Shah Hussain: Kāfi No. 1 and 2

 

shah hussain 4

Kāfi No. 1

Rabbā merā hāl dā mahram tūñ
Andar tūñ haiñ bāhar tūñ haiñ rom rom vich tūñ
Tu hī tānā tūñ hī bānā sabh kuch merā tūñ
Kahe Hussain faqīr nimānā maiñ nāhīñ sabh tūñ

O God, you are the confidant of my days
You are inside, outside, you are in every pore
You are the warp and weft, my each and everything you are
Says Hussein, the worthless fakir, I am nothing, you are all

Kāfi No. 2

Charkha merā rangā rang lāl
je va
charkha te va mune
hun kaha gayā bārāñ punne
sāīñ kāran lo’in runne
roe vanjāyā hāl
je va
charkha te va ghumā’an
sabhe āīāñ sīs gundā’an
kāI na āyā hāl van
ā’an
hun kāī na chaldī nāl
vacche khāhad g
ūhaā vāā
sabho la
da veā pār
maiñ kīa phe
yā veā dā nī
sabh paīāñ mere khayal
je va
charkha te va pachī
mā peāñ mere sar te rakhī
kahe hussein faqīr sāīñ dā
har dam nāl sañbhāl

My colourful spinning wheel I painted red
the bigger grew the wheel
the greater the weave
twelve years passed
for the sake of my Sain
these eyes weep
and weeping worsens my state
the bigger the wheel
the wider the spins
they all came to get their hair done
no one came to share my sorrows
no one willing to go along
a calf ate up the cotton ball
all my neighbours raised a ruckus
what did I do wrong? They all went after me
the bigger the wheel
the heavier the basket my parents placed on my head
say Hussein, the Sain’s fakir
take good care of what you carry

 

Read the original Punjabi in Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi

Translated by Naveed Alam (from Verses of a Lowly Fakir).

Transliterated and edited by Randeep Purewall

A History of Indo-Persian Literature (Part III)

mughal court

THE MUGHAL PERIOD (1526-1858)

For over two centuries, the Mughal Empire united and ruled over much of India. It created a classical culture which combined the finest aspects of Persianate and Indic traditions. It united peoples from various cultures and religions across the subcontinent while the Mughal courts in Delhi, Agra and Lahore welcomed artists and traders from across Europe and Asia and Iran in particular.

 

Indo-Persian Literature

badshahi

Under the Mughals, Persian became the official language of education and its use expanded among the various religions, classes and castes of North India. It became the language of court literature not only in Delhi, Agra and Lahore but also among regional sultanates such as the Golconda Sultanate (1519-1687). Its use as a literary language also grew through poetic assemblies (mushaira), storytelling traditions (dastangoi) and Sufi monasteries (khanqahs) as well as the language of culture.

Iranian poets increasingly flocked to the Mughal courts so much so that India had become the leading centre of Persian poetry during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By this time, a classical Persian canon (Sa’di, Nizami and Hafiz) was in the making and the Mughals patronized not only new poets but also oversaw the translation of works in Sanskrit, Greek and Arabic into Persian.

 

Prose

The Indo-Persian tradition of romance (qissa or dastan) was already known during the Delhi Sultanate. Amir Khusrau’s The Tale of the Four Dervishes (Qissa-ye Chahar Dervesh) was a collection of tales and stories told by four dervishes as wise counsel to a king seeking immortality.

Hamzanama2

The Epic of Hamza (Hamzanama), composed under the reign of Akbar, was based originally on an oral tradition of storytelling. It tells of the adventures and exploits of Amir Hamza (an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad) in a world of battles, courtly politics, magic, fairies and trickery.

The writing of history flourished under the Mughals. Abu’l Fazl’s Akbarnama combined biography and chronicle in its portrayal of Akbar as the ideal monarch.[1] The memoirs of the Emperor Jahangir (Jahangirnama) tell us about the rivers and lakes of Kashmir while Dargah Quli Khan (b. 1710) provides a glimpse into the lives of the commoners, musicians, dancers, poets and artists of Mughal Delhi.

