Renowned poet refuses Pakistan’s highest literary award

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Ashu Lal, renowned Seraiki poet and writer, has refused to accept Pakistan’s highest literary award, Kamal-i-Fun with a prize money of 1 million PKR announced by the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL), Dawn reported.

He was selected for the award by a committee of PAL and the announcement in this regard was made at a press conference by Dr Yousuf Khushk, chairman of the Academy.

Urdu novelist and travelogue writer Mustansar Hussain Tarar is the other author who got the highest award of the country besides Ashu Lal.

After the award was announced, Ashu Lal took to social media and announced his refusal to accept the award in a post made in Seraiki.

He said: “I express my gratitude to friends. I refuse to accept the award. I have not sent any of my books to the Academy of Letters. In my opinion, my refusal (to accept the award) is more precious. My literary activism for the last 40 years is my reward (as a writer). Don’t want to live in brackets. Thank you.

“The deep state is oppressing the natives, our resources and our culture. Our children go missing under the fascist regime. The natives are ignored badly. How can we accept the award from an anti-people and anti-art state?.”

He says the awards are mostly politically motivated and they have become controversial, limited only to photo sessions.

The poet asserted that he doesn’t have anything to do with the deep state in government, literature or culture, and considers it degrading for himself to accept an award from a president in the current regime who does not even know him.

Born on April 13, 1959, he was named Muhammad Ashraf but adopted the sobriquet ‘Ashu Lal’, which was given by his mother, when he started writing in the Seraiki language.

He is a medical doctor by profession. After completing his MBBS from the Quaid-i-Azam Medical College, Bahawalpur, he served as a doctor across the region, at times working in places where no doctor would like to go.

He retired from his job two years ago. Since then he runs a clinic at Karor Lal Esan tehsil of Layyah district where treatment is free for the poor, Dawn reported.

“I am 62 years old. Since my youth, I have believed in literary activism only. By accepting an award from the current exploitative regime, how can I waste my struggle of 45 years of writings in Seraiki and Urdu?” he asked.

When asked about sending any books to PAL for the award, Ashu said that his friend had sent a book on his own way back in 1997 and except that he never sent any book to the academy.

“I am not against any mother tongue or regional language. I urge the Punjabi-speaking people to adopt Punjabi medium in schools,” he clarifies, adding that the state’s policy of not giving education to the people in their native tongue is a tactic to keep them backward.

He says he is following the resistance of Bulleh Shah and Kabir.

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