The Dawn: Aug 28, 2015

PUNJAB NOTES: Books: sufism, burial register and a female voice

Mushtaq Soofi 

In our strife-ridden and hatred-driven contemporary world what sane minds among us desire most is a broad vision born of tolerance and acceptance of diversity which may lead to peace and harmony at individual and collective level. Need to have inner calm and social tranquillity is perhaps one of the factors that have inspired intellectuals to probe into what is loosely described as the Punjab’s mystic poetry.The latest in the series of books on Sufi poetry is Lala Rukh Shaukat’s ‘Path of the Rose: Sufi creed of love’ in English language published by Ferozsons, Lahore. Lala Rukh, says the blurb, ‘has a background in sociology and literature. She is involved in various literary pursuits and teaching assignments’. She focuses in her new book on the spiritual tradition especially the one that she thinks, is laced with Muslim ethos. For the sake of analysis, one can place the Sufi tradition in a specific cultural context but it is never insulated as it intrinsically tends to be inclusive rather than exclusive. How can we deny the influence of ancient mysticism of the subcontinent called Vedanta on Sufism when we know for a fact that Indian scholars were invited to Baghdad in the heydays of Abbasid caliphate to dilate on the secrets of Vedanta which subsequently impacted the Muslim spiritual thought and practice. Similarly the Jewish and especially Christian mystics’ views played a part in shaping up the Islamic spiritual tradition. Islam like Judaism and Christianity has deep Semitic roots.

Lala Rukh has clearly defined the parameters of her study by stating that she is mainly concerned with the Punjabi Sufis’ vision. And for such a study she has selected five classical poets i.e. Baba Farid, Madho Lal Hussain, Sultan Bahu, Bulleh Shah and Mian Muhammad Bukhsh. Each poet is introduced along with the translations of his selected verses. Biographic accounts of the poets are partly based on historical facts and partly on hagiographic titbits which acquaint us with their lives as well as people’s perception of them. The translations are interpretative. So the readers shall be well advised not to lose sight of the specific context in which they have been rendered by the author. The book provides a good introduction to Sufi poetry and spiritual development in Punjab.What is highly relevant today is the inclusive Sufi approach towards life. Lala Rukh has done a commendable job by reminding us what our saint-poets stood for: the inner enrichment and unity.The book is accessible to average readers and is a good read indeed.

Iftekhar Warriach Kalarvi’s ‘Yaadan tay Tareekh’(Remembrances and History) published by Mitar Sanjh Punjab, Kalra Dewan Singh Gujrat, is a sort of book you seldom come across not because of its unusual literary quality but because of the subject it deals with. The subject is listing of famous dead buried across 19 cities of Punjab and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The assortment includes the dead rulers, the saints, the landlords, the war lords, the gangsters, the poets, the politicians and a large number of other notable men and few women. Notes on the dead give us brief information about their lives, professions and achievements in a simple manner. The notes read like reportage and the language employed is prosaic.The narrative, he builds, is descriptive rather than analytical. The reason is not difficult to decipher; microscopic scrutiny of the dead according to the cultural customs is tantamount to desecrating the graves: an act of sacrilege.The book is however informative and full of small stories and anecdotes. The epitaphs quoted by Iftekhar provide interesting insights into the psyche of people as to how they want their dead to be perceived and remembered. The book, a kind of burial register, is a welcome addition to a scant body of literature on the subject.

“Apnay Aap Ton Dar Lagda”, Bia ji’s book of verses, published by Alquraish Publications, Lahore, heralds the arrival of a new poet on our literary stage which is already chock-o-block with poets. The debutant can hopefully find a place because being a woman she brings with her experiences that are nuanced and has a voice that sounds somewhat distinct. But her notion of poetry is contestable, rather misleading when she says in the preface ‘poetry is neither an art nor it is dependent on skill’. What a sweeping statement! Inspiration or spontaneity alone cannot make one a poet. Good poetry is invariably the finest linguistic construction and reflects highest degree of artistic skill. She promises to be a fine poet but if she insists on truly practising what she believes, she may not be able to realise her potential. Mere inspiration is likely to make a poet spew sentimental kitsch. Word i.e. language is the only tool a poet has at his/her disposal. And you need to hone the skill to handle the tool. Indifference to language and skill will surely lead a poet to banalities.

A large number of poems in the book though written with feelings are in traditional form and seem to have a semblance of freshness. She is at her best when she employs contemporary poetic structures for self-expression which hint at her imaginative reach and linguistic skill. “Whenever I sit facing the oil lamp, someone, I feel, is there at my back. I can’t make out why someone is after me/ is it a mere hallucination or it’s my lookalike? Or some ghost?/It seems as if it’s that old shadow which my eyes carry imprinted: the first dream I had when I was a child/ my life burns like the burning oil lamp, the pain dances like the dancing flame/ as the oil in the lamp gets depleted, so the play nears its end.” —

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