By: Safir Rammah
2004 was certainly a dream year, if not a dream come true, for Punjabi writers and activists. After neglecting Punjabi language for more than 57 years since partition, Punjab's government not only displayed a lot of interest in the language and cultural heritage of Punjab, but also began the process of lifting the iron curtain between the two Punjabs. It started a dizzying chain of events and an unprecedented positive change in the unsympathetic atmosphere endured by the proponents of Punjabi language, literature and culture for so long. Only the future historians of Punjabi language will be able to place the extraordinary events of 2004 in a proper historical context and determine whether they were a bizarre anomaly or the beginning of a new era.
The year began with a grand emotional display of brotherly feelings between the political heads of both Punjabs. The occasion was the Ninth Punjabi Conference of Fakhar Zaman's World Punjabi Congress at Lahore in January 2004. The Conference was practically hijacked by Pervaiz Elahi's government to provide a platform for welcoming his counterpart from East Punjab, Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who arrived with a delegation of 132 Punjabi writers, journalists and provincial cabinet ministers.
Both chief ministers announced a number of plans to collaborate in opening up various venues for developing friendly relations between the two Punjabs and for promoting Punjabi language and culture. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh proposed to establish a Joint Punjab Research Council to conduct research on the culture, history and economy of Punjab. Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi again reiterated his promise to establish an autonomous institution for the promotion of Punjabi language and culture.
The conference was followed by another long overdue media event, the launching of the first ever full-fledged Punjabi newspaper, Khabran, by Zia Shahid of Khabrain Group of Newspapers. Although a local Punjabi newspaper Bhulaikha, published by Muddasar Butt from Lahore, has been in circulation on a small scale for many years, this is the first time a Punjabi newspaper was nationally launched by one of the largest commercial newspaper publishing houses in Pakistan. Two editions of Khabran are now published from Lahore and Islamabad, and it has maintained a better than expected circulation, surpassing many Urdu newspapers in Punjab.
Later in the year, another first was achieved in the Punjabi media when the first private Punjabi TV channel, APNA, started its transmission. Although the quality of its programmes, specially the Punjabi language spoken by its telecasters, needs a lot of improvement, it is a welcome beginning. Its success can lead to a much larger presence of Punjabi language in the electronic media by encouraging other similar commercial ventures.
On September 20, the Punjab Assembly unanimously adopted the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture Bill of 2004. According to the bill, the institute will advise the government on matters of policy for the promotion of Punjabi language, art and culture; will collect, preserve and arrange books on classical and modern Punjabi literature; will publish and print books, journal and literature in Punjabi language; and will preserve Punjab's folk art, folk culture, folk crafts and folk music.
Shahzad Qaiser, a well recognized Punjabi poet and scholar, appointed as the director general of the institute and Fakhar Zaman as an unofficial member, are the only recognized Punjabi experts on the board of directors, and introduction of Punjabi at primary school level has not been made one of its immediate goals. Despite these shortcomings, Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi must be applauded for officially patronizing Punjabi language and culture. Since the pre-partition days of Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan, an all around proud Punjabi, no other head of Punjab's government has shown serious interest in the language and culture of Punjab.
Encouraged by some relaxation in obtaining visas and opening of cross-border travel via the Wagah border, albeit on a very limited scale, many other private initiatives for people-to-people contacts were also launched on both sides. Loke Boli Mela organized by two non-government organizations, Punjab Lok Rahs and Punjab Lok Sujag, in Deepalpur from February 17 to 22 was a celebration of Punjabi folk culture. Including the participation of a large delegation from East Punjab, the attendance at the Mela went beyond all expectations of the organizers.
Ajoka Theatre of Lahore, managed by its artistic director Madeeha Gauhar and her husband Shahid Nadeem, a famous playwright, organized the first ever India-Pakistan theater festival "Zanani" at Alhamra Arts Centre from March 7 to 13. A 67-member delegation from India including many theatre groups took part in staging plays to highlight women issues.
From May 10 to 28, the 10th World Punjabi Conference was held in Chandigarh, India. A Pakistani delegation of 141 writers, academicians and journalists, led by Fakhar Zaman, attended the conference. Both East Punjab and Haryana governments officially sponsored the conference.
East Punjab's government made a couple of other surprising announcements. While clearing up the four-year old backlog of the most prestigious state awards, Shiromani Puraskars, Najm Hossain Syed was named for the prize of best Punjabi writer for 2001. Another Pakistani writer, Illyas Ghuman received the award for best foreign Punjabi writer. (Note: the version of this article published in Dawn, January 30, 2005, erroneously states that Najm Hossain Syed donated his prize money to Desh Bhagat Yadgar, Jalandhar. This donation was made by Amarjit Chandan who was awarded the prize for best foreign based Punjabi writer. Najm Hossain Syed, who had never accepted any award for his Punjabi writings, had refused to receive this award.
The yearlong official and unofficial celebrations of opening up the cultural ties culminated in another gala of Punjabi conference and the first Joint Punjab Sports Festival at Patiala University, in December 2004. This time Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi took a large delegation to East Punjab to reciprocate his counterpart's earlier visit to Pakistan.
