Sohail Abid

Backpacking across the world on a Pakistani passport

Topics: Sufism (Page 1 of 2)

Dunyadari da khayal

It was late and having consumed four to five glasses of jaam-e-sheereen, I was a bit high when I left for home. The tax-driver I found was a jolly old man who, throughout the ride, kept telling me that everyone deserves a chance at a carefree and fun life because “that’s what life is for.” What a great pindiwaal, I thought.

Mid-way, he suddenly asked, like they all do at one point, “Where are you from?”

“Pakpattan,” I replied.

“You are from a great town, young man.”

“Ahaan… Yeah.”

“Tell me a miracle of Baba Farid.”

“Well, I don’t recall a miracle right now, but I can read a line of his poetry if you say?” I said.

“I’d rather take a miracle,” he insisted.

“Too bad, I can only be poetic in this state,” I smiled and then read this verse of Baba Farid’s: “Main bhulawa pagg da matt maili ho jaaye/ Gehla rooh na jaan-ee sirr bhi mitti khaaye.” (Fareed, I was worried that my turban might become dirty. My thoughtless self did not realize that one day, dust will consume my head as well.)

“Pagg, I think, means our status in the eyes of other people, we care too much about what they would think, I think he’s saying that we shouldn’t,” I gave my interpretation.

“Hanji, dunya-dari da bohta hi khayal rehnda sanu,” he commented. (Yeah, we do care too much about our status.)

A festival of festivals

If you guys were not so urban, I would tell you of a festival like no other. Nothing like the ones you (sometimes) attend in your cities. I would tell you that people from different parts of Punjab, Sindh, and KP begin their pilgrimage 45 days before the festival.

Many weeks before the festival, they begin preparing for the pilgrimage. In their respective areas. They know when they have to leave. They know it will take long. Some of them — the ones from the furtherest region — have to take the lead and begin the journey first. They move along the set trails. People join. It becomes a caravan. This is just one caravan. There are more. Many. Each following the trail the people before them have been following. A festival is held wherever a caravan makes a stop. Many caravans in motion. Following many paths. Holding small festivals across Punjab. Imagine the scale. It’s a festival of festivals.

They all converge at a shrine near Dera Ghazi Khan around Vaisakhi on April 11 and the grand carnival begins. It’s the shrine of Sakhi Sarwar, known as Lakh Data in India. He was generous. Very generous. That Explains the names he’s been given by the people. But he was more than that. He is everywhere. Or rather that he made his presence felt and remembered wherever he went. People couldn’t forget him. I have seen his shrines — yes, many shrines — at remotest locations in Punjab. That doesn’t happen with every saint.

The man must have been loved and revered a lot too. Loved more. He’s—after all—the only saint Punjabi mothers often spoke of in their lullabies. We have lost so much of our folk literature but even then one can easily compile a book of lullabies that speak of Sakhi Sarwar. It has actually been done. There’s a collection of folk lullabies called Sakhi Sarwar di Lorian. That is significant. Making it into the folklore and than too in lullabies! You have to be very special for that to happen.

Shah Hussain’s Lahore

Shah Hussain

Shamus Rahman Faruqi’s The Mirror of Beauty, they say, ‘captures Delhi so vividly that you can imagine yourself there.’ Reading this, I was wondering why hasn’t anybody attempted to write about Shah Hussain‘s life and times in Lahore as a novel?

The man freely roamed around in the streets of Lahore, practically challenging and breaking every social norm. He fell for a Hindu guy and openly courted him—much to the dislike of his family and people. He was possibly a witness to the state execution of Dulla Bhatti, the great folk hero of Punjab. He wrote and sang breathtakingly beautiful poems in the streets of Lahore. Dara Shikoh knew him and mentions him in his book.

It sure was a vibrant time for Lahore. There’s so much a novelist can use as the base material. Imagination could handle the rest. You could have Dulla Bhatti as a character. How cool would that be!

MakhanoN wala baba

When I was a child, for a few years I was a neighbour of Baba Farid — head of the Chishti sufi order at his time, mentor of Nizamuddin Auliya, and one of the first and finest Punjabi poets.

After the forced displacement of 1947, my grandparents came to the only town of the new country where they knew some people – Pakpattan. Hundreds of years ago, Baba Farid had also come to the same town, then called Ajodhan. We were made to leave our village in Patiala, he exiled himself from the city of Delhi. We were centuries apart but something was common; and a lot more was going to become common later.

His grave is located at the top of a hill in Pakpattan. I could see him from the roof of our house. Little did I know who he was. My nani used to take us there. It was fun. For me and other kids, he was “makhanon wala baba.” People would come to his shrine and distribute these little white candies called “makhanay” among other visitors. Kids would naturally get special treatment.

He made my childhood sweet, his poetry keeps my youth mellow.

[ ਰੋਟੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਕਾਠ ਕੀ ਲਾਵਣੁ ਮੇਰੀ ਭੁਖ — روٹی میری کاٹھ دی، لاون میری بھکھ ]

Sufi verses are not for others

Last night, when I was riding my bike to join my friends for dinner and had random songs from Folk Punjab playing on my phone, a Shazia Manzoor track started to play. It was Bulleh Shah’s poem Ilmon Bus Kareen O Yaar.

That’s when it struck me that many, or most, sufi poems are not for reading to others (or sharing on social media, in modern terms) thinking that they are aimed at others. They are for you, for yourself.

“Parh parh likh likh laaveN dhair
Dhair kataabaN char chafair
Girde chanan vich haner
Puchho rah te khabbar na saar
— Ilmon bus kareeN o yaar”

Shoving it in people’s faces as if they need to learn from it defeats the purpose. Same goes for many other sufi verses.

That’s perhaps the reason why, when pointing out a social evil, Baba Farid takes all the blame and addresses himself as if he’s the worst perpetuator.

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