A poem of mine devoted to my homeland goes thus: “Punjab mera tan Duniya jidda, Punjab mera anhadd hai; iss vich sabho darya vehndey (My Punjab is as big as the whole world, it has no borders no limits; all the rivers flow in it). In other words, humanism and universalism is what true Punjabiat means to me. And none other than Baba Nanak is its icon that symbolises this sentiment the best. Though I have to cross the Wagha border – created by the Punjabis themselves – showing my British passport, but in my mindscape there is no border. I am Manto’s lunatic from ‘Toba Tek Singh’ and I never reconciled with the division of the Punjab.
I exist in Punjabi and I’ll die in it. I dream, think and feel in Punjabi. It is my last refuge against all odds. As my children don’t speak it, it’ll die with me. The poem ‘Lasan’ was written while I was flying back to Vancouver from California in 1988. There I had come across the word Lasan written in the Punjabi script on a huge billboard meant for woman farm workers, migrants from the Punjab. For a moment the taste of the word ‘Lasan’was like a lump of sugar on my tongue. The poem is a lament about the loss of language, though it is very much happening now in our own homeland. My first visit to Punjab was in 1997. It was the most exciting and creative period in my life. It is the only place where I feel at home.
My disappointments with the present-day Punjab are many. The rot has set in. I will not repeat the situation we all are too familiar with. Politics and culture aside, my main concern is the complete degeneration of Punjabi language at the hands of university academia and journalists. However, as Ghalib said one can have thousand wishes worth dying for. My only hope and dream is the reunification of our Punjab. I know well the hard reality that it now seems impossible. We are the cursed people of the cursed land. But I still dream. Counting starts from zero.
(As told to Nirupama Dutt)