bless us with her lyrical poetry born out of insouciance. Whatever she can offer her readers in future, she has already cemented her place as a poet of incredible talent with lines likes these [written for the May Day]:
Jang mukk gai ay
AssiN apniãN lãshãN chukk layy’ay
(War has ended / Can we collect our dead bodies now?)
She was born in Quetta, Balochistan, grew up in Sindh (Jacobabad) and all her life she loved Punjab and Punjabi. She retired as Controller Programmes from Radio Pakistan in 2007. She got dance trainings, learnt playing sitar, painted landscapes and loved embroidery. Homes of her close friends are blessed with her soulful needlework. Her lifelong selfless association and unparalleled love for her late husband journalist Zubair Rana reminds us of Punjabi folk epics. Her hardwork, political activism and commitment towards social causes as a street fighter distinguish her from all her contemporaries.
When I met her last month in her secluded home in Lahore, she was so weak and frail that it was impossible for her to utter few simple words. The most charged and free flowing poet of the Punjab was lying wordless on a bed in pain and agony. It was an extremely sad and tearful sight. She led a dignified life and deserves an equally dignified and honourable treatment.
Nasreen Anjum Bhatti that we know will never ask for anything from anyone but we know she needs immediate assistance and care before it’s too late and believe me we have no other like her in our entire modern literary tradition. She herself summed up her entire journey in the following lines of the opening poem of her last book Athay Pehr Tarah:
SãeaaN tayri ardal andar
AssaN chanddal rukh thiyasay
AssaN apna hovan kee dasy’ay
HaaN hulaara lainda, ratta fir hasya, fir runna
Tainu vaykhaN baajh kee keeta! Puch badneeta!
Ik ghutt paani ghutt ghutt kar kay peeta.
The Curtsey:The News: May 10, 2015




Stories that never end
Mahmood Awan



One of the most gifted poets of our time, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti stands tall among all the women Punjabi poets of her generation


