The Dawn: June 28, 2006

A visit to East Punjab

Shafqat Tanvir Mirza 

CHAND, CHANDANI, CHANDIGARH; by Neelma Naheed Durrani; pp104; Price not mentioned; Published by Raasti, Lahore.

NEELMA Naheed Durrani is a prominent poet who writes in Urdu and Punjabi, having many collections to her credit. She visited East Punjab as a delegate of the World Punjabi Congress and attended the sessions held at Chandigarh. After that she also visited Delhi. On return to Pakistan she wrote a travelogue, which was published in installments in a newspaper and now in book form in which she also has included her poem about Amritsar, from where her father and grandfather had migrated to Lahore in 1947. Her visit to Amritsar was a sort of emotional pilgrimage to the city of her ancestors. This was a great occasion for her, and she read the poem at the first welcome reception in the city of the Golden Temple. She says:

(I have come to see the city/longing for which my elders left this world/In their graves in the Lahore's Mominpura graveyard/my father and grandfather must be saying joyfully/Our daughter has gone to our city, Amritsar) This was the only emotional part of the travelogue. The rest is a narration of events and a comparison between lifestyles seen in the two countries. Neelma is a senior police officer in the Punjab police, may be that's why the thing that caught her attention first was the disciplined traffic in India. None of the public-vehicle driver was seen without a seat belt throughout the journey.

Another contrast was the use of scooter by working women and college students, something hardly seen in Pakistan. Women riders also wore helmets, and violators were seen being booked in Chandigarh, a mod ern city and the capital East Punjab shares with Haryana. The city, however, still but less green than Pakistani capital has cycle rickshaws driven by the poor on its hilly slopes. Another aspect of the traffic scene in Chandigarh was that there was no rush of four-wheel vehicles, while cycles and scooters were seen in big numbers. Students of good schools were seen commuting on cycles, while in Lahore students of such schools usually come and go by car, creating traffic problems during rush hours.

The 800 cc Maruti car is easily available in India on installments as low as Rs. 2,000 a month, but even many wealthy people prefer using public transport in Chandigarh. There were no traffic jams witnessed on the roads, which were not very wide. Simplicity in dress, food, furniture, interior decoration and in general manners was the most striking feature of society. Education is not only inexpensive but also boasts a minimum standard across the board. In a college convocation many young girls were seen receiving their degrees in doctorate and M.Phil. They by their conversation, manners and dress looked very humble and unassuming, notes the writer.

The most irritating problem faced by Neelma was that of the exchange rate. In Chandigarh she got 600 Indian rupees for 1,000 Pakistani rupees. This was 400 at Delhi's Canaught Place and 750 at the Jam-e-Masjid. Senior citizens must be recalling that when during the Korean war the Indian rupee was devalued against the pound, Pakistani currency was not, and this was painted as the symbol of a stable Pakistan economy, with the credit given to the then finance min ister Malik Ghulam Muhammad, now remembered for his antidemocratic measures and the dissolution of the first constituent assembly.

Though many of the delegates to the Chandigarh Conference have written travelogues, and these include Raja Rasalu, Bashir Nasir and Ashiq Raheel, none, including Neelma, has complained that they were not provided the opportunity to visit places like Farid Kot (Baba Farid),Kapurthala (Maulvi Ghulam Rasul of Yousuf Zulekha) and Dera Baba Nanak (Baba Nanak, as a Punjabi poet).

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DESI CALENDER, published by the Punjab Lok Sujaag, 107, Ali Block, Garden Town, Lahore, Price Rs 25.

PUNJABI ALMANAC (2064/2006), published by Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture, 62 Shadman II, Lahore.

It was the Naujawan Mahaz, Punjab, which first produced a Bikrmajeet or desi Punjabi calendar with special insertions of small biographical details and photographs of classical Punjabi poets, including Baba Farid, Shah Husain Baba Nanak, Sultan Bahu, Khwaja Farid, etc. They reproduced another calendar on the same patterns with a slight difference. This time there were illustrations in the background of popular verses of great sufi poets.

The table calendar by Lok Boli carries a proverb about every desi month which truly reflects the background of every month. About Jetth, which covers May and June both:

(The burning sun and the hot breeze of Jeth/pushes the company under the tree-shade).

The Almanac gives the dates of the anniversaries of many Punjabi, Sindhi Balochi and Pushto poets and Sufis. They include Baba Farid, Baba Nanak, Ghulam Farid, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, Sachal Sarmast, Khushal Khan Khatak, and Mast Tawakkuli. This is a good effort by the institute. — STM

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