 

Poetry

old agra painting

Poets like Faizi (1547-1595), ‘Urfi (1556-1590), Talib (d. 1626), Qudsi (d. 1656), Kalim (d. 1650) and Sa’ib (d. 1677) continued writing in the classical Persian style while also expanded Persian’s poetic vocabulary through exchanges with languages like Sanskrit, Hindi, Turkish and Arabic.

In his masnavi (long narrative poem), Nal Daman, Faizi adapted a story from the Mahabharata with its themes of love, exile into a Persian saga on the lover and the beloved:[2]

The burning of desire and heartache
Like wine poured at once in two glasses
Like the same note sounded from two different keys
The same intoxication in two different spots.
The suffering that love induced in the Lover,
the Beloved welcomed as her guest.
The bell the Lover told in grief,
echoed in the Beloved’s heart.[3]

The poet Kalim wrote about a famine in the Deccan:

Not only the laughing buds
Are always fleeing from me …
Their relationship to me
Is like that of the shore to the sea:
Always coming towards me,
Then ever fleeing from me.
Life’s tragedy lasts but two days
I’ll tell you what these two are for:
One day to attach the heart to this and that;
One day to detach it again.[4]

‘Urfi crafted a more personal and emotional style:

From my friend’s gate – how can I describe
The manner in which I went,
How full of longing I came,
Yet how embittered I went!
How I beat my head on the wall
In that narrow alleyway …
In ecstatic intoxication I came
In troubled silence I went.[5]

Mughal poets praised the Sufi path of love and union with the divine over the formalism and hypocrisy of organized religion:

Give up the path of the Muslims
Come to the temple
To the master of the wine house
So that you may see the divine secrets.[6]

This was carried to the point of blasphemy by Sarmad (c. 1590-1661):

He who understood the secrets of the Truth
Became vaster than the vast heaven;
The Mullah says “Ahmed [the Prophet Muhammad] went to heaven”;
Sarmad says “Nay! Heaven came down to Ahmed!”[7]

By the eighteenth century, all classes in Mughal society who were educated in Persian began using it as a literary language.

Bedil

Bedil2

Born in 1644 in Patna, ‘Abdul Qadir Bedil was of Turkish descent. He was raised by his uncle after the death of his parents and was educated in Persian, Arabic and Turkish. He studied Sufism and was also known to the Mughal court (most notably Aurangzeb’s son, Muhammad ‘Azam).

Bedil is considered one of the leading poets of the “Indian style” of Persian poetry (sabk-i-Hindi). His philosophical and mystical verses are complex, challenging and captivating:

I read in the wave’s fickle, delicate form
The preface of the sea, the wind’s footprint.[8]

A delicate act is learning the secrets of love
The pen slips in scribing the word of error[9]

 

The trappings of desire adorn every heart’s shop
There’s no mirror but its house of clarity reflects a bazaar[10]

 

 

Regard the spring painted with hues of new secrets
What your imagination never held the spring carries[11]

 

Only wonder I seek from the world’s estate
Like the wall’s mirrored image is my house and what it holds[12]

Bedil was cited as an influence on both Ghalib and Iqbal in their Urdu and Persian verse. His verse remains popular in Afghanistan and Tajikistan where they are studied extensively.

 


NOTES

[1] Sunil Sharma, The History of Akbar.

[2] Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Writing the Mughal World: Studies on Culture and Politics (Columbia University Press, New York: 2012), 204

[3] Masnawi Nal-Daman Faizi, ed. Muhammad Taiyab Siddiqui (Patna: 1987), 191 (12-15) cited in cited in Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Writing the Mughal World: Studies on Culture and Politics (Columbia University Press, New York: 2012) 216.

[4] Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture (Reaktion Books Ltd., London: 2004), 247.

[5] Schimmel, 248.

[6] Muzaffar Alam, “The Pursuit of Persian: Language in Mughal Politics,” Modern Asian Studies 32, 2 (1998), 333.

