The name `SahebaN’ comes from ‘Sahib’ meaning respectable, an Urdu word coined to address the representatives of a previous colonial power. As a woman’s uncommon name, SahebaN captures our attention through an undersold Punjabi folk story called ‘Mirza SahebaN’, Mirza being SahebaN’s un!Rightful lover.
I must stress here that it is not a popular name for women in Pakistan, and it is strange that our SahebaN’s mother named her after SahebaN and not after Heer, for example. I can understand that Sassi Punnu being more from the neighboring restless province of Sind, and Yousuf Zulekha from the far-away Middle East, the province of the Punjab is left with Sehti Murad, Sohni Mahinwal, Mirza SahebaN and Heer Ranjha. The pattern of this list is shattered by Dulla Bhatti, the brave freedom fighter who fought the Mughals, and appears in some history books as the local Robin Hood without of course, the female object Maid Marian. It is clear that neither Dulla nor Bhatti is a woman’s name, and despite being a Muslim Dulla sided with Hindus and Sikhs against the aforementioned Mughals. In the interest of overall sanity, we will have to recall him so don’t forget the name Dulla, it’s okay if you can’t remember Bhatti because that will already be there for you.
About Mirza and Yousuf though: I can not help notice that other than Mirza and Yousuf, who like Romeo are guys, all the other four titles of this folk lore of love begin with the names of their Juliets. Give me a moment; Sassi, Zulekha, Sehti, Sohni, SahebaN, and Heer are Juliets who died for and with the following Romeos, from left to !Right, Punnu, Yousuf, Murad, Mahinwal, Mirza, and Ranjha. Mirza and Romeo were brave heirs to regional thrones, Yousuf was a prophet, Murad was a Baloch, and the rest were just men. Among the four women, Heer of Sial is the most admired of all. The rest can file cases of numerous Human !Rights violations against proponents of Heer for being sidelined, over-looked and pushed-aside. Even International Conglomerate of History (ICH) provided space to Heer and her !Rightful lover Ranjha in the Halls of Fame across the Globe as soon as they died of familial deceptions and poisons.
Mirza and SahebaN also gave their lives for love but do you see them in the ICH halls of fame? Their songs were sung too but what do you get when you type ‘mirza saheban’ in the search box at Sazaa? Nothing! Search finishes without any result! I suggest that it’s not just because of the systemic racism inherent in the structure of WWW, type `heer ranjha’ in the same slot: Results! Download five different Heers sung by five different artists. Alam Lohar, Noor Jehan, Reshman even Mehdi Hassan if you prefer Urdu over Punjabi though I will have to wonder why.
The reasons for this negligence are not hidden from us; and, we know why most Punjabis do not consider SahebaN the !Right role model for Punjabi women. Indeed, it is due to the deep shadow cast by SahebaN on some important aspects of Muslim culture, for example and in particular, on a Muslim woman’s loyalty factor.
Being a South Asian Pakistani Canadian Muslim Woman of Color, I can tell you that Loyalty-to-the-Man factor is almost as, and sometimes more, important than the Virginity-of-the-Woman factor (Read The Unnecessary). As a result, we are not allowed to forget that Mirza and SahebaN indulged in pre-marital sex though I can’t see what the problem was because in Peenutstan at the time, pre-marital sex was almost the same as the post-marital, extra-marital and non-marital sex. Still, a proverb was added to the rich library of Punjabi, the dual-scripted regional language of the divided province of the Punjab: ‘Unee aashiq guzre te Mirze veeh pujai: 19 lovers passed before Mirza brought on the 20′.
Bringing-on-the-20 means doing something outrageous and unacceptable to a social set. Example: 19 centuries passed before Bobett brought on the 20. Wait, this may have made some readers uncomfortable including myself, so allow me to change the line of my argument. Mirza brought-on-the-20 by indulging in whatever marital sex, but did he do it alone? Was SahebaN not a party to the sinful crime? But here you will notice that contrary to the widespread cultural norm of placing the responsibility of all negative occurrences on the most visible woman in the vicinity, this proverb places the responsibility of that whatever marital sex on Mirza alone.
I am still reluctant to define the nature of sex that may have taken place between Mirza and SahebaN because what marital sex they could have had in the short span of time in the village Mosque where they fell in love; at the house of Masi before they eloped; and, on the run before they died. I am also reluctant to call the activity by its Muslim name Zina, meaning adultery. Because if I do, we will have to bring in the Sharia Laws as practiced at times in Peenutstan, Honoristan and Hairan; and that, to quote hopeful writers who have said it before me, ‘is a subject for another book’.
