Of Punjabi Language, Literary Criticism And Folk Resistance - As Depicted By Zubair Ahmad

Zubair Ahmad's profound analysis contends that figures like Baba Guru Nanak and Baba Fareed were linguistic visionaries who challenged the aristocracy of Punjab

Of Punjabi Language, Literary Criticism And Folk Resistance - As Depicted By Zubair Ahmad

Professor Zubair Ahmad stands out as a prominent contemporary storyteller and poet, acclaimed within the Punjabi literary sphere. With a repertoire spanning both Punjabi and English languages, he has garnered renown for his compelling short stories and poetry. His literary contributions boast nine published works, comprising two volumes of poetry, three collections of short stories, and two critical analyses. Notably, one of his works has been translated into English by the renowned author Anne Murphy, further extending his reach to a broader audience.

He has earned the prestigious Dhahan Prize twice consecutively and now serves as its chairperson. As the saying goes, "Beauty catches attention and character catches hearts." Zubair's characters, depicted in his writing, are ubiquitous throughout the streets, rooftops, and verandas of Lahore. A true Lahori by birth and in spirit, he remains deeply connected to his homeland and mother tongue, which resonates within his characters, capturing the essence of hearts. Zubair's storytelling is characterised by its innate naturalness, often delving into the lives and psychological struggles of the common man. However, a previously undisclosed talent has come to light, revealing his proficiency as a researcher, historian and philosopher.

Alif Allah Ratta Dil Mera”

“Menu Bay di Khabar na kayi”

A recent publication by Kitab Trinjan features a new book comprising a series of meticulously penned critical articles by Ahmad. This collection delves into the works of four prominent figures in Punjabi literature spanning various centuries: Bhagat Kabir, Shah Hussain, Baba Bulleh Shah, and Najam Hussain Syed, representing the 15th, 16th, 17th, and 20th centuries respectively. It's worth noting that all these articles, though previously dispersed across various magazines and newspapers, have now been consolidated into a single volume. Some of these articles were originally published on "Wichaar.com."

Popular imagination and the educational syllabus often fosters ambiguity by suggesting that all our revolutionary poets were Sufis, a misconception that does them a disservice

Ahmad undertook the task of gathering these articles with utmost authenticity, aiming to present them in a coherent collection accessible to the general reader. His dedicated effort, spanning over three to four decades of his life, stands as a testament to his commitment to promoting Punjabi language and literature. Undoubtedly, it represents a remarkable endeavour. Consequently, his critical writings exhibit an investigative discourse, marked by a steadfast dedication to ideas relevant to the common reader.

Title: Alif Allah Ratta Dil Mera

Author: Zubair Ahmad

Price: Rs 600

Pages: 208

Publishers: Kitab Trinjan Mian Chambers, 3 Temple Road, Lahore

Popular imagination and the educational syllabus often fosters ambiguity by suggesting that all our revolutionary poets were Sufis, a misconception that does them a disservice. This ambiguity surrounding Sufism is dispelled by Ahmad in a book where he scrutinises and dismisses the vague notion. Through critical analysis, he elucidates the original philosophical perspectives of four poets, shedding light on their poetry and enhancing clarity. These poets' revolutionary ideas were directed against the ruling class, fascists, or the prevailing establishment of their time. They empathised with and sought to empower the marginalised segments of society, particularly those oppressed by the caste system. Every poet or sage of that era raised their voice on behalf of those subjected to the injustices of the caste system, including labourers and farmers.

Originating in the 8th century, the Bhakti movement emerged as a rebellious force, pitting the marginalised lower classes—cobblers, carpenters, sweepers, and weavers—against the entrenched power of the ruling elite and oppressors. Its core tenets emphasised the unity of God, service to humanity, equality among all people, the superiority of devotion over ritualistic practices, and the abandonment of caste distinctions and superstitions.  

Ahmad's profound analysis contends that figures like Baba Guru Nanak and Baba Fareed were linguistic visionaries who challenged the aristocracy of Punjab. In his inaugural lengthy article, he focuses on Bhagat Kabir, exploring both his historical context and philosophical convictions. Kabir, living in the 15th century, vehemently rejected the six schools of Hinduism and criticised the dogmatism of both Hindu pundits and Islamic clerics. His struggle was directed against the entrenched class structures that dominated medieval India. The Bhakti movement gained significant momentum during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar, with Shah Hussain and his followers aligning themselves with its principles.

In the 17th century, Baba Bulleh Shah played a pivotal role in accelerating the Bhakti movement and igniting the flames of revolution through his poetry. As a result of his efforts, the Mughal Empire gradually weakened, particularly during the reign of Aurangzeb. This decline in imperial authority exacerbated social injustices and deepened the divide between the two classes in society. With the ruling class becoming increasingly feeble, they sought to bolster their control through a more stringent revenue system, plunging society into an economic crisis. In an attempt to shore up their governments, powerful rulers imposed heavier taxation burdens, disproportionately impacting peasants and the impoverished. In response to these oppressive measures, the disenfranchised lower classes refused to acquiesce, sparking a fiery rebellion that gained momentum.    

Whether it's the French Revolution or the Chinese Revolution, uprisings invariably stem from injustice and the suppression of sovereignty, ultimately leading to economic hardships. While renowned philosophers have provided insightful interpretations of worldly affairs, they often fell short in offering definitive solutions to address injustice. However, our Bhagats and classical Sufi poets tackled this issue by grasping historical materialism centuries ago, understanding the intricate interplay of politics, society, and economics. This foresight resonates with the ideas later articulated by Karl Marx and Jean-Paul Sartre in 19th and 20th century Europe. As Karl Marx asserted,

“All institutions of human society (e.g. government and religion) are the out-growth of its economic ruling system”

Ahmad emphasises that even today's elite or the ruling class of the 8th century; or an unjust cruel oppressor; or facilitators or bystanders of the society, all of them have their own interests. Under this system of injustice and oppression, a negated class comes into existence. Who belongs to this class? They were all low level poor negated people. Who advised them to unite? Who became a powerful voice and encouraged them to fight against the strong or elites for their rights? They were all Bhagats and our Sufi poets who appeared with passage of time and they encouraged the people - like Baba Guru Nanak and Baba Farid, Bhagat Kabir, Shah Hussain and Baba Bulleh Shah.

It is worth noting that there was a unity among all the gurus and poets regarding religion. According to them, there is no need of caste for the adoration of God. Brahaman, Vaisyas, Khatri and Shudras are all equal, religion is incomplete without devotion. Bhagat Kabir boasted of being a weaver and he described God also as a weaver. Starting with Bhagat Kabir where will it end?

A beautiful song related to hope written by Najam Hussain Saeed, a living legend of Punjabi literature, is explained by Ahmad in his book.

ہنیریاں نوں ورئے

متاں آپنا آپ ملاۓ

دم دے وساہ جتنی

سنج وچ سینتر کرۓجی

ککھ بال کے

This implies that even the smallest action, like igniting a single straw to create a beacon of light, has the power to transform society—a metaphorical representation of dispelling darkness from the world.

As I conclude my article, I strongly advocate for the continuation of the ideals championed by our Sufi poets and the unwavering dedication of the Sufis. I extend heartfelt congratulations to Ahmad, a fervent and committed writer whose latest book stands as a significant contribution to the realm of Punjabi literary criticism.