The Dawn: Jan 31, 2014

Mian Kamal Din: unusual narrative of Punjab – Part-II

Mushtaq Soofi 

Mian Kamal as a person was a true son of soil but as an artist had a universal vision born of different and conflicting strands of historical experiences that made Punjab what it is; highly diverse and pluralistic.

He was a product of our indigenous tradition spanning over thousands of years that honed the art of storytelling, raising it to a level of complex and sophisticated literary genre. Punjab’s storytelling on the one hand preserved the people’s history ignored by myopic historians and on the other explored the significant events of the community, highlighting the conflicts and the contradictions that constantly created stirrings beneath the still waters of an apparently little changing socio- political life.

Mian Kamal stands distinguished among his peers in terms of choice of subject and nuanced expression, adding a whole new dimension to the oral transmission of creative experience. His repertoire is huge and varied reflecting his unmatchable versatility, a hallmark of a profound mind engaged in discovering the breadth and length of human predicament. Just to have a measure of his imaginative sweep it suffices to point out that he can talk of Aristotle and Alexander, Darius and Iranian princesses, Raja Porus and Raja Ambhi, Raja Ram Chandra and Ashoka, Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb, Ranjit Singh and Hari Singh Nalwa, Buddhist monks and Hindu ascetics, Muslim saints and scholars, tribal lords and peasants of his native land. He knows the disposition a rustic as much as he knows the manners of a royal. He can discover a bold hero in a petite rustler and a sloughing coward in a formidable lord. He, with his unique insight, debunks the stereotyped images of Punjab’s peasant and lord (Rath). His peasant can be defiant to a point of being a self-destructive anarchist and his lord can be generous to fault. Some of the powerful themes in his stories emanate from his concept of valour, friendship, generosity, fair play and sense of honour which his narrative raises to the level of supreme human values, never to be compromised.

One brief excerpt from his story ‘Noora Sipra, Son of Kandar’ will show you how valour, even if demonstrated by one’s enemy, is honoured. “--- Bharwana people came marching against the Bhattis of town Ghoriwala. Bhattis came out to face them, firing their muskets. The raiders having no gun started retreating. Godha, the minion of Bhattis, positioned his musket and took aim. Ra Hashmat, the chief of the Bhattis, asked, ‘who you are going to shoot at?’ Godha replied: ‘All of them are making a hasty retreat. Everybody is fleeing. But look, a man still stands his ground over there beside that tree. I will get him.’ ‘Don’t fire,’ shouted the chief. ‘Why? ‘Though I haven’t seen him before but it must be Noor, son of Kandar. It’s known, he is the one who can remain unruffled in the face of firing guns.’ ‘He has thrown us a challenge, I am going to fire at him,’ Godha insisted. The chief ran and plucked the barrel.

He called the man over and said, ‘Are you Maher Noor?’ ‘Yes Ra Hashmat, I am Noor.’ ‘You haven’t seen me before. Who told you I am Hashmat?’ ‘You haven’t seen me either. Who told you who am I?’ said Noor. ‘You are quoted as an example,’ said Hashmat. ‘You never show your back in battle.’ ‘You too are quoted as an example,’ said Noor. ‘It is said that Hashmat, the wise, fights battle with a sword in one hand and a hookah in the other.’ ‘Go back. We will not touch you,’ said Hashmat. ‘You go first; I will leave after you are gone. Otherwise it will be considered my retreat’ replied Noor. ‘Damn you. Where should I go? It’s my place’ replied Hashmat. ‘The place where lords come face to face is anybody’s place.

Look at those who are fleeing. Nobody considers, it’s not their place. Yet everybody shouts, they are on the run. So you leave first. Otherwise I am going to stay here,’ said Noor. At that moment Ra Hashmat, taking his turban off, threw it towards Noor. ‘Throw your headgear towards me’. Thus they exchanged turbans. ‘Now come and have a night stay with us. You may leave tomorrow’ requested Hashmat. ‘No’ answered Noor. ‘When women-folk of your town see me, they would gossip; ah, you have taken me prisoner. Not today, I will drop in some other time.”

Besides his highly evocative narrative tautened by the drag of human passion what stands out as an unmatchable artistic achievement is his creation of incredibly credible characters which embody irresistible lust of life expressing in acts that belong in other dimension. His men and women while being realistic seize certain critical moments in their lives and make choices that transform them from ordinary into extraordinary, making the mortal immortal in the realm of imagination. Life is a high stake game. It offers little to those who are obsessed with the sense of loss and gain in an unending effort to maintain what can be described as normality which is in fact a form of social insanity. Mian Kamal’s character, inspired by élan vital or sublime insanity born of human ideals, can become a pauper through its magnanimous act of generosity, can have an unusual courage to seek advice from his wise enemy and can die on the battle ground to retain his honour untainted. Hear him if you want to know what the patricians and the plebeians of his native land have been capable of. His is the voice of the soil; the voice that has the reverberations of an undying song accompanied by rumbling of time. —

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