Punjab Heritage

They say that terrorism is a global phenomenon, and Pakistan is facing the scourge too. In Pakistan, Punjab, being at the heart of things, is facing a large share of this. Whats more, more and more we are seeing terrorist outfits emerging from Punjab (from what a recent article in the Times of India said, south Punjab). The reasons for this may be more economic than ideological. But the thing that is sad about this is that this trend is trying to change the very ethos of Punjab.

Throughout the history of Punjab, the people have fought innumerable wars with invaders coming to the land of the five rivers through the inhospitable mountain ranges to the north-west of the country. Sturdy were the invaders, but no less was the resistance they found in this land. And a history, a tradition of poetry, literature, song, and devotion has been inherited.

This is the land of Puran Bhagat, of Raja Rasalu, whose tales are still told. This is the land where the son of Lord Rama, Lav, founded the city of Lahore, one of the leading cities of Punjab, where his brother, Kush, founded the city of Kasur. The temple of Lav is still to be found in the Lahore fort. This is the land where Guru Nanak Dev was born, and where he taught the way and teachings of Sikhism. This is the land where Guru Nanak proclaimed:

There is neither Hindu nor Mussulman (Muslim) so whose path shall I follow? I shall follow God’s path. God is neither Hindu nor Mussulman and the path which I follow is God’s.

Not was this land to recognize the distinctions of one religion from another, but was to embrace all religions, people professing all faiths as its own. This is the land where Shah Hussain, Sultan Bahu, Shah Sharaf, Bulle Shah, Baba Farid sang in the praise of the One True God. This is the land where the presence of God has been celebrated by people from all faiths. Where music, mausiqi, brought one closer to God, and the words of these great saints offered hope to parched souls. This is the land where love for the Divine flowered, and rained equally on people of all faiths. This is the land where Waris Shah wrote the Heer. Where the following lines were written:

Firstly and lastly, take the name of God; secondly, of the Great Muhammad, the prophet (of God)
Thirdly, take the name of father and mother, on whose milk my body throve
Fourthly, take the name of bread and water, from eating which my heart is gladdened
Fifthly, take the name of Mother Earth, on whom I place my feet.
Sixthly, take the name of Khwaja (Khazir, the Saint), that gives me cold water to drink
Seventhly, take the name of Guru Gorakh Nath whom is worshiped with a platter of milk and rice
Eighthly, take the name of Lalanwala that breaketh the bonds and the chains of the captives

This is the land where charm, romance, gaiety, and devotion all blended to create a heritage such as Punjab has. And it is in this land today that there are, more and more, Taliban style ideologies are thriving. Would they ban poetry? Would they ban Sufism? Would they ban people praying at the mazaars of the Pirs, the Saints? Would they ban the bhangra? The giddha? Or the swings of sawan? For, if they were to do that, they would ban Punjab. Is that the tomorrow for Punjab? Is the tomorrow for Punjab including terror strike at the shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh, killing innocent people? Shall the houses of God not be spared the ugly face of terror? If not, then what is to be said about the houses of man? Is this the heritage which the terror-guided fanatics believe is the rightful heritage of Punjab? Is this what they believe Punjabiyat is all about? Is this the emotion that shall flow in the loand of the five rivers? Is this the modern-day rendition of the poem:

Wagg wagg ve Chenab deya paaniya,
Tere kandeyaan te aashiqaan ne maujjaan maariyaan!

Is this the future of the beautiful Punjab?

Wonderful Verse …

I came across this wonderful verse … written by the celebrated poet … Bulle Shah … these lines seem to bring out the essence of humanity … something which we need to understand, and once we do that, remember … after all, we have all been through a lot … and there are lessons we should have learnt, but dont seem to have … the chapters are fearsome, to say the least!

These lines bring out the essence of humanity, the way we can live life …

Ishq di navin-o-navin bahaar,
Ved Quranan parh parh thakkay,
Sajde kardeyaan ghis gaye matthe,
Na Rabb Teerath, na Rabb Makkay,
Jis paayaa tis noor anwar,
Ishq di navin-o-navin bahaar!

or …

Fresh and new is the breeze of love,
People have grown tired of reading the Veds and the Quran,
Foreheads have gotten worn-out by rubbing them on the ground in Prayer,
God is there neither in the Hindu Pilgrimege, nor at Mecca,
One who had found love, his light is the most powerful!

A powerful message … one we cannot, and indeed, for the sake of our future, and that of our children, we must not ignore!

