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DAWN - Features; October 23, 2001

October 23, 2001

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A folklorist from Sialkot

By Shafqat Tanvir Mirza


WHAT are the favourite subjects with the literary magazines in Punjabi published from Lahore and elsewhere?

Punjabi folk literature has always interested many scholars, including Richard Temple and Rose with Skemp did a lot of work in this field. It was under the influence of the officers-cum-researchers in the Raj that a Lahore-based lawyer, Ram Saran Das collected folk songs from central and southern Punjab to be followed by the famous Urdu short-story writer Devinder Sathiarthi. Syed Sibtul Hasan Zaigham has contributed a piece on another folklorist Vanjara Bedi’s death to the monthly Lehran’s October issue. Bedi died in August this year in Delhi where he had settled after migrating from west Punjab in 1947.

Born in 1924 at Sialkot, Prof Dr Sohinder Singh Vanjara Bedi had developed deep interest in folklore just after partition when he shifted to Delhi. He felt the need to preserve the folk heritage of the Punjab which was being neglected by the Punjabis themselves. Accordingly, he started writing an encyclopaedia on Punjabi folklore. The job was too big but the non-Muslim Punjabi refugees found weight in Vanjara’s argument that if the folk heritage of the Punjab was not preserved, it would disappear altogether. Bedi successfully contacted the refugees from Potohar, Jhelum, Gujrat and Mandi Bahauddin. He himself was well-versed in the folk tradition and collected invaluable material in book form but no publisher was ready to publish it. Bedi himself published the first four volumes of the encyclopaedia from Delhi. The job had been completed in 1978 when Zaigham visited Delhi in connection with the urs of Amir Khusro and first met Dr Bedi at the Delhi Dayal Singh College where he was a teacher.

Undaunted by the difficulties in his way, Dr Bedi carried on his job and a Potohari publisher in Delhi who happened to be a friend, published the next four volumes. Before his death, his publisher, Payara Singh Data, published two more volumes so that now the encyclopaedia comprises ten volumes.

In Pakistan, no such work has yet been undertaken by any individual or institution because we do not have the necessary resources. Some writers attempted similar work but found the conditions most unfavourable. One of them was the late Afzal Parvez from Rawalpindi who first collected the folk songs of the Potohar area. For a very long time, he could not get them published because neither private publishers nor any government-aided organizations were in favour of such an enterprise. The second was Dr Mehr Abdul Haq from Muzaffargarh who collected some folk songs from the Seraiki belt. Both books were first serialized by the daily Imroze which ceased publication some years ago. Later, some other writers made some contribution in this field but they were not of much significance. Towards the fag end of his life, Afzal Parvez had prepared a folk encyclopaedia of Potohar for the Lok Virsa. Unfortunately, Lok Virsa has abandoned the job and the work has yet to be published.

An article on folk-songs on marriage ceremonies has appeared in the current issue of the monthly Varolay from Gujrat. The author, Baba Muhammad Shafi Zargar, has collected many folk songs of which some have a local touch.

In the same magazine, there is another article about the folk songs related to Sawan, the rainy season. There are two articles about the Punjabi language and its current educational and cultural status are also included. They are by Manzar Farani from Faisalabad and Tasleemullah Jandran from Mandi Bahauddin.

The Savair International from Lahore carries perhaps the last episode on the Harappa civilization by Iqtidar Karamt Cheema. This part of the article deals with the decay of the Harappan civilization about which no final verdict has so far been given. Most scholars are of the view that the Aryans destroyed the Harappa civilization under which fell Moenjodaro and Ganveriwala in the Cholistan desert. This may or may no be so but now Punjabi writers are showing greater interest in their cultural roots and Cheema’s article is in the same direction.

The current issue of the magazine carries an interview with the well-known fiction writer, Farkhanda Lodhi, who started her literary career as an Urdu short story writer and now says that she writes in Punjabi with much greater ease. She is convinced that punjabi gives a freer hand than Urdu. She thinks that after the creation of Pakistan, the purposes of this great movement have been totally sidelined. She calls it the death of a romance. The interview with Ms Farkhanda Lodhi was in English. It was translated in Punjabi by Jamil Ahmad Paul.

The monthly Pancham from Lahore carries three poems by the famous Urdu and Punjabi fiction writer and critic, Kartar Singh Duggal, who had migrated to India from Dhamial (Rawalpindi). One of his poems Potohar, bemoans the loss of his roots:

Potohar heh naan ik jannat da,

Sohan naddi us vich wehndi heh,

Laam toan murria dhol vaikh kay,

Akh jivain koi cho paindi heh.

