By Sabir Ali Sabir
Sanjh Publications; Pp 128; Rs 250
Punjabi is one of the most ancient languages. Even Farsi and Urdu were born later. It therefore inherits rich culture and tradition in literature also. Even the roots of Urdu somewhere meet Punjabi language.
Dr Muhammad Shahid says that Sanskrit language developed from the Vedic language and its rules of grammar were formulated by Panini that maintained uniformity of its character. Spoken Sanskrit changed into Prakrit and Upbharnish and gave birth to modern Indo-Aryan languages; Punjabi in Punjab, Sindhi in Sindh, etc. The Indo-Aryan languages sprung directly from the Vedic language and Punjabi is a non-Aryan language. Most Western writers find it convenient to believe that Punjabi contains many words from both Vedic and Sanskrit. Punjabi poetry is more rich than Urdu poetry especially if we look at the poetry of Punjabi poets such as Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain, Warris Shah, Hashim Shah, Baba Farid and Khwaja Farid and alike. In the recent past names such as Munir Niazi, Shiv Kumar Batalvi and alike became prominent and among the present generation the poets who are also akin to Punjabi Prose are Ali Usman Bajwa, Navid Anjum and Sabir Ali Sabir.
Sabir is already an established name in Punjabi poetry saying. Having diverted his attention to short story writing and that too in Punjabi language is therefore a welcome move. Not many prose writers are emerging nowadays. Before we dwell on his book titled Parchavain we must go back to the history of short story writing in the West from where this domain of literature trickled to Urdu and now in Punjabi literature. William Boyd says that he had an image in my mind of a band of Neanderthals (or some similar troupe of humanoids) hunkered round the fire at the cave-mouth as the night is drawing in. One of them says, spontaneously, “You’ll never believe what happened to me today!” Gnawed bones are tossed aside, children are told to sit quiet and the tribe gives the storyteller its full attention. The anecdote, the fond reminiscence, the protracted joke, the pointed recollection are surely the genesis of the short stories we write and read today.
Sabir’s stories open up with hidden layers, each layer pointing towards sorrow of a different type. His diction is a hotchpotch of Punjabi, Urdu and English languages the way it is used in everyday conversation. The first short story Panjaan Da Note (five rupee note) (not in vogue now) reflects the mental state of affairs of a madman posing to be a student and travelling in a bus, shouting that was the prime minister. Refusing to buy ticket showing only a Rs 5 note from his pocket he starts delivering lecture to people to work, lay down weapons and make machinery from melting that iron, etc. His holler continues until another imposter enters the bus and starts selling ‘taweez’ (religious string worn in the neck or on wrists) for just Rs 5. It would add ‘barkat’ (beatitude) to the income of those who kept it. The climax comes when the student gives the only five rupee note he had to the imposter to keep one in the imposter’s purse.
This reviewer remembers the way of masses traveling in buses on GT Road while he used to travel to Mirpur on his weekly sojourns. The skill of sellers selling their products in the name of religion, the students standing in front of moving bus for a free ride to the next station and if not obliged threw stones on wind screens. Sabir seems to read lives of everyday people in the streets. In a story titled Parchaavain (shadows) on the occasion of Eid Miladun Nabi when his TV recording is cancelled he watches the lights on mosques wondering that the electricity bills were ultimately to come from masses’ pockets. He wonders how a ‘miswak’ (Arab’s traditional tooth brush stick) seller tied his product with the rubber until a woman vendor caught his eye who was selling balloons. First he couldn’t stand her gaze and then she had to lower her eyes because of his strong gaze. She just put all the air in her lungs, blew the balloon so hard that it blasted. It was followed by a strong blast nearby and he could not see the shadows of people in the dark the way he couldn’t them in the lights.
In the story Awazan (voices) Sabir notices an individual, dirty and torn clothed (that is invisible to the other passersby). This mad person rolls his bowl on the road. First it gets saved from the standing cars on the road signal, then another touches her to make her tilt sideways until a lorry full of passengers crushes her. This bowl depicts those lives that remain dry even if they tilt towards flower beds until the hardship crushes them too.
A friend of mine told me the other day how elegantly most of the young women at her university ...