The Dawn: Nov 7, 2014

PUNJAB NOTES:: Celibacy and our great poets (Part-II)

Mushtaq Soofi 

In the galaxy of our great classical poets four were confirmed bachelors. It’s an interesting to note that Shah Hussain and Bulleh Shah were mystics who composed lyrical poetry.

The latter two, Waris Shah and Mian Mohammad, were not mystics in the conventional sense if we look at what they wrote. They were poets who had tales to tell. The former’s story of Heer and the latter’s tale of Saiful Maluk continue to haunt the people generation after generation.

This simple fact leads us to conclude that the refusal of these great four to have a traditional married life was not motivated by some nebulous mystical or spiritual experience.

Their attitude towards married life was an outcome of their socio-historical consciousness that exposed the institution of marriage as a linchpin of an oppressive and repressive socio-economic order, evolved as a morally and legally sanctioned force to keep the oiled machine of private property running.

The hollowness of growing up, earning, getting married and living happily ever after was repugnant to their view of life as such practice entailed acceptance of economic and gender inequality born of a system in which even the view that ‘all animals are equal but some are more equal than others’ was rejected in the name of natural law.

Waris Shah’s view of marriage is unequivocally clear if we look at his grand narrative. With great dramatic force his argumentative protagonist, Heer, exposes how the institution of marriage has the umbilical links with property, class, religion and morality in the traditional society.

Her lover Ranjha is from a landed family and yet is a dispossessed young man by choice who works as a buffalo herder for her aristocratic family.

When the surreptitious love relationship of Heer and Ranjha becomes the subject of gossips, Heer’s parents in consultation with their clan arranges her marriage with a young chief of another tribe equal in status.

That is the crunch time when centre seems to hold but in actuality things start falling apart causing the spread of socio-cultural debris all around. Heer, the most defiant of our heroines, refuses point blank to be wedded with some alien. Her passionate appeal to have her lover as her spouse is flatly rejected on the basis of class difference.

How the daughter of a tribal chief can imagine marrying below herself especially when the suitor is as lowly as a buffalo herder, says the family.

The family fails to persuade her but goes ahead with marriage arrangements feeling confident that it still has an effective weapon in its arsenal; the religion represented by Qazi, well aligned in the system.

The Qazi is supposed to be an arbiter of Islamic law but in reality acts as an advocate of the aristocratic family.

He deliberately misinterprets and distorts the Islamic law regarding marriage when he argues that the religious and moral duty compels Heer to respect her parents’ wishes. So she must acquiesce to marry the suitor chosen by her parents.

She snubs him quoting the Islamic injunction that treats marriage as a contract between man and woman based on mutual consent. Qazi with all his persuasive power uses religion as a tool to safeguard the class interests of Heer’s family which conceives marriage as a means of creating powerful connections with the aim of enhancing its socio-political prestige.

Finally the family has a resort to its ultimate weapon, the sheer force. Thus Heer is forcibly married off against her will. ‘Every lord’s daughter is handed two husbands’ comments Waris Shah sarcastically.

Having two husbands implies that woman is condemned to exist at two levels; physically she lives with her legal spouse and emotionally with her lover. Such is the reality of marriage made out to be a sacred institution by all reactionary social segments.

Marriage is a venerated mechanism of subtle coercion to integrate man and woman into social system that have glaring fault-lines. No wonder, the greatest poet of the Punjab, who taking inspiration from Damodar, created the most iconic and iconoclastic female character in our cultural history, stayed away from married life. Perhaps he never found such a woman in his life and if found, lost her.

Mian Mohammad lived single all his life. Some critics claim that he gave up the idea of marriage after he was rejected by the woman he wanted to marry. Veracity of the claim has been challenged.

Looking at his life and work one can assert that his decision not to raise family was not prompted by such happening. Mundane and joyless married life was not meant for a creative person like him who remained all his life overwhelmed by his undying passion for poetry.

What kept him hauntingly restless was his overriding desire to explore the dimensions of human imagination and the secret world of words.

It’s no surprise that apart from many other stories, he composed a long tale known as Saiful Maluk that has almost everything; mundane and celestial. It’s the most imaginative and fantastical tale of classical Punjabi literature in which characters from the Kingdom of Ghazni, Sri Lanka, Iran, Syria, Egypt and Central Asia pop up on the stage. So Mian Mohammad instead of building a private house built a world of wonder open to all.

Marriage in a class society is a means of empowerment for a large number of those who tend to settle.

But a few gifted with unusual ferocity of spirit who desire to unsettle the settled go ahead alone towards knowable unknown that lies beyond the existing society defined by the so-called natural law of stratification. —

Back to Mushtaq Soofi's  Page

Back to Column's Page