Punjab Research Group

A living encyclopedia By Haroon Khalid

Posted in News/Information, Poetry and Literature by Pippa on May 28, 2013

This article originally appeared in The News on Sunday: http://jang.com.pk/thenews/jun2009-weekly/nos-14-06-2009/she.htm#1. It is worth publishing here in full as it highlights the tremendous work done by Iqbal Qaiser on Punjab. Visit the Centre he has set up in Kasur, further details are available: http://punjabikhojgarh.org/.

There is hardly a person who has more knowledge about Punjab than Iqbal Qaiser. Coming from a humble background, he could not afford formal education beyond matriculation but his thirst for knowledge kept him going outside the formal environment. He kept on studying and traveling to learn as much as he could about the land that he adores, and now his expertise in the field is such that he guides people doing Doctorate and Post-Doctorate through their thesis.

Iqbal Qaiser is a historian, anthropologist, poet, story writer, activist, etc. He also happens to be a prolific writer having adventured in numerous fields. What makes this man really special is his unrelenting commitment to Punjabi. Despite the fact that the readership of Punjabi is negligible, and being aware of the fact that one can’t expect to make a living at all by writing in Punjabi, this man continues to serve Punjabi. He says, he knows that if he writes in Urdu, his readership would improve tenfold and also his financial status but he wants to write in his own language. Who else would do it if he doesn’t, he says.

There is hardly any historical site in Punjab which he hasn’t visited or is not aware of. In his late 50s, Iqbal Qaiser is still not afraid to go out in the scorching summers of Punjab. Without a private conveyance, he travels on foot or public transport. With the amount of work that he has already done, one can only conjecture what he would have been able to do if he had the resources.

He is currently in the process of writing ‘A History of Lahore District’, which of course would be in Punjabi but would also be translated into English and in Gurmukhi script. This work of his is an encyclopedia of Lahore, having reached proportions, never even thought of earlier. Perhaps, the greatest contribution so far in noting down the history of Lahore is of Maulvi Nur Ahmad Chisti. This late 19th century work is a must in the library of any person who is interested in Lahore. This book is roughly of around 1000 pages. The Encyclopedia that Iqbal Qaiser is in the process of writing would be divided into five volumes, and each one would include roughly around 1000 pages. Comparing the work of these two scholars, the former would only appear as a shadow to the latter. However, this is not to take away the credit from Maulvi Nur Ahmad Chisti, whose work acted as a beacon of light for Iqbal Qaiser. No stone has been left unturned in the Lahore District. No neighborhood, no village, no personality, site has been spared. This contribution of Iqbal Qaiser would make him immortal in the annals of history.

Simultaneously he is also working on another book, which he would call ‘Historical Jain Shrines in Pakistan’. This would be a survey of all the extant Jain temples across Pakistan. This speaks in volumes about the dedication of a person. Not many people would dare to take such two projects simultaneously, however for Iqbal Qaiser this second project is a piece of cake in his own words.

‘Historical Jain shrines in Pakistan’ is inspired by his own earlier work which got him international acclaim and numerous awards. This book is called ‘Historical Sikh Shrines in Pakistan’. This book was published in 1998 in Punjabi with a rendition in English and Gurmukhi script. When he was writing this book, he was also a primary school teacher. He says he used to do his field work during the summer vacations. This book covers 175 important Sikh Gurdwaras all over the country, describing their present condition, locality and history. In the project, he has been able to achieve what the Department of Archaeology could not accomplish, even with all the funds.

‘Historical Sikh Shrines’ made Iqbal Qaiser from a parochial writer to an internationally recognised author. He was invited to America and Canada for book launching ceremonies. The Sikh community world over lauded his efforts and bestowed him with various titles and awards. The Punjab Times Gold Medal, Guru Nanak Award, Punjabi Saat Lamparada Award are just tip of the ice berg. He even got the honour to have lunch at the White House because of this book. The recognition that Pakistani Government gave him was harassment from ISI. Today at the Patiala University, a Ph.D programme is being offered on this book by the History Department.

With the money which he amassed from the sale of this book he bought a piece of land in Lalyani and opened a research institute there by the name of Punjabi Khojgarh. This is yet another effort to promote the cultures of Pakistan but things are not working smoothly for the institute at the moment, which is facing water and electricity issues because of shortage of funds but the struggle is going on.

Besides being a historian and anthropologist, Iqbal Qaiser also happens to be a Punjabi poet. Inspired by the Sufiyana kalam, Iqbal Qaiser has two collections of Punjabi poetry to his credit, one of which was given the Bulleh Shah Award by Majlis Bulleh Shah. During Zia’s Martial Law, he was sent to jail for having read one of his poems at a conference condemning the Martial Law. This poem was called ‘Aaj boodh dardiya boodh vai’. This poem was dedicated to Bhagat Singh on his death anniversary, 23rd of March when these people dared to organize a Bhagat Singh day.

Besides writing books and finding jobs to make a living, Iqbal Qaiser writes for Indian Punjabi newspapers Ajeet and Nawa Zamana. Unfortunately, here too he is not properly compensated for his efforts, as the newspapers are Indian and the governments don’t allow them to pay him. He prefers to write in Indian newspapers over Pakistanis because there is greater reverence for Punjabi there than here, where it has become a second if not third language.

Iqbal Qaiser is an inspiration for any person who wants to do something but believes that certain factors are holding him/her back. He teaches us to face all difficulties head on without fear through his persistence in doing what he wanted to do. Iqbal Qaiser says in one of his poems:


‘Kaal jithe se Baba muya

Mein utho he panda choya

Mein khure hun kithe marna

agla panda kine karna’.

‘Yesterday where our predecessors ended their journey

I have begun from there

Now I don’t know where my journey will end

And who would pick up the thread’.


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