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Punjabi on the back-burner

The government’s promises of honouring the life and work of Punjabi poets still await realisation

Punjabi on the back-burner

A committee of the Punjab Government which met last year had decided that not only the urs of Waris Shah be celebrated with great deal of aplomb but events be planned for the entire coming year in this connection. It was decided that a number of books like Heer Waris Shah, edited by Muhammad Sharif Sabir which first appeared in 1985 and since has been out of circulation would be republished. It was also decided that on a larger scale research theses written by PhD scholars on Heer Waris Shah and its impact on the Punjabi society material would be published in consolidated form.

Further, it was decided to launch CDs of some Heer-Khwaans, a soft copy of Heer Waris Shah to be uploaded on Facebook and to approach the Punjab University to establish a Waris Shah Chair in the Department of Punjabi Language at Oriental College Lahore. It was also agreed upon to build a Bab e Waris Shah on the road to Jandiala Sher Khan.

As far as one knows, none of the objectives set for the year have been met. One does not even know whether even some baby steps have been taken to achieve the objectives or it has befallen the fate of many of the policies that lie gathering dust in the official files.

Cultural activity gives a certain bonding to society on the whole. It cements through poetry, language and festivities the sense of oneness and a certain unity that seeps into the inner reaches of the consciousness.

The urs of some of the leading poets are celebrated according to the local calendar like the urs of Waris Shah is held on the ninth of sawan and the urs of Bulleh Shah on the ninth of bhadon while that of Shah Hussain on the fourteenth of chet. But for one reason or another, the dates have been shifted and juggled around in the recent past.

Mela Chiraghan in now held in the last week of March, especially the latter part of the week. Shah Hussain came out of the shadows after the Mughal Rule and during the reign of Ranjit Singh his urs became a grand affair with the court also eulogising and patronising his contribution to language , poetry and music. Shalamar Bagh became the venue of his urs. Called Mela Chiraghan, it became the biggest spring festival of the Punjab.

In the last few years the urs of both Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah have been held on dates which traditionally were not assigned for the occasions. The shifting of dates seems to be a harmless move, but actually it isn’t. Without vying for a conspiratorial undercurrent, it is always comfortable to know that a certain event falls on a certain date. It is like an event being held at a certain time for it becomes routinised and goes about in forming a habit which is not disrupting but predictable and soothing. There may appear nothing significant about it but many people find it disconcerting if the event and time is shuffled around continuously.0_1_gif046

One of the main reasons for the cultural events to be at a certain place and time is that these pose as a kind of stability to the flux of life. These events are signposts of assurance, and offer a surer footing in a context that is forever fraught with change. If the time and place is changed, the impression or illusion of stability and constancy that is provided is lost and is shaken, it becomes part of the flux that one is trying to find a firmer foothold in.

Cultural activity gives a certain bonding to society on the whole. It cements through poetry, language and festivities the sense of oneness and a certain unity that seeps into the inner reaches of the consciousness. If some think that it is merely song and dance and frivolous entertainment or base pleasure, they are mistaken for it enhances shared consciousness, the basis for humans willing to live in one society or even one political order. And the music and language that comes from the soil is most critical for it binds you to the land.

This relationship of belonging to one piece of territory is blended by the expressed colours and hues of cultural activity and is different from those who propose or prefer a bonding based on an ideological framework.

The urs of Waris Shah and Bulleh Shah also give us an opportunity to remember Sharif Sabir and to appreciate his services to the cause of Punjabi language and literature. An unassuming man he worked with great toil, unmindful of the reward and publicity in this ever-growing media conscious environment.

Despite all the feel-good gestures, the case of Punjabi is being lost in the court of Pakistan. Now children of Punjabi parents stress that their mother tongue is Urdu. It is at best being reduced to an oral language with no written component to it. The present-day generation of Punjabis finds it difficult to understand the classical texts since these were written centuries ago. The language has changed and so has the way it is pronounced.

It would be far better if in the printing and publishing of text, multimedia facility is used. The text which is printed should also be accompanied by the oral version of reading of the text. Similarly, the recitation of Heer by various exponents should also accompany the text. It will help to identify the differences one finds between  oral rendition and so-called authentic written text.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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