Punjab Research Group

Ajay Bhardwaj – Three Films on Punjab at frankbrazil.org

Posted in Events, Film by gsjandu on August 30, 2013
ajay bhardwaj

ajay bhardwaj

The PRG is pleased to announce that Ajay’s three films on Punjab are now available on DVD via a new platform recently launched called www.frankbrazil.org. Below is a little about Tajender’s wonderfully named website:

What is Frank Brazil?

The name Frank Brazil was an alias of the Indian revolutionary Udham Singh.

Frank Brazil is an intiative launched in August 2013 by artist Tajender Sagoo. She graduated from Central Saint Martin’s in textile design, specialising in weaving. Sagoo went on to teach and work as a weaver before pursuing a career as an artist and curator.

We aim to be a platform for South Asian* communities in the UK and overseas. Frank Brazil will assist in generating new ways of seeing South Asian everyday cultures and languages. 

Another core aim of Frank Brazil is to encourage South to South conversations to facilitate the building of knowledge systems outside of western hegemony.

We seek to work with organisations, community groups, thinkers, makers, writers, artists and activists to produce, commission and merchandise new work. 

We are particularly interested in presenting rare and challenging work in art and design to a wider audience. 

We do not subscribe to any elitist hierarchy of art and design and aim to be an open and participatory arts organisation. 

We work on digital and non-digital platforms and media.

We use the pricing mechanism as a tool to distribute our work and to benefit artists. Any surpluses created through this pricing policy will be distributed to good causes. 

*For South Asia read India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan and communities worldwide including Trinidad, Kenya, Guyana, Uganda, South Africa, Jamaica, Canada, UK, Europe and USA.

Details available at:

E: info@frankbrazil.org

T: 075 3047 2483

Send postal enquiries to:

Frank Brazil c/o Tajender Sagoo

Limehouse Town Hall

646 Commercial Road


E14 7HA

This post’s contact: gorby.jandu@gmail.com


Autar Dhesi – Some Writings in England

Posted in Articles, Diaspora, News/Information by gsjandu on August 29, 2013


A Southall man who came to Britain in 1958 with a BSc in Natural Science from Punjab University, was awarded his Ph.D. in national economic planning from the University of Birmingham, on Friday.
He is Mr. Autar Singh Dhesi of 176 Regina Road, Southall.
Mr. Dhesi won a post-graduate diploma in Development Administration at Leeds in 1966. Two years later, he was awarded an M.Sc. in International Economics at Surrey University. In 1971 he qualified for a M.Soc.Sc. degree at Birmingham University, where he won a Research Council Scholarship in Social Sciences. In between he taught at Coventry University.
Mr. Dhesi was secretary of Southall Indian Worker’s Association for many years, and joint secretary of the National India Defence Fund Committee. He was a founder member of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination.
In 1963, he was the first Indian from Southall to be invited to the Queen’s Garden party.

(Published in Middlesex County Times (London), July 19, 1974)

Below are some of the author’s writings kindly received at the PRG from the Punjab University.

Student Graffiti by A. Dhesi

a.dhesi prg (pdf)

Pool of Life: The Autobiography of a Punjabi Agony Aunt by Kailash Puri

Posted in New Publications by Pippa on August 12, 2013

Pur PoolOfLifePool of Life

The Autobiography of a Punjabi Agony Aunt

Kailash Puri and Eleanor Nesbitt

Eleanor Nesbitt’s introduction contextualises the life of Kailash Puri, Punjabi author and agony aunt, providing the story of the book itself and connecting the narrative to the history of the Punjabi diaspora and themes in Sikh Studies. She suggests that representation of the stereotypical South Asian woman as victim needs to give way to a nuanced recognition of agency, multiple voices and a differentiated experience.

… The narrative presents sixty years of Kailash’s life. Her memories of childhood in West Punjab evoke rural customs and religious practices consistent with recent scholarship on ‘Punjabi religion’ rather than with the currently dominant Sikh discourse of a religion sharply distinguished from Hindu society. Her marriage, as a shy 15-year-old, with no knowledge of English, to a scientist, Gopal Puri, brought ever-widening horizons as husband and wife moved from India to London, and later to West Africa, before returning to the UK in 1966. This life experience, and Gopal’s constant encouragement, brought confidence to write and publish numerous stories and articles.

… Kailash writes of the contrasting experiences of life as an Indian in the UK of the 1940s and the 1960s. She points up differences between her own outlook and the life-world of the post-war community of Sikhs from East Punjab now living in the West. In their distress and dilemmas many people consulted Kailash for assistance, and the descriptive narrative of her responses and advice and increasingly public profile provides insight into Sikhs’ experience in their adopted country. In later years, as grandparents and established citizens of Liverpool, Kailash and Gopal revisited their ancestral home, now in Pakistan – a reflective and moving experience. The book includes a glossary of Punjabi words and suggestions for further reading.

