On May 8, 1999, the fourth annual conference of Academy of the Punjab in North America was held in Fairfax, Virginia, near Washington D.C. Participants from India, Pakistan, Canada and many parts of the United States took part in this conference. The hall in which the conference took place was well stocked with Punjabi books in Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi from both sides of the border.
In the first session three papers were presented on the topic of Punjabi Literary criticism. Dr. Karnail Singh Thind, who had travelled from East Punjab to participate in this conference, chaired this session. Dr. Manzur Ejaz in his paper discussed a number of issues about the pervailing trends in Punjabi litrary criticism. Me mentioned that that most of the Punjabi critics just translate concepts and terms from Hindi or Urdu which themselves have been translated from English, thus not making any sense to anybody. The very terminology and models are foreign. He pointed out that the Punjabi literature has a rich tradition of criticism known as Parkh, but most of the literary critics do not delve into this tradition. He compared the field of Punjabi literary criticism in the current period to "a ladder which has been borrowed."
Dr. Mehar Singh who had also traveled from India read a paper on The Form and Future of Punjabi Language. In his paper, Dr. Mehar Singh traced the history of Punajbi language and its development from the Vedic times to the present and the changes it has gone through the ages in its development. He pointed out that the British colonialists communalized the language and pushed the view that Punajbi was the language of the Sikhs alone and Urdu the language of Muslims and Hindi of the Hindus. He said this communalisation of the language by the British has brought disasters for the development of Punjabi language. He also pointed out that the policy of the central government and its institutions in India has been to Sansikritize Punjabi which is turning Punjab away from the language of the common people.
The last paper of the morning session was presented by Dr. Sukhpal Singh on Punjabi Literary Criticism. He traced the history of Punajabi literature through history and pointed out that with the development of "progressive" literary criticism under the guidance of Marxism, the scientific literary criticism came into being in Punjabi literature. He also emphasized the importance of studying and preserving Punjabi Folklore and Ballads for Punjabi criticism on a conscious basis. He mentioned that in his research work, unpublished as yet, he rediscovered many of the "vaars" (folk ballads) upon which the musical meters of the vaars in Guru Granth Sahib are based.
After these three presentations a lively discussion took place on the issues raised in the presentions. The audience further discussed the points raised by Manzur Ejaz that Punjabi Literary critics do not look within the Punjabi tradition for guidance rather than borrowing foreign models and thus making thought content and language distant from the people.
The second session started after lunch and was presided by Veena Verma, a well known Punjabi writer from Britain. The first paper of this session was presented by Dr. Karnail Singh Thind, the well known Punjabi writer on the Punjabi Folklore. In his presentation Dr. Thind pointed out with concerete facts and forceful arguments that Punjabis on both sides of the border have historically shared a common folklore. That's why in spite of partition of the Punjab 50 years ago, our folklore is common. It reflects a common language, common economic life, common psychology that arose on that common territory called land of five rivers.
Safir Rammah presented the second paper on the work of Najam Hussain Sayyad, the famous writer, critic and thinker of Punjabi from Lahore. He pointed how the government and the officialdom in West Punjab have treated Punjabi language as an orphan child. In West Punjab, Punjabi is not the medium of instructions in edcucational institutes which is the major hurdle in the development Punjabi language. Responding to the need of times and Punjabi language, Najam Hussain Sayyad gave his clarion call in defence of Punjabi language and literature through his pen and defended the honour of Punjabi language and people and gave rise to a whole generation of Punjabi writers and thinkers. He pointed by quoting examples from Najum Hussan's poetry, how delved into the Punjabi tradition fo rhi spoetic expressions without borrowing any words or ideas from Urdu or Sinsikrit traditions and has played a mjor part in the development of modern Punjabi literature which has its roots in its own language and traditions.
Navtej Bharati, a Punjabi poet from Canada gave a presentation on Punjabi poetry tracing its development from the antiquity to Kissa tradition, Sufi tradition, Bhagati tradition and modern times. He pointed out that that there is a lack of thought content in the contemporary Punjabi poetry in the East Punjab. He said that the Punjabi poetry needs to deal with three basic issues; women rights, relationship of man with nature and issue of outlook, Drishti, to develop further. Without dealing with these three issues the Punjabi poetry will remain at a superficial level.
A vigorous and lively discussion followed the presentation. Everybody present appreciated the need for familiarizing with the writers on both sides of the border. Because there were some people who said that they had not heard Najam Hussain Sayayad's name and were not familiar with his work. Dr. Thind pointed out that in East Punjab those students who study Punjabi literature are familiar with Najam Hussain Sayyad's work because some of his works have been included in the university syllabus. Manzur Ejaz also announced that APNA is publishing a volume of collected works of Najam Hussain Sayyad in Gurmukhi.
In the evening a seminar on Shiv Kumar Batalvi was held. In this seminar first paper was presented by Jaspal Singh on Shiv Batalvi's Lunna, which is a lonthy poem. In this paper, Jaspal Singh pointed out that Shiv Batalvi in this poem brings out the miserable conditions of Punjabi women oppressed under the patriarchyin a very powerful and forceful manner with his poetic talent, but he is unable to point a way forward, open a new path. His Lunna falls into the old trap of revenge seeking, getting innocent Puran slaughtered rather than opening a new path, going beyond I, Me and Myself.
Dr. Aziz presented a paper on Shiv Batalvi' poetry and pointed out that although he was born in East Africa, but being a Punjabi, in spite of difficulties of being brought up in a foreign land, Shiv's poetry caught his imagination with its pain and metaphors. And in his view, the pathos in Shiv's poetry is the pathos of Punjab, which has been divided.
Dr.(Mrs.)Singh, a class fellow of Shiv Batalvi, described some instances of Shiv Batalvi's life during the time they were in college together. Iqbal Ramoowalia also talked about some instances of Shiv Batalvi's personal life. Balraj Cheema recalled some anecdotes and instances of his meeting with Shiv Batalvi.
In this session Jaspal Singh also read a brief report on behalf of Navroop Pal Singh who is working, on a project to develop a software to change text from Shahmukhi to Gurmukhi and Vice Versa.
Following the seminar, a Kavi Darbar was orgnaised in which several poets including those who had come from Canada, Britain and India recited their poetry.
The highlight of the evening was the presentation of "Luna" by the members and supporters of APNA of Washington D.C. area. This dramatic presentation was of a very high quality. The audience that had grown by now close to 250 people enthusiastically appreciated this presentation.
In the end Manzur Ejaz, convener of APNA thanked everyone for their enthusiasm and support for the successful holding of this programme.
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