Punjabi poetry has an unbroken recorded tradition stretching back to the 13th century poet Baba Farid (preserved for future generations by his inclusion in the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikh religion). Because Punjabi is not taught as a regular subject in Pakistani Punjab, most Pakistani Punjabis are not used to reading it. While the vast majority still speaks it at home and in public, its literary heritage is mostly passed on orally in the songs and sayings of folk Punjab. Most educated people are only vaguely aware of the existence of major Punjabi poets and most households do not possess a printed copy of their works. Thanks to singers like Pathaney Khan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen, some poems are now well known, but most listeners will not be able to tell you anything about the poets who wrote them or have any detailed knowledge of the background and context in which this poetry was composed. Since most people are unfamiliar with Punjabi as its written in the Shahmukhi (Persian) script they find it difficult to read the few books of criticism or biography that are available in the market. Misinformation about “Sufi poets” is rife in Urdu writing (and now in English) and filters down from there to everyone else. As a result many of these poets are regarded as “saints”, mystics or even religious fanatics before they are understood as poets.
Some determined Punjabi writers and critics (e.g. the circle that has grown as a result of the lifelong efforts of modern Punjabi poet and critic Najm Hossain Syed in Lahore) have worked to preserve classical poetry, study it, criticize it, publish it and discuss it. Some of these people, working with little or no state support or commercial patronage, have established Punjabi literary magazines and seeded a revival of interest in the language, but the need was still felt for a more direct way of reaching people who cannot yet read Punjabi with fluency. Responding to this need, Dr Manzur Ejaz has put up a series of video interviews in which he sheds light on the life and work of every famous Punjabi poet from Baba Farid in the 13th century to Khwaja Farid in the 19th.
These videos are easy to follow for anyone familiar with spoken everyday Punjabi and provide a great introduction to the rich heritage of Punjabi literature. Dr Manzur Ejaz has spent a lifetime studying this subject and was a teacher of philosophy at Punjab University before he moved to the US and trained as an economist. He has meticulously researched the biographies of the poets and is familiar with the history of Punjab and its culture. As a result, he is able to put the poet’s work in its historical and cultural context and correct many misconceptions that have become commonplace due to lack of systematic study and debate about these subjects. These videos are an excellent shortcut for anyone who is familiar with Punjabi but not with its literary heritage. Dr Ejaz and others are also adding videos about contemporary Punjabi writing and criticism. It is to be hoped that those who see these videos will then be stimulated to start reading Punjabi and to develop their own views about these poets and their poetry. Others can respond to these videos with criticism based on alternative readings of history and cultural trends. In this way, this project may serve as an important contributor to the revival of Punjabi language as a living literary language in the Punjab.
As you move around the Wichaar.com website, you can also see hundreds of other videos of famous songs, film clips, interviews etc. In addition the site has a news section and collections of Punjabi poetry and other writings written not only in Shahmukhi (Persian) script, but also in Gurmukhi and even Roman Punjabi. Enjoy…