When we talk of the Partition of India we tend to forget that it was actually the partition of Punjab. Bengal was partitioned in 1905 and it got reunited in 1911. The second partition of Bengal was relatively peaceful as the complete population exchange did not happen there; the majority of Muslims did not leave the Hindu majority West Bengal and majority of Hindus stayed in the Muslim majority East Bengal. Quite the opposite happened in Punjab when it was divided in 1947; Muslim-dominated West Punjab was cleansed of the Hindus and Sikhs and similarly Hindu/Sikh majority-East Punjab was completely purged of the Muslims.

There was no holds barred ethnic cleansing on both sides. Communal riots presented a scene of all against all. The situation resulted in the mass slaughter and mass migration across the newly drawn borders in a matter of a few months. More than a million and half were butchered and more than 15m had to flee their homes and cross borders. Such a ghoulish happening left both sides of Punjab with a wounded soul. Even if the wounds heal, the scars would hurt. Much literature has been created out of the pain the wounds and scars have caused and continue to cause.

Ilyas Ghumman, a well-known fiction writer and culture activist, has been working on an ambitious project that intends to present possibly all writings in the Punjabi language on the Partition in a series of books, titled ‘Vandd’ (The partition). The first book of the series ‘Vandd 1’ has been published by the Institute of Languages, Lahore. It’s an anthology of short stories complied by Ghumman, which reveals the depth of the historical experience of the division of Punjab that plunged it into an unprecedented bloodbath.

The tome comprising 1,000 pages contains 94 stories by almost as many authors from diverse backgrounds with diverse perspectives. Some of the luminaries included are Devidar Sathiarthi, Amrita Pritam, Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Prof Pritam Singh, Jaswant Singh Kanwal, Afzal Ahsan Randhawa, Anwar AlI, Akbar Lahori, Ajit Kaur, Afzal Tausif, Autar Singh Bling and Jindar. The anthology will serve as a reference material for anyone interested in exploring the excruciatingly painful and apocalyptic happening of the Partition which has rattled not only the psyche of the people of Punjab but also continues to bedevil the relations between Pakistan and India in the post-colonial period. Collecting and compiling such a large number of stories sounds like a lot of sweat.

Ilyas Ghumman deserves all the kudos for bringing out this publication which is a labour of love. The book will help us understand the indescribable sufferings caused by religious bigotry and communalism that our elders existentially experienced in the wake of the Partition. The retention of memory of our holocaust will perhaps prevent us repeating the historical blunders we committed in 1947.

Shagufta Gimmi Lodhi, a reputable writer, translator, broadcaster and culture activist, has translated G.S. Sidhu’s insightful book ‘Punjab and Punjabi’ into Urdu under the title ‘Punjab Aur Punjabi’. It has been published by Aks Publications, Lahore. It’s a well-researched book that explores and describes the evolution and development of Punjabi language. Any worthwhile book on the evolution of any language is also a history of its speakers as the former is inconceivable without the latter and vice versa. They are twins born of the same mother. Language without people or people without language is a mere abstraction.

The book is divided into nine chapters on the diverse aspects of our language. Chapter 1 is on ‘Political History of the Punjab’ dealing with prehistoric and Vedic period, foreign invasions, the Muslim rule and British rule. Chapter 2 traces origin and development of language; how languages are born and developed, and Indo-European languages. Chapter 3 explores the origin of Punjabi language, Dravidian influence in Punjabi, language of the Rig-Veda, impact of the Vedas on Punjabi, impact of religion on language, Prakrit, Apbhransh, modern Punjabi and dialects of Punjabi. Chapters 4 is on the Sikh Gurus and Gurmukhi. Chapter 5 traces the history of the Gurmukhi script. Chapter 6 explores the Punjabi writings of pre-Guru period. Chapter 7 is on ‘Footprints on the Sands of Time’ i.e. disappearance of Harappa civilisation. Chapter 8 deals with the ‘Glorious past’. The final chapter is on ‘The present Punjab’.

It’s a serious but highly readable book. Ms Lodhi has translated it into Urdu with care. The translation is competent and nothing interrupts the smooth flow of the text. One hopes that certain terms, phrases, and names of tribes and places not properly spelt due to Roman letters, would be corrected in the next edition.

Shagufta wins laurels for introducing this important book to the readers on this side of the border. It shall certainly add to the scant literature we have on the evolution of our language.

Syed Shabbir Ahmed’s selection of classical and modern Punjabi poetry, titled ‘Maktab-e- Ishq’ published by Book Corner, Jhelum, makes an interesting volume. The author is an ex-banker and litterateur based in Khari, Azad Kashmir. The segment ‘Sufi Rung’ comprises the selected verses of classical poets dubbed Sufi, the epithet they never used for themselves but which has got currency due to the people’s religious bent of mind. The selection includes Baba Farid, Shah Husain, Sultan Bahu, Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah, Hashim Shah, Mian Muhammad and Khawaja Ghulam Farid with introduction of each in Urdu. The selected verses are fairly representative of the poets in question and their biographic sketches are quite impressive as they draw on the available reference material.

Shabbir’s explanation and interpretation of verses is partly traditional and partly liberal laced with secular tinge. One wonders why and how Waris Shah, an iconoclastic storyteller, has been conjoined with the Sufi crowd. The second segment, titled ‘Punjab Rung,’ includes some of the ‘modern poets’ such as Jogi Jhelumi, Mohan Singh, Darshan Singh Awara, Daim Iqbal, Ustad Daman, Sharif Kunjahi, Amrita Pritam, Ahmed Rahi, Hazin Qadari, Shiv Kumar, Bari Nizami and Naseer Kavi. The poets are modern in the sense of being from the recent past. None of them, except Amrita Pritam, is modern as far as their sensibility, content and style of poetry are concerned. They are a sort of a bridge between modern and pre-modern poetry. They portray the human predicament overlaid with the nostalgia of the past. Here again Ustad Daman who composed acerbic political verses is an exception. Anyhow Shabbir Ahmed’s tribute to such poets is highly appreciable as most of them have almost slipped from our collective memory. ‘Maktab-e- Ishq’ is an enjoyable book that connects us with our spiritual and literary history. The author deserves accolades for his painstaking research and creative endeavour. — soofi01@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2023

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