Back to the now way above proverb, by placing the total responsibility of that-marital sex on Mirza alone, the Social Set is telling us what? Not that SahebaN was absolved! Her role was overlooked because it was undesirable for that Social Set to award her recognition at the proverbial level of their mother language.
The reason: SahebaN lost her virginity to Mirza (or did she?) without the required intervention of any priest; eloped with Mirza when all her kin were at her house to marry her off to WhatWasHisHame; and then when her brothers caught up, she threw Mirza’s quiver up the looming tree (what was she smoking?). Both got killed. SahebaN’s death occurs somewhere in the footnotes while Mirza’s death at least is mourned by Peelu, author of the first version of `Mirza SahebaN’.
Punjabi word `Peelu’ means ‘one wild berry or more’ constituting another uncommon name. This one gives us no clue about the gender, occupation or quantity of its bearer but everyone knows that Peelu was a guy, why? For one, Peelu was astounded by Mirza’s mare Bakki, and to him, SahebaN was just a lust-inducing, strong and stupid woman who like so many others was bound to, and did, bring an honorable and brave man to his defeat and death. If Peelu had the time to wonder why one of his characters was acting the way she was, he would have found them. May be not, it’s hard for most mortal men to withdraw attention from fast means of transportation.
Poet Peelu, that single sour berry or more, is being discussed here at the expense of Hafiz Burkhuddar the other Mirza SahebaN author because it was Peelu who wrote the base line that was later used with many other active ideological solutions to fertilize the crop of various prejudicisms sowed earlier in the land. This is how Peelu advises Mirza, the young Punjabi gun, as to the nature of women:
`Bhit ranna.n di dosti, khuri jinhan de mutt: Cursed is the friendship of women, whose wisdom has been melted away.’
The line forged another over-used proverb in the same rich library of the same dual-scripted language of that same divided province.
Yet again, it was Peelu who perpetuated outrageous myths about the women and people of Sial, a location in the Punjab that has given us not only our two SahebaNs and a Sehti but also our one revered Heer. But Peelu, in the language of Mirza’s mother who of course is a Kharl, says:
`burre Sialaan de moamale, burrie Sialaan dee raah
`buriyaan Sialaan diyan aurtaan, laindiyan jadoo pa
‘kudh kaleja khandian, mere jhate tel na pa’
If you haven’t already guessed it then here it is:
`Bad are affairs of the Sialis, bad the path leading to them; Bad are women of Sial, casting magic spells; They take out the lungs (of lovers) and eat, don’t fool me by putting oil in my disheveled head.’
From this poetic depiction, it appears that the opposites were assumed to be true about the Kharls by the Kharl Matriarch.
SahebaN may have had another story to tell and it may have been different from what we got from poet Peelu, and the Matriarch above.
Imagine a scene outside a non-descript village in the vast countryside of the Punjab. SahebaN and Mirza, after striking an unforgivable blow to the ‘honor’ of the peoples of both Sial and Chadhar, have eloped on Mirza’s much-praised-by-now mare Bakki. On the way, in self defence, Mirza has fearlessly killed one of SahebaN’s brothers in front of her. Now, after covering some distance, they stop to rest under the shade of Jund trees. Mirza reclines, SahebaN implores him to take her to Dhanabad, his Kharl capital. Mirza responds by telling SahebaN how he is going to kill the rest of her brothers and kin, and how after killing them, his mare Bakki will take them to Dhanabad and safety. Despite SahebaN’s repeated protests, Mirza decides to fall asleep in an insecure Siali territory not to mention the miserable shade provided by the skimpy Jund trees. SahebaN hears her brothers approach and without explaining anything to poet Peelu, throws Mirza’s quiver up on the Jund, and out of his immediate reach.
It did not cross Mirza’s mind, or Peelu’s, that SahebaN may have loved her brothers and other members of her family, and she may have hoped that if Mirza did not kill another of them first, reconciliation was still possible; Or that if Mirza was unarmed, the two had a chance of being taken alive.
Instead, she was pushed up and down the loyalty cliff, and from that point, Mirza was alone on one side while the other was crowded by SahebaN’s brotherhood. The brotherhood as usual stood supported by fatherhood, motherhood, aunthood, unclehood, neighborhood, and, at least a portion of the sisterhood. I think, SahebaN was a dead woman right there, and so was Mirza.
In this case of split loyalties, SahebaN confronted similar choices as the ones later Sophie had to face: whose life would you spare? Sons or Daughters? Lovers or Brothers? Result? One died fast, the other had to live with it. As well, even in death SahebaN gained the unparalleled notoriety of being a woman who wavered in her loyalty both to her family and her lover. I will not question Mirza’s loyalty because I am trained to not question the loyalty of Muslim men.