Further details: http://www.sussex-academic.com/sa/titles/biography/PurlNesbitt.htm

Marriage: a lusty racist obsession and politics of power! by Mushtaq Soofi

Posted in Articles by Pippa on August 12, 2013

Original article in Dawn: http://dawn.com/news/1035151/marriage-a-lusty-racist-obsession-and-politics-of-power

Marriage in Punjab invariably means arranged marriage. Adage about marriage is: “couples in the world are a few, bonded are aplenty” (Jorian jag tay thorian, narrar bathere). A bond is what an arranged marriage is all about. Bonded are man and woman while families at the both ends take it as cementing of a relationship in the context of social politics of class and clan. Arranging a marriage means following the standard operating procedure which is the result of a practice spread over centuries, crucial to the shaping up of our family.

Traditionally service providers such as Nai (barber), Bhatt/Merasi (clan’s musician/keeper of family’s genealogy) and Brahmin are employed to find a suitable match. They would act as match-makers, taking care of sensitivities of clan, caste and class. After the initial acceptance of the proposal by the families concerned, stage is set for the women to play their ambiguously defined role, sorting out the details that though necessary have to be kept away from the public eye. And the details women are keenly interested in, would be about the boy and the girl. Since in the patriarchic structure the boy’s family has upper hand, its women having the air of a judge, would visit the girl’s family with a fanfare. They have a pre-concieved image of girl worthy to be a bride. Apart from the caste and class equation which is already a settled thing what matters most is the girl’s looks. Features, age and height are important but the core component of the looks is the colour of skin. “Fair complexion can hide many a defects” women would say. Colour can compensate for the deficiencies of form and figure. So your colour can make you acceptable or unacceptable which being a matter of genetics is obviously beyond your control.

Our notion of looks carries a deep rooted colour bias created by longstanding historical conditions as an outcome of racial conflicts operating at conscious and subconscious level. It is not just the colour that matters, shades in colour matter too. South-Asians allege white people of racism when discriminated against but behave exactly the same way in their relations with the black people or with the section of their own people with darker skin. In the process of arranging marriage the women, obviously back home, after having visited the girl, who has brownish skin, would say: she is alright but—is a bit dusk-complexioned. If the girl in question happens to have a dark skin she would be rejected on one pretext or the other.

Colour prejudice is a product of historical conditions involving wars between races. The first mention of colour we find in the Vedas which after the intrusion of Aryans in the Punjab celebrate the superiority of the white skinned who overpower the dark-skinned urbanized Harappa people.

Malti. J. Shendge in her seminal book ‘The Civilizes Demons’ writes: “In Rig-Veda the foes of the Aryans are said to be dark-skinned. As for example the 50,000 warriors of Ausra Pipru are described as ‘black brood’.” After the ascendancy of the Aryans in Punjab colour came to be accepted as a mark of social position; white skin signified the superiority of the victor and black skin that of inferiority of the vanquished. Subsequent socio-cultural process evolved a new notion of human beauty underpinned by aesthetics of colour.

Disagreeable it may be but the universal fact is that the culture of rulers ultimately becomes the ruling culture. Pervasiveness of colour obsessed cultural practice is unmistakably evident if we look at the deeply ingrained colour prejudice in the Punjabi psyche which manifests itself not only in our day today social life but also at the level of literary expression. Folk poetry glorifies ‘Gori’ (woman with white skin) ad nauseam and sets her up as ultimate embodiment of female beauty. “Fair woman emerges from the pool aflame.” Now let us have a brief look at the way our great classical poetry perceives female beauty in the context of politics of colour. “How a poet can describe Heer? Her face has moonlight lustre. Her killer curls are as if a night spread around the moon as red as a shooting star—“is how Waris Shah describes the leading heroine of our literature. Pilu writes about another great heroine, Sahiban: “She was of fair complexion with yard long tresses braided in plaits”. Another great poet, Hafiz Barkhur Dar says of Sahiban: “Her face is like sky at dawn with a moon”. Yet another heroine Sassi is described similarly by Hasham Shah: “Sassi born on an auspicious night was like a bright crescent; stones, pearls, gems and rubies of Badakhshan would lose their lustre in her presence.”

What literary expression affirms is the fact that the sense of fair colour being superior is so deep rooted that it has become an element of our collective subconscious affecting imperceptibly even the greatest creative minds that are otherwise quite iconoclastic.

Ubiquitous presence of skin whitening creams in South Asia exposes the malady as well as the desperate efforts to make the unnatural natural and the natural unnatural with a view to come up to the standard of female beauty evolved by the dominant tradition. It is not just girls with dark skin who are perceived to be un-attractive in the context of marriage, boys with the similar skin too face the same embarrassment though to a much lesser degree. Their gender makes up for their lack of so-called fair colour.

