India Bound

india_censored

Written by Randeep Singh

The film Haider was released on October 2, 2014. The film is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to the violent backdrop of Kashmir in the mid-1990s. Among other things, Haider looks at the atrocities of the Indian army. It has become one of the most critically acclaimed films in India this year.

On October 15, 2014, the Allahabad High Court issued notices to, among others, the film’s director, director and actors to respond to a petition. The petition was filed by the Hindu Front for Justice an organization which seeks to restrain the film’s screening on the basis that it insults the sovereignty, integrity and unity of India.

How does a film like Haider endanger the “sovereignty, integrity and unity” of India? Aren’t India’s restrictions on the freedom of expression, such as national security, public order and incitement to violence,  sufficient to deal with problems that may otherwise imperil the “sovereignty, integrity and unity” of India?

The “sovereignty, integrity and unity” limitation on freedom of expression merely enables the Indian power to curb any thought or opinion it deems “anti-national.” And what is more cherished to the Indian nationalist mythology than the idea that India is a benign, secular democracy, a view questioned by Haider?

In its stamping out of ideas, thoughts or opinions, which just may have a ring or truth to them, the Indian state privileges the right of an ambiguous and undefined the “nation” over those of democracy which relies on a free flow of ideas. The result is a narrowing of the Indian mind.

If Haider is restrained from playing in Indian cinemas, the Indian state and its fascist enthusiasts will have again (as they have done before with M.F. Hussain, Deepa Mehta, Sonali Bose, Arundhati Roy, Wendy Doniger) have privileged the rights of the “nation” over those of Indians themselves.

Film Review: “Haider”

haider 1
Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay Menon, Shraddha Kapoor, Narendra Jha, Irrfan Khan
Directed by: Vishal Bhardwaj

Reviewed by Randeep Singh

This third adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedies by Vishal Bhardwaj is not a tragedy in the same way as the play from which it is adapted. The tragedy in “Hamlet” comes from the hero’s fatal flaw, his indecision whether to avenge his father’s murder and the needless deaths which result along the way. In Bhardwaj’s “Haider,” the title role (played by Shahid Kapoor) is unwavering in his determination to murder his uncle, Khurram (Kay Kay Menon), contending only with chance and circumstance. There is no fatal flaw in the character of Haider and no tragedy as such.

The tragedy in Haider is the tragedy of Kashmir, the backdrop against which this modern-day Indian adaptation is told. It’s no irony that we see elections being conducted in a land where the day’s rhythms are determined by curfews and where the call to prayer is drowned out by army loudspeakers. The tragedy is most poignantly rendered in Haider’s search for his father, one of the many “missing” fathers, sons and husbands in Kashmir. It is realized visually too through the film’s stunning cinematography, the pure snow of the valley speckled with blood, veiled by smoke, partitioned by barbed wire.

Kapoor captures Haider as a sensitive young poet in the earlier part of the film, but gives a less nuanced performance when Haider experiences episodes of madness. The stand-out performance in the film is that of Tabu as Ghazala who hauntingly portrays a woman torn by loyalty as a mother, a widow and a new wife. Kapoor and Tabu are supported by an excellent supporting cast, particularly Menon as Khurram and Narendra Jha as Haider’s father, Dr. Hilal Meer.

The film isn’t entirely stellar. The climax, while effective, almost turns comical with the transformation of three elderly gravediggers into militia men. The madness and suicide of the Ophelia-adapted character, Arshi (played by Shraddha Kapoor), is also so rushed that it never really sinks in. The tragedy though as Bhardwaj makes clear is not that of Arshi or even of Haider. In closing the film with Faiz Ahmad Faiz’ poem “Intesaab” (‘Dedication’), Bhardwaj’s “Haider” becomes a dedication to the congregation of mourning that is Kashmir, a tragedy awaiting its final curtain.

8.5/10

South Asia’s Banned Books

bannedbooksweek

To celebrate Banned Books Week (Sept 21-27), we are presenting a list of books banned by South Asian governments. Find the link to Banned Books Week web page below to view USA’s 10 Most Challenged titles of 2013.

‘Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

‘Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982 according to the American Library Association. There were 307 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2013, and many more go unreported.’
http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/about

Most of the following from Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_books_banned_by_governments
Some from:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/2218972.stm

The Hindus: An Alternative History (2014)
Wendy Doniger, History.
Penguin Books India ‘agreed to withdraw from sale all copies of a book that takes an unorthodox view of Hinduism, and will destroy them as part of a settlement after a case was filed against the publisher.’

Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India (2011)
Joseph Lelyveld, Biography.
Banned in Gujarat for suggesting that Mahatma Gandhi had a homosexual relationship. Gujarat’s state assembly voted unanimously in favour of the ban in April 2011.

Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence (2009)
Jaswant Singh, Biography.
Temporarily banned in Gujarat, India in August 2009. The ban was overturned by the Gujarat High Court in December 2009.

Islam – A Concept of Political World Invasion (2003)
R. V. Bhasin, Political ideology.
Banned in Maharashtra, India in 2007, after its publishing on grounds that it promotes communal disharmony between Hindus and Muslims.

Shivaji – Hindu King in Islamic India (2003)
James Laine, History.
Banned in Indian state of Maharashtra in 2004 for “promoting social enmity”; ban overturned by Bombay High Court in 2007.

Wild Wind (2002)
Taslima Nasrin, Memoir.
Banned in Bangladesh for containing ‘anti-Islamic remarks’.

The True Furqan (1999)
Al Saffee and Al Mahdee, Religious text.
Import into India prohibited on the grounds of threatening national security.

My Girlhood (1999)
Taslima Nasreen, Memoir.
Banned in Bangladesh for containing ‘anti-Islamic remarks’.

Lajja (1993)
Taslima Nasreen, Novel.
Banned in Bangladesh, and in a few states of India.

Soft Target: How the Indian Intelligence Service Penetrated Canada (1989)
Zuhair Kashmeri & Brian McAndrew, Investigative journalism.
Banned in India.

The Satanic Verses (1988)
Salman Rushdie, Novel.
Banned in the following countries for alleged blasphemy against Islam: Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Iran, Kenya, Kuwait, Liberia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Senegal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Thailand.

Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim (1984)
Sunanda Datta-Ray, Non-fiction.
Banned in India. Describes the process of the annexation of the Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim by the Indian government of Indira Gandhi in 1975.

Jinnah of Pakistan (1982)
Stanley Wolpert, Biography.
Banned in Pakistan for recounting Jinnah’s taste for wine and pork.

Understanding Islam through Hadis (1982)
Ram Swarup, Critique of political Islam.
Banned in India

An Area of Darkness (1964)
V. S. Naipaul, Travelogue.
Banned in India for its negative portrayal of India and its people.

Unarmed Victory (1963)
Bertrand Russell, History.
Banned in India. Contains unflattering details of the 1962 Sino-Indian War.

Nine Hours To Rama (1962)
Stanley Wolpert, Novel.
Banned in India. It exposes persons responsible for security lapses that led to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.

The Heart of India (1958)
Alexander Campbell, Fiction.
Banned by the Indian government in 1959 on grounds of being “repulsive”.

Angaray (1932)
Sajjad Zaheer, Short stories.
Banned in India in 1936 by the British government.

Rangila Rasul (1927)
Pt. Chamupati, Religious.
Banned in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
..

First annual Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature – 2014 Winners

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First Prize of $25,000: Khali Khoohaan di Katha
Novel by Avtar Singh Billing (Gurmukhi script)
Runner Up Prize of $5,000: Kbooter, Bnairy te Galian
Short stories by Zubair Ahmed (Shahmukhi script)
Runner Up Prize of $5,000: Ik Raat da Samunder
Short stories by Jasbir Bhullar (Gurmukhi script)

Congratulations!
Avtar, Zubair and Jasbir
!
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Press Release
$25,000 CDN First Prize
celebrates the rich culture and
transnational heritage of Punjabi literature

Vancouver, BC (September 22, 2014) – After receiving over 70 eligible entries from 5 countries around the world, the
winner of the $25,000 CDN Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature is Avtar Singh Billing’s novel, Khali Khoohaan di
Katha (The Story of Empty Wells).

Based in Vancouver, Canada, The Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature aims to inspire the creation of Punjabi literature
across borders, bridging Punjabi communities around the world, and promoting Punjabi literature on a global scale.
The Dhahan Prize awards $25,000 CDN annually to one “best book in 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. The Dhahan Prize is awarded by Canada India Education Society
(CIES) in partnership with the Department of Asian Studies in the Faculty of Arts at University of British Columbia
(UBC). The prize is funded by an endowment from Barj and Rita Dhahan, and family and friends.

The winners of the inaugural Dhahan Prize in Punjabi Literature are:
First Prize of $25,000: Khali Khoohaan di Katha (Novel) by Avtar Singh Billing (Gurmukhi script)
Runner Up Prize of $5,000: Ik Raat da Samunder (Short stories) by Jasbir Bhullar (Gurmukhi script)
Runner Up Prize of $5,000: Kbooter, Bnairy te Galian (Short stories) by Zubair Ahmed (Shahmukhi script)

“I feel happy and lucky to be the first author to win the prestigious, inaugural Dhahan Prize in Punjabi Literature,” said
Avtar Singh Billing, author of Khali Khoohan di Katha. “[Canada India Education Society] and the University of British
Columbia have really created history by establishing such a unique, international award for Punjabi fiction. I feel proud
that the Punjabi literary world found my sixth novel worthy of this honour.”

Punjabi literature has a long and rich literary heritage and is produced around the world. Barj S. Dhahan, co-founder of
CIES states, “Punjabi has been a Canadian language for 115 years and it is exciting that this prize is uniquely a Canadian
undertaking.”

The Prize Advisory Committee has been central to developing an independent and impartial jury of senior writers and
scholars to adjudicate the prize. Professor Anne Murphy, chair of the prize advisory committee explains, “We have three
juries: one to choose Shahmukhi books, one for Gurmukhi books, and one Central Jury that determines the winner. There is no overlap among the juries and the names of members are not disclosed until after adjudication is complete. It is crucial that we always maintain a strong and fair process.”

Visit the English version of the website here:
www.dhahanprize.com
Shahumkhi and Gurmukhi content will be added later.

Download Press Releases
English
SEPT 22 2014 Dhahan Prize Winners
Gurumukhi
September 22 2014 – Dhahan Prize Winners
Shahmukhi
September 22 2014 – Dhahan Prize Winners
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‘Two Shortest Short Stories’ by Sana Janjua

Story # 1
Woman
She negotiated with every power structure till she reached the edifice of their desire. There stood her man. He touched her breasts, shook his head and said: ‘Too soft for my taste’.

Story # 2
Man
He said he had loved her all these years. So then he came, moaning, and said: ‘You are too good at it. Who taught you that, Slut?’
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The Sufi Legacy in South Asia

nizamuddin

Written by Randeep Singh

On September 13, 2014, the Hari Sharma Foundation in association with a number of arts and cultural groups, presented the conference, “Spirituality, Humanity and the Marginalized: The Sufi Legacy in South Asia” and a musical concert “Songs of Waris Shah, Bulleh Shah, Kabir, Lalon Fakir and Rabindranath Tagore.”

One of the musical highlights was the husband-wife team from Bangladesh, Farida Parveen (on voice and harmonium) and Ghazi Abdul Hakim (on flute). Ghazi on the bamboo flute turned music into poetry, filling the concert hall with the colour of Bengal, taking us beyond the streams and paddy fields.

Farida Parveen sang the songs of Lalon Fakir with a gusto and a tenderness in her earthy tones. The concert also featured Enakshi Chatterjee from Calcutta who opened with songs of Tagore and Madan Gopal Singh from Delhi who sang songs of Sultan Bahu and Bulleh Shah and others.

The highlight of the conference was Dr. Nile Green (UCLA) and the ensuing discussion. Green’s presentation, “Mazaars for the Marginalized” underlined the pluralistic, cosmopolitan dimensions of Sufism, of its journey across trade routes by caravans from Khurasan eastwards to Turkey and southwards through the Khyber Pass into Hindustan.

