Rakhsha Bandhan celebrated at Gurdwara Punja Sahib

APNA English Articles:

Fakhar Zaman – the internationally acclaimed writer, poet and activist

By Dr. Amjad Parvez

Daily Times :  May 31, 2020



I think I must have met Fakhar Zaman in Radio Station Lahore  premises when he used to visit Shaista Habib, his fiancée.

She and Nasreen Anjum Bhatti were dear friends and fellow producers. Then we came across at his forum World Punjabi Congress many times and his Model Town residence. I recall that his residence is like a library; books in cupboards and on his table and he is all the time busy reading and writing. He is committed to an ideology. His drawing room is full of his pictures taken with Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Fakhar Zaman is basically respected for his consistency in writing. Fakhar Zaman has been a Minister in Benazir Bhutto’s government, a senator and twice the Chairman of the Pakistan Academy of Letters. Presently he is the Chairman of World Punjabi Congress (WPC) and International Sufi Council.

WPC was established in 1984 in Lahore, with the purpose of promoting Punjabi language, culture in Pakistan and all over the world. Till now WPC has organized 25 international conferences to popularize Punjabi movement globally. The aim of this campaign is to continue till Punjabi language achieves its rightful place especially in Pakistani side of Punjab.

By his fair complexion and healthy looks I had always assumed him to be of Kashmiri descent. I came to know later that he was born in Gujrat, Punjab in a Jatt family. His father was Major in Army whose name was Muhammad Zaman; He was famous for his interest in social work and politics of Punjab.

Fakhar Zaman was educated in Gujrat with Matriculation from Mission High School and graduation from Zamindara College. He pursued his Masters Programme in social works and a degree in Law followed by Post Graduate Diploma in International Affairs. It was time now to proceed for higher studies abroad where Law was his field of interest. When in Netherlands he diverted his interest in Social Welfare and International Relations for his post graduate works. Later he obtained certificate in International Law from the International Court of Justice.

By his fair complexion and healthy looks I had always assumed him to be of Kashmiri descent. I came to know later that he was born in Gujrat, Punjab in a Jatt family. His father was Major in Army whose name was Muhammad Zaman; He was famous for his interest in social work and politics of Punjab

Fakhar Zaman has written around forty books in Punjabi, Urdu and English. Initially he used to write in Urdu and English despite that being from a Jutt family everybody spoke Punjabi in his house. He had read Sufi poets, Amrita Preetum, Sohan Singh and Sharif Kunjahi etc. One fine day, he received a message from Zareen Nigar from Radio Pakistan to write a play for Radio in Punjabi. He tried and wrote ‘Akhian Di Lau’ which was a smashing hit. Many others followed till his serial ‘Chiriyan Da Chamba’ became popular for PTV.

Fakhar’s works span pre-Martial Law and post Martial Law periods. It is in the information of all that his five books were banned by the Military Regime of General Zia-ul-Haq, forcibly lifted from the book shops and burnt publicly. After a litigation of 18 years, the ban was lifted by Lahore High Court in 1996. He has been jailed during Martial Law Regime especially when his Punjabi novel ‘Bandiwan’ got translated as ‘The Prisoner’, published by UNESCO and Peter Owen of London.


According to Wikipedia, “He published and edited a monthly English magazine namely “The Voice” which was folded by Ayub Khan’s military regime. Subsequently he edited a monthly Urdu magazine “Bazgasht” which was also banned during Zia-ul-Haq period. His Punjabi weekly “Wangaar” was also banned by the military regime. In 1984, he spent a few months in Stockholm University, Sweden attending seminars and lecturing on social sciences. His Punjabi writings have been translated into major languages in the world and are taught at post-graduate level in Pakistan, India and some foreign countries. A number of PhD and M-Phil theses have been written on his Punjabi novels and poetry in India. He was also the architect of first ever Cultural Policy of Pakistan promulgated in 1995.

On Fakhar Zaman’s book ‘The Prisinor’ the famous journalist Khalid Ahmad wrote in an English Daily “Pakistani novelist Zaman’s novel was written in Punjabi and first published in India in 1984. It graphically depicts the brutal atrocities commonplace in Pakistani prisons after Zia’s military overthrew the government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and dissolved the parliament of Pakistan in July 1977. The prisoner is Z, a poet and revolutionary confined to a tiny cell. The victim of a false murder charge, he’s been sentenced to hang. Scenes of dancing floggers, twisting their torsos and waving their whips above their heads are both terrifying and mesmerizing. But the burra sahib underestimates the tenacity of his prisoners. One, even after the skin has been flayed from his bones, refuses to let his jailers carry him back to his cell. Defiantly, he walks under his own power, “”with such assurance as if he had been showered not with lashes but with spring flowers.”” Zaman’s message is clear: freedom cannot be suppressed as long as one individual remains to resist. However, he refrains from exploring the psychology of prison life or political violence, preferring the consolations of ideology and a pose of defiant heroism”.

It was published by Sang-e-Meel Publications. This novel deals with the issues Pakistan faced since it was created. Its chapter on partition of Punjab that resulted in massacre of half a million Punjabis is deeply effective. This dilemma was faced by our earlier generation; massacre, loot, plunder. The author has divided his novel into thirty-four thresholds (chapters) starting from the boyhood of Ahmad to subsequent periods. It contains chapters relating to Ahmad’s boyhood pranks to his interactions with friends and his imprisonment. Then he witnesses degradation, degeneration, extremism and corruption in the society.

Zaman Khan in local English daily observes that Fakhar Zaman has played a significant role in trying to propagate peace between India and Pakistan, mainly by using the Punjabi language to bring both the Punjabs closer. About this book Zaman Khan observes that the author relies on extensive use of poetry throughout the novel; both his own and that of other poets. He chose to write in English on the pattern of Qurratulain Hyder, Abdullah Hussein and Shamsur Rehman Farooqi and later Intizar Hussain.