[7] Fazl Mahmud Asiri, Rubaiyat-i-Sarmad (Shantiniketan, 1950) cited in Natalia Prigarina, Sarmad: Life and Death of a Sufi (https://iphras.ru/uplfile/smirnov/ishraq/3/24_prig.pdf).  

[8] Annual of Urdu Studies (Vol. 27), 2012, Translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi: https://minds.wisconsin.edu/bitstream/handle/1793/66726/20BedilPoems.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. 

[12] Ibid.

A History of Indo-Persian Literature (Part II)

Sufis performing Sama before Shaikh Nizam al-Din Auliya (2)

The Delhi Sultanate united North India for the first time since the reign of Emperor Harsha (r. 606-647). It integrated India into the international trading networks and cosmopolitan civilization of the Islamic world. It also introduced new ideas in art, architecture, religion and technology, including paper-making which revolutionized literature, scholarship and the graphic arts.[1]

 

INDO-PERSIAN LITERATURE

The Mongol invasions of Central Asia and Khorasan during the thirteenth century caused Persian speaking poets, artists and Sufis to flee cities like Balkh, Bukhara and Samarqand and settle in and around Delhi.[2] For a while, in fact, Delhi was seen as a haven for Persian scholars and artists in Asia.


Indo-Persian literature developed during the Delhi Sultanate through both court patronage and through an expansion of ever-widening networks of Persian-speaking literati, merchants, artists and Sufi monasteries (khanqah) across North India. Sufi centres like Nizam ud-Din Auliya’s (1238-1325) in Delhi also attracted men of learning like Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) and the historian, Zia ud-din Barani (1285-1358) who wrote in Persian.[3]

Prose

Indo-Persian Literature


One branch of literature that Persian introduced to India was the writing of history. In fact, Persian literature introduced new genres such as biography, memoirs, chronicles, travel writing and letter writing to Indian literature.

The two best-known works of history written during the Delhi Sultanate were Barani’s, The History of Firoz Shah (Tarikh-e- Firozshahi) and The Rules of Government (Fatwa-i-jahandari). The former chronicled the history of the Sultanate from Balban (1266-87) to Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1309-1388) while the latter emphasized the importance of the study of history.

The compilation of conversations between Sufis and their disciples (malfuzat) was another branch of Indo-Persian prose literature that figured prominently during the Sultanate. The malfuzat also included hagiographies on the Sufi masters and their teachings. The Morals of the Heart (Fawa’id al-Fawad) by Amir Hasan Sijzi (1254-1337) was one such malfuzat on Nizam ud-Din.

The Delhi Sultanate also saw the appearance of Indo-Persian fiction which combined Persian, Arabic and Indic styles of storytelling. The Tutinama of Zia al-Din Nakshabi Badayuni (d. 1350), based on the Sanskrit Sukasapatati (‘Seventy Tales of the Parrot’), was one such collection of fifty-two tales told by a parrot to its mistress to prevent her from committing adultery.[4]

 

Poetry

While Sufi poets like Shah Bu ‘Ali Qalandar (d. 1323) and Fahkr-al Din Iraqi (1213-1289) wrote during this period, few poets could match the renown and influence of Amir Khusrao.

Amir Khusrao

Amir Khusrao remains one of the greatest Indo-Persian poets. A court poet for five of the Delhi sultans and a disciple of Nizam ud-Din, Khusrao composed five dīwān (collections) of poetry that included qasida (panegyric), masnavi (narrative) and over four thousand ghazal (love poems).[5]

Born Abu’l Hasan Yamin ud-Din Khusrao in Delhi in 1253, Khusrao was raised by his maternal grandfather, Imad al-Mulk, a powerful nobleman in the service of the Sultan Iltutmish (r. 1211-1236).

Khusrau began his career as a poet at the age of 20 as the protégé of senior poets at the courts of Delhi. He also served patrons in Bengal and Multan and was on one occasion, captured by the Mongols who raided Multan in 1285. He later wrote an elegy on his experience:

People shed so many tears in all directions
That five other rivers have appeared in Multan
I wanted to speak of the fire in my heart
But a hundred fiery tongues flared up in my mouth[6]

In 1289, Khusrau returned to Delhi where he became the chief court poet of Jalaluddin Khalji (r. 1290-96) and Ala’ ud-Din Khalji (r. 1296-1316). It was during this period that he wrote much of his finest work including his ghazals on love and longing:

I am about to breathe my last.
Come, so I may live.
What good will it do for you
to come once I am no more?

