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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

eng. history of punjabi langauge - kazy javed

A word about letters

By Kazy Javed

An English history of Punjabi literature

Dr Jeevan Singh Deol's great grandfather left Punjab in the early years of the past century to settle in Canada. Deol was born and brought up there. He now teaches modern South Asian history, South Asian religions as well as medieval Hindi and Punjabi literature at St John's College of Cambridge University. With notable academic accomplishments to his credit, he also advises the Victoria and Albert Museum of London on heritage and cultural issues relating to Sikhs. His paper on Sex, Social Critique and the Female Figures in Waris Shah's Hir -- published in the March 2002 issue of Modern Asian Studies -- carried many insights and new ideas that are greatly instrumental in providing an in-depth contemporary understanding of Waris Shah's work.

Dr Jeevan Singh Deol was in Lahore last month. Mehtab of the Punjab Lok Sujag -- who organized a wonderfully enjoyable and educative Lok Boli Mela at Deepalpur in February this year -- arranged a conversazione for him in collaboration with monthly Pancham and Lok Boli Sangat. It was attended by a number of Punjabi writers, intellectuals and activists.

Shafqat Tanvir Mirza, president of Pakistan Punjabi Adabi Board and a noted columnist, was there. Raja Risalu -- who has been serving the Punjabi cause for more than 50 years and is presently secretary of the Punjabi Board -- was there, too. Ahmad Salim -- who is being much talked about for a report on curriculum and textbook reforms that he compiled together with Dr A H Nayyar of the Physics Department of the Quaid-e-Azam University -- came from Islamabad to attend the event.

Mushtaq Kanwal who as secretary of World Punjabi Conference is busy in making arrangements for taking a 150-strong literary delegation to Chandigarh in May for the eleventh international Punjabi conference, was also seen there.

Faiza and Maqsood Saqib who together edit the arguably best Punjabi language literary magazine Pancham and Saeed Bhutta who teaches at the Punjab University's Punjabi Department were among other participants.

Dr Jeevan Singh Deol rightly lamented the fact that though Punjabi literature has a long history spread over many centuries and has produced some world-class poets, no proper history of Punjabi literature has been written.

Apparently, there is no dearth of volumes which their authors claim to have written on this subject. But the truth of the matter is that they are not histories in the contemporary sense of the word: They are only descriptive. Some of them have been written in Punjabi while others are in English. The list of their authors include Kartar Singh Dugal, Dr Mohan Singh Deewana, Dr Banarsi Das Jaine, Dr Jaspeer Singh Ahlowalia, Baba Budh Singh, Maula Buksh Kushta, Dr Ahmad Hussain Qiladari and Dr Hamidullah Shah. All these authors have worked diligently. They have provided us with a wealth of matter on this subject. It is, therefore, now easier to write a history of our literary heritage. But it has to be written in English. This is not because of any inherent defect of the Punjabi language but because of the Punjabi people who have miserably failed to develop their language to carry the weight of modern scholarship.

Do we have the scholars who can do this job? Two eminent Punjabi intellectuals, Syed Sibte Hasan and Shafqat Tanvir Mirza, answer the question in the affirmative. However, I find it hard to agree with them.

The tale of two books

May 3 marked the World Press Freedom Day and I spent a part of it in reading Urdu translation of the best known book on our journalism. Titled Sahafat Paband-e-Silasal, it has recently been reprinted by the Pakistan Study Center of Karachi University. The original book, Press in Chains, was first published in 1986 and has been widely read within and outside the country. By giving a detailed and well-documented account of the official restrictions the press in Pakistan has been subjected to, it has won international notice and respect for its author, Zamir Niazi.

Another book that I recently went through reminds me of Khalil Jibran who is perhaps the most read foreign writer in our country. All his books have been translated into Urdu and have been published many a time by various publishers. Recently Haider Javed Syed, a noted columnist, compiled these translations in one big volume which is published by Fiction House, Lahore under the title Kulliyat-e-Khalil Jibran.

It is strange to note that despite fabulous popularity of Khalil Jibran, nothing has been ever written or translated about his life and personality. Now Nigarshat Publishers have brought out Urdu translation of his biography written by Sohail Bushrani and Jo Jeenics. It is translated by Muhammad Asim Butt, the young scholar who earlier rendered two books of Kafka and Camus into Urdu.

Having gone through the biography -- Khalil Jibran: Dastan-e-Hayat -- my impression is that it is more interesting than many of his pieces.

The man who was a library

Daniel George, author of A Book of Characters, gives the following interesting account of Antonio da Magliabecchi of the 18th century who was known as the Glutton of Literature.

"Magliabecchi's character is singular: for though his life was wholly passed in libraries, being librarian to the Duke of Tuscany, he never wrote himself... His habits of life were uniform. Ever among his books, he troubled himself with no other concerns whatever; and the only interest he appeared to take for any living thing was his spiders; for whom, while sitting among his literary piles, he affected great sympathy; and perhaps in contempt for those whose curiosity appeared impertinent, he frequently cried out 'to take care not to hurt his spiders'...

"He ate on his books, he slept on his books, and quitted them as rarely as possible... Nothing could be more simpler than his mode of life; a few eggs, a little bread, and some water, were his ordinary food. His dress was as cynical as his repasts. A black doublet, which descended to his knees; an old patched black cloak; an amorphous hat, very much worn, and the edges ragged; a large neckcloth of coarse cloth, begrimed with snuff; a dirty shirt, which he always wore as long as it lasted, and which the broken elbows of his doublet did not conceal; and to finish this inventory, a pair of ruffles which did not belong to the shirt. Let me not forget another circumstance; to warm his hands, he generally had a stove with fire fastened to his arms, so that the clothes were generally singed and burnt, and his hands scorched. He had nothing otherwise remarkable about him. To literary men he was extremely affable, and a cynic only to the eye.

"Hearne has this to say of Magliabecchi: 'Nobody had such a memory for books. He was a common repertory. If anyone wanted to know what books were written upon any subject, he could tell immediately. He wore no shirt, and lived upon pudding and hard eggs."'


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