Despair and hope emerge simultaneously in this novel. In the last part of the novel he writes, “Now, probably, in the last threshold where Ahmed has perched himself firmly and keeping his balance correctly, he can feel darkness beyond, the infinite. But at the same time, he is holding the hand of his wife who reminds him that she is the silver lining, the light at the end of the tunnel, a lighthouse in the turbulent waters.’ Her words, “This pitch darkness ahead won’t pull him because her pull is stronger, firmer and robust,” resonate and lights up hope. The novel ends on this note of optimism.

This novel reminds one of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Gramsci, Nikolai Ostrovsky and many others who wrote about life in prison.
In May 2018 the new poetry book of Fakhar Zaman titled ‘Waqt Ko Tham Lo’ was published.

Fakhar Zaman who is the Chairman of World Punjabi Congress used this forum to propagate the cause of Punjabi language and literature. In this connection he organized many moots in Pakistan and abroad in which participants from both sides of Punjab and other countries participated. First World Punjabi Conference was held in Lahore in 1986. Fourth World Punjabi Conference in Lahore was attended by 400 delegates from 15 countries of the world, making it the biggest conference of any language ever held in the subcontinent in 2001. The following year in 2002, fifth conference was held in London, the first one held outside Pakistan. The year 2005 was unique in the sense that for the first time, the Chief Ministers Parvez Ellahi from Pakistani Punjab and Captain Arminger Singh from Indian Punjab attended the eleventh Punjabi Conference.

In Lahore, Chief Minister East Punjab also acceded to the request of chairman WPC and World Punjabi Centre was established in Patiala University. PILAC was established in Lahore. The conferences continued till 2015. Then in 2019 Punjabi Conference was held encouraged by the opening of Kartarpur corridor for Sikhs to pay homage to Gurdawara Darbar Saheb near Indian borders by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

WPC has organized 30 international conferences on language, literature, culture and peace in Pakistan, India, Austria, France, Netherlands, UK, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Estonia, Canada and the US. During 2015, WPC and ISC (International Sufi Council) organized 12 national conferences on Sufi Poets from the four provinces of Pakistan.

According to Wikipedia “Fakhar Zaman has been associated with the Punjabi language and culture movements since his university days and has struggled vehemently to get Punjabi language a rightful place in the province of Punjab. Despite his and his colleagues’ relentless efforts, the present government of Punjab of Pakistan Muslim League (N) has miserably failed to promote the Punjabi language in cahoots with anti-Punjabi elitist bureaucracy of Punjab”.

In an interview with writer Zubair Ahmad on September 24, 2019, a very constructive discussion took place. Fakhar Zaman is very clear about his concepts of certain terminologies being used or misused regarding Punjabi language and literature. He believes that ‘Punjabiat’ is an attitude and mental state. The attitudes reflected in the language are also reflected in a person. This attitude gains its strength from the message of love and peace propagated by Sufi Saints through their message. The language chosen was Punjabi as they hailed from Punjab’s soil. Their message was universal; for all provinces of Pakistan and elsewhere. Naming Punjabi Establishment, Punjabi Army, Punjabi Cricket/Hockey team is not Punabiat. Punjabi forms a nation. Likewise Sindhis, Balochis and Pathans form their own nations but collectively we are one nation, Fakhar Zaman advances his belief.

About what has been done by various Punjabi forums for advancement of Punjabi Cause, Fakhar is not satisfied. Despite holding so many Conferences under the banner of WPC, making the CMs of the two sides of Punjab meet, he has not been able to get Punjabi implemented at primary levels. The only small gain was establishment of PILAC in Lahore and WPC Chapter in Patiala.

In India, lots of funds are given to their organizations for similar cause and they use it for political gains whenever needed. In Pakistan very little funds were provided by the governments of their times. At least five WPCs were held from Fakhar Zaman’s own pocket or donations from friends. The Babus sitting in the secretariat and the politicians do not desire to implement Punjabi language at grass root level in education.

About Fakhar not being able to do any substantial work for Punjabi language, when he was in power, he quoted two instances; one, a group including him initiated a letter from Ghulam Mustafa, an established Sindhi intellectual to all the provinces to implement Punjabi at primary level, all provinces barring Punjab were positive in their responses. Punjab CM Nawaz Sharif refused and said that Urdu shall remain enforced. Second, a group of fifteen students with Masters in Punjabi came to him when he was President of Peoples Party Punjab that they were not getting jobs. Fakhar told them that he did not have powers and they should go to the then CM Nawaz Sharif. They went and were told that he was a Kashmiri and Punjabi was not his mother tongue. Fakhar says that he has quoted this incidence in his book.

Wikipedia says “During his chairmanship of Pakistan Academy of Letters, he produced fourteen documentaries in English on the Sufi poets of Pakistan of about 40 minutes duration each. The documentaries were appreciated nationally and internationally. They were directed by Fakhar Zaman who had a background of film and TV studies from a Canadian university. There was a Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) produced TV show in Urdu titled Hamarey Sufi Shoraa about the life and times of Pakistani Sufi poets that also aired and it was hosted by Fakhar Zaman”.

On May 25, 2020 Fakhar Zaman told me that he had spent all his life and energies to get Punjabi a decent and respectable status in Punjab’s educational system. Much more needs to be done. Judiciary passed orders for its implementation in the system but for the metal block of the bureaucrats and politicians.
The writer is the recipient of the prestigious Pride of Performance award. He can be reached at doc_amjad@hotmail.com