My heart left me but longing
for you won’t leave my heart.
My heart broke apart, but pain
For you won’t diminish.

Khusrao wrote in a style at once mystical and secular:

Bring bright wine,
for dawn has shown its face
At a moment like this
there’s no being without wine.[7]

There is a prosperous and populous city
where fragments of moon gleam at every turn.
Each fragment holds a shard of my shattered heart.[8]

His poetry also captured the Indian landscape of monsoon clouds and rainy seasons:

The clouds and the rain and
I and my love waiting to say farewell:
For my part, weeping,
and for the cloud’s part,
and for my love’s.[9]

He also wrote of his love for Nizamuddin:

I have become you, you have become me
I have become life, you have become body
From now one, let no one say that
I am other and you are another.[10]

Amir Khusrau is one of the few Indo-Persian poets who became well known outside of India. His verse is said to have even inspired the great Persian poet, Hafiz of Shiraz (1315-1390).[11] His works are still read in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan while in India and Pakistan, his poetry has been popularized through musical traditions like qawalli.

 


 

NOTES

[1] Richard M. Eaton, India in the Persianate Age: 1000-1765 (University of California Press, Oakland, CA), 136. See also Keay, India: A History (Harper Collins, London: 2001), 247.

[2] Eaton, India in the Persianate Age, 60.

[3] Ibid., 98.

[4] Nabi Hadi, History of Indo-Persian Literature (Iran Culture House: New Delhi, 2001), 178-179. See also Perso-Indica online (http://www.perso-indica.net/work/fables_and_tales/tuti-nama-1).

[5] Amīr Ḫusraw Dihlawī, Duwal Rānī wa Ḫiżr Ḫān in Perso-Indica: An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions (online at http://www.perso-indica.net/work/fables_and_tales/duwal_rani_wa_h%CC%AEidr_h%CC%AEan)

[6] Paul E. Losensky and Sunil Sharma (trans.), In the Bazaar of Love: The Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau (Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2011), xix.

[7] Paul E. Losensky, In the Bazaar of Love (Ghazal 26), 47.

[8] Ibid, (Ghazal 1772), 75.

[9] Ibid., (Ghazal 1), 3.

[10] Ibid., xxx.

A History of Indo-Persian Literature (Part I)

 

Turkish Conquest

Histories of Indian literature often neglect, if not completely overlook, the contribution of Persian to Indian literature. Given that Persian was the language of literature for over eight centuries in India and, given the ongoing Hindu Nationalizing of India’s history, an understanding of the history of Indo-Persian literature is more necessary than ever.

 

THE TURKISH CONQUEST

The north-west of India has been subject to invasions since ancient times. Beginning in the second millennium BCE until the 10th century, north-west India experienced invasions at the hands of Aryans, Iranians, Greeks, Parthians, Scythians, Kushans and Huns.

In 962, Alptigin (901-963), a Turkic general in the Samanid Empire (819-999) abandoned the court at Bukhara and established a semi-independent state with its capital in Ghazni (present-day Afghanistan).[1] He was succeeded by his son, Abu Mansur Sabuktigin (942-997), who in 986 launched an attack on Kabul and Punjab. Sabuktigin died in Balkh in 997 and was succeeded by his son Mahmud (971-1030).[2]

Ghaznavid Empire

Between 1001 and 1017, Mahmud launched a series of raids into northern India from Ghazni. In 1008, he conquered and annexed Punjab. By the time of his death in 1030, his empire spanned Khorasan, Samarkand, Afghanistan and Punjab.

 

EARLY INDO-PERSIAN LITERATURE

The Turkish conquest of north-western coincided with what the British historian E.G. Browne has called the “Persian Renaissance.”[1] Beginning under the Samanid Empire in Bukhara, which saw the completion of the Shahnama (‘Book of Kings’), Persian literature flourished in courts across Central Asia and Iran.

