By Mushtaq Soofi

Dawn :  January 21, 2019


HERE are very few persons in Pakistan`s first generation as tough as Dr. Manzur Ejaz. Despite his handicap he is far more active physically and intellectually than many of his apparently able-bodied contemporaries.

`I don`t remember much of my early childhood except that fever had paralysed one of my legs.

Af ter long when I was in the city, I came to know that I suffered from polio virus,` writes Dr.

Manzur Ejaz in his autobiography Jindriyye, Tunn Desaan Tera Taana [Squaring with the warp and woof of life], published recently by Wichaar Publishers, Virginia / Sahiwal.

It`s a fascinating book full of insights and lucid analyses. The remarkable aspect of the book is that he has desisted from compartmentalising his diverse experiences; for him there are no boundaries between private life and public life. Private is public and public is private in the sense that both are inextricably linked as both are expression of the individual and an aggregate of individuals respectively.

Collective would be meaninglessif it fails to incorporate the individual and the individual who has an ineluctable social nature simply cannot exist outside the ambit of the collective. Another related feature of his writing that stands out is his effort to understand his own life and life of the people he met and interacted with in a socio-cultural and politico-economic text.

Dr. Ejaz has brilliantly explained and analysed the transformations a typical village in Punjab`s colony districts underwent during the last six decades. Burjwala, his own village in Sahiwal, serves as sort of a case study. He lucidly describes the three phases of rural life; village without electric power, village with electric power and village in the age of information technology. Village without electricity was a self-sufficient unit that saw little transformation for thousands of years during its existence. It was a simple life with simple needs hardly pushed about its `village idiocy` sustained by ancient mode of production and age old superstitions. In 1960s with the arrival of tractor and electricity things began to change underneath the perennial waters of stagnant rural society. It was what he calls`the change in the mode of production` that brought down the curtain on the traditional village on which Karl Marx based his analyses of Indian society. The beginning of mechanical farming connected the village with the city resulting in fundamental changes in politico-economic relations. The process was unstoppable. Next important step was the availability of information technology in the village which connected it with the world, the so-called global village.

Dr. Ejaz`s insightful description of village stirs our mind as much as the portrayal of village provokes our emotions and imaginadon in the verses of poet Pash.

His account of students` politics and political activism in Punjab, particularlyin Lahoreis factually accurate and to a large extent objective. He himself was an active participant in the unusually tough race between the Left and the Right for dominance in the colleges and universities campuses. It was especially a hard task for the Lef t as vividly shown by Manzur Ejaz because the Right had and still has direct and indirect support of iniquitous prevalent system thatstands for the maintenance of status quo. He also politely exposes how tenuous was the Left`s grip on the historical reality of society it wanted to transform through its purported radical action. Its apparently revolutionary claim of doing `concrete analyses of concrete conditions` in f act never materialised. So the entire left wing students` movement politically came to a sorry p ass; it evapor ated in the thin air of overpowering traditional politics driven by reactionary ideology. Manzur Ejaz`s critique of the political forces associated with lef t wing students` activism is well-founded as such factions/ parties failed to provide firm theoretical basis that could serve as a kind of guide for revolutionary praxis.

Manzur Ejaz, a widely travelled man, has been able to traverse a large part of the globe, with his American passport of course. His score of travels to India, especially to the East Punjab, place him in a good position to comment on politico-economic development in both parts of Punjab. His keen observations are intriguingly revealing.

`There [East Punjab] the farmers availed free electricity and had better yield of the crops.Butif you look at their cides,it was obviously clear that they laggedfarbehindandhadundergone few changes. Take Jalandhar, for example, which is East Punjab`s cultural centre.

It`s not ahead of Sahiwal [which is a small sleepy district in the West Punjab] in any way...

Looking from a historical perspective, one can say that both parts of the Punjab remain similar. Both had green revolution in 1960s. In the next decade Naxalite wave swept across the East Punjab and in the West Punjab Z. A. Bhutto`s Peoples` Party won elections. In 1980s and 1990s fundamentalist Khalistani movement let loose mayhem in the East Punjab and in the West Punjab Ziaul Haq had his Islamic stranglehold on the society that led to sectarian and Jihadi violence. ..What I want to say is that despite being separated into two different countries and under different political systems, both the Punjabs are shadow of each other. It simply proves the fact that segments of people sharing history, geography, and language spread over thousands of years cannot follow the dif ferent paths in a span of seven decades in order to move ahead..`, writesthe author.

Manzur Ejaz along with his friends in the USA has worked incessantly to promote Punjabi language, literature and culture by publishing books, staging plays and interacting with the biggies of Pakistani politics.

On a critical note, one who knows Manzur Ejaz and the times he`s writing about, can say that his is a bit of sanitised autobiography; he leaves many a thing unsaid which in his opinion may be offensive to certain people. But again that`s writer`s choice. He/she has the right to leave out what he/she feels is better left unsaid.

Unpalatable facts are indeed hard for a society like ours to digest that puts premium on hypocrisy in the name of ethics and social mores. It needs intellectual courage to write in a matter of fact manner for the readers who relish hyperbolic expression and treat it as a literary achievement. It`s a highly readable autobiography which not only delineates an odyssey of a brave individual pitted against heavy odds but also puts our politico-cultural life under microscope. It`s indeed a must have book.