Despite the barely concealed but ever present aura of fair colour in our psycho-social space, the resistance against colour discrimination continues in life as well as in creative expression. In reaction to the denigration of black colour, an ordinary Punjabi would quote a saying “the black are dear to God and the white are bags full of shit”. Poet-saint Bulleh Shah, the eternal doubter, has in his poetry the haunting images of ‘charming eyes of dark-skinned women’. Another great poet Khwaja Ghulam Farid frequently expresses his anguish in his Kafis (lyrics) at being separated from ‘sanwal’, his dark-skinned love.

Obsession with fair skin in the context of marriage is inseparably linked with our family culture which is a social product of a long historical struggle for power between different ethnic groups with a thinly concealed hostility to one another. So the question of colour is ultimately a political question waiting to be settled by an outcome of struggle of social forces represented by the dark-skinned, fighting for power in a historical process. New power equation between the fair-skinned and the dark-skinned will form a human basis for evolving a bias less aesthetics that does not judge just the colour of a human being but his/her totality of being. And totality of being is surely bigger than the sum of its constituents. Man regardless of colour of his skin would always be what he actually is: man. Ironically one can be man but still not yet man in a sense of being much less than what he could be due to his inherited historical prejudices. That is why King Lear’s philosophical question is still relevant: “Is man no more than this”? — soofi01@hotmail.com

From Amrita Shergil to Lady Harrison: A journey through history by Ali Zaef

Posted in Art, Articles by Pippa on August 12, 2013

Original article in Dawn: http://dawn.com/news/1033224/from-amrita-shergil-to-lady-harrison-a-journey-through-history/1

Earlier this year, I set out in search of some old houses in Lahore city, where the legends of arts had once lived, I came across the house of Amrita Shergil, a true Punjabi artist, who breathed her last in this city. She resided in an apartment at 23 – Ganga Ram Mansion (once called the Exchange Mansion), where presently a family of an auto mechanic is living.

They were well aware of the historic importance of the house. I enjoyed their hospitality and took many pictures. Coincidentally, I learned that 30th January was not an ordinary day but unfortunately, the Pakistani and even the Indian media seemed to miss the 100th birthday of Amrita Shergil, “the Frida Kahlo of India”, who painted the sufferings of Indian women and died at the young age of 28.

I also found the studio of art legend Bhabesh Chandra Sanyal, also known as B.C. Sanyal, who gave a new stroke to Indian art. Sanyal, born on 22nd April 1901, is the guru of the art of the undivided Indian sub-continent. In 1937, he set up a studio in the premises of the Forman Christian College, which later became an art school. Then, Sanyal moved his studio to the basement of the Dayal Singh Mansion, opposite the Ganga Ram Mansion, where Amrita had also lived for a few months. It was my good fortune that I was able to find B. C. Sanyal’s studio, however, it was saddening to see it in a complete state of decay; I was unable to find a single trace there that paid tribute to this once celebrated artist.

A few weeks later, I got the opportunity to interview eminent artist, Professor Ajaz Anwar, I told him about my progress. He was happy to hear of it. That is when he told me that B.C. Sanyal had established studios at other places in the city as well. I instantly pounced on the opportunity to explore them and sure enough, found another studio at McLeod Road.

Then, I searched for the house of another Lahore-based painter Roop Krishna and fortunately, I found it without any trouble because it was splat at the entrance of Anarkali, the second shop from the Mall. There was once a big book shop here, which was owned by the family of Roop Krishna.

Satish Gujral, another eminent painter and brother of former Indian premier I. K. Gujral, also lived in Lahore for a short span of time. He essentially belongs to Jhelum but moved to Lahore to pursue his career in arts and got himself enrolled at the Mayo School of Arts. There, he had an opportunity to meet art legends like, Roop Krishna and Amrita Shergil. Legend has it that one day, Satish Gujral went to pay Roop Krishna a visit, when he saw some of Amrita’s paintings lying on the street. He was shocked to discover that Krishna thought she was not a good painter and was “just making trash”. It was a great irony that the family of Roop Krishna later sold their bookshop called Ramakrishna and Sons and settled in London and that Amrita is today considered a legend while, very few people now know about Roop Krishna.

I hesitantly entered the building, almost completely like a ghost house. I shouted but no one replied. Then I found some people working in a room. I told them that I was a journalist and wanted to take some photos of this building. They said I would need the permission of the owner of the building. Interestingly, I am still waiting for their call.

