There is no friendship between us

 

We don’t want to lie to you

With you, our relationship is of animosity

Perhaps this is the only way to meet

(“The reply of Bhagat Singh to his affluent

classmate”, Najm Hosain Syed)

 

Born in 1936, Najm Hosain Syed is a Pakistani Punjabi writer whose family migrated to Lahore after the partition. Around 1965, Syed founded Sangat, a weekly gathering for reciting and discussing classical Punjabi works, a meeting which has continued to this day. Inspired by the rising movements for the liberation of workers, Syed was an important member of Mazdoor Kisaan Party. His poems would be sung in the gatherings of the Party in 1960s and 70s. His plays invoked such forgotten, brave local figures as Dulla Bhatti and Ahmed Khan Kharal who stood up against the oppressions of rulers. His plays were performed by the theatre Group, Lok Rehas, in the 1980s and are still performed today by the Sangat Theatre group. Along with plays and poems, Syed also wrote valuable literary commentary on Punjabi literatures and cultures.

Encountering Najm Hosain Syed’s works is an ethereal experience mixed with a tinge of guilt; Guilt at not being able to learn, appreciate, associate ourselves with our rich Punjabi cultures, literatures and histories. We are, perhaps, too busy promoting a Pakistan culture, literature, history which fails to accommodate such local deviations. It is, therefore, not a surprise when a private school’s notice calls Punjabi a vulgar language.