Another overlooked aspect of this story is that through her actions SahebaN affirms non-violence when she asks Mirza to leave a violent situation; and, again as she throws away the quiver. It is unfortunate that this important aspect of this folk story has been muddled with feudal-macho Adam-Eve blame-guilt loyal-disloyal streaks.
I notice that somewhere during this discussion, our SahebaNs have gotten confused. It is hard now to differentiate between SahebaN Folk and SahebaN Relentless or Peenutstan and Pakistan. For the rest of this Note, we will use SahebaN F (Folk Hero) and SahebaN R (Relentless Warrior) to keep us on the !Right track.
Not only that they both have the exact same name but their country of origin, place of birth and gender also is the same. In addition, they use the same script for their mother language; share allegations of what-marital sex; and, sport lovers who were passionate about their respective means of transportation.
Our conceptual boundaries may continue to obliterate as we read about the Lord of the Trap, SahebaN R’s !Rightful lover. As you now know, Mirza had no !Rights; he also did not have a flat screen 48’ color Plasma TV or a Toyota Celica; but most of all, due to destiny, he did not get the chance to bring SahebaN F to the gaping teeth of the Formidable Institution (Read The Lord of the Trap).
Time to recall Dulla: SahebaN R being a warrior can be compared to Dulla though it would be unnatural for a Muslim woman to do so, so let me put both aside for a moment and go to female heathen Zena.
In the Muslim world, warrior-princess Zena will never cut it and may actually cast a harmful shadow on both if compared with either of the SahebaNs. But if Xena was to modify her image she may see large profits emanating from that mysterious, and now somewhat dangerous, world. First of all, a change of name will help (Binte Laden? Noori?). In addition, her top should have no highlights on boobs, the shape of the bottom should be similar to baggy pants, and she should learn to reveal everything through a plain uninviting robe.
I would advise the scriptwriters of Zena to immerse themselves in the 130 novels written in Urdu by author Nasim Hijazi to improve the Warrior Princess’s mannerism by bringing her close to a respectable, purdah-clad, horse-riding, man-awaiting, brave Muslim woman. This also may help her to eventually learn how to get the men to do the fighting while she enjoys her time waiting for them in their matrimonial home.
Another worrisome aspect of Zena is the undercurrent sexual dynamics of her relations with the white woman. Replacing the woman with a bearded white man will guarantee Zena’s success as this is what we do to all our gay Sufi poets: replace, make the gayness invisible, shwank, its not there. An example: you have heard about the love lore of the Punjab from me, and you have seen these four names: Heer Ranjha, Mirza SahebaN, Sassi Punnu, Sehti Murad. I have, like all my predecessors, made invisible the names of all the glorious lovers who failed to fall in love with women, and that include our great classic poets Madhulal Hussain and Bulleh Shah.
You may not believe it but I must insist that I am not responsible for initiating this trend where we can collectively punish men who, rejecting all the man-positive women of the world, go on to love other men. I cite the case of Shah Hussain because it is the story of love of an insightful artist who knew what we were going to do to him so he tried to preserve his gay and secular identity by adding his lover’s name to his own as he proclaimed himself ‘Madhulal Hussain’.
On the other hand, I, like most Punjabis have put his true and complete identity in the locked drawer of my desk, and just make-do with parts of him when reading or singing his poetry.
Anyway, apart from the popularity factor, comparing Zena to SahebaN R is like comparing Bin Laden with Green Party leader Ralph Nader. Too much! None of these comparisons will improve SahebaN R’s image, they may actually make it worse. Don’t take me wrong, its not just Zena. Comparing SahebaN Relentless with Zena, Phoolan Devi, Mohammed Bin Qasim or Dulla Bhatti is not easy. The difficulty with SahebaN is this: who wants a hero who uses no weapons, drives nothing for transportation, and has no license to allow hero worship?
Aside from these credibility holes, working as a weaponless warrior I doubt if SahebaN made any money at all but it did prove one thing that SahebaN, much like Mahatma Gandhi, did not have a mortgage to pay. So, let me just say that the stories of both Folk and Relentless SahebaNs have remained undersold because of discrimination against them of high intellectuals, partial historians and global institutions. This project endeavors to correct some erroneous assumptions about at least SahebaN R if not SahebaN F.
- Excerpts from the ‘Introduction: SahebaN’s Name’ from The Adventures of SahebaN: Biography of a Relentless Warrior, an unpublished novel by Fauzia Rafique
View SahebaN’s Name: http://uddari.wordpress.com/2008/09/08/saheban%E2%80%99s-name/