The Dawn: May 23, 2006

Sharing the past Punjabi Books

Shafqat Tanvir Mirza 

RIFFAT ABBAS KI SERAIKI SHA’ERY by Hafeez Khan; pp324; Price Rs300; Published by Multan Institute of Policy and Research, Multan, Kitab Nagar, Hasan Arcade, Multan.

IN Chachnama written before 750AD Multan was one of the provinces of Sindh and its northern borders touched the boundaries of Kashmir. After some 600 years, in 1327, Ibn Batuta says: “Multan is the capital of Sindh and Amirul Umara of the province lives there.” When Alexander invaded India in 325-26 BC, the area between the Chenab and Jhelum was ruled by the Poros, while the southern part was under the command of the Malloi tribe, but its ruler’s name has not been mentioned anywhere. The most important episode of Multan or Tulumba is that Alexander was hit by an arrow while scaling the walls of the Multan Fort.

During the Muslim and Mongol invasions, Multan was either a sovereign state or a province of the Delhi empire. During the regime of Muhammad Shah, Multan came under the control of Lahore’s governor Abdus Samad Khan and when the writ of Delhi government was non-existent, it became part of Kabul and Pathans were the rulers, succeeded by Sikhs. Ranjit Singh made it a part of the Lahore Darbar. It remained a province till the British invasion when it was made a part of the Punjab province, with Lahore as its capital.

It was colonisation under the British which necessitated the bringing in of skilled agricultural man power from other areas of Punjab, including the Lehnda and Potohar areas, the central and the eastern regions of Haryana, the Doaba and the Majha. The main reason was that the local population was mainly nomad and not inclined towards farming. Almost the same story was repeated when the Sutlej valley project in Bahawalpur was implemented and finally, after partition, Muslim agrarian population of the whole of East Punjab and states like Patiala, Jindh and Loharu, was forced to replace the non-Muslim agriculturists in the whole of the colonised areas — upto Thal and Sargodha in the north and Rahim Yar Khan and Dera Ghazi Khan in the south.

This exchange of population brought some minor cultural and linguistic differences among the local people, the settlers and the Mohajir sections. But there was another big difference in the local and Mohajir communities. The latter belonged to lower-middle and middle classes while the former were under the control of big feudal and tribal chiefs who are in the habit of keeping their people under their strict economic and social control. This class of feudals was gravely threatened by the lower classes of upper Punjab in the 1970 elections. Though ZA Bhutto’s PPP had opened its gates to the threatened local feudals and tribal chiefs, fear persisted among them. It was the question of political survival of the ruling classes of southern Punjab and the interior of Sindh which turned into a conflict at sub-cultural and linguistic level and the first Seraiki Conference was held in Multan.

The conflict was deliberately aggravated by General Ziaul Haq who indirectly created a wedge between the Karachi Mohajirs and the local Sindhis on the one hand, and between south Punjab and central Punjab on the other. The only object was to deprive Bhutto of his immense popularity among poor sections of the central and the northern Punjab, and the settlers. It was also meant to create different centres of loyalties for the settlers — Mohajirs and the locals of south Punjab on the basis of the different dialects of the same language.

In this background local writes and intellectuals of the South behaved differently. One group was led by Ashiq Buzdar, the author of Asan Qaidi Takht Lahore Dey, Mahr Abdul Haq, Aslam Rasulpuri, who concentrated on anti-Punjabi themes, while the other more mature group included Ashu Lal Faqir, Riffat Abbas and Irshad Taunsvi who worked with special reference to the past political and cultural aspects of the region with Multan as its centre.

The former group in its writings did its best to prove that Multani or Seraiki or Riyasati was altogether a different language from the language first known as Hindvi and then Punjabi. They used the most archaic vocabulary to prove their point of view. But their most appreciable effort was the glorification of a vibrant past in their verse. Ashu Lal Faqir has had four collections of verse to his credit. It is not just a versification of history but also an artistic evaluation and interpretation of the past. Riffat Abbas has so far contributed six collections of verse of high merit. His only weakness is the use of difficult vocabulary and a new system of symbols to which even the well-read Seraikis are not familiar.

Prof Abid Ameeq, another poet and intellectual of Seraiki, has a different point of view. He believes that all the dialects spoken in the west and the east Punjab have common roots without which no dialect, not even Seraiki, can flourish. Any deliberate attempt to earn a separate linguistic identity will be unnatural and disastrous for the great literary heritage of Punjab. Whether this realisation is there in the south or not, Hafeez Khan is conscious of the fact that the message of Riffat Abbas should reach and be understood by the people of the region. He has written the book in Urdu, with many quotations from his poetry culled from all his collections, particularly from Probharey Hik Shahr Ichon, in which he identifies the people with the Das of (or Darawarrs) of the Vedas.

Hafeez Khan again and again insists that Riffat, Asu Lal and Shabbir Hasan Akhtar (Maloohia—Sada Suhagan) have not been understood in real perspective by the Seraiki literary circles. There he is right, and one hopes that this well-written book will be widely welcomed by the concerned literary quarters. Had the original text been included, purpose would have been served better. — STM


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