Even with all the euphoria of a dream year, the fact remains that unless Punjabi language is introduced at primary school level, no meaningful change can occur in the predicament every Punjabi writer has to face: he writes in a language that the common Punjabi has not been taught to read for many generations, and his readership is limited to a very small circle of mostly self-taught Punjabi readers. Yet, more than 100 Punjabi books, a dozen Punjabi magazines and now two Punjabi newspapers were published in 2004.
Punjabi magazines are playing a key role in filling the gap of language planning, in the absence so far of any state-sponsored efforts to standardize Punjabi language. As compared to the situation a decade ago, when experiments of writing in regional dialects were in vogue, a somewhat standard form of written Punjabi language is emerging on the pages of Punjabi magazines. Pancham, Punjabi Adab, Khoj, Mittar International, Pakhairu, Lehran and Sver are among the magazines that were published regularly during 2004.
Pancham, edited by Maqsood Saqib, published a collection of 40 scholarly articles on various Punjabi language issues in a 424-page special number on Punjabi as Mother Tongue of Punjab. Pakhairu, a Punjabi monthly magazine, edited by Ashraf Sohail, published an annual number that included a survey of children's magazines published since April 1930.
Although poetry books again dominated Punjabi books published in 2004, the trend towards Punjabi short story writing continued with a number of notable collections, including Nikke Nikke Dukh by Perveen Malik, Sochan Bharan Kalawey by Izhar Ahmad Gulzar, Bari Dair Ho Gaee by Azhar Javed, and Novakla Soorj by Ashiq Raheel. Punjabi Kahani Karaan by Dr Dilshad Tawana is her collection of articles on the life and work of more than 20 women storywriters of West Punjab.
Some of the important Punjabi poetry books of 2004 are: Sada Cheter Ajey Naheen Aya by Ashiq, Kach Dian Tooban by Dr Adal Siddiqui, Ravi Diyyan Ramzan by late Akbar Lahori, Baree Wich Samunder by Majeed Khawar Meelsi, Hijar Diyyan Kurlattan by Tahir Wazirabadi, Dil Dyaan Baran by A.G. Hosh and Dubdey Paindoo Da Dhola by Mohammad Azeem. Sufne Tayyaba De is a collection of Punjabi Na'ats by Muhammad Sharif Anjum. Naveen Punjabi Nazam De Rattan by Akram Bajwa is a collection of critical writings on 13 modern Punjabi poets.
The most important Punjabi literary criticism book of 2004 was Najm Hossain Syed's critical evaluation of Waris Shah's poetry Lokan Kamlian Nun Qissa Hoshiar. It includes seven articles, some of them previously published in monthly Pancham, on various aspects of Waris Shah's poetry, including: why and how some of the words in Heerwere considered vulgar and left out in some editions; detailed exposition of the character of Mullah; a whole article on the character of Luddan and how it transformed from the same character in Damoodar's Heer; the significance of Ranjha appearing as a Jogi; the treatment of sexuality by Waris; and a wide range of other subjects.
The interest in Punjabi Sufi poetry continues. Snawar Chaddar's book Punjab Wich Tassawaf is a new addition to the vast literature on the history and basic features of Punjabi Sufi poetry tradition. Prof Saeed Farani added two more books on Bulleh Shah and Shah Hussain, to his Great Sufi Wisdom series of books. These books, that include Roman-English transliteration, English translation and brief explanation of selected verses of Sufi poetry, have become quite popular and many editions of these books have been published in a short time. Translations in a number of other languages, Romanian, French, Arabic and Esperanto have been completed and are ready for publication.
Punjabi writers in the Diaspora made many important contributions to Punjabi literature. Munawar Ahmed Kanday Pir (UK) published his collection of Punjabi ghazals and poems Baghaan De Wichkar. Dr Amanullah Khan's (USA) first Punjabi poetry collection Mukkar Gayan Ne Chanwan became the most publicized Punjabi book in 2004. Book launching ceremonies for his book were held in Chicago, New York, Lahore and other cities in Pakistan and were well attended by a large number of Punjabi writers.
Dr Muhammad Afzal Shahid (USA) published the first part of his Punjabi translations of Mirza Ghalib's Urdu poetry that includes translation of 60 ghazals. A complete Punjabi translation of Ghalib by Abid Aseer had previously received a wide-ranging critical acclaim. Dr Shahid's translations are another demonstration of the expanse of Punjabi vocabulary. A special feature of this translation is that it has been done in the same metre used in Ghalib's ghazals and can be sung in the same musical compositions made for Ghalib's Urdu poetry.
The Masud Khaddarposh Trust published the long awaited biography of late Masud Khaddarposh, a lifelong crusader for Punjabi language, in Urdu. Masud Khaddarposh Trust, managed by Shereen Masud, has been awarding book prizes for best Punjabi books each year for the last 18 years. In a large and well-organized ceremony held at the Alhamra Arts Centre, Lahore, in April 2004, prizes were awarded for Punjabi books published in 2003. The following writers received first prizes: Saleem Ahang (poetry), Amin Malik (prose), Dr Syed Akhter Jaafri (criticism), M.A. Azad Khokhar (religious literature), and Babu Javed Garjakhi (children's literature).