The land is fertile, but we have no flour. The shrines are full to the brim but we have no stories.
Mulk zarkhaiz he, lekn atta nahi,
Mazaar bharey he, lekn fiction nahi
These lines came from Dr Zafar Junejo, a PhD candidate, to bring out attention to the absence of representation of peasants and rural life in Urdu and English literature. He was speaking with novelists and scholars at Adab Festival 2020 at the Arts Council in Karachi on Saturday. He was joined by novelist and environmentalist Masood Ahmed Lohar, University of Karachi Professor Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed and Progressive Writers Association Lahore President Raza Naeem.
Urdu is an urban language
Not just in Pakistan, but across the globe, peasants play an integral part in contributing to the overall economy. Dr Ahmed said that internationally, rural literature has become an entire genre. Surprisingly, not even Urdu writers have picked it up, he said, suggesting that maybe that’s because, “Urdu is a shehri language”.
“While French and Russian literature is enriched with recognition to the strife of peasants, Pakistan, especially in the last 30 years or so, intentionally or unintentionally hasn’t produced fiction [on them] in either Urdu or English.”
Lohar, who was born and raised in urban Sindh, was quick to point out the contribution of Sindhi writers, if those in English and Urdu had failed. “Sindhi language has a great amount of poetry and prose that highlights the character of farmers and the agricultural lifestyle,” he said.
Young people in Sindh’s countryside are taking a keen interest in Sindhi prose and poetry that portrays peasants. “These young men are producing Sindhi poems that are very soon going to surface at the international level,” he added.
Bias against Sindhi literature
Lohar claimed that Urdu literary circles were intentionally excluding Sindhi literature. They could translate Sindhi prose and poetry, which he called “sheer masterpieces”, but they don’t. “Quite soon, some foreigners will make a Netflix documentary on it, and it will be ignored like it has been lately, due to nothing but laziness.”
‘We are becoming culturally poor’
Dr Ahmed agreed with Lohar’s stance. He suspected that aside from carelessness, self-censorship could also be at work.
“But consequently, whatever it is, we are becoming culturally poor,” he said.
Lohar had a solution, however. “Merge small regional languages such as Potohari and Seraiki. Then unify their scripts with Sindhi, because it’s a language that has variety of sounds.”