For Duggal, Potohar is a paradise where the Soan river is like a woman’s tears who is extremely happy over the return of her beloved from war.

All for the sake of security

By Aileen Qaiser


VILLAGERS in Nurpur Shahan never thought that an incident such as that of September 11 in faraway New York could have any impact on them. But it has had an impact, and a potentially deadly one too.

For residents living in this village located near the capital’s Diplomatic Enclave, well-known for being the site of Bari Imam’s shrine, the risk of death or injury from accidents along the road that passes through their village has increased manifold. This is because non-embassy traffic along the main road on which the embassy of the United States is located, commonly called University Road, has been diverted, for security reasons, to the narrow road that passes through the village.

The vehicular traffic that is being diverted consists not only of cars and motorcycles, but also Quaid-i-Azam University buses ferrying students to and from the university daily. In addition there are coaches and vans transporting staff and employees of the university and other institutions located around the campus like the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) and the Pakistan Scientific and Technological Information Centre (PASTIC).

The road passing through Nurpur Shahan is just not built to carry this kind of traffic. Nor are the villagers, specially the children who walk carefree along and across the road, used to living with this type of traffic. The result is that several accidents have occurred, resulting in serious injuries to some villager pedestrians, apart from the many near misses everyday.

While sometimes, non-embassy cars and coaches are allowed to go by University Road passing through the American embassy, the team of blue university buses carrying full loads of students to the university in the mornings and from the university in the afternoons are not allowed to go by this road at all. This is probably because of fears of another students’ attack on the embassy like that which happened during Gen Ziaul Haq’s time.

Strangely enough, the same security concern does not seem to apply to the Presidency. The road through Nurpur Shahan, which the university buses have been diverted to run, passes behind the Presidency.

Incidentally, the road along which the American embassy is located was already a nightmare for both motorists and visa seekers before Sept 11. In the first place, the road carries more number of road bumps and security checkpoints than any other road in the capital. Secondly, the stretch of the road in front of the American embassy visa section is highly accident-prone because of visa seekers walking and spilling across the road and others standing and sitting on the curbside.

This is due to the fact that this section of the road is sandwiched between the queue for visas on that side of the road where the embassy is located, and the taxi and car parking area on the opposite side. Apart from people, the single lane road is crowded with taxis waiting for passengers.

If and when the embassy decides to open its visa section again, now closed because of the current situation, it could perhaps think about shifting the visa section to another part of the building that does not overlook the main road, e.g. to the main part of the embassy which overlooks a smaller side road.

Apart from the road diversions enforced because of fears for the security of the embassies located along University Road, the blockade of the entire VIP route in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, whenever high security risk foreign dignitaries visit the capital in connection with the American war effort in Afghanistan, has caused frustration and havoc to motorists and commuters. First it was Prime Minister Tony Blair who came, followed by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In both cases, the roadblocks resulted in long traffic jams on various main routes. On the day of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s departure, for instance, there were long queues of vehicles on Airport Road, Rawal Road, Kashmir Highway, Islamabad Highway and Kutchery Road for as long as three hours.

Passengers who were lucky enough reached the airport and train station in the nick of time, while others missed their flights and trains. Many others wanting to travel to other cities by bus or wagon had great difficulty reaching the bus terminals at Pir Wadhai, Soan and other terminals within the city.

Motorists and commuters can expect another round of such a hassle at the end of this month when Chancellor Gerhart Schroeder is due to visit.

Also, for the security of the foreign journalists camped at the Marriott Hotel who are here covering the second American military adventure in Afghanistan, hotel guests can no longer park their vehicles in the hotel compound car park or along the side of the road in front of the hotel. They have to park their cars across the double road on the opposite side.

Such extra security arrangements for the foreigners, living here or visiting, looks set to become a permanent feature in the capital because the threat of terrorist attacks on them here in Islamabad or anywhere else around the world is unlikely to decrease given the current course of policies being followed. If so, then the authorities looking after these security arrangements should also take care that local residents are subject to the minimum inconvenience and hassle.

Meanwhile, local residents in the capital have also had their fair share of security scares in the past few weeks. Countless schools and colleges, both government and private, and several office / shopping complexes have been receiving telephone calls about bombs being planted in their premises. Occupants and students are then evacuated, parents are notified to come and pick up their children, and the police called in to search the premises.

So far, the authorities have denied that any bombs have actually been found in their search. But the public is not convinced, even before the bomb was found and went off at Islamabad International Airport on Saturday.

In the meantime, students and teachers are having frequent evacuation drills in schools, just in case the next bomb scare turns out to be real.