By Naeem Sadhu
Dawn : July 17, 2016
Dr Asma Qadri
Punjabi researcher Dr Asma Qadri has a lifelong attachment with the Punjabi classical poetry.
She is lucky that she was raised in a family with a passion for the poetry of Mian Muhammad Bakhsh and Waris Shah. She remembers glimpses from her childhood, living with her maternal grandparents in Gujrat where her grandmother would sing Heer Waris Shah and Saiful Malook after every morning prayer. But opting Punjabi literature as academic career was just an accident for Asma.
“My parents wanted me to study medicine. I got sick during high school and because of my fragile health, they asked me to opt for the subjects which would not demand much hard work that might stress me,” she says.
After doing her master’s in Punjabi Literature, Asma passed the Punjab Public Service Commission exam with distinction and joined the education department as a lecturer in 1999. She is currently working as an assistant professor at Punjabi Department of the Oriental College of the University of Punjab.
She earned her doctorate for her thesis on 59 genres of Punjabi Classic poetry, ‘Punjabi Classici Shairi Da Sinf Vairva’. The work printed in three volumes in 2013 was well-received by the Punjabi readers and researchers in Pakistan and abroad.
“Initially, I wanted to work on 26 forms. But my advisors wanted me to focus on one thing, which I can’t. Firstly, I don’t want to follow the research trends of spending five years on ‘hayiat, fiqr tay falsfa’ of one personality. Secondly, monotony bores me,” she asserts.
Asma is grateful to Hafeez Taib and Dr Surryia for their support to get her research proposal approved. Meeting with Najm Hosain Syed on recommendation of Sharif Kunjahi in 2003 was a watershed moment in her life.
“Najm Sahib was generous enough to give me ample time and shared his personal collection of books and dictionaries for the research works. Once I had got disappointed because of the laborious work and discouraging attitude of one of the teachers and had decided to give up research. During that phase, Najm Sahib would divert my attention by reciting his poetry and dramas for the audio documentation.
“Usually, after a few days he would ask me to look for the meaning of a genre of Punjabi poetry, I used to consult dictionaries, write down meanings, definitions and references, on showing these notes he used to ask me for rewriting them in details. I kept on writing, rewriting and editing it unless it became an expression of my own. He would approve it and ask me to make a file of the work.”
In 2008, Asma says, Najm asked her to bring all these files together, 59 in total which she had completed with the support of her mentor (Najm Hosain Syed).
In 2013, she joined the University of California, Santa Barbara for her postdoctoral research.
Her research on Baba Farid’s works is going to published by the end of this year.
Asma’s research papers are being published in international literary journals and read in conferences and academic forums.
The mainstay of her work is the genres of Classic Punjabi poetry which are no more a tradition, at least for the literate urban Punjabi middle class. She works with a balanced and neutral approach, consulting references from Indian and Pakistan Punjab as well as from the works of English researchers.
The part dealing with the forms of poetry in Guru Granth Sahib is unique and it’s a treat for the readers.