My expedition took me next to College Road, where near the square, there used to be the studio of the famous painter Sobha Singh, who mostly painted Sikh gurus. He had moved to Lahore in 1946 and also worked as an art director on a film. I couldn’t find his house, because many old buildings had been demolished here. So I went to a nearby hosiery shop and asked the shopkeeper about Sobha Singh’s studio. At first, he didn’t understand what I was asking about. Then when I told him that I am was looking for the place of the artist whose paintings were all burned down during the partition riots, he asked me to go to the nearby S. Mohkam-ud-Din & Sons, which he said had been there long before the partition. When I arrived, Mohkam-ud-Din, the owner of the bakery warmly welcomed me and assured me that he would help me find the studio of Sobha Singh.

However, several days later Mr. Mohkam too, couldn’t find anybody who could tell me the exact location of Singh’s studio. While, I was upset about this, I was delighted by the hospitality that Mr. Mohkam displayed, a jolly man in his late 50s, he was keen on telling me the history of his bakery. He said the Syed Mohkam-ud-Din & Sons bakery, was established by the young man of the same name Mohkam, whose father Qamr-ud-Din was an army contractor for tea supplies during the British Raj before moving to Lahore from Jalandhar Cantt. He was on good terms with the then Punjab Lieutenant Governor Sir Charles Aitchison, the celebrated founder of Aitchison College. His wife Lady Aitchison, a true socialite was popular for her extraordinary baking skills. On the request of Syed Qamar-ud-Din, Lady Aitchison taught his young son western baking traditions. It was at a time when the concept of a bakery was new in Lahore. When Mohkam gained expertise in baking, he decided to pursue it as his career and opened the first bakery in Lahore on 1st January, 1879. Many British dignitaries and government officials were present at the opening ceremony, and of course Lady Aitchison cut the ribbon.

During those times, baking items were not very affordable. British socialites and local elite were the only regular customers of the Mohkam Bakery. Famous literary bigwigs, educationists and politicians, Tufail Hoshiarpuri, Waqar Ambalwi, Muhamad Tufail (Former Editor “Naqoosh”), Agha Shorish Kashmiri, Maulana Kausar Niazi, Dr. Ghulam Mustafa Tabasum, Dr. Nazir Ahmed, Dr. Ajmal Khan and many others were among regular customers also.

Mohkam-ud-Din said, “the founder of Ahmadiyya community Mirza Ghulam Ahmed and Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal also used to come here and meet my grandfather and spend hours discussing religio-political issues in here.”

Several decades later, Nagina Bakery became the place for literary gatherings. But in reality, Nagina Bakery was only a tea shop owned by a young Sikh, where the bakery items were actually supplied from Mohkam Bakery.

In the beginning, Mohkam said, the clientage of Mohkam Bakery was limited to British officers, Anglo-Indians and the Christian elite because the common natives considered the bakery items as “foreign food”. After the partition, another bakery opened on Mall Road but it didn’t flourish.

Mohkam bakery makes cakes on order. In the first half of the last century, Christian wedding cakes and Christmas cakes were their specialty. Later, Muslim cakes became famous for events such as Eid Milad-ul-Nabi and other religious festivals.

Interestingly, Mohkam Bakery makes cakes ranging in weight from one to three hundred pounds. The ingredients of their routine cakes are dry fruits, nuts, royal spices etc. One cake of 300 pound is baked in 15 to 20 days. Wedding cakes have several other ingredients which include rum, brandy and red wine. The prices of the cakes also vary according to the quality of the item. You can buy a cake anywhere from 550 to 5500 PKR per pound. Cakes made with red wine are the most expensive product in the bakery because they are made with the finest quality of wine.

They usually sell 15 to 20 cakes daily but on special occasions sale increases. Around a 100 special red wine cakes are sold a month because of their costliness. After taking a bite of it, I could safely say that I had never tasted a more delicious cake before.

Many people also buy the cakes as souvenirs. That might have been the reason why former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, former president Farooq Leghari, to name a few, preferred this bakery during their stay in Lahore. It is not only a bakery but a symbol of cultural heritage. In the words of Mohkam: “We are not worried about the declining sales because we believe in quality, not quantity.” Moreover, workers at the bakery have been working there for the last several decades, so the taste of the items is enduring. Even the most junior baker working, has been there since the 1970s.

Lady Harrison, a renowned painter of the late 19th century, who served as a teacher of fine arts at the Mayo School of Arts (now National College of Arts) was very good friends with Syed Mohkam-ud-Din. He often praised her fingers.

One day, Harrison asked Mohkam, “Could you make cookies like my fingers?” Mohkam replied, “why not?” And so he set about to bake cookies, which were not only delicious, but also a symbol of friendship and a tribute to the art. Since then, these cookies have been known as ‘Harrison’ Fingers’. Mohkam tells me a regular customer of the bakery, aged 90, asks for these cookies as “Lady Harrison di ungliyan”.

Lady Harrison is alive today because of these cookies.

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