That plural and cosmopolitan spirit, Green spoke, is heard in the tradition of Sufi poetry and music which filtered into India from Khurason. It is in words like “Auliya” (Arabic), “Pir” (Persian) and “Baba”(Turkish), epiphets for Sufi masters and in the shajars (genealogical trees) of Sufis tracing their ancestry to Samarkand or the Hejaz. Sufi shrines included Greek Christians in Turkey as they did Hindus in India.

The appeal of Sufism to the marginalized according to Green was in its creation of a space where social power was redistributed more evenly. Sufis also acted as important intermediaries between the ruler and the common man in economic, political and legal matters and Sufi institutions provided food and medical care to the poor.

The piety and inclusiveness of the Sufi was questioned during the discussion period. Sunera Thobani mentioned how the Sufi pirs themselves had vast estates and wealth, whereas Habiba Zaman pointed out how Sufi spaces often clearly excluded women. Green himself pointed out today how Sufis became kings of Libya upon that country’s independence or how those of Sufi lineage sit in parliament in Pakistan. Green also reminded us of the hierarchy within Sufi orders, no where more uncompromising than in the relationship between the murshid and the pir.

One member of the audience asked whether Sufism or “Islam-lite” was a way of making Islam more acceptable and congenial to a post-911 West. Whether it is remains a topic for further discussion. But what Green reminded us is that Sufism has always had an appeal beyond just Muslims and the shariat and the importance of its role in shaping culture, Islamic or otherwise.

‘KarmaaN Maari – The Ill Fated’ a poem by Shehnaz Parveen Sahar

An Urdu poem in English and Punjabi.
Punjabi shahmukhi
Punjabi roman
Urdu
English

photofromshenaz

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Punjabi Shahmukhi >

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کرماں ماری

ہنے ہنے
میں فیر
اوس محفل
توں
نس آئی آں
جتھے رفو،زاہدہ ،عرشی، ٹیبی
میرے
آل دوالے
بیٹھیاں میرے لہنگےاتّے
چمپا گوٹا لا رہئیاں نے
میرے ہتھیں
شگن دی مہندی
متھےاتے
جھومر ٹکہ
لا رہئیاں نے
بابل والے گیت وداعی
گا رہئیاں نے
ویکھو سب دیاں ونگاں ویکھو
چھنک کھنک کے
ایہہ وی سنگت پا رہئیاں نے

ایہہ سب کُج پر کاہدے لئی اے

جھلییو
تسی تے کج وی جاندیاں نئیں
اگے اگ دا
کرماں ساڑدا
لال سمندر
ٹھاٹھاں ماردا آ ڈُھکیا اے
انج کرنا تسی
مینوں اپنے نال ای لے کے ٹرجانا

ایس توں پہل۔۔۔
گیت تہاڈےاگ وچ سڑ کے
پُھٹ پُھٹ روون
چیکاں مارن

اڑیو
میری گل تاں سن لئو
کتھے چلیاں
مڑ کےویکھو
واپس آئو
سکھیونی
مینوں گل نال لائو
سن لئو اڑیو
خورے میریاں آوازاں
نوں کیوں نئیں سُن دیاں
اپنےسارے گیت نمانے لیندیاں جائو
ویکھوکسراں
میرے گل وچ بانہواں پا کے
چیکاں مار کے
رو پئے سارے

خورے مینوں کلیاں چھڈ کے
کیوں تسی ساریاں
ٹر گیئاں جے
پچھے اپنیاں آوازاں وی چھڈ گئیاں جے
اے آوازاں
میری جان دے پچھے پے گیئاں نے

گوٹے کرناں بھریاں چُنیاں دے نال
اتھرواں والیاں۔۔۔ اکھیاں نوں
کج ہوروی کنڈے مل جاندے نے
ہونٹ سدا لئی سل جاندے نے

اُتّوں تہا ڈ یاں کن من کن من آوازاں نے
ساہ لینا وی اوکھا کیتا

سنونی اڑیو
اک گل دسّو
آخر تسی اے ساریاں رل کے
اچی اچی
ہسدیاں کیوں جے؟؟؟

شہناز پروین سحر
..

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< Punjabi, roman

KarmaaN Maari
By
Shehnaz Parveen Sahar

Hunnay hunnay
maiN fer
oss mehfil
tooN
nuss aye aaN
jithay raffo, zahida, arshi, tabby
mere
aalay dwaalay
baithiyaan mere lehngay uttay
champa gotta la rahyaaN naiN
mere hatheeN
shagn dee mehndi
mathay uttay
jhoomar tikka
la rahyaaN naiN
babul walay geet vidaee
ga rahyaN naiN
vekho sab diyaN wangaN vekho
chhanak khhanak ke
eh ve sangat pa rahyaaN naiN

eh sab kujh per kahday laye ae
jhalliyo
tusseiN te kujh ve jandiyaN nahin
aggay agg da
karmaN saarrda
laal smundar
tthatthaN marda aa Dhukeya ae
inj karna tusseiN
mainuN apnay naal ee lae ke tur jana

ais toon pehlaN
geet tuhaday agg vich surr ke
phutt phutt rowan
cheekaN maran

Arreyo
meri gal te sunn lao
kithay chaliyaN
murr ke vekho
wapas aao
sakhiyo nee
mainun gal nal lao
sunn lao arreyo
khawray meriyan awazaN
nooN kiyuN nahin sunndiyaN
apnay saaray geet nomaanay laindiyaN jao
vekho kissraN
mere gal vich baNhwaN paa ke
cheekaN maar ke
ro pai saaray

Khawray mainuN kaleyaN chudd ke
kiyuN tueeiN saariyaN
Tur gayaN je
pichhay apniyaN awazaN ve chudd gayaN je
eh awazaN
meri jan de pichay paindiaN naiN

gottay kirnaN bhariyaN chuniyaN naal
athro valiyaN…. akhiyaN nooN
kujh hor ve kanday mil janday naiN
honT sada laye sil janday naiN

Sunno nee Arriyo
ek gul dusso
akhar tusseiN eh sariyaN rul ke
uchi uchi
hudiyaN kiyuN je????
..