Mahmud’s court at Ghazni became a centre of Persian literature. Mahmud brought scholars, merchants, artists and Sufis with new ideas in art, architecture, literature and religion to India. Mahmud’s court attracted the scholar Al-Biruni (whose work on the history of India included an assessment of scientific works in Sanskrit and Hindu philosophies and religion) and Firdowsi, author of the Persian epic, Shahnama.

The Ghaznavid Empire in Khorasan was repeatedly invaded by the Seljuq Turks until it was lost in 1040. In 1163, the Ghaznavid Sultans moved their capital from Ghazni to Lahore where they would rule from until 1186.

It was in Lahore where the first Indo-Persian literature appeared. ‘Ali Hujviri’s (d. 1071) Kashf-ul Mahjub (‘Veiling the Unveiled’) was the first Persian treatise on Sufism. It set out such themes as the love of God, the importance of contemplation and the stages of the mystical path:  

Man’s love toward God is a quality which manifests itself in the heart of the pious believer, in the form of veneration and magnification, so that he seeks to satisfy his Beloved and becomes impatient and restless in his for vision of Him, and cannot rest with anyone except Him, and grows familiar with the remembrance of Him, and abjures the remembrance of everything besides.[2]

Early Indo-Persian poets like Abu al-Faraj (d. c. 1102) continued the Persian tradition of panegyric poetry (qasida) at court as well as the Persian poetic tradition of contrasting metaphors such as moth and flame, rose and nightingale and lover and beloved.

 

MAS’UD SA’D SALMAN (1046-1121)

Mas’ud Sa’d Salman’s poetry was especially important to the development of early Indo-Persian poetry. While Mas’ud continued to write in the tradition of Persian court poetry, his verse also showed openness and sensitivity to the new Indian poetic landscape.

Born in Lahore, Mas’ud was of Iranian ancestry. His father, Sa’di Salman, had come to Lahore as an accountant in the entourage of Prince Majdud who had been sent by Sultan Mahmud to garrison Lahore in 1035-36.[3]

Mas’ud spent much of his professional life as a poet between the courts of his patrons and in prison for reasons which are not clear. It was in prison, however, that he pioneered the habsiyat (prison) genre of poetry, a genre that would appear in the later Urdu poetry of Ghalib and Faiz Ahmad Faiz.[4]

Mas’ud often wrote on the pain of his separation from his beloved city of Lahore:

O Ravi, if paradise is to be found, it is you,
If there is a kingdom fully equipped, it is you
Water in which is the lofty heaven is you
A Spring in which there are a thousand rivers is you.[5]

He also introduced the Indian genre of the baramasa to Indo-Persian poetry:

O beauty whose arrows are aloft on the day of Tir
Rise and give me wine with a high melody
Sing of love in the mode of love
Call forth the delightful melodies of nature[6]

 

THE GHURID INVASION

In 1186, Lahore was conquered by Muhammad of Ghur, one of vassals of the Ghaznavid Empire. Like the Ghaznavid Empire, the Ghurid Sultanate encompassed much of Central Asia, Iran and northern India. In 1192, Muhammad defeated Prithviraj Chauhan at Tarain (present-day Haryana) from where he conquered the political centres of north India.

 

THE FOUNDING OF THE DELHI SULTANATE

 

 

In 1192, Muhammad of Ghur ordered his Turkic slave, Qutb al-Din Aibek (1150-1210), to push further east.[7] This resulted in the conquest of Delhi which, along with Lahore, Muhammad placed under Aibek’s governorship.

In 1206, Muhammad was assassinated. A civil war broke out between his slave commanders with Aibek emerging the victor.[8] Aibek established his own empire with Delhi as his capital, thus founding the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526).

… to be continued.

 

NOTES

[1] Richard Eaton, India in the Persianate Age: 1000-1765 (University of California Press: Oakland, CA: 2019, 13), 30.

[2] Ibid., 30.

[3] Sunil Sharma, Persian Poetry at the Indian Frontier (Permanent Black: New Delhi, 2010), 19.

