By: Najm Hosain Syed
From his book: Recurrent Patterns In Punjabi Poetry
In the new Lahore lies buried Shah Husain and with him lies buried the myth of Lal Husain. Still, at least once a year we can hear the defused echoes of the myth. As the lights glimmer on the walls of Shalamar, the unsophisticated rhythms of swinging bodies and exulting voices curiously insist on being associated with Husain. This instance apparently defies explanation. But one is aware that an undertone of mockery pervades the air - released feet mocking the ancient sods of Shalamar and released voices mocking its ancient walls. Husain too, the myth tells us, danced a dance of mockery in the ancient streets of Lahore. Grandson of a convert weaver, he embarrassed every one by aspiring to the privilege of learning what he revered guardians of traditional knowledge claimed to teach.
Then again, fairly late in life, he embarrassed every one by refusing to believe in the knowledge he had received from others, and decided to know for himself. He plucked the forbidden fruit anew.
The myth of Lal Husain has lived a defused, half-conscious life in the annual Fare of Lights. The poetry of shah Husain which was born out of common songs of the people of the Punjab has kept itself alive by becoming a part of those very songs. In recent past, the myth of Madhu Lal Husain and the poetry of Husain have come to be connected. But the time for the myth to become really alive in our community is still to come.
Husain s poetry consists entirely of short poems known as "Kafis." A typical Husain Kafi contains a refrain and some rhymed lines. The number of rhymed lines is usually from four to ten. Only occasionally a more complete form is adopted. To the eye of a reader, the structure of a "Kafi" appears simple. But the "Kafis" of Husain are not intended for the eye. They are designed as musical compositions to be interpreted by the singing voice. The rhythm in the refrain and in the lines are so balanced and counterpointed as to bring about a varying, evolving musical pattern.
It may be asserted that poetry is often written to be sung. And all poetry carries, through manipulation of sound effects, some suggestion of music. Where then lies the point in noticing the music in the "Kafis" of Shah Husain? Precisely in this: Husain s music is deliberate - not in the sense that it is induced by verbal trickery but in the sense that it is the central factor in the poet s meaning.
The music that we have here is not the vague suggestion of melodiousness one commonly associates with the adjective "lyrical : it is the symbolic utterance of a living social tradition. The "Kafis" draw for their musical pattern on the Punjabi folk songs. The Punjabi folk songs embody and recall the emotional experience of the community. They record the reactions to the cycle of birth, blossoming, decay and death. They observe the play of human desire against the backdrop of this cycle, symbolizing through their rhythms the rhythms of despair and exultation, nostalgia and hope, questioning and faith. These songs comprehend the three dimensions of time - looking back into past and ahead into future and relating the present to both. Also, these songs record the individual s awareness of the various social institutions and affiliations and clinging to them at the same time - asserting his own separate identity and also seeking harmony with what is socially established.