Although not included in the latest directory of writers published by the Pakistan Academy of Letters, Tahira Iqbal is a prominent fiction writer of the middle-age Urdu writers. Her story “Boohrri Ganga” has been included in the October issue of prestigious literary monthly, Alhamra, Lahore. Tahira is a college teacher, author of at least two books and comes from the Ganji Bar of which she is very proud of.
This was the area close to Multan which was brought under cultivation by the hardy Sikhs mainly from East Punjab. Before that, it was the habitat of Baloch, Kharal etc nomad tribes passing through the pastoral stage.
One of the Sikh settlers Dr Harkirat Singh's elders came from Gurdaspur and they were the first allottees who reached there through Khanewal and they passed the first night under the star-ridden blue sky on the naked motherland.
There was the first hut which turned into flourish-village before independence when the settlers, including Dr Karkirat Singh who after 40 years after the forced collective migration, wrote memoirs in Punjabi, Yaadan Ganji Bar dian.
According to him he was now a well-to-do professor at Chandigarh living in an air-conditioned house but in his view Ganji Bar was his paradise. That was Ganji Bar in the eyes of those whose first hut and kitchen utensils were flown away by the first dust storm which used to visit that desolate place almost daily.
So Tahira belongs to that Ganji Bar of which she is proud of but perhaps she refuses to give right to Bangladeshis to celebrate their independence day. In her view Boorrhi Ganga is the most polluted river and Dhaka is the city where hunger-stricken shadows roam in the dingy streets of the city, even then they are celebrating their independence day….the day when they forced the Hatta Katta (these words were used by another short-story writer and a senior bureaucrat Masud Mufti for the Pakistan soldiers engaged in East Pakistan) Pakistani army to surrender and get out of Sonar Bangla.
The independence was won by Bengalis and they were proud of that because of Dr Harkirat Singh who raised a model village in the wilderness of the Bar. But Punjabi/Seraiki Tahira ridicules Bengalis' day of deliverance because there is naked poverty. Poor women made saleable commodity, skeleton like men in charkhana lungi and banyan are pulling cycle rickshaw while Bengalis in posh areas and busy markets live like seths and suck the blood of the poor like Doli, the central character of Tahira's story who abandoned her parents home in search of happiness and came to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh which was on that day celebrating its independence day.
Doli thinks Bengalis got independence from the West Pakistanis who had sucked their blood like the British and the pre-partition Hindus seths and landlords. Now they are free and progressing…what progress… to get abortion legal cover, condoms are freely available and NGOs are seen everywhere which help to regulate your period. That is the freedom.
And Doli has four children from three husbands who once depended on her earnings. They were addict, unemployed and quarrelsome. 'Daroo' was their biggest weakness for which Doli was forced to earn more money as a sex-worker and now Doli was on the steamer with the writer heading towards Dhaka to somehow earn more for her four children. She had left with her mother in her ancestral village. And Dhaka was all illuminated on its independence day. And Bengalis had won freedom from Pakistan.
To provide affluent Bengalis to enjoy their independence day Shakuntal, Shalpa, Durga Devi, Tulsi, Sarojni, Doli were all heading towards Dhaka. Almost all of them were abandoned by their husbands and had to feed their children. They are all expecting good harvesting on “independence day”. That is how a West Pakistani Urdu writer from Punjab views the freedom of Bangladesh… and almost 38 years after the arms were laid by a Punjabi General Niazi to General Arora another Punjabi at Paltan Maidan, Dhaka. Perhaps we have forgotten all those scenes and in spite of Faiz's following verse:
But neither the Urdu-wallas nor the Punjabis are still in a mood to accept all the political, social and economic crimes committed by West Pakistanis. Bengalis were 56 per cent of the population and from whose quota Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani and many other Hindustani MCAs were elected.
How Bengalis were ready to sacrifice their representation under Communal Award, Lucknow Pact and post-Independence parity formula? Their leader who mainly remained in West Pakistan was abused: A dog barking around.” This was Liaquat Ali's “tribute” to Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy. The latter was debarred from becoming the member of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. He was labeled as Indian citizens because he had domicile of Murshidabad which was in West Bengal.
Languages command state powers and after English it was Urdu for which the national status was pre-determined ignoring the majority language Bengali or refusing to give at least equal power to Bengali and Urdu.
It amounted to denying the Bengalis their cultural identity also. None of the West Pakistan provinces Punjab, former NWFP and Balochistan and even Sindh supported the Bengalis' just demand because all were beneficiaries through Urdu.
The rulers from West Pakistan did not want to share power with Bengalis and all higher posts were invariably occupied by West Pakistanis, chiefly Punjabis. A Bengali leader and MCA, Ataur Rehman, said in the assembly, the leaders of the Muslims League thought that we (Bengalis) were a subject race and they belonged to the race of conquerors..”
From 1947 to 1953 the central government's loan from Karachi…2,329 million for West and 164 for East Pakistan.
From 1948 to 1953 the total foreign exchange earned by East Pakistan was 2,900 million rupees out of which 70 per cent was used by West Pakistan.
Leave these figures apart have we forgotten why Niazi surrendered in Paltan Maidan?