[4] Annemarie Schimmel, Islamic Literatures of India (Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1973), 11: https://archive.org/details/IslamicLiteraturesOfIndia-AnnemarieSchimmel/page/n3/mode/2up

[5] Sunil Sharma, Persian Poetry at the Indian Frontier, citing Diwan, 391.

[6] Sunil Sharma, Persian Poetry at the Indian Frontier, citing Diwan, 947-8.

[7] Richard Eaton, India in the Persianate Age, 42.

[8] Ibid., 44.

Kaun ( Who) -Mudassar Bashir: Synopsis and Analysis of award winning Punjabi Novella

During the last five decades, for a plethora of reasons, Punjabi Literature has been in the doldrums. The primary cause is the almost unique embarrassment of the middle classes who in any society traditionally support their language, to reject it in favour of English. Thus each decade there are less and less Punjabis who can read and write it or want to read and write in it. This situation has been exacerbated by Partition splitting Punjab down the middle and making it two countries with religious bigotry and two separate scripts. If this was not bad enough, there has been the pushing of three alien languages on the population. The three languages I refer to being English, Hindi and Urdu. The latter two are in reality different words for Hindustani, the one and same language. English is of course an economic powerhouse. All of this has reduced the appeal of the Punjabi language, which has successfully been sold to the Punjabis themselves as the language of the yokel.

Whilst currently there is boom in the production of regional language books, from which Punjabi has benefited, the majority of these books are truly under par in regard to the standard of writing, especially when measured by international norms. Most remain parochial, with themes limited to village life , feudal disputed and other such matters. The writers themselves have only been exposed to their village environment or may have experienced immigration, in which case the books remain forever lamenting a loss of an imagined Punjab, and historically are despondent to their children integrating in their chosen society. There is no appeal to the intellectual or urban class . There has to my understanding been no local movement in punjabi literature for decades. The cycle just churns out these same books or books paid for by ( against their will) by rich people who are then deemed “published”.

Five years ago a University in Canada and a business man , Barj Dhahan, decided to improve matters by setting a challenge in the form of a prize for fiction only. This is the Dhahan Prize. It has at least shifted up quality work to our attention. The last three books to win the prize ( For there is a main prize and two runners up) includes Kaun, a novella , presented as a novelette as it has yet to be published in book form, a story written in the Shahmukhi script of West Punjab. This is a significant book. Why?

Well, in Britain there has been the birth of a type of Punjabi Literary movement, dubbed Vachitarvaad, which I have participated in developing by doing my utmost to push boundaries and experiment with language, syntax and subject matter. The latter includes Science Fiction, Phantasy and magical realism. Very few others have tried this, until recently; interestingly both winners of Dhahan Prize, one from India and one Pakistan. The former Pargat Satauj wrote Ik Pind Dee Khabar, using a ghost as a narrator. The second, Mudassar has taken this further in Kaun. All three books can be classified as Vachitarvaad or Transrealist.

Kaun is full of magical realism and cinematic imagery which modern CGI can confer to the Silver screen. The book is primarily about Sarmad, who wants to be an actor. Whilst working in a studio, Sarmad asks a Film Director, Joseph, to give him an opportunity to act. The latter does so by asking him to work in a rehearsal room dominated by three mirrors on three of the walls, and a particularly large one on the end wall. There is a wardrobe in the room he can use to dress up as any one of many characters from the bundles of available film scripts. I counted eight characters in total he dressed up as. But it is not just the dressing up. He reads the scripts related to them, absorbs them, and then we get to know those stories when he transforms literally into them in front of the mirror, which not only shows him his reflection, dressed as the character but confers the life of that character and like a cinema screen shows the scene in which the character lives, sarcastically taunting Samad about being up to playing the part. The use of the mirror as a speaking character by means of a surrealist world in which he enters reminds me of the portals from C.S.Lewis’s Narnia books, except the portal talks back. Also it is very much like the British television show, Mr Benn. So through this approach we visit characters from various stages of Punjab’s history and social backgrounds. Significantly this ignores the modern states of Pakistan and India