“He has not returned to his old Florence, even after having died” lamented Anna Akhmatova for Dante. It was a poet’s tribute to her fellow poet knowing well that the most stunning travels are never physical and then for Dante, who was always there, in his homeland and ‘exile’ for him was just a word. One can return to one’s old Macondo, Combray or Krishan Nagar at will in the bliss of memory with a pen in hand and with a blink of an eye. This is exactly what Zubair Ahmad has so absorbingly achieved in his new book of Punjabi short fiction Kabootar, Baneray tay GalyãN.
The art of storytelling is as old as civilisation and every language has its own trajectory and development of this art. Punjabi language has a thousand year old rich tradition of oral storytelling. We have vãrs, epics and qissas from which Punjabi short story took birth.
As a written form, Punjabi short story evolved at the same time it rose in Malyalam and Bangla. When Vaikom Muhammad Basheer and Rabindranath Tagore were shaping the genre in their mother languages, Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid (1881-1936) and Heera Singh Dard (1889-1964) pioneered it in Punjabi. Within a century Punjabi fiction has produced countless master storytellers like: Kulwant Singh Virk, Santokh Singh Dheer, Gurdyal Singh, Prem Prakash, Afzal Ahsan Randhawa and Anwar Ali to name the few which may not be known to the Pakistani Punjabis as reading and writing in their MaaN Boli has gradually become a matter of shame and not pride. Zubair Ahmad is a poet, essayist, critic and short story writer. He is one of the most credible names of contemporary Punjabi fiction on both sides of the border. He has authored two books of poetry and a collection of short stories. He started his journey as a political worker associated with the Marxist movement of 1970s. He established Punjabi Parchãr committee which led to street theatre group Punjab Lok Rahs. He later volunteered for first Punjabi daily newspaper Sajjan and worked as sub-editor. In the late 1990’s, he selflessly managed our dream shop, the Punjabi-only bookshop and publishing house Kitab Trinjan for more than a decade.
He is a tireless Punjabi activist and is presently teaching as Assistant Professor of English in Old Islamia College, Lahore. His first book of short stories Meenh, Boohay tay BãriyãN was published in 2001 which instantly captured the imagination. He produced literature which in Susan Sontag’s words “keeps us from shrivelling into something completely superficial”. His aesthetical use of space and time is crafty, soulful and native. Places appear as characters in his stories which is such a unique phenomenon in Punjabi short fiction. His diction is poetic and his affinity with sound and placement of words makes his stories a piece of visual art.
Punjabi’s legendary short story writer Prem Prakash wrote: “While reading Zubair I recall Urdu’s great fiction writer Rajinder Singh Bedi especially his story Das Minat Barish MaiN. Zubair’s characters never talk or act loud and this is such an art which is so difficult to produce even by experienced writers like me! This normality and undercurrent in his stories makes ordinary events special. His stories are deep and he has the ability to comprehend the metaphors, find the unfound and say the unsaid. Texts of his stories are already known to us but when Zubair writes a story we start believing like we never knew it before. I felt that words of his characters go deep inside the reader’s heart and get layered there like cotton buds.”
Zubair’s short stories have been translated into English and appeared in many anthologies; Boha Khullay aye was published in A letter from India: Contemporary short stories from Paksitan (edited by Mozzam Sheikh; Penguin, 2004), Meenh Bohay tay BaãryaãN was selected in Stories of the Soil (edited by Nirupama Dutt; Penguin, 2010) and Sweaterappeared in South Asian Ensemble (a Canadian Quarterly 2010, Vol.2, Number 3)
Kabootar, Beneray tay GalyãN is as powerful and absorbing as his first collection. If short story books have sequels then this is the book to look for. Stories in this collection are equally enriching and challenging as the first one. It seems the theme of uprootedness, loss and memory was not fully exhausted that writer felt compelled to explore its other dimensions and new angles in a slightly different tone giving life to old characters and places. It seems he himself was aware of this thematic influence while writing his first book.
“The same old house, our house in Krishan Nagar. I wonder how long the dreams of the house will haunt me” ( Boha Khulla aye, tran: Mozzam Sheikh) and these dreams of his old house and his beloved Krishan Nagar equally haunt his readers, dreams within dreams and life beyond living. There are 13 stories in this book and Murda Tãri, Bajwa Hun Gal Nahi Karda, Akahani, Pandh and Kabootar , Baneray tay GalyãN are the short stories which can make any writer envy.
“Style is the transformation the writer imposes on reality” Proust told us and Zubair lived it and with Zubair we the readers. This book is a real treat and a living experience. If you are a Punjabi and have never read a book in your mother language then this is the time to reclaim yourself, your soul and your language and believe me you are not going to regret it.

