By Shafqat Tanvir Mirza
Some traditions of journalism continue in one mode or the other from age to age. The tradition of literary journalism set by the daily ‘Imroze’ was partially adopted by daily ‘Jang’, which carried a Punjabi column and poetry in its literary supplement. Now ‘Nawai-Waqt also follows suit.
But as far as Punjabi literature is concerned, alongside these papers, various literary publications have also made a great contribution during the last 54 years. Among these are ‘Punjabi’, ‘Punj Darya’, ‘Punjabi Adab’, ‘Punjabi Zaban’, ‘Lehran’, ‘Haq Allah’, ‘Saver International’, ‘Ravail’, ‘Waroley’ and ‘Seraiki Adao’ from Multan. ‘Punjabi Zaban’, ‘Haq Allah’ and ‘Punj Darya’ are dead while the remaining papers continue to flourish. However, on other fronts, journalism in Punjabi has faced far harder times.
The first Punjabi weekly, ‘Wangar’ was published in the seventies by Fakhar Zaman, but it could not be sustained There was another weekly, ‘Punjab di Awaz’ edited and published by Dr Muhammad Amin, but it vanished without leaving any impact on the scene. In the same fashion, still another weekly, ‘Neeli’, was published from Karachi, but could not survive.
The first serious attempt at daily journalism in Punjabi was made by journalists Husain Naqi and Zafaryab Ahmad, who started the regular publication of the four- page daily ‘Sajjan’ from Lahore in the nineties, at a time when Benazir Bhutto had come into power at the centre and Nawaz Sharif was chief minister of the Punjab. This was the first-ever attempt to bring out a daily in Punjabi. The four-page daily was well received by readers in the Punjab, and at one time the circulation of ‘Sajjan’ rose to an impressive 30 000 copies daily.
The financial difficulties facing the paper were, however, aggravated after the provincial government adopted a hostile attitude towards it. Though there was no deliberate attempt to harass the management, the paper did not obtain its share of government paid advertisement. The central government of Benazir Bhutto too had a lukewarm attitude. However, since outwardly the paper supported the Pakistan People’s Party coalition government, it received some meagre financial help in the shape of advertisements etc. This though proved insufficient to keep it alive for long.
Historically speaking, before the division of the province in 1947, the Punjab had had a sound tradition of Punjabi journalism, but this was exclusively in Gurmukhi, the script used by the Sikhs. Therefore, it could be said that this window was not open for the Muslims or the Hindus.
The first-ever daily in Gurmukhi was brought out by Bhai Dit Singh for a religious organisation, Singh Sabha Lehr. This was followed by another Gurmukhi daily, ‘Amrit Patrika’, brought out by barrister Bhola Nath from Jhelum in 1896. The Sikh religious organisations in fact arranged the publication of many dailies and weeklies till the time of Partition. This tradition of Punjabi journalism then shifted to East Punjab, and today, three widely circulated dailies, ‘Ajeet’, ‘Tribune Punjabi’ and ‘Punjab di Awaz’ continue to be published in that part of the Punjab, representing journalism in Punjabi.
Two literary monthlies in the Persian script, both published by enlightened Christians, Joshua Fazluddin and Col Bhola Nath Waris, were also present on the scene before 1947. The ‘Punjabi Darbar’ of Joshua was published in the thirties from LyalIpur (now Faisalabad) and ‘Saarang’, a well-produced magazine in both the scripts, was published from Lahore. This journal also carried an interview with Allama Iqbal on the Punjabi language in its issue of 1930.
The Muslim Punjab started paying attention to literary journalism after Partition, and it was the Urdu daily, ‘Aghaz,’ which initiated a weekly literary supplement in 1949-50. After the closure of ‘Aghaz’ the late Zaheer Babur, a established journalist at the time, started a weekly Punjabi literary page in the daily ‘Imroze’, which continued till the death of the paper at the hands of the Nawaz Sharif government in November 1991, after a valiant struggle by its staff to prevent its demise,.
Inspired by the story of ‘Sajjan’, Mudassar Iqbal Butt, a new entrant to journalism, started a Punjabi weekly ‘Bhulekha’ in the mid-nineties. He converted the weekly into a four-page daily in 1999. ‘Bhulekha’ is today being regularly published from Lahore and hits the newspaper stalls each morning. While ‘Bhulekha’ is quite a hard-hitting newspaper, it is unfortunate that unlike ‘Sajjan’ it is not a full-fledged paper that could give a Punjabi newspaper reader all the reading material that is part of any newspaper.
Before the publication of ‘Sajjan’, it was advised that those behind it must give a complete paper of at least eight pages that could compete with the Urdu papers. To achieve this, it was also suggested that visits be undertaken to countries where there are many Punjabis ready to subscribe to the paper and make donations to it. It was certainly possible to have offered something to the 30,000 readers, who had welcomed even the badly produced ‘Sajjan’ a complete newspaper, by taking such initiatives. But it seemed the management of the paper was in a mysterious hurry, which led it to a failure.
However, as a first attempt, the paper has paved the way for a newspaper m Punjabi to be brought out. Attempts to do so continue. A four-page daily under the name. of ‘Jhok’ was briefly brought out from the far-off area of district Rahim Yar Khan and its fate was quite predictable. ‘Jhok’ too has passed into history, but, despite the failures, the potential remains for a newspaper in Punjabi to be published as a widely circulated daily, able to reach a large audience.
(Published in Dawn on May 26,2001)