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In search of Seraiki soul: Now Punjabi establishment is rooting for a Bahawalpur province

By Amjad Nazeer

May 18, 2012

Suitable to the ‘divide and rule’ tactics, now Punjabi establishment is abetting Punjabi and Urdu settlers to stand up for a Bahawalpur province. It holds no support

Much has been spoken about the body politic of a Seraiki Province, mostly with reference to power politics. Let us now think of its’ soul what, in my opinion, lies in language, literature and culture of an ethno-nationality. Any people can wake up to one’s identity any time, depending on times and triggers. But surely it does. Identity movements all over the globe stand witness to it.

Modern states can survive only by acknowledging diversity within. In the political realm, a state can scarcely obviate linguistic, cultural, religious or racial resonance within, time and space aside. Identities and ethnicities raucously resurface, even after decades of oppression and assimilative efforts. Eventually fail, whatever instruments, religious or political, employed to whatever extent for purposeful or mindless unification. Former Soviet states of Central Asia and former Yugoslavia speak volumes to get the realities heard. Recent or retrospective, whatsoever, the movement of a Seraiki Province has turned monumental, meant to materialize today or tomorrow, minimally in the form of a new federating unit.

Having conversed with renowned Seraiki thinkers – Ahsan Wagha, Akram Mirani, Kashif Baloch, Mazhar Arif, Shameem Arif, Zahoor Dhareeja - coupled with my own analysis and interpretation, I hereby walk around the spirit of Seraiki language and culture, entrusting it an identity and aesthetics of its’ own. However the context shall remain the contemporary question of creating a province with this name.

A picturesque landscape, drawn with mysterious Thal (semi-desert splashed with underground waves of waters), romantic Rohi-Cholistan (spreads of sands dancing with monsoon), versatile Demman (canal cultivated greens of groceries and cereals) and alluvial plains of Neeli Bar. The whole expanse sprawls across and asides legendary lndus. A thick hazy wall of Suleman ranges, divine in its’ ruggedness and infertility, bounds the south-western arms of a geriatrically young streams of Indus. Changes colours with changing skies to paint an abandoned beauty of nature tall and wide, only a preserve of wild wilderness nuding herself every morning in different shawls and postures. Torrential waters, springing plains and perennial flows pave up mystical soils and stones, paths and perches, caves and caravans in the hearts and bosoms of diversified expressions. A plateau, whom the Seraikies lovingly term as “Wasaib” (an eco-social abode), stretches around east, west, north and south, kissing the lips and eyelids of a perfect Pakistan. A mighty and majestic Indus – sitting like sacred Gautama or serene Mahatama - right in the middle of its land-labored largesse, veins and wets limbs and legs of all its neighboring provinces. Estranged bloods and blots were infused - and are still being infused - politically known as demographic engineering, yet its cultural resilience could not be suppressed. One cannot kill history and culture.

Distinct as ever, the region was never a part of Punjab save some sprinting brutalities and plunders of Ranjeet Singh of the mid 18th century. Shy and guilty, yet a sizeable Punjabi elites and aristocrats inscribe him a hero. Sword drawn, riding on an unspotted horse, his statue in Shahi Qala, Lahore, tells the gory tale of false historical consciousness. Count religious differences, earlier he was not, but to post-partition exploits he sensed suitable to the newfound colonial instincts of Punjab.

Ali Hijweri, the first Sufi entering into India writes unhesitatingly in his “Kashf-ul-Mahjoob”, “Lahore yake az mazafat-e-Multan ast,” (Lahore is one of the towns in the outskirts of Multan). Now, he is often hued into Punjabi culture and colours of identity, as if he laid the foundations of Punjabism. To the invasive English attempts in mid 19th century, Devan Moolraj and Hajji Muzzaffar Khan offered outright resistance to save the magnanimity of Multan. Just Governed a decade, it rapidly resumed back its’ geo-cultural anatomy and autonomy. Only after partition, the area was annexed with Lahore in a divided Punjab. Historically, Multan has always been the ‘centre’ of art, craft, culture and creativity. It was turned into a ‘periphery’ by installing power centers in Lahore.

The present Seraiki Wasaib has been distinct, culturally and linguistically since ancient times. Multan, Harrapa and Moen Jodaro - a unique triangle of ancient civilizations runs across Indus. Fortunately, Multan still lives and thrives there and then for more than two and half thousand years. Even the word ‘industrious’, seems perhaps borrowed from Indus. Workers and weavers of Indus valley, meticulously dexterous with ant-like commitments to their art alone can come up with fumes and fabrics, clothes and cobbler, we can still see. Blue texts and textures, tiles and tablets, vivid from mosques and mausoleums to bricks and potteries finely mix sacred with mundane. Green is an alien invasion, armed to ambush folklore and fetishism of primeval Sun god – ruling Multan since times immemorial.