Curtsey:The News: January 19, 2014




Seamus the famous
Mahmood Awan



Arguably the greatest poet Ireland produced since Yeats, Seamus Heaney became known for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth By Mahmood Awan
In an old Irish folk tale, a questioner asks Finn McCool: “Tell us Finn, what is the best music in the world?” After a long pause, Finn replies: “The music of what happens”. The man, who composed, analysed and amplified not only the music of what happens but the music of what might happen died on August 30 in Dublin at the age of 74.
Seamus the famous as he was known among his friends was the greatest poet Ireland has produced since WB Yeats. He was so famous that Dublin literary circles used to joke that Heaney doesn’t have a postman but a postvan for the delivery of his posts. He was a master poet, a Nobel laureate and the unrooted son of Bellaghy.
He was a legend in the world of literature but a farmer’s son at heart. “I live in the city and Heaney lives in the countryside, in the memory and elsewhere,” he told a reporter once.”
Heaney was born at a Mossbawn farm in Bellaghy, Co Derry (Northern Ireland) on April 13, 1939, the eldest of the nine children of “an ever growing family” as stated in his Nobel lecture. He attended St. Columb’s College in the city of Derry; the move which he would describe as “from the earth of farm labour to the heaven of education”. In 1957, he joined the Queen’s University, Belfast and later taught at the same campus embarking on a lifelong academic career which included Professorship of Poetry both at the Harvard and the Oxford.
Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”. When asked how it felt having his name in the Irish Nobel pantheon featuring William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett, Heaney responded: “It’s like being a little foothill at the bottom of a mountain range. You hope you just live up to it. It’s extraordinary.”
Although he accepted that Nobel Prize is a life-changing event, he was never affected by that status like his close friends and fellow Nobel laureates Josephy Brodsky and Derek Walcott. Replying to a question just after the Nobel announcement, he responded: “This is the way I have lived since I began to write since last thirty years so my writing plans haven’t changed, my circumstances have changed with so many interviews.” He was awarded the Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters) from the French ministry of culture in 1996.
His other accomplishments include: Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), TS Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread prizes (1996 and 1999). He won honours from Trinity College Dublin in 2012 when it named one of Ireland’s most prestigious academic appointments after him — the Heaney Professorship in Irish Writing at Trinity College Dublin. Heaney had twelve collection of poems to his credit these include ‘Death of A Naturalist’, ‘Door Into The Dark’. ‘Wintering Out’, ‘North, Fieldwork’, ’Station Island’, ‘The Haw Lantern’, ‘Seeing Things’,’ The Spirit Level’, ‘Electric Light’, ‘District and Circle’ and ‘Human Chain’.
I met him last year at the Dalkey Book festival where he had a poetry reading session. This was one of his last public appearances. It was a full house and he mesmerised the audience with his delivery and his poetry in his so loving native Northern accent. He looked tired and fatigued. Among the attendees was Bono the U2 singer who regarded Heaney as “a great, great poet who changed his life”. No poetry reading was complete without him reading his masterpiece ‘Digging’ from his debut collection ‘Death of a Naturalist’. In the poem he recalled his father and his grandfather cutting turf and scattering new potatoes. He remembered the “cold smell of potato mould”, “the squelch and slap of soggy peat”, but lamented that he had no spade to follow those men winding with a remarkable poetic prophecy:
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
He wrote his first poems under the pseudonym of “Incertus” which means uncertain and “uncertain I was” he once said: “It was after reading Ted Hughs and Patrick Cavanagh that I thought that this material of my own from my county Derry is workable.” He moved from North to South in 1972 and that’s where he committed himself to poetry and allowed himself to be called a poet. “To me it’s a very large word ‘Poet’ and to think and allow yourself to be called poet is to consecrate yourself. I think it’s very serious,” he said in an interview.
Poetry for Heaney was about time, place and memory. The troubles in the North did influence his poetry which he discussed in detail in his Nobel lecture. His two remarkable poems about his second cousin Colum McCartney who was killed by a group of loyalist paramilitaries in random sectarian assassinations in 1975 sums up the twenty years of killings and the caste system Heaney went through during his stay in the North. Heaney missed the funeral due to a Literary festival which he lamented in his book Station Island’s poem “Station Island, VIII” in the voice of his cousin who then directly accuses him of having aesthetically prettified his death in the earlier elegy (‘The Strand at Lough Beg’; Field Work)
You confused evasion and artistic tact.
The Protestant who shot me through the head
I accuse directly, but indirectly, you
who now atone perhaps upon this bed
for the way you whitewashed ugliness and drew
the lovely blinds of the Purgatorio
and saccharined my death with morning dew.
(‘Station Island’, VIII)
He was unapologetically Irish and despite his love for rural south Derry, boglands and “the north”, he spent much of his life in Dublin. Ironically, as he himself admitted, there is not a single poem inspired by the city of his residence. In 1983, he expressed his strong national identity in a fall-out with poets Andrew Motion and Blake Morrison who included him in The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry. Heaney responded in An Open Letter, a 198-line poem: “Be advised, My passport’s green. No glass of ours was ever raised, To toast the Queen,” and then almost 30 years later, Heaney did in fact raise a glass to toast the Queen during her historic visit to Ireland in 2011.
Heaney once quoted what he had translated from Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles when his friend the great Polish poet Czes?aw Mi?osz died in 2004. Telling the story of the old king who dies and vanishes into the earth, the play’s messenger says, in Heaney’s words: “Wherever that man went, he went gratefully.”
Mahmood Awan is a Punjabi poet who works and lives in Dublin. He can be reached at mahmoodah@gmail.com

Curtsey:The News :Published on 15-09-2013




Book of Poems ‘Veeni Likhia Din’
Mahmood Awan



Mahmood Awan, a young poet, recently published his second book of poems ‘Veeni Likhia Din’ (a day etched on the wrist). Knowing his background a little may help the readers to understand the milieu of his poems. He was born in the Khushab area of the Punjab and is now settled in Dublin, Ireland. He like most expat poets and artists exists at two levels; the real and the imaginative. For a poet uprooted from his ancestral land and planted on a foreign soil what is real now was once imaginative and what is imaginative now was once real. That is not to say that the real and the imaginative do not merge. The merging of real and imaginative is in fact what creates a space pregnant with mysterious disorientation, making the poetic utterance possible.

