Enjoying similarities: Pakistani and Indian Punjabis rejoicing common heritage in Canada

Meera Gill (Our Global Village)

IMG_3523 copyPeople in many small groups, all across the world get together to talk peace, love and belonging to one another. One fine evening, a group of friends of Indian and Pakistani heritage, living in Canada held a similar gathering in honour of a friend, Nain Sukh, a Punjabi writer who was visiting from Pakistan. He had come to Canada to receive a prestigious Dhahan prize for his latest Punjabi Novel, Madho Lal Husain – Lahore Di Vel.

To celebrate excellence in Punjabi literature, the Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature was founded in 2013 in Canada. Its mission is to inspire the creation of Punjabi literature and bridge the Punjabi communities together from all across the globe. Canada India Education Society (CIES) founded this prize in partnership with the Department of Asian Studies in the Faculty of Arts at University of British Columbia (UBC).

The Dhahan Prize awards $25,000 CDN annually to one “best book of fiction” published in either of the two Punjabi scripts, Gurmukhi or Shahmukhi. Two runner-up prizes of $5,000 CDN are also awarded, with the provision that both scripts are represented among the three winners. This year’s first prizewinner is Darshan Singh for his book, Lota. Two second prizes of $5,000 CDN were awarded to Nain Sukh from Lahore and H Atwal from Southall England.

During this visit to Canada, Nain Sukh met many Punjabi speaking writers, poets, journalists and a night before his flight back to Pakistan; he also joined this small group of friends at a family home. In this informal gathering Nain Sukh shared that with his over 20 years of law experience, he had met hundreds of people and become part of their real life stories. Through this novel he said that he was able to weave together many of those life stories, historic readings, and personal reflections (dekhea, sunea, ate samjhea) that had been wandering around him and claiming an expression from him.

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It became obvious during a brief interaction with him that besides pursing a successful profession of Law, he had lived his life well with staying in touch with literature, history, social and political movements along with his love for music.

Nain Sukh’s novel is about 400 pages long. It is written in Shahmukhi script and is also in the process of being transcribed in Gurmukhi. The novel travels through cultural, historical, literary and social life lived in Lahore during the time span of 400 years (from sixteenth to twenty first century). Nain Sukh successfully employed the steam of consciousness technique in this novel and with his remarkable imaginative skills he had his characters live though various important episodes that took place in the plot and setting in view.

This is one of those times when I think of my childhood days of looking though dad’s collection of Urdu books and feeling such fascination with each drawn character. While flipping the pages and running my hand over the script, I still remember being dismayed for unable to read it. It is unfortunate that Indian Punjab adopted only Hindi as a second language and dropped Urdu out of its school curriculum when a larger part of Punjabi literature was saved in Shahmukhi script. Nevertheless, I was happily surprised to find out that Nain Sukh could read Gurmukhi. He said that against all odds in Pakistan more and more people are trying to learn the Gurmukhi script.

As we delved further into the topic of Punjabi language he added an interesting touch to the evening. While answering a question about changing forms of Punjabi, he said that Pakistani Punjabis could easily relate to the poetry of Amrita, Shiv but surprisingly enough not much to the contemporary work. Further dialogue involved the influence of Urdu and Hindi on Punjabi and how social, political and economical factors might be adding to this pressure. The group discussed the concern of losing Punjabi vocabulary for adopting words from other languages while there are many local words already existing in Punjabi to express the same thought, expression, essence, sense, spirit or object.

After taking much joy in talking about countless similar ways of living life in both Punjabs, the evening concluded with poetry of Faiz, songs of Shiv, new writers and that of Nain Sukh himself.

An unsaid resolution was evident on every face to do whatever it can take to celebrate their mother tongue living across the boundaries in India, Pakistan and Canada. They will continue to celebrate their centuries old common heritage

It had become evident yet again during this togetherness that more we get to know each other more we realize the physical, intellectual as well as emotional similarities that we live everyday. In the gathering we had writers such as Nain Sukh, Ajmer Rode, Fouzia Rafique, Harinder K. Dhahan, Fozia Manan, and Bhupinder Dhaliwal; social activists representing Committee of Progressive Pakistani Canadian and Our Global Village Foundation; All India Radio host and a singer Amarjeet Josh; founding member of India Mehila (women) Darshan Mann, Haider Nizamani, a professor of Political science at Simon Fraser University and other friends who are leaders in contributing to the society.

I am thankful for the huge world, entailing friends from all across the globe that lives with me and holds the genuine respect for human life. More similar gatherings to celebrate the similarities between us all shall become the larger consciousness of our globe.

Love and peace for all! Together we can and together we will!

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