The Dawn: Jan 15, 2016

Punjab Notes: ‘Whereof one can speak, thereof one must not be silent.

Mushtaq Soofi 

Dr Manzur Ejaz is, as all concerned with the language, literature, culture and history of Punjab know, a rooted intellectual, politically conscious writer, insightful literary critic, fair-minded columnist and reluctant poet. Though multilingual, his fundamental commitment is with Punjabi, his mother language. He can write at least in three languages -- Punjabi, English and Urdu with equal facility. He, like a true political activist, relishes public dialogue and debate anywhere anytime.

Dr Manzur taught philosophy at the Punjab University in 1970s but was forced to give up his job under the intense political pressure generated by ideologically motivated right wing academia that dubbed all liberal, secular and progressive teachers as communists and thus fifth columnists whose presence on the campus was perceived a grave threat to the sinews of Islamic society and culture in Pakistan. Since compromise wasn’t an option for Dr Manzur, he walked away in order to maintain his intellectual independence and moral integrity.

How to make a living was the new challenge. He, supported by some of his friends, opened a book shop that turned into a sort of literary forum for the aspiring young intellectuals who were keen to produce quality literary writings especially in their mother language. But the venture proved short-lived due to paucity of resources. However, he was able to bring out some good publications in Punjabi and English defying all the financial odds. But, ultimately things came to a dead end; publishing and selling of serious books could not sustain a man who lived a simple life and was never in the habit of giving up halfway whether it was intellectual dialogue or a creative project.

Forced by circumstances and left with no choice, he migrated to the USA in 1978. He did his doctorate in development economics. Though ensconced in a different world across the Atlantic, he neither lost touch with his homeland nor had ebb in the passions for the causes which were close to his heart and mind such as transformation of oppressive socioeconomic order, intellectual emancipation, and restoration of linguistic and cultural rights of Punjab.

He writes column in English, Punjabi and Urdu for Pakistani newspapers on wide spectrum of issues that have bearings on our social, political, economic and cultural life. He has deep insight of our society, rural and urban, and has the added advantage of being able to analyse the issues it is beset with, from an international perspective. His English language columns ‘My people, My Thoughts’ have already been published introducing us to the Punjab’s socio-cultural conundrum that has confounded popular imagination and psyche resulting in false consciousness.

Being historically conscious Punjabi intellectual he firmly believes in building bridges between the East and the West Punjab which have borne the brunt of the Partition. Mass psychology of madness needs to be fully diagnosed if we desire to get rid of spectres of the past which still haunt us with their subliminal messages.

Sharing of knowledge and creative expressions, Dr Manzur believes, can bring the East and West Punjab closer evoking the collective historical memory that can form the basis of renewed affinity and future solidarity. He supervises an ongoing project that aims at publishing selected books of Indian Punjabis in Pakistan in Shahmukhi script and those of Pakistani Punjabis in India in Gurmukhi script. He got some of the important writers such as Balwant Gargi, Pash, Surjit Patar and Veena Verma published this side of Punjab. But his most memorable contribution has been the sponsoring of Jit Singh Sital’s ‘Kalam Nanak’ (collected Verses of Nanak), a monumental work, in Shahmukhi script.

Dr Manzur, aware of emergence of electronic media as a powerful tool of communication, started ‘Wichaar’, an online Punjabi portal that publishes news and views (in Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi scripts). It has an elaborate English section dedicated to Punjabi literature, culture and civilisation. It gives access to a large collection of online texts of Punjabi classics and contemporary writings.

Wichaar has the largest collection of Punjabi films and videos. This credible journal managed by him simply proves that though he generally maintains mien of an intellectual, he is as practical as any a media maven.

Dr Manzur continues to produce critical writings on all the major classical poets from a materialist perspective. Though a multi-dimensional man, he is discreet enough not to bite more than what he can chew. But what he bites is usually quite big. He has been working for the last few years on another challenging literary project titled ‘Waris Nama’. As is evident from the title, it deals with the Waris Shah’s story of Heer which continues to haunt the imagination of the Punjabis generation after generation. ‘Waris Nama’, highly useful for layman and specialist, is designed to make the legend accessible to contemporary readers without losing sight of what makes it stunningly creative and critical narrative at the hand of a supremely gifted poet.

Dr Manzur’s intention seems to imperceptibly force the readers to savour the story as narrated by Waris Shah and he makes it possible by providing glossary of each stanza, literal meanings and interpretation. He has published three volumes of ‘Waris Nama’ and is barely in the middle of the story which means that he will take a few more years to complete this remarkable literary project. Through retelling the Waris Shah’s fantastic tale, Dr Manzur reaffirms what Ludwig Wittgenstein said: ‘-- however different from the real one an imagined world may be, it must have something – a form – in common with the real world’. His other publications include Epistemics of Development Economics, Nazman (poems), Ranjhan Yar (play).

Dr Manzur Ejaz is an organic intellectual, who seamlessly combines creativity with rationality and sense of tradition with contemporary consciousness in an instinct driven effort to have a holistic view of life which is rooted and yet modern in the sense of being compatible with the emerging needs of globalised world. —

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