The Dawn: April 08, 2016

Punjab Notes: Stories and translation of Sufi poetry

Mushtaq Soofi 

“Udd’da Javeen Kanwan” is Nuzhat Abbas’s book of short stories published by Sanjh Publications, Lahore. Nuzhat though based in England is a well-known figure among all those who in any way are interested in or connected with theatre, Punjabi language, literature, culture.

She is a multifaceted personality; she is a writer, singer, research scholar with abiding interest in human rights and socio-cultural empowerment. Her special interest is early education of children in mother language. She got her degree in world literature from Russia’s Patrice Lumumba University.

Under the guidance of late Aslam Azhar, the country’s unmatchable broadcaster, she produced three documentaries on women education, health and employment.

Nuzhat’s book contains 17 short stories on diverse themes which encompass fears and trepidations of a growing girl in a patriarchy based society, uncertain life of diaspora and its human surroundings, utterly devastating shocks and aftershocks of the Partition of the subcontinent and the threat to the ethos of Punjabi language, her mother tongue.


The stories have been penned down with simple artistic care and spontaneous tenderness in our world which being full of blood and gore, leaves little space for anything which is delicately human.

There is perfect synchronization between the experience/event and its linguistic construction. What she says reflects clarity and how she says it has a surprising simplicity.

Clarity and simplicity complementing each other create an ambiance that helps transform the trite and the worn off into something fresh that has remained hitherto undiscovered.

And all this happens quietly, with neither a bang nor a whimper. Nuzhat’s stories, which have an autobiographical element, sound like whispers with hints to small but humanly meaningful landscape in the midst of contemporary noise that has reverberations of phony joy of consumption or awe inspiring politico-economic spectacle of power.

Pratima Bhatia Mitchell rightly remarks: “Nuzhat’s stories have made me realize the inherent musicality and rhythms and the extent of refinement and subtleness of feeling which the language is capable of expressing…. She reveals empathy and understanding of life’s simple, earthy pleasures as well as the terrors that inhabit the imagination of a child”. Read her if you want to know how the prosaic is transformed into something creative when touched by a writer who can effortlessly move across cultures.

Her stories “Allah Mian Ji”, “Daal Chawal Dian Lorian”, “Simon Te Peter” and “Shala Musafar Koi Na Theeve” make you ponder as to how the small may prove to be a pointer to something bigger in human context.

The stories reflect a mélange of diverse cultures where individuals despite all their apparent differences have to come to terms with the shared and shareable destiny. We cannot, her stories tell us, exculpate ourselves from the “sin” of indifference in a highly interconnected world.

“Path of The Rose” (Sufi Creed of Love) by Lala Rukh Shaukat is a book of English translation of selected Punjabi Sufi poetry published by Ferozsons, Lahore.

Lala Rukh, says the blurb, “has background in sociology and literature. She is involved in various literary pursuits and teaching assignments”.

Punjabi poetry of Sufi and non-Sufi hue has been kept alive by the people whose aspirations and sufferings, dreams and despair it represents at artistic and aesthetic level.

Though Sufi poetry has always been popular, there has been renewed interest in it due to deadly dangerous lunatic forces with their extremist politico-ideological worldview that has shaken the world with their no holds barred attitude, plunging it into an unprecedented chaos. And all this in the name of the faith! Such a situation has forced Muslim and non-Muslim scholars to glean something from the long Muslim mystic tradition that may help evolve a counter narrative that stresses inclusivity.

Lala Rukh’s book is a welcome addition to the ever increasing body of interpretative and analytical writings on different aspects of Sufism.

She has selected four classical poets (from 12th to late 19th century) namely Baba Farid, Shah Hussain, Sultan Bahu, Baba Bulleh Shah and Mian Mohammad Buksh, for her study.

In the introduction she explains some of the significant Sufi notions that we come across in the Muslim mystic tradition and how these found expression in the corpus of Punjabi poets who chose to live among the people; dispossessed and defiant of oppressive socio-economic order.

Sufi’s emphasis is invariably on individual. Not that the Sufi is fond of nurturing individuality and ego. On the contrary he believes that each individual being a receptacle or repository of the divine is the microcosm of the collective.

He finds conceptually and experientially two apparently different facets of human existence conflated. For him separateness and oneness, individual and collective may appear different or contradictory at the level of perception but at a higher are elements of indivisible reality that is both immanent and transcendental.

Lala Rukh has done a commendable job by bringing into focus the vision of Punjabi Sufi poets expressed in their diverse poetic expressions.

Her prose is lucid unburdened by the dead weight of academic jargon. Her translation of the verses seems close to the original but interpretative.

The reason appears to be her concern to bring to the fore spiritual vision of the poets that has contemporary relevance. One can hope that she will continue her explorations and in her next book we will see her analysing the dialectics of Sufis’ social vision underpinned by their belief in human equality and exploitation free world which can make the mundane sublime. —

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