“You walk into the text,” describes Michel Foucalt and several other modern linguists who claim language to be not only a system of thought but also a worldview too. While having its own social, cultural and historical discourse and territory, Seraikis evolved their sense of identity, idiom and expressions once again in the recent past.

‘Word’ constitutes human world and if ‘word’ is different, world too. Sparing the debate of linguistic determinism and facilitation - amongst famous critical discourse linguists – an operational minimum agreement still persists that language is the key carrier of thought. Halliday, Fairclough and Laclau and Mauf apart from their theoretical disagreements agree, that lexicon is the only metaphor to represent human thought also marking distinctions between people of different speech communities and cultures. Not only fluid and flexible, rather it is the only means and method, also to strike a change too.

Shun the claims of divinized purity, that no language and culture can ever substantiate, it is the poetic and political idiom that provides identity to an oppressed group of people.

Except a few, most of the linguists identify Seraiki as a different and distinct language. I am intentionally avoiding grammatical similarities. A multitude of distinctive sounds, as all languages are defined, Seraiki is sublimized by implosive, explosive and aspirated sounds. It is a rare combination of sounds found in languages all over the world. Except a couple of African lexicons, the phenomenon is unique to Seraiki and Sindhi alone. Its’ diction, dialect and most importantly the spirit and substance stands apart. Most importantly, Seraiki lexicology empowers it to constitute rich and extended expressions in a single word-structure (morpheme) from a simple root-word. An ability borrowed from Sanskirit – almost extinct in other languages – it still survives and thrives in Seraiki. Precisely such words command an ability to analyze, isolate or combine ideas and expressions. Anees Shah Jilani, Khuaja Fareed and Abdullah Irfan are masters in employing similar words and phrases. In addition, the quality enables to express higher and delicate thoughts, at times borrowing lexicons from Hindi and Persians, where appropriate.

Seraiki identity, particularly in Lahore, is ridiculed right from the elites and educated circles down to the streets of Bahtti and Lohari. A language that most of the literate and illiterate Punjabis fail to make sense of – is stubbornly claimed and insisted to be an ‘accent’ of Punjabi. Reality runs rather reverse. The language of Bulhe Shah, Shah Hussain and Baba Fareed is deeply influenced from Seraiki – ignoring the undeniable art and ingenuity of all poets. Expression and accent of their poetry was misappropriated in post-partition Lahore editions, forcing it closer to the standardized Punjabi.

Embracing Fareed’s and his own poetry, Guru Nanak made a semi-successful attempt to centralize and sanctify Punjabi language. In-fact the mainland Punjabi is left behind in Indian Punjab – nostalgia for Pakistani Punjabis. Usurping Seraiki is a desperate act of securing a language lost in the stampede of cessation. Now Lahore suffers from an identity left back in Haryana and Amritsar.

Linguistically speaking, it is the speech community, not the linguists and grammarians, to identify themselves and their language, with whatever moisture or manner they wish to. Should they desire to perceive their language and culture distinct, it stands “distinct,”. Centre for power may say, whatever it wants to.

Now comes the challenge of policy formulation and adoptability of a language in official and academic circles which is almost impossible without governmental support. Exceptions are almost rare. Seraiki language planning will turn traumatic without a separate provincial authority. Therefore, a must to save a language or other way round.

Attacked by intelligentsia and masses alike, it is an arrogance coupled with a desire to posses resources and employment opportunities. A false myth was created by Punjabi chauvinists and bureaucrats that Seraiki is a dialect of the former. It is neither the language, nor a culture, of which they are convinced of being ‘distinct’ but saying good-by to the bounties thy extract from, sounds challenging. It’s a shame that Punjabi establishment uses the same argument to keep Punjab united but disagrees to get it divided if Seraikis use Seraiki argument to seek Seraikistan.

Ashiq Buzdar had to suffer from ban and banishment just by dropping one of the most insightful lines in the history of Seraiki resistance, “assan qaidi takht Lhore de hain,” (we are the prisoners of Lahore throne). Establishment knew how visionary and politically correct the powerful line was. For how long, the movement has come full circle and the dream now seems coming true.

