Gurmeet Kaur writes in her book Fascinating Folktales of Punjab, “Dear children, let us travel to the land of Punjab which is not separated by a barbed wire fence, where TV and cell phones haven’t clipped the wings of imagination. Snuggle with your elders, and dream of the undivided Punjab, laughing and playing in the lap of nature. Let’s listen to our mother language Punjabi, as she narrates enchanting tales scribed by her two daughters, Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi.”
Third Lyallpur Punjabi Sulaikh Mela was held at Faisalabad Arts Council Nusrat Fateh Ali Auditorium on February 23, 24. A galaxy of Pakistani and foreign guests participated in the festival.
Dr Mazur Ejaz, in an interview with TNS (to be published next Sunday), said that fifty years ago they started publishing Rutlekha, a magazine in Punjabi, as an experiment to discuss social and economic issues in Punjabi. Lyallpur Punjabi Sulaikh Mela, the third annual event, has proved that there is no doubt that serious issues of any kind can be debated upon in Punjabi.
The two-day Punjabi Sulaikh Mela had very elaborate agenda to discuss — not only literature, but also politics, history, education and women issues, besides Punjab and Punjabiat came under discussion. Since there were also Gurmeet Kaur (USA), Amarjit Singh Chandan, Mazhar Tirmizi and Mahmood Awan (UK), the issue of Punjab and Punjabiat was bound to be discussed.
On the first day, besides the traditional welcome address by the director of Lyallpur Arts Council Sofia Beidar, a senior Punjabi writer Iqbal Qaiser presented an exhaustive paper on icon of Punjabi and citizen of Lyallpur, Afzal Randhawa.
Amarjit Singh Chandan, a Punjabi from UK, discussing ‘Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabiat’, said the division of Punjab was suggested first by Lala Lajput in 1923. He stated that Punjab does not belong to Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus, rather Punjab belongs to Punjabis. He stated that the biggest threat to Punjabi is from English. He said Hanif Ramay, Aitzaz Ahsan and Fakhar Zaman presented the case of Punjab in Urdu/English.
Prof Abdul Qadir Mushtaq, head of History Department GCU Faisalabad, stated that when GCU organised Lyallpur Literary Festival the leading intellectuals and writers demanded money. He said History Department is doing research on local personalities. At the end of first day, a cultural and musical programme was presented.
On the second day, the opening session was “the contribution of women in present politics”, but it was cancelled for reasons better known to the organisers.
Zubair Ahmad, Amarjit and Nain Sukh discussed the impact of division of Punjab on Punjabi poetry. Nain Sukh said that till Jalianwala Bagh, Amritsar massacre there was no communal thinking among the follower of all religions living in Punjab. He said after the Amritsar massacre, British humiliated the Indians.
He said, “In the forties of last century we witnessed that even writers/poets and intellectuals were divided on religious lines. About the partition of Punjab, poets did not write anything except Ahmad Rahi, Ustad Daman and Amrita Pritam.” He pointed out that even Faiz did not write about the division of Punjab.
Amarjit Chandan said a museum has been established at Amritsar about partition. Would there be a museum in this part of Punjab? he questioned. Zubair stated that Punjabi elite was beneficiary of the Punjab division. “Common man tried to save the lives of people on both sides.”
Dr Faisal Bari and Aamir Riaz discussed education and Punjabi. A well-known scholar who has done a lot of research on education, Faisal Bari said, “Education has been divided on class base. Private schools have dominated the education scene and there is no place of Punjabi in their curriculum. It is very difficult now to bring private schools under control. Different educational systems are prevailing in Punjab. HEC is more concerned about higher education but no attention is paid to under graduation.” He said every year 40 thousand students appear in O/A level exam where even Urdu is not properly taught. “Distorted history is being taught.”
Bari said the government is least concerned about education, health, security, water and sewerage. Saying there was no law about the ownership of water, he told the participants a multinational company was using all underground water of Sheikhupura.
The session on “child literature” was most interesting. Gurmeet Kaur, a US citizen, said she was born at Kanpur and did not know Punjabi. She migrated to the USA as an engineer but when her child was born she realised that there was no literature for children so she not only learnt Punjabi herself but also collected folktales of Punjab which is now printed in Shahmukhi/Gurmukhi and English in a book form.
She turned out to be an excellent story-teller when she presented folktale Cheeri tay Pipal (Sparrow and Pipal). The whole audience was reciting with her as she had the power to mesmerise the crowd. She was very sad to know that in East/West Punjab, Punjabi was not spoken at home what to talk of education in Punjabi.
Mahmood Awan, a Punjabi writer, said in Irelands every child has to go to school of his area where he/she is taught in mother tongue.
Iqbal Qaiser, who has done study on Gurdwaras of Punjab, said out of 125 Gurdwaras, 15/20 have been destroyed.
Mazhar Tirmizi from the UK said intolerance has increased. He said Punjabis of all religion live peacefully and enjoy each other’s festivals abroad. Iqbal Qaiser said during the Zia’s period, rituals of marriage were changed. He said due to fear of intelligence agencies, people are afraid of keeping relations with East/West Punjabis.
Mazhar Tirmizi said people want to meet each other and want interaction, but media is playing a very negative role. Iqbal Qaiser said Punjabi intellectuals were not against creation of more provinces but it should be done in all provinces.
The last session was about “The politics of Muslim League and Muslims before 1947”. Prof Ali Usman Qasmi of LUMS threw light on the pre-partition Punjab and British policy to recruit soldiers and award lands as reward. “The dominant politics was loyalty to the British that is why Unionist Party was in power. In the 1937 elections, Muslim League could win only two seats and one of them defected later. Muslim League and Congress were not popular in Punjab. Muslim League became popular after 1940.” He said religious parties were against Muslim League.
Dr Iqbal Chawala stated that Sir Iqbal, in his private letters to Jinnah, suggested a separate homeland for Muslims.
There was a comment from audience that even in the 1946 elections, Muslim League could not get majority to form government independently in Punjab. With the Lucknow Pact, Punjab had reduced its quota in favour of UP Muslims.
Zubair Ahmed, Amarjit Chandan and Nain Sukh also discussed the impact of 1947 division on poetry.
Dr Faisal Bari, Director IDEAS, Aamir Riaz and Shazia Cheema discussed the situation of education. Prof Iqbal Chawala, Dr Ali Usman Qasmi and Dr Abdul Qadir Mushtaq discussed the Pre-1947 Muslim League’s politics and Muslims.
Gurmeet Kaur, Mahmood Awan and Iqbal Haider Butt discussed the need of Children Literature in Punjabi. The two-day moot came to an end with Punjabi Mushaira.
While lauding the efforts of the organisers of LPSM, it is pertinent to point out some of glaring mistakes. Fist, the session “the role of women in present politics” was cancelled which leaves a bad impression; two, some guests did not turn up; three, it should have started on time.