Lest We Forget …

There is a conflagration up in Jammu and Kashmir … there was a news piece about the commemoration of the first anniversary of the siege of Lal Masjid. The siege had resulted in armed clashes between security forces, and gunmen operating from the Mosque.

Raises a question … a disturbing one. Is this the direction humanity is condemned to walk in? Is this what we shall have as our future? As the world and life we give to our children? It is true … public memory is short … Its been 60 years … more than lifetimes in public memory? True … in large part, we see the event through the mists of time. But, something we need to remember … It was worth millions of human lives … worth uncountable drops of blood, and tears.

They called it Partition. And, maybe no other generation can feel the pain of the partition, as much as the children of midnight, the people who lived through it, losing their all … that was perhaps a political necessity … and losing scores of their loved ones. The scariest part … it was not some distant armed force which caused this … that it was ones own people, their friends, neighbours, people they met on a daily basis, the flower vendor, the ice-candy man, who wreaked this havoc. Maybe this is a lesson we should never forget. So we are, at least, not condemned to repeat some of the greatest follies of humanity. Please see these pictures! They tell the entire story of Partition … in a way no words can.

Basis for a State

I am reading The Indus Sage (i am sure you would know this by now, but for those of us who dont …) these days. So, for the next few days, you can expect more on the subject. One issue the book raises is that Indus (modern day Pakistan, the geography around the Indus river, and its tributaries), and India have always been two distinct civilizations. By and large, i agree with the hypothesis, but there are areas of the argument which Mr. Ahsan raises, which i cant get myself to agree with.

First of all, i am not too comfortable with the idea of defining a civilization based on geographical characteristics alone. While historically, we have talked about the Indus Valley civilization, and most ancient civilizations flourished around sources of water, the scenario today doesnt necessarily seem to be the same. The importance of having big cities close to rivers is not as much of importance today as it was in ancient ages. This is not to undermine the importance of water sources, but this is taking into consideration the way human civilization has evolved over the last few millenia.

As such, i am more comfortable with defining a civilization culturally rather than based on proximity to geographical characteristics by themselves. This, to my mind, is a definition which tends to be far more robust. This doesnt really tend to go down well with the modern definition of Pakistan, but then a lot of other things dont either.

1. I get the feeling that the entire idea of the Indus civilization is related to Islam. Historically, it may not have been, since the region was primarily Hindu and Buddhist over a period of time, but since the advent of Islam, the identity seems to be more and derived, and even more so since the creation of Pakistan, the identity of Pakistan seems to be have been defined even more based on Islam if Mohajirs are people who reverted to their Indus heritage, even if they find their home and roots in the Gangetic plains. Having said that, i do agree with Mr. Ahsan that Islam is not the defining characteristic of the Indus civilization. More about this in point 3.

2. If the civilization is going to be defined based on geographical characteristics, then the logic holds true, but if it is not, then the entire argument of declaring Kashmir an inseparable part of the Indus civilization loses its entire foundation. For, culturally, Kashimir can in no way found to be congruous to the Punjabi or Sindhi. Besides, if we are to define a civilization based purely on geographical characteristics, then maybe Tibet should also be a part of Indus, since the Indus river originates there. This doesnt stand to reason.

3. None of these considerations (except religion), can define the true nature of Indus, considering East Pakistan being a part of Pakistan. But, this by itself proves that religion is not the founding stone of the Indus of today, given that if it were, the centrifugal force which created Bangladesh would not have existed.

In a nutshell, i agree with Mr. Ahsan that the culture and civilization of Indus is distinct from an Indian civilization. I just dont agree with too many of the conclusions he seems to draw from this fact.

Something I Am Reading

These days i am reading a book … The Indus Saga … From Patliputra to Partition, by Aitzaz Ahsan. The book is a well written, well thought out story about the civilization of what today is Pakistan. Nice book … Though, there are a few things i wanted to write about …

Firstly, the Gurdaspur Kathiawad line … Mr. Ahsan makes the argument that this is the line which divides two different civilizations. While i do agree that culturally, the Gangetic plain is quite distinct from the Indus civilization, i think the line that Mr. Ahsan has drawn comes more from a sense of current political geography rather than anything more concrete. For instance, this line traces quite well the Radcliffe Award. Is this just a coincidence? Probably not. Which would suggest that the positioning of this divide is more than scholarly debate.

