The Beloved

By:  Muhammed Afzal Shahid

Dawn: May 4, 2008

‘Bullhe nun parhaya te oh sarangi phar nacheya te ganveya. Tenun parhaya te tun ishqiya qisse likhe.’ (I taught Bulleh Shah and he danced and sang playing a violin. I taught you and you wrote a love story), were the alleged painful remarks of Hafiz Ghulam Murtaza of Kasur to his student, Waris Shah, when the latter is said to have tried to gain blessings of his beloved teacher on completing his anthology of Heer. However, the next day, after listening to selections from Heer, such as:


Invocation of soul and body complete, have I wisely brought all together, and

Know Heer as soul body Ranjha servant, Balnath is master guide over
Five senses yours your spiritual guides, they stroke you gently into slumber

The great teacher is said to have been consoled, allegedly blessing Waris Shah with yet another equally powerful remark:

You have created a pearl wreath on straw thread

Whether or not this alleged encounter between the great teacher and his student ever took place, it does reflect the evident reality of the two undeniably great iconic figures of the Punjab and Punjabi literature. Punjab will always owe gratitude to both. Unfortunately little is known about Waris Shah and his works beyond the subcontinent, except among the expatriates settled in countries around the world. And no real effort has been made to introduce Waris Shah and his work to the rest of the literary world.

The anthology is a powerful and authentic commentary on the reality of domestic, social, cultural and religious norms of Punjab. It is full of poetic intensity, reflective innovations, linguistic authority, intellectual naiveties, wisdom and daring critique. The comparisons and contrasts, romanticism, mythology and poetic vision found therein illustrate graceful execution of all aspects of the art of poetry.

The stanza presented below is, in some manuscripts, entitled ‘Reality Dawns on Ranjha’. It is a beautiful example of the power of expression, and of a desperate cry from the heart of Ranjha when he comes to realise that the wedding of his beloved Heer to Saida Khera will proceed no matter what the circumstances, and there is no way it can be stopped. Although the stanza describes the agony of Ranjha at a certain moment of despair, the universality of its expressive overtones is clearly evident.

Mighty usurp darlings from the weak, weak cannot protest loss or pain
Helpless poor have no recourse, like dead snakes they wiggle in vain
Unsure should kill them or themselves, within and outward uncertain
Qualities of weak stay hidden within, weak share with weak their agony pain
Dares none refute arrogant mighty, weak penniless always wronged they can
Waris Shah trodden are weak have-nots, fear turns them speechless, dumb, insane.

Here Waris Shah describes the bitter reality of life where cruelty and injustice by the mighty have tended to make victims of the weaker members of society. The dear ones of the weak and poor, be it their beloved, wife or kin, has been snatched away forcibly by the mighty. The weak have little or no recourse to justice. They cannot even complain or protest. The unbearable pain of loss, humiliation and the fear of reprisals on protesting against aggression drive them insane.

In such moments of hopelessness and despair, life seems to lose all its meanings for them. Some think of ending injustice by killing the aggressors while others find escape by committing suicide. Their condition is that of a freshly killed snake that wiggles helplessly; seems alive but is lifeless and unable to strike back.

Thus, the concern is not merely the story of Heer and her beloved Ranjha; it has a much deeper connotation which is the relentless quest of man for God, for justice and for the ultimate truth.