Right from Khuaja Fareed, Aziz Shahid, Ashu Lal, irshad Taunsvi, Riffat Abbas and Ashiq Buzdar, the poetic thought and idioms are distinct from Punjabi under the influence of separate cultural and existential experiences. The daring soul of Sachal that challenges divine commandments, love-lorn lyrics of Khuaja imbued with Rohis landscape, existential and epic subjects of Riffat and Ashu’s mesmerizing mesmerizing notes over Indus unpack the spirit of Seraiki myths and mindset. Woven with winds and voices of history and culture – partly opaque, partly crystal, Ashu and Riffat open Seraiki epics no less than hazar-dastan. Resistance and identity-consciousness appears, particularly in 1960s, with the rise of Seraiki demands. A thread of resistance against feudalistic class oppression also runs parallel with outrageous expressions against Punjabi hegemony.

The folklores of Umar Marvi, Sassi-Punhoon, Heer-Ranjha, originating from Seraiki Wasaib also work both as the metaphors of parting hearts, mingling with metaphors of resistance. Even Dr. Abdul Salam and Hargobind Harana (the two noble laureates) also hail from Seraiki region. Seraiki Loke Sanjh plays a significant role in inspiring, then young poets and scholars, to think in a political mode and metaphor.

Urdu language, political Islam and Punjabi hegemony set standards of centralization and power in post-partitioned Punjab. Poised with the tempers of power and resources to mainstream a dialect, Lahore fixed standards of poetic and literary aesthetics – far from Seraiki norms of art and aesthetics. Ashu’s, Riffat’s and Aziz Shaid’s poetry in general is a metaphor of resistance against the art and aesthetics centralized and standardized by Lahore - the centre. It’s the periphery’s medium and metaphor they express their higher thoughts and grievances in, and quite rigoursly.

Time and space, for instance, are the enriched metaphors in which Riffat and Ashu weave their thoughts around giving birth to unique meaning and thought. For Khuaja Fareed, nature, culture and unified existence serve as metaphorical syntaxes. Sometimes difficult to be grasped by the modern sensibility – Riffat celebrates arts and aesthetics of periphery and consciously poses it against the centre. Time, space and ‘being’ serve as great metaphors to Riffat while river Sindh serves the same to Ashu, at times entirely leading to different civilizational aura and strengths. His rebellious flavours are illustrious in Sindh Sagar Naal Hamesha – eternally with the Indus.

Mamdoo, Divaya and Bhiravan (lok natak characters) not only ridicule centre’s hegemony rather celebrate subjects, arts and aesthetics of ‘periphery’. Put lucidly, periphery’s characters and metaphors are entirely opposed to Iqbal’s mard-e-momin, shaheen, sipahi and teer-o-talwar. Their icons and characters live around day by day like harsh realities of life, fraught with local wisdom and insightful statements. Riffat infact fights for Multan – a civilization centre for centuries, turned into a powerless periphery by post partitioned Lahore.

Indus and Gautam are incredibly extended metaphors for life and time, identity and expression to Ashu. In other words he excavates history, culture, civilization and Seraiki sensibility from aquifers, basin and tributaries of Indus. Gautam Naal Jhera (Squabbling with Gautam) is a ‘civilizational’ while “Sindh Sagar Naal Hamesha” is an epic of time and nativity. Riffatr’s characters dramatize culture and civilization at the verge of extinction.

Now a last but a significant word about an uproar of a separate Bahwalpur province. Submerged by one unit in the second decade of independence, the state was then annexed as part of the Punjab province. The Seraiki Province Front – igniting in 1960s - was actually a movement against Punjabi hegemony and unificational maneuverings. The stream of thought and resistance then, not only aspired for a larger Seraiki Province rather carved out a map too, by and large placing, all the presently identified Seraiki districts in it. Riaz Hasmi’s “Bahawalpur Brief 1972,” yearns for a Seraiki Province, diametrically opposed to present superficial externally fed statements. Suitable to the ‘divide and rule’ tactics, now Punjabi establishment is abetting Punjabi and Urdu settlers to stand up for a Bahawalpur province. It holds no support - apart from urbanized Punjabi immigrants of Bahawalpur and Bahawalnagar. Clearly the hidden motives of Lahore are being planted in – never to succeed. A Serairki Province is now almost a matter of months. Long live Seraiki spirit.

Amjad Nazeer did  M.A in Anthropology from Quid-e-Azam University in 1995 and did another M.A in Human Rights from Roehampton University, London . He produced several articles and booklets to promote 'peace', 'human rights' and 'democratization' in Pakistan.

Source: Viewpoint