Khwaja Ghulam Farid, as we all know, is one of the towering poets of the 19th century who along with Mian Muhammad Bakhsh and Maulvi Ghulam Rasul witnessed the fundamental transformation in society due to annexation of the entire region by the East India Company. But strangely all three of them hardly take up and confront the phenomenon of colonialism in their verses as a significant historical experience. They nevertheless created wonderful poetic works in the classical mould.

Khwaja Farid is undoubtedly the last great classical poet who catapulted the Kafi genre [a lyrical poetic structure greatly favoured by what are known as mystic poets] to new height by making passion laced description of physical landscape as an integral part of his creative expression. This dimension of his poetry is so evocative and imaginatively haunting that compared with it his traditional utterances on mystical themes look like a rehash of mumbo jumbo handed down by mystic tradition.

Muzaffar A. Ghaffaar has done a wonderful job of translating a selection of Khwaja Farid’s poetry into English in the ‘Master Works of Punjabi Sufi Poetry within Reach’ series with ‘Text in Nastaliq; Roman. Extensive glossary; poetic translation; line by line discourse’. In the words of the translator ‘his poetry seems to focus on two major themes: the concept of Wahdat al-Wajood (Unity of Being), and on romantic desert idiom and imagery’… His detractors complain that his poetry was not related to the times’. The fact is, as pointed earlier, that all the classical poets of colonial era somehow fail to tackle the colonialism in all its manifestations. A host of reasons, which need to be unearthed and analysed, might have been responsible for such an attitude on the part of otherwise conscious creative individuals who have been deified. Whether it was their incapacity to understand the phenomenon or mystic smugness that treated it as mundane nothingness is not publicly debated from a critical perspective for the fear of offending their votaries and followers. Hopefully English translations of mystically inclined poets of the last century will help trigger a serious debate on such tabooed issues as the ethos of English language literary tradition encourages critical approach towards creative writings.

In such a context Muzaffar Ghaffaar’s translation done in a masterly manner has great relevance. Let’s enjoy one of Khwaja’s beautifully rendered poems which reads as a haunting love song: “Beloved outlander, softly the east-wind blows / Cloudburst! Showers! Monsoons return, bushes blossom, shrubs bloom expose / Thunder rolls! Lightning flares! See with excitement the heart overflows / On desert grasses is joy! The conjugal canopy swings and flows / Until water remains in rain-ponds, going to the Indus who can propose? / Farid, joy unfurls every moment; nature day by day itself will disclose/ Beloved outlander, softly the east-wind blows”.

Muzaffar Ghaffaar’s “Khwaja Ghulam Fareed, Within Reach” is a source of aesthetic delight and literary pleasure. No library, public and private, can be complete without it.

Azra Waqar, a known fiction writer, poet and research scholar, has published her autobiography titled “Uchhal Naddyan TaaruHoyan (The over-flowing streams) which seems to be a literary event because we don’t frequently come across such writings in Punjabi especially by women. Her commitment to write in her mother language is unwavering and firm which is clear from the very outset. “I write in my mother language. It cannot happen that one day wake up, get confused and taking my pencil start writing my autobiographical stuff in some other language. My memory keeps me reminding who I am”, she writes in the preface of the book.

Waqar Ambalwi, her father, was a well-known journalist of his times who started his career by joining famous newspaper “Zamindar’ in Lahore. Her mother was a school teacher. Her brother Arif Waqar is a veteran journalist, acclaimed television programmes producer and philologist. So literary activity or writing was nothing unusual in view of her family ethos. But life, especially in the childhood and adolescence, wasn’t easy as her parents separated and her mother in particular struggled hard to take care of her children. She got her education in Lahore but had a chance to go to Dhaka in erstwhile East Pakistan or East Bengal (now Bangladesh) on a scholarship which proved an enriching experience. “…I landed at the hostel. New place, new society and a different language!... Bengal was just to my liking. Rangamati, Hawks bay, Sundarban jungles, singing sailors with their nets in the deep sea, tea gardens, natural beauty and multi-olour leaves of plants and trees! I had never seen such colourful foliage before…”, she writes.

Azra Waqar shares the experiences of different phases of her life with a kind of studied detachment which saves her writing from having to be sentimental or saccharine.That she focuses on the status of woman and her perennial ordeal in the last chapter of her book reminds us that despite having desisted from making her case as an overly feminist she is not oblivious to women’s sufferings in patriarchal social structure. “I like our classical poets have looked at my life with the female eye… There are innumerable issues that a woman alone faces. Scared and fearful she gets into a rut and rarely finds an opportunity to realise her potential. Nor she is able to determine her goal in life. Thus she thinks of herself a worthless being…”, she says.

Azra Waqar knows the language well which enables her to produce robust and mature prose. The book is a welcome addition to the range of autobiographical writings in Punjabi and its read can be rewarding. —

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2019