Mahmood’s poetry is a product of an age of ever increasing intermingling of people through migration, forced or self imposed. In his poetry what is immediate looks intangible and what is removed appears as something tangible. An existential tangle of what is absently present and presently absent is an underlying current of Mahmood’s poems.

“After office hours I come home and see your presence seated in the sofa on my right, in silence/relentless rain outside does not let the evening sink into me/breath refuses to unfold the bygone season and I cry without looking on my right/ dear darling, no one leaves the way you leave or perhaps you do not leave at all but you are not here with me either”. Mahmood though modern in his sensibility does not sound modernistic. Repeated imagery in some of his poems makes them lose their intensity. One gets good vibes that he carries the poetic tradition forward without being traditional.

‘Pakistani zubanan’ (Pakistani languages) is a book comprising a selection of articles compiled by Parveen Malik, a known short story writer, and published by Pakistan Punjabi Adabi Board. It discusses and analyses various issues faced by Pakistani languages in an historical context. The list of the authors include some illustrious names like Asif Khan, Dr Ghulam Ali Alana, Sardar Mohammad Khan, Ainu l Haq Faridkoti, Sharif Kunjahi, Safdar Mir, Qazi Jawed, Ilyas Ishqi and Saif ur Rehman Dar. The book is not boring at all as is usually the case with research papers. The scholars discuss wide ranging issues, which have bearing on our socio political life because the question of language in a multilingual society affects the people in their day today life. Most of the Pakistani languages and dialects are in a state of total neglect as a consequence of ideologically driven and politically motivated language policy of the state. The state declares Urdu the national language with the manifest intension of creating a sense of national unity, but uses English as the language of officialdom in the name of convenience. Pakistani languages are treated as another item of cultural decor. Such a blinkered vision of the state has resulted in a denial of the rights of the languages spoken by the people of Pakistan. The scholars in this book with their insightful analyses suggest the ways, which can help the society and the state to evolve a rational language policy ensuring that the flourishing of diverse languages used by the people becomes a source of our national richness. Zubair Ahmed is a good short story writer and poet. ‘Sadd’ (ballad/call) is his second book of poetry. His poems tend to create an atmosphere of elusive concreteness and palpable abstraction. He expresses his creative experience with an intention to give it fresh poetic meanings. But the meanings tend to touch the mind rather than the senses. Concern to create meaning out of everything poetic leads at times to losing spontaneity and sensuality. Zubair’s ideological framework restrains his emotion and passion. In his short stories he abstains from any such self restraining measure that makes them progress with ease. His poems encompass diverse experience; existential and social. He is at his best when he jettisons his ideological baggage allowing his verse to move lightly at a natural pace. Let us share one of his poems “Visiting Thandiani (a hill resort close to Abbottabad)”: We arrive there at noon/a cloud appears at our door, quietly chasing the visitors /why don’t you get soaked? You leave being as dry as when you come/a rustic carrying a canister of water tied to a bamboo smiles/ nobody asks him where does he fetch the water from, and how he manages to walk straight with his rickety legs/ no one is curious to know from where does the cloud come and where it goes evaporating/everything is as quiet as the cloud, the visitors and the trees/the place looks like a primeval season lost by man”.

Zubair’s problem seems to be the language. His notion of poetic idiom becomes a self created hurdle. If the creative sweat that goes into composing a poem makes it look laboured, you end up with what looks like a forced expression. Zubair tries to blend his poetic language with western dialect and Seraiki that sounds odd and fabricated at times. Of course one can create an idiom with borrowings from different dialects of the Punjab as has been the practice with our classical poets but for that one must have not only a thorough understanding of them but also know intuitively what jells and what doesn’t. He can create even better poetry with what comes to him as his natural language.

Curtsey DAWN.COM Published March 2, 2013



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