Small efforts to celebrate the immortal heroine of Punjab, Heer, whose story was penned by Waris Shah 250 years ago, are afoot on both sides of Punjab. The intent is to mark two centuries-and-a-half of the saga of this brave girl from Jhang. So, we have the first-ever anthology by Pakistani women poets in Punjabi titled Laggiyan Heer Nu Millan Wadhaian Ne. This is certainly a triumph because there have been very few writing in Punjabi on the other side of the border, where 1947-Pakistan chose to shunt Punjabi even out of the school curriculum. As columnist Mahmood Awan says: “After Punjab’s division, when the Pakistani Punjab disowned everything Punjabi, our literary condition became considerably hopeless. While searching for any female poetic anthology then, I couldn’t find a single contemporary collection published in Pakistani Punjab that was dedicated to women poets only.”
Here, however, we have some 15 poets who have contributed their verses and although the editor has not taken any credit for putting together this charming paperback that has on the cover the drawing by Aasia, a folk artist of Wazirabad, of two women dancing with hands held in the game of Kikli. However, one guessed that it had to be Huma Safdar, the theatre activist from Lahore who was in the tricity last fall with her play Birah tu Sultan. Huma has consistently done theatre in Punjabi and that too in the elitist ‘Lahore Grammar School’ where she teaches. Talking about this anthology, Huma says, “These are women of different ages and background who were inspired by the Sangat (poetryreading sessions) led by Pakistani poet Najm Hossain Syed at 49, Jail Road, and many participated directly for years in the readings at the Sangat.”
In a review of the book, Awan says: “This anthology shows the huge potential these women poets have but somehow most of these poets got themselves pigeon-holed, intentionally or unintentionally, trying to imitate Najm Hossain Syed, the greatest living Punjabi poet of our time, in terms of diction, themes as well as vocabulary.”
Many from the city and Punjab who have been visiting Lahore know well of the ‘Sangat’ where Punjabi poet and intellectual, Najm Hossain Syed has a group of writers, teachers and Punjabi activists sit together to read the classic poetic texts of Punjab including the Sufi and the Bhakti poets. When I visited the Sangat in 2004, it was the writing of Bhai Gurdas that was being read. A canto would be read out one after the other by each participant and then discussed and analysed. The exercise was a bit tedious and when it came to someone reciting from across the border, I happily recited a very contemporary poem by Kumar Vikal followed by a sensuous one of my own to make a point that every age has its own idiom. The anthology, however, is a baby-step that is bound to yield more in times to come.
FROM THE POET’S MOUTH
Mano Javed, contributor to the collection says: “My poetry sprouts both from my discontentment and my hope, sometimes disgust with the present world manifests itself in my verse; sometimes from the visions of a new world that breathes inside our souls.” Samina Ahmad has a distinct personal style as she speaks out sans intellectual burden against war and violence. Amna Shahzad says: “The Punjabi language was quite a new experience for me as despite being a Punjabi with Punjabi-speaking parents, I never really was spoken to in my own language. Writing poetry in Punjabi is new for me and with my very limited vocabulary it’s a challenge.” So, welcome girls, one congratulates you as Heer’s friends congratulated her and we hope for more verses coming from the heart, when poets write just as naturally as they talk.