Urdu, original >

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کرماں ماری

ابھی ابھی
میں پھر
اُس محفل سے اٹھ
بھاگی ہوں
جس میں
رفو، زاہدہ ،عرشی، ٹیبی
میرے
لہنگے پر چمپا گوٹا لگا رہی ہیں
میرے ہاتھوں پر مہندی
اور
میرے ماتھے
مانگ کا ٹیکہ سجا رہی ہیں
بابل کی دعائیں لیتی جا
گاتی جاتی ہیں
دیکھو
میری چوڑیاں دیکھو
ساتھ تمھارے
وہ بھی کچھ
گنگنا رہی ہیں

لیکن یہ سب
کیا ہے آخر
کیا تم کو کچھ خبر نہیں ہے
اس سے آگے
آگ کا دریا
کیسےٹھاٹھیں ماررہا ہے
مجھےیہاں سے لے جائواب
قبل اس کے
یہ گیت تمھارے
چیخیں ماریں
پھوٹ پھوٹ کر رونے لگیں سب
اور
ذرا تم رکو
بتائو
کہاں چلی ہو
کیا تم تک آوازیں میری پوہنچ رہی ہیں
سنو
میری آوازتو سن لو
مجھےبھی ساتھ میں لے کر جائو
مجھے اکیلا چھوڑ کے
ایسے
کیسے تم سب جا سکتی ہو
واپس آئو
آجائو ناں

کم از کم یہ گیت تمھارے
اپنے ساتھ ہی لیتی جائو
دیکھو یہ آوازیں میری
جاں لے لے لیں گی

تم اپنی
آوازیں چھوڑ کے چلی گئی ہو
یہ آوازیں تو
بلکل پاگل کردیتی ہیں
اور
گوٹا کرن بھرے دوپٹے سے
آنسو صاف کرو تو آنکھیں
اورسپنے
سب چھل جاتے ہیں
ہونٹ سدا کو سل جاتے ہیں
اوپر سے
تمھاری
آوازیں ہیں

سنو۔۔۔
یہ تم سب
آخراتنا
ہنستی کیوں ہو؟؟؟

شہناز پروین سحر
..

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< English

The Ill-Fated
By
Shehnaz Parveen Sahar

Just now
again i
ran away
from the gathering
where
ruffo, zahida, arshi, tabby
are tucking silver gold decorations on
my wedding gown
hena in my hands
and
on my forehead
a tikka in the parting of my hair
‘take the prayers of your parents with you’
they are singing
look
look my bracelets
are also
humming along
with you

But what is
all this
do you not know
how a river of fire
rages on and on
in front of me
take me with you
before the time when
your songs
become screams
burst into tears
and you
just stop for a moment
say
where are you going
can you hear me
listen
hear my voice
take me with you
leaving me alone
like this
how can you go
come back here
come back

Your songs at least
take them with you
i tell you their echoes will claim
my life from me

You left
leaving behind your voices
these voices can
make anyone insane
and
with a cloth of silver gold decorations
when the tears are wiped then eyes
and dreams both
get scratched
lips get sealed forever
and on top of it
your
voices

Listen…
you all!
Why is it that you
laugh so much?

From Urdu by Fauzia Rafique
..

photo-shenaz

Shehnaz Parveen Sahar: An acclaimed poet from Pakistan.

 Photos from Sahar’s Facebook Page

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Buddhist Social Philosophy

 

IMG_1098

 

Written by Randeep Singh

What does Buddhism[1] say about social matters?

In Buddhism, all things are governed by the universal law known as Dharma. In the physical world, Dharma regulates the expansion of galaxies, the flow of the seasons and of the rise and setting of the sun. In the social world, Dharma is found in the obligations and responsibilities we owe to one another as humans.

To live in accordance with Dharma socially is to live a moral life (sila) in harmony with the well-being of others. Buddhism in particular looks at the Dharma in relation to suffering and the end of suffering.

Suffering arises socially when we think we exist separately from one another. In Buddhism, nothing exists separately from anything else and there is no “self” or “essence” which divides one thing from another. The end of suffering begins when we realize that we do not exist seperately from anything or anyone but in a dynamic interdependence with everything and everyone around us. There is no “self” dividing me from my neighbour.

In so realizing, I regard my neighbour as myself. Dharma is realized by “doing good to others, avoiding harm to others.” Buddhist ethics consider how one’s words, actions and livelihood affects other people and the quality of one’s relationships with those people. Kind words, a smile, a handshake, all make a difference. Dharma is apparent through the effects of our moral actions on our lives (‘karma’) and how the cumulative effects of our action produce social relationships, networks and society.

Above all, human relationships provide support and solace in a world of suffering. The loneliness of human existence, the pain of separation, the sorrow of losing someone close to us, all are lessened through the bonds of love, friendship and brotherhood. The ideal society in Buddhist philosophy is one where each person lives in respect and with affection toward others, creating relationships in the spirit of love, compassion and joy in the happiness of others.

Footnote:

[1] I define Buddhism as the teachings of the Buddha and take them as a philosophy like the the teachings of Aristotle, Confucius or Plato, not as a religion per se.

Further Reading:

Ainslee T. Embree ed., Sources of Indian Tradition, Vol. 1: From the Beginning to 1800, Columbia University Press, New York: 1988.

Damien Keown, Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 2006).

 

‘Dislocutions: art and translation – Skeena’ by Fauzia Rafique

At the Surrey Art Gallery in 2011, i was happy to discuss aspects of my back and forth journey between two languages while writing Skeena. Here is an updated version of it.

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Surrey Art Gallery
Dislocutions: a panel discussion on art and translation
October 15, 2011

It is a wonderful location for me to share my experience of writing a novel in two languages where striking and insightful expressions of art by Brendan Fernandes, Digital Natives, Soheila K. Esfahani, Mark Neufeld, Emilio Rojas, Tony Romano, Ming Wong and Dipna Horra are happening, and, here for this discussion we have artists Lorna Brown, Emilio Rojas and Jordan Strom. Thank you for having me.

