Punjab has inherited the Harappa Civilisation, one of the oldest recorded in history. It had regular trade relations with far-off lands such as Mesopotamia [in present day Iraq] but despite international interaction it maintained its uniquely distinct identity defined by respect for nature, reliance on science and technology, non-centrality of religion and absence of arms. Does our present seem to reflect in any way this rich legacy?
Look at Lahore, the heart of the Punjab, it reflects everything except what Punjab has been. It’s a kaleidoscopic image of the Punjab which distorts it by negating it or making it absent from what it projects. All we see around either reminds you of invaders and occupiers of our land or foreign cultures whose hegemony has been hardwired in our mind under different guises. The paradox is that on the one hand the bankrupt ruling elite officially tries to erase the historical traces of all the things that come to us from our non-Muslim and colonial past, and on the other hand renames the same in addition to grabbing jetsam and flotsam from the shores of foreign Muslim lands.
Let’s start with roads. Take a round of Lahore. You will see roads and squares and crossings such as Shahrah-i-Abdul Hameed Bin Badees, Khayaban-i-Firdausi, Sir Agha Khan Soeim Road, Qurtaba Chowk, Faisal Chowk and Sadi Park. The list is boringly long. Two names of indigenous personalities ubiquitously found anywhere and everywhere are Sir Muhammad Iqbal and Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah Poonja. The former is thought to be the person who conceived the idea of a separate Muslim state in South Asia. The idea was in the air well before he became visible on the scene. What can be attributed to him is the idea of confederate states within specific constitutional framework which would ensure survival of united India. The latter went a step ahead and led a party that demanded a separate independent homeland for Muslims and succeeded. Both the names carry great prestige. But officialdom is wont to invariably go for overkill. It sticks the names Iqbal and Jinnah on anything and everything, old and new. Innumerable roads, streets, residential buildings, towns, town halls, libraries, auditoriums, gardens airports, colleges, universities, institutes, and hospitals carry their names. The overkill has resulted in ubiquity lowering the prestige of these historical figures. It looks as if Punjab in its more than five thousand years old history hasn’t produced venerable figures. The reason is we are drugged with a massive overdose of a narrow ideology which has created collective cultural amnesia. That’s why when it comes to naming roads, buildings, parks and institutions, we forget great figures such as Porus, Raja Jaipala, Masa’ud Sad Salman, Jasrat Kokhar, Baba Farid, Shamas Sabzwari, Guru Nanak, Shah Hussain, Dulla Bhatti, Damodar Das, Guru Arjun, Mian Mir, Sultan Bahu, poet Nijabat, Bulleh Shah, Ali Haidar, Waris Shah, Adina Baig, Sada Kaur, Ranjit Singh, Pero Preman, Rai Ahmed Khan Kharal, Shah Muhammad [Kavi], Khawaja Ghulam Farid, Mian Muhammad, Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru, Sukhdev, Khizir Hayat Tiwana and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, to name a few from an unending list.
All such people of historical importance are treated as aliens in their own home this side of the Punjab.
Overwhelmed by the clutter of foreign names we try to look at gardens, parks, green patches and berms. Lo and behold, we see trees, plants and flowers never seen before imported from somewhere you can’t guess. Their names are either in Latin or in European languages which we find hard to pronounce. Even the ‘English medium’ among us fail in the effort. Flowers are all colour with no fragrance. And trees! They offer neither shade nor shelter to our birds. Our birds need nice smelling green umbrellas and thick foliage they are habituated to for building their nests. Indigenous trees are their natural nest boxes. Most of the imported ones look like traps to the birds which they invariably avoid. Trees like Pilu, (Mahabharata calls Punjab the land of Pilu forests) Kikar, Shreenh, Pipal, Borh, Nim, Tahli, Toote, Bairi, Anbb, Phulai, Jand for example have been replaced by Eucalyptus, Alstonia Scholaris, Conocarpus and Paper Mulberry.
The above-mentioned imported trees aren’t bird friendly. They rather scare away birds with their unpleasant secretions. Absence of nests means absence of bird droppings on the soil which fails to attract worms and insects and thus ecological cycle is broken. Eucalyptus is water guzzler and severely effects the water table in a water scare Punjab. It depletes the moisture reserves of the soil and kills the undergrowth. Alstonia can cause asthma and skin diseases. Roots of Conocarpus growing horizontally can damage buildings, roads and sidewalks. Paper Mulberry producing excessive pollen can increase asthma symptoms.
Now if we open the aperture of the camera a little more and pan it, we will notice what Lahore has traditionally been associated with; educational bodies i.e. schools, colleges and universities. But when we enter there we hear the languages they speak and teach in are foreign. The craze to teach and learn foreign languages shows all the symptoms of Stockholm syndrome.
Knowledge is confused with language especially the language(s) of power. Myriad languages they teach include English, Urdu, French, German, Spanish, Persian, Arabic, Russian, Turkish and Chinese but the demand to allow the use of Punjabi, the language of people of the Punjab, is out of bounds. It’s literally banned at the places of so-called higher learning which rather need to unlearn. Students are fined and punished if they dare to talk in their natural language. One was horrified to know that some years back it was a criminal offence to speak Kurdish in Turkey’s public spaces. The lot of the Punjabi speakers is worse as no other ethnic group but their own elite punishes them for speaking their language in their own homeland. As to the content, no one is allowed to talk of the contribution made by great minds such as Rishi Vyasa (his Mahabharata was first recited at the royal court of Taxila), Chanakya Kautalya (who pioneered the studies of statecraft and political economy), Panini (the father of linguistics), and Aryabhata (his work greatly influenced the development of Islamic astronomy), Har Gobind Khorana (Nobel Laureate) and Dr. Abdul Salam (Nobel Laureate).
Our elite with its post-colonial mindset certainly wants Punjab, the largest province of the country, but a Punjab that is soulless, mindless, sightless and featureless. Punjab without its language, culture and history would be an utter negation of what it has been for the last 6,000 years. Dead Punjab is the real Punjab for Punjabi rulers. — firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2020