Another thing that stands out … the creation of Pakistan. While the civilization of the Indus region is distinct from the larger Indian civilization, the fact remains … the creation of Pakistan was not a civilizational consequence. Nor was it a religious consequence of the deep divide between the Hindu and Muslim populations of the subcontinent. If it was a religious consequence, Mohammad Ali Jinnah wouldnt have declared Pakistan as being a secular state, where the religion a person professes to would not come in the way of how the nation treats him. Which leaves one aspect … the political aspect. This goes to suggest that the creation of Pakistan was purely a political move, and shouldnt be seen as anything else. That this is backed by civilizational differences probably doesnt bear on the debate.

Another thing which i dont quite agree with … that the Mohajir is an Indus person reverting to his roots. How does a Mohajir, who may come from Lucknow become an Indus person? How does he lay a claim to the history of Indus, that is larger than that of a Punjabi Hindu, or Sikh, who hails from the Punjab, whose Father might have called Lahore or Rawalpindi home? This argument suggests an Islamic connection to the civilization of Pakistan, which is definitely not the thesis of the book.

Nostalgia … In an Unknown City

I know … this sounds like an oxymoron … but, its something i experienced …

The festival of Baisakhi is celebrated on the 14th of April … And, this is an occassion to visit the city of the Guru … Amritsar! Add to this the fact that the weekend was a 3 day weekend, we went for a visit to the lovely city. And, believe you me (or, if you dont believe me, see this picture) … The Golden Temple … is a sight to behold. And, a place of Eternal Peace. The waiting in the queue … Mattha tekkna at the Guru’s feet … Something which is an experience of Peace! Something i would like to do again … and again!

I have still not told you wh I was feeling nostalgic about the city I had never visited before. The first one … My grandparents got married in this city. Both my grandfather and my grandmother passed on to another life almost 2 years ago … the memories, of course, still remain. And, the city of Amritsar was a living reminder … and, a thought that maybe I should have gone there earlier. Much earlier. Another experience … collecting the Prasad … the smell, the look, and taste … Probably the only time i have ever been to a Gurudwara was with my grandmother. That, too, was as a child. And, then, whatever the Kadha that the Bhai ji gave to my grandmother, only little bits were available to the rest of the family, and the rest was for me. The smell of the Prasad brought back memories … smells of times when, as a child, i would eagerly look forward to going to the Gurudwara with my grandmother on weekends (weekdays, school was too early as it is …), mattha tekna, and then waiting for the Prasad … probably the only reason i went to the Gurudwara. Of course, now i dont think it was the only reason (considering that i would get it even if i didnt go). Which means the reason was more … And, this reason was something which peeped through the mists of time, to show me the thread of memories, the thread which lingers, no matter how time might try to erase it. The thread which reminded me of going to the Gurudwara, and the smell which took me back almost 30 years.

Another thought … my friend, Pavan got us a ringside view for the retreat ceremony at Wagha … The ceremony itself is an experience which one must have … but, i am not talking about that. There is a point during the flag-lowering when the flags of India and Pakistan are right next to each other … which gave me the feeling … so near, and yet so far! But, i am not talking about that either. What i am talking about is that sitting at Wagha, we are closer to Lahore than to Amritsar … Lahore … Another city which brings back memories from the mists … Memories not of something i have seen, but more of things i have heard … tales of Lahore. A Lahore where Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs lived together … a city they all called home. A city which was called the Paris of the Orient. A city referred to as “The City of Sin and Splendour” (a collection of stories about Lahore, edited by Bapsi Sidhwa). A city, which lives on in my mind’s eye, a picture etched, albeit dated, but a beautiful pitcure at that. A picture of the Lahore before it became a place out of bounds for lakhs of people who knew no other city other than Lahore. Looking at the road at Wagha … the road leading to Lahore … brought back these memories. Of course, the real Lahore of today may not have much to resemble the memories i carry (memories which i saw through my grandfather’s words), but definitely a city which attracts me. Definitely a city which i would like to see … though, on second thoughts … maybe not? It is better to travel hopefully than to … On other thoughts, a city i should have visited maybe 10 years ago.

As i have written before

Romance of Punjab

This is going to be a short post … though heavy on emotions … This was a sher my Grandfather used to tell me … A sher which captures the romance of Punjab … And believe you me, it is an amazing reportoire. After all, the legends of Laila-Majnu, Heer-Ranjha, Shirhi-Farhad … The romance of Punjab!

Wagg wagg ve Chenaa deya paaniya,
Tere kandeyaan te aashkaan ne maujaan maariyaan!

Translated …

Flow on, water of the Chenab,
On your banks, lovers have had pleasant times!

This shows a number of things … the charm, the romance … and, the simplicity of Punjabi poetry!