I will read to you the very first thing that Skeena, the narrator, says to us to begin her story:
My name means different things in different languages. In Arabic, it is the ‘Spirit of Tranquility’ (Sakina), in Hebrew; the ‘Indwelling Feminine Face of Divinity’ (Shekhinah); and in the languages of Native Peoples, the ‘River of Mists’ (Skeena). At this time, I don’t favor one meaning over the other. They make a lot of sense together but if I met a people who associated this sound to a meaning that does not fit my scheme, I will have to pick and choose.

In my mind, with the delivery of its main themes, one of the ‘purposes’ of my novel Skeena was to communicate across cultures and languages. In 1991, when I began writing it in Toronto, I had been in Canada for five years and already I could feel the loss of language at different levels. I cannot say that I experienced loss of culture but I did experience the presence of barriers in seeing across cultures. Barriers were of assumptions and preconceived notions, some mine and some those of others, all coming out of the prejudiced systemic structures that rule both my worlds.

For me, there is no conflict in the fact that I simultaneously own as my homelands both Pakistan and Canada. Within it, I am a Punjabi woman of Muslim family origin from Pakistani side of South Asia who has by now lived in the East and the West Coast of Canada for twenty five years, and who considers Vancouver Lower Mainland her hometown alongwith Lahore. For me, my art must reflect and reveal my evolved identity, my physical locations, my combined cultures, and my deepest thoughts. The stories I am inspired to tell come from, and satisfy, my organic communities in both Canada and Pakistan.

The draft manuscript of Skeena, begun in Toronto in 1991 and completed here in Surrey in 2004, brought together my two languages for me when all its dialogue, about 80% of the whole, was expressed in both English and (roman) Punjabi. A realistic critical literary work of fiction, it required communicating across many cultures, the thoughts and lived realities of a young Muslim Punjabi Canadian woman. In evolving this format, there was my need to reflect/reproduce in English the feel/nuance of conversations taking place in Punjabi. It was most important to do that because dialogue is one of the major ways for the reader to get into a different culture, its stories and people; and, to form our own opinions as readers while we visit and become part of various situations in a novel.

Skeena provides a vibrant context to the lives of people living in different social and cultural environments where they may know some facts about each other but where lived experiences are so different that it is hard sometimes to communicate the meaning of words. The term ‘violence against women’, for example, may not give any clear idea to a person born and raised here in Canada about the extent of violence faced by Muslim women in Pakistan. The same term when used to illustrate the situation of women in present day Canada, may also provide misleading notions to a reader in South Asia. To me, these things cannot be told; they must be experienced. So, Skeena happens in the present, and is steeped in the culture/s of its characters.

As well, there was a desire to involve Punjabi Canadian youth, the second/third/fourth generation, by using a lay-person’s form of roman for Punjabi, similar to the written communication now carried out by Punjabis on facebook, twitter and in texting. It was also geared to overcome the Gurumukhi/Shahmukhi divide in the language, and by offering the dialogue in both Punjabi and English, I was hoping to create a story that could unobtrusively become a beautiful culture-sharing, language-learning tool.

In 2004, the first draft of the novel was complete. An engaging story that begins in Pakistan, ends in Canada; uses both English and Punjabi; and, is captivating in the projection of its themes and subject matter. I felt that the manuscript fulfilled all its purposes. But my editor felt otherwise. She said that it would be tedious for the reader to go through two languages at every dialogue, and, she said that I will be ‘ghettoizing’ my writing if I did not remove the Punjabi.

It took many months of thinking while I worked on my other two novels, to come to a point in 2005 where all Punjabi sentences were removed from English manuscript, and placed in a new file. At that point, I think, I heard an actual sigh of relief from the English manuscript as it was released from the repetitive burden of about 200 pages of Punjabi. Plus, I was overjoyed to see an 80% complete Punjabi manuscript, even when in roman. What an amazing bonus! Skeena gave me the gift of two novels when I was writing one, and my mother language gave me the third, Skeena’s Gurumukhi edition via script-conversion. But that happens a little later.

After Punjabi sentences were removed, numerous Punjabi/Urdu/Arabic/Persian words and terms remained in the 2005 manuscript because I thought the reader may like some flavour of languages without being stalled by them. I sent this manuscript to a couple of friends including one in California who went ahead to read over the phone, a couple of scenes from the second section, to a mutual friend in Pakistan who happened to be a writer, editor and publisher. Zubair Ahmad, who later edited the Punjabi ms of Skeena, was taken by the passages he heard over the phone, and invited me to come to Pakistan to translate it in Punjabi for publication. I left for Pakistan in early 2006.

Zubair Ahmad asked me an important question: which language did I use to ‘perceive/imagine’ the story. My thoughtful reply to him was ‘English’ since the novel was perceived, told and written in English. But that was half the truth because all dialogue by and among Punjabi characters was mind-developed in Punjabi, written in roman on the page, and then rendered in English.

In about six months of full time work, a Punjabi Shahmukhi manuscript was ready for publication. Daily I translated a few pages, and worked with the editor to finalize them. It was a powerful and learning experience for me in many different ways. First, the creative space that evolved between the Writer, the Editor, and the Publisher was conducive to both fine-ness and speed. The result was a satisfying manuscript that was then published by Sanjh Publications in Lahore in 2007. Second, something i never expected or knew that could happen though Zubair Ahmad had predicted it: After 1975-76 when I had adapted from English to Punjabi Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novelette ‘The Poor Folk’ for Pakistan Television, I had not had the chance to do any major work in Punjabi except for two incomplete novels and a couple of unpublished short stories. Now suddenly, during translating Skeena in Lahore, a fountain of Punjabi words and terms began to sprout in my mind, even words that I thought I never knew. With it, a whole lot of Punjabi poems began to surface. Some of them are part of my (out-of-print) chapbook ‘Passion Fruit/Tahnget Phal’ (Surrey 2011)*.

