The politicians are afraid, I assume, that watching the Amar Chitra Katha cartoons – which depict stories from the Mahabharata or Ramayana or Jataka or Panchatantra – will turn impressionable Punjabi Muslim children into Hindus. I would reassure the politicians – the Panchatantra tales were translated into Arabic and distributed in the late seventh century as Kalila wa Dimna, for the edification of courtly children, and failed to make the Umayyad or the ‘Abbasid or the Buyid sultans Hindu. Subsequent translations and re-imaginings of Ramayana, of Yogavashistha in the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth century Mughal courts were also done without the fear that exposing innocent Muslim children to these narratives will make them “Hindu” – leaving aside the glaring logical fallacy that mere knowledge about the stories and rituals associated with a faith makes one a convert. That this statement is being made on Punjabi soil, however, is one of those ironies that make you cry.
Punjab, after all, is the land of Shah Hussain, Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah – mystics whose poetry, lives, ethos were drenched in divine, both lil-lah and Krishna. Their kafi and their qissa drew equally on Perso-Islamic and Sanskritic mythologies, stories, folk-tales to illuminate daily lives, teach love, moderation and acceptance. The love of Shah Hussain and Madho Lal is itself legend. Their words and verses are, undoubtedly, the very definition of “Punjabi”, and there they stand, historically “tainted” in the views of Punjab politicians with “Hindu” signs, symbols, stories and themes, corrupting Punjabi children for nearly 400 years.