By Mushtaq Soofi  

Dawn : September 16, 2019

“Ajoki Punjabi Nasar [Contemporary Punjabi Prose]”, a valuable book compiled by Safir Rammah and Ijaz, has been published by Sanjh Publications, Lahore. It’s in fact a selection of prose writings which appeared in the quarterly literary journal ‘Sanjh’ from 2007 to 2010.

The journal was brought out by Safir Rammah and his friends simultaneously from Lahore and Ludhiana in Arabic and Shahmukhi scripts. It was seemingly a serious intellectual and cultural effort to provide a literary platform to what is now called three Punjabs; East and West Punjab, and diaspora which is quite sizable. The journal was a literary means to build bridges between the three.

Safir Rammah, based in the USA, is a well-known and respected language rights activist and cultural figure,who manages one of the largest websites exclusively dedicated to promoting Punjabi language, literature and music.

Ijaz is a young upcoming writer with promise who already has a number of books to his credit. The contents of the book have been divided into different segments such as Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabiatt [Punjabihood], history, short stories, travelogues and obituaries. The first segment carries articles on Punjabi language, linguistic conundrum in the region, South Asian culture, Heer Waris and compositions of the legend of Heer during the Sikh rule by prominent authors.

In the history we have Chaman Lal’s well-researched article on Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary heritage translated by Waseem Ramay and Ibrar Mazhar. There is another worth reading article by prominent poet, author and researcher Ahmed Saleem on Bradlaugh Hall in Lahore which emerged as a centre of anti-colonial struggle in Punjab and North India. All the bigwigs of the 20th century politics including Bhagat Singh, Jinnah, Gandhi and Nehru had something to do with this great historical hall which is almost in ruins due to official neglect. There is yet another interesting article on whether Alexander was the winner of the great Battle of Hydaspes translated by Asif Raza from Sindhi. Highly illuminating is the segment that carries obituaries and biographical notes on the artists and writers who are no longer with us.

Who can miss something serious written on Amrita Sher Gill, Noor Jahan, Shiv Kumar and Munir Niazi. ‘Ajoki Punjabi Nasar” must on your shelf if you are interested in literature, art and history. The compilers/editors deserve accolades for the job well done.

Punjabi Literary Treasure [History of Punjabi Language and Literature] is Khaqan Haider Ghazi’s latest book published by the Punjab Institute of Language and Culture [Pilac], Lahore. The author is a known poet and researcher who has published a numbers of books. “…Khaqan Haider Ghazi has beautifully presented a brief history of Punjabi language…”, says Dr. Sugra Sadaf, former director general of Pilac in the blurb. The book is divided into different chapters. The first chapter of the book briefly delineates the roots and development of the Punjabi language. The second chapter deals with the salient features of prose in a historical context, third with the folklore genres, fourth and fifth with the classical poets and the last with modern poets. The book is a product of hard labour and research which is something most of our contemporary writers don’t find very fashionable. So it’s a kind of compendium that can serve as a reference book on the roots of language and history of poetry, classic and modern. Khaqan Haider deserves to be appreciated for his painstaking research especially his biographic sketches of modern poets are a treasure trove of much needed information. The book will certainly add to the richness of your library.

Late Naseer Kavi was a remarkable popular poet who not only kept the tradition of resistance poetry alive but also added a new dimension to it by voicing the perspective of the dispossessed, of the conscious dispossessed, to be exact. Stance of a poet carries significance because it reveals the perspective from which he speaks. Naseer Kavi uses both ‘I’ and ‘We’. It’s a pleasant surprise that both seem synonymous as his ‘I’ effortlessly dissolves into ‘We’ and ‘We’ into ‘I’. His voice represents him as a poet who is individual representing people, the collective. Serious poetic endavour always involves journey from individual to collective, from fragments to totality.

His ‘Saade Hath Agni da Taa [Our hands carry the Agni’s Flame]”, published by Sanjh Publications, Lahore, is a wonderful book of verses that moves and provokes you. It in fact transports you to a known but a little understood world inhabited by masses. But Naseer Kavi’s clarity of vision, doubting mind and challenging tone reinterpret the world with the intention of seeing it transformed in its concreteness. He carries a rare blend of artistic ingenuity and social consciousness. It’s no mean feat that his artful simplicity saves his verses from turning into slogans and clichés. What power does to ordinary people and the entire society permeates his poetry but he remarkably avoids political shibboleths and revolutionary slogan-mongering which usually define such poetry in our region. “My home has no walls/ what to talk of doors and windows”, he says. This is how he challenges the traditional metaphysics doled out in the name of mysticism: “He is faultless whose reflection we are / we are faulty, whose reflection are we”? His short poems are no less than gems.

Kavi’s mastery over the language is enviably through which enables his verses to create cultural and aesthetic impact. The book also has a section of Kavi’s Urdu poetry including his iconic political poem composed in the aftermath of Z. A Bhutto’s ‘judicial murder’: “Tumkitnay Bhutto maaroge [How many Bhuttos would you kill?]”. No library will be complete without Naseer Kavi’s book. Buy your copy if you desire to discover the wretchedness and dynamism of our collective life imaginatively reconstructed. —

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2019