I returned to Canada in 2007, and began to work on the English manuscript referencing it with the published Punjabi version. The detail became clearer at every step. The English manuscript became freer of all kinds of weaknesses in expression, content and style. In Lahore, as I was converting dialogue from lay-roman to Shahmukhi script, and translating narrative from English to Punjabi, I had felt that all the remaining weaknesses/gaps, the things i call the ‘lies’ of a manuscript, in concept, style, structure or expression, were revealed to me (i remember wondering if it’ll at all be ‘practical’ to run this same ‘test of translation’ on my other two English novels). I found that it’s really hard to translate an unfamiliar action or concept from one language to another, and even harder to translate an unclear one. I have examples of both.

In the first section that takes place in a village in Pakistani Punjab, a character makes a common (in Punjab) gesture of seeking forgiveness from Allah where certain fingertips are placed on the tongue and then on the lower ear tips with the word ‘tauba’ meaning ‘forgiveness’. It took many agonizing attempts before I could come to this, with the help of my editor, i presume.
Allah Forgiveness!’ He touches his tongue with both his first finger tips, and then touches his ears with them’. 
But I was not happy with it because in Punjabi, it was effortless:
Allah Maafi!’ Oh unglaN de poTay jeebh te rakh ke kannaN noon laanday naiN’.
Later, back in Canada in 2007-08 when I was referencing the English manuscript with the published Punjabi version, the above English sentence also became better.
‘Allah Forgiveness!’ He places his fingertips on his tongue, and then touches his ears with them. (Skeena, Section 1, 17. Libros Libertad, Surrey 2011)

The second example is of another difficult point that benefitted from the act of translation. This is what I had in 2005 in a para, again from the first section, and with the same character:
SaeeN Jee is lying unconscious. His cheeks are blotched with surma kohl from his eyes, and his white and orange hair is sticky with sweat. But the scariest is his mouth with his dandasa-orange lips stretched over sparkling white teeth biting a light brown piece of wood.
However painful in English, it’s rendering in Punjabi flows perfectly. Later, still bumpy, it does become a bit better in English:
SayeeN Jee is unconscious. The run-down kohl from his eyes has blotched his cheeks, and his henna-coloured white and red hair is sticky with sweat. But the scariest is his mouth where his walnut-tree-barked orange lips are stretched around a jaw revealing sparkling white teeth over a brown horizontal piece of firewood. (Skeena, Section 1, 18. Libros Libertad, Surrey 2011)

The manuscript was accepted by a publisher in 2010, and the very first editorial ‘suggestion’ was to remove all non-English words. I expected it but there’s no harm in trying. I removed most of the words within a couple of days but even then so many remained. Several methods were applied; explaining the word in text, putting meaning beside it, coming up with an acceptable translation, and re-doing the sentence. It had to be done this way, and in stages, so that the manuscript did not get scratched or injured by the extraction or addition. I am grateful to its editors and publishers in Lahore, Surrey and Vancouver for their support in letting me find suitable solutions for each instance.

Going through the editing of the Gurumukhi version of Skeena with Editor/Author Surjeet Kalsey in 2010, I realized that there were a large number of Arabic/Urdu/Persian words that would be new or unclear to the Gurumukhi reader whose cultural reference is Sikhism with language influences coming from Hindi/Sansikrit. We did contemplate adding meaning of some words but the task seemed larger than the time available. Also, how some words are written differently in Shahmukhi, and, questions if they should be left as they are or changed to the prevalent Gurumukhi convention. May be these issues will be addressed when Skeena’s Gurmukhi edition actually publishes from India.

In poetry, i find that my voice changes from one language to the other. In Punjabi, it easily links to the folk, and the emotion; in English, it is a bit blunt, unwilling to express deep emotion. Mainly because, as I was saying to Jordan Strom, so far I have had many funerals in Punjabi but not many in English, so when a woman is stoned to death or buried alive, my experience of mourning and sadness will likely find expression in Punjabi, and my anger and outrage in English. This, I guess, somewhat has to do with the privilege of being a first generation immigrant who continues to own both my languages and all my chosen Pakistani Canadian cultural values.

My current projects include a translation of Madholal Hussain’s selected Punjabi poetry in English, and some of my favourite English poems to Punjabi.

Fauzia Rafique Surrey 2011
http://gandholi.wordpress.com/
http://www.facebook.com/fauzia.zohra.rafique
@RafiqueFauzia

Photo by Janet Kvamman 2011 (treated)
*Now in an upcoming collection of Punjabi poetry.
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Don’t Cry For Punjabi

tragedy

 

Written by Randeep Singh

We hear about the “loss” of Punjabi, the “tragedy” of how Punjabi is not taught in schools in West Punjab, of how Punjabi youth speak only Urdu, Hindi or English in Lahore or Chandigarh. “Imagine the sound of Punjabi and the rich cultural heritage it boasts,” writes Affan Chaudhary, “lost forever.”[1]

If there’s a tragedy, it’s the idea that the demise of Punjabi has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more one believes it, the less likely one will do anything to reverse it and the less likely that anything will change in any positive respect, least of all the feelings of doom and gloom.

I am not denying Punjabi faces challenges, but the circumstances suggest a more balanced view on the question.

First, Punjabi is neither an “endangered” nor a “vulnerable” language.[2] While it may not enjoy national or official status like Hindi, Urdu or French, neither is Punjabi an endangered or vulnerable language like Basque, Corsican or Gaelic all with less than one million speakers.

Punjabi is in fact one of the world’s most spoken languages with its number of speakers ranging from 80 to 110 million.[3] The total number of Punjabi speakers moreover has been increasing, not decreasing, since 1951.[4]

Second, rather than compare Punjabi to Urdu and Hindi, it would make more sense to compare Punjabi to languages like Gujarati, Pashto and Telugu with which its shares a similar legal and official status. What does the experience of these languages have in common with Punjabi? What initiatives have such languages taken in promoting awareness and education in one’s mother tongue in ways which can help Punjabi?

Third, few languages have proved so culturally vibrant in India, Pakistan and in the diaspora as Punjabi. Punjabi has historically dominated the film and music industry in Pakistan thanks to icons like Noor Jehan. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan raised the profile of Punjabi poetry through his musical performances. And Punjabi MC’s bhangra/dance track “Mundiyan To Bachke Rahin” topped charts in the UK, Italy and Germany and crossed over into hip-hop collaborations with Jay-Z and Timbaland.

We could add the growing popularity of Punjabi through Sufi Rock, Coke Studio and Bollywood. The point is that any discussion on Punjabi needs to count its achievements and opportunities along with its setbacks.

So don’t cry for Punjabi just yet.

[1] Affan Chaudhary, “I Speak Punjabi but My Kids Might Not,” in Express Tribune (March 16, 2012): International Tribune: :://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/10622/i-speak-punjabi-but-my-kids-might-not/

[2] UNESCO defines an endangered language as one which children no longer the language as a mother tongue in the home; and a vulnerable language as one which is spoken by most children but whose use is restricted to certain domains like the home.

[3] Ethnologue lists Western Punjabi (Lahnda) and its various dialects as the 11th most spoken language with 82.6 million speakers with an additional 28 million speakers of Eastern Punjabi. The Swedish language million speakers, the Swedish language encyclopedia, Nationalencyklopedin (2007) lists Punjabi as the 10th most spoken language in the world with 102 million speakers.

[4] http://www.statpak.gov.pk/depts/pco/index.html

 

Book Review – Punjab: A History From Aurangzeb to Mountbatten

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Written by Randeep Singh

Punjab: A History From Aurangzeb to Mountbatten (Rajmohan Gandhi, Aleph Book Company, New Delhi: 2013).

Gandhi’s Punjab surveys the history of the region from the decline of the great Mughals to the invasions of Afghan rulers and Nadir Shah to the reign of Ranjit Singh and the British Raj to the creation of independent India and Pakistan in 1947. The book is engaging, commendable for its scope and brings to the foreground figures like Adina Beg Khan, Ganga Ram and Fazl-i-Hussain who are otherwise passed over in Indian histories on the region.

From the outset, Gandhi underlines the importance of understanding a common Punjabi identity (‘Punjabiyat’) through centuries of foreign invasion and colonial rule. Unfortunately, his history, coloured by colonial and nationalist historiography, produce a distorted picture of the Punjabi.

In categorizing Punjabis before the 19th century as either Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, Gandhi replicates the colonial-era practice of classifying Punjabis (and Indians at large) solely by their religious identity forgetting that Punjabis before the colonial era typically defined themselves by their clan, village and caste. Such a categorization overlooks the diversity amongst and overlap between Punjabis and the extent to which they cooperated with one another across religious lines as under Adina Beg Khan, Ranjit Singh or in the Punjab’s Unionist Party.

Gandhi’s chapters on independence and partition moreover largely follow the contours of the Indian nationalist narrative. He adopts a critical tone towards the Muslim League in the making of the Partition without questioning in the same breadth the politics of the Indian National Congress and the British. Such a filtering of history is unlikely to advance understanding between Punjabis of India and Pakistan.

All this despite Gandhi’s reminder to us throughout of  a Punjabiyat symbolized by Farid, Waris Shah, Amrita Pritam and Shiv Kumar. His own history could have contributed greatly to that Punjabiyat and to Punjab studies. One can only hope that Gandhi’s Punjab will inspire more balanced histories on the region in the years ahead.

 

 

 

 

An Evening with Saeen Zahoor

Sain_Zahoor_14_leugk_Pak101(dot)com

Written by Randeep Singh

On May 31, 2014, Pakistani Sufi singer Saeen Zahoor performed at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre, sending the audience into trance, dance and inspiring reverence throughout.

The evening brought together local Indian and Pakistani performers, organizers and audience members. Indo-Pakistani band Naqsh IPB opened the evening with their blend of modern Sufi, rock, classical and filmi musical stylings. Through clashing drums, pulsating guitar riffs and the soaring vocals of Daksh Kubba, Naqsh warmed up the crowd for Saeen.

He entered in his long black kurta embroidered in yellow, ghungroo bells jingling around his ankles, carrying his colourfully decorated ektaara (one-string instrument). “I am not an artist,” he began, “I am a dervish who recites the name of His Master.”

Saeen didn’t just sing: he performed in every sense of the word. The spirit of Bulleh Shah poured through Saeen, his songs, his dance, his story-telling. His two hours on the stage was a musical theatre on the life and poetry of Bulleh Shah.

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After declaring his devotion to Bulleh Shah in “Ni Mai Kamli Haan” (‘Crazy I Am!’), Saeen sang “Aukhen Painde Lambiyaan Raavan” (‘Hard and Long are the Paths’), of how Bulleh Shah journeyed for miles in search of his teacher. On meeting his teacher, Shah Inayat, Bulleh Shah asks: “how does one find God.” Shah Inayat, planting spring onions, replies: “what do you want to find God for? Just uproot this from here and plant it there.”

Saeen then broke out ecstatically into “Nachna Painda Ae” (‘Dance One Must’) swirling on the stage in his ghunghroo bells just as Bulleh Shah had once for Shah Inayat.

Saeen also sang on Bulleh Shah’s rebukes to legalistic Muslim clerics in “Bas Kare O Yaara Ilm” (‘Enough of Learning, My Friend’). Saeen tells us, Bulleh Shah gave up the shariah for the way of Love just as Heer refused to marry another man according to the shariah because she had been wedded spiritually to her Beloved. On love’s path, Saeen sings “let’s go Bulleh to that place where everyone is blind” in “Chal Bulleha Uthe Chale.”

From his stepping onto the stage, the audience became disciples of Saeen. He sang with abandon, he whirled with frenzy and he ended the night to the boom of the dhol drum bringing the audience to its feet. The air was filled with passion, energy and devotion. People went up to the stage and paid their respects by touching their heads to the stage or folding their hands in reverence: the theatre became a Sufi shrine, a dargah.

Above all, Saeen ensured Bulleh Shah will live on as a shared heritage. His spirit and art were the spirit of love and unity. Says Saeen: “humanity is to love one another.”

The Dharma Politic

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“Hatred is not appeased by hatred. Hatred is appeased only by Love”
(Dhammapada, 1.5)

Written by Randeep Singh

What role does politics play in Buddhism?

Buddhism originated at a time in India when the state was active in expansion, trade, war and diplomacy. The state is found in the Buddha’s ideas and his teachings have the following implications for politics.

First, like all phenomena in Buddhism, politics is imperfect, subject to change, interrelated and composite and conditioned by many interdependent factors, such as geography, history, inter-state relationships and how people relate to the ruler.

Second, politics is governed by the universal moral law or dharma. The ruler in Buddhism is appointed by the people (Maha Sammata) to protect their life, security and property.[1]  The moral law of Dharma requires such a ruler to be benevolent (adosa), moral  (sila) and not to act contrary to the will of the people (avirodha).[2]

Third, the “benevolent ruler” (dharma raja) is essentially the secular counterpart of the Buddha, a person who has realized his highest spiritual and ethical potential (buddha) and who directs that energy (chanda) to the people’s welfare. He improves their economic condition so they have a foundation upon which to pursue a good life.[3] He avoids harm to others in thought, word or action, particularly through the practice of non-violence (ahimsa).[4]

The purpose of Buddhism is to end human suffering. Government in Buddhist politics lays the foundation for such a life by enabling the people to fulfill their potential for goodness and happiness and, thereby, putting an end to suffering. The Dharma Politic is “for the good of the many, for the happiness of many, out of compassion for the world.”

 

 

[1] Digha Nikaya, 3.80.

[2] “Ten Duties of the King” (dasa raja dhamma). Jataka I, 260, 399

[3] “Kutadanta-sutta” in Digha Nikaya. Emperor Ashoka of India (r. 269-232 BCE) for instance provided public works and medical care. In China, Buddhism encouraged the building of orphanages, hospitals and rest homes for the elderly; see Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey, Kenneth Chen (Princeton University Press, NJ: 1985). 484.

[4] The Buddhist-influenced Gupta Empire (c. 320-551CE) for instance was noted for its minimal state interference in society and its abolition of capital punishment.

 

The Trouble with Hindutva

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Written by Randeep Singh

With the likelihood that a Hindu-right led government will come to power in India in the current elections, it’s worth examining the foundations of Hindutva (‘Hindu-ness’), the ideology underlying the Hindu right.

The seminal text on Hindutva is “Essentials of Hindutva” written by Veer Savarkar around 1922.

According to Savarkar, “Hindutva” is a cultural and national (not a religious) idea underlined by a common nation (‘rashtra’), race (‘jati’) and culture (‘sanskriti’). To qualify as a “Hindu” (Indian), one must regard “Hindustan” (India) as one’s fatherland (‘pitrabhumi’), motherland (‘matrabhumi’) and holyland (‘punyabhumi’).

Those who do not regard Hindustan as their holyland – namely Muslims and Christians – lack the “cultural” element necessary to be a Hindu. They can only become Hindu if they choose to embrace Hindustan as their holyland as well.

The trouble with Hindutva begins with the term “Hindu.” The term “Hindu” is a term foreigners used in referring to the inhabitants of the subcontinent, a point Savarkar concedes noting that it was the ancient Persians who first used the term. The term “Hindu” is scarce found within Sanskrit literature and Hindus have traditionally referred to one another not by “Hindu” but by their respective caste names (e.g. Bania, Chamar, Brahmin etc.). Savarkar’s national “Hindu” moreover is essentially north-Indian, upper caste and Brahmanic in race and culture.

Second, Savarkar’s essay is not so much a work of political ideology as it is itihaasa, a work combining history, myth, legend and fantasy. Savarkar does not question whether Rama, Krishna or the Mahabharata are mythological figures, whether the Aryans originated from outside of India and and whether Sanskrit was a language restricted to upper-castes. Any such inquiry is drowned out in an epic call for “Hindu” unity.

Third, Savarkar’s basic failure to define the term “nation” results in ambiguity and contradiction in his defining a Hindu. To say that a Muslim is not a Hindu (Indian) because Islam’s holyland is Saudi Arabia, is tantamount to saying that a Catholic in Spain cannot regard himself as Spanish because Christianity’s holyland is Palestine. It is also interesting that while Savarkar disqualifies Muslims as Indians because they lack the essential prerequisite of culture (i.e. viewing India as their holyland), he qualifies as Hindu those Caucasians who convert to Hinduism despite their lacking his otherwise essential criteria of race.

Savarkar’s “Essentials of Hindutva” is a yearning for unity. One can understand its appeal to millions in India, particularly those of a religion as diverse as Hinduism. That yearning is perhaps necessary to the idea of India; but any imagined unity like Hindutva’s imagines its others too as Ayodhya and Godhra have demonstrated. The coming election will help determine Hindutva’s place in India’s imagination tomorrow.

 

Congratulations Zubair Ahmad and Surjeet Kalsey!

Two Punjabi writers, long time Uddari supporters, and my dear friends Zubair Ahmad and Surjeet Kalsey are now being recognized for their valuable contributions to Punjabi language, culture and literature.

zubair-award2014
Zubair Ahmad has just received Masud Khaddarposh Trust award for his collection of short fiction ‘Kabootar, Baneray tay GalyaaN’. He is an enchanting poet turned fiction writer, and does very well with both. He has served Punjabi language and literature as an author, publisher, bookseller, community organizer, linguist, translator and teacher. Here’s his fb page:
facebook.com/zubair.ahmad

surjit-award2014
Surjeet Kalsey has been selected for Writer’s Lifetime Achievement Award by Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Program of University of British Columbia’s Asian Studies Department. Surjeet is a poet, playwright, fiction writer, editor, translator, community organizer and a women’s rights activist. She also runs a successful blog:
surjeetkalsey.wordpress.com

I am so lucky because both also have made contributions to my novel Skeena. Zubair worked with me as an editor for over six months to produce a publishable manuscript of the Punjabi (Shahmukhi) edition of the novel in 2006 in Lahore; and, Surjeet took over the responsibility of editing the Gurumukhi edition of Skeena in 2011 in Vancouver. Grateful to both for their knowledge, skills, time and caring.

While Zubair has already received his award in Lahore last week (April 19th), the ceremony for Surjeet will take place at 7:00 PM this Thursday May 1 at Center Stage in New Surrey Hall (13450 -104 Avenue, Surrey, BC).
See you there.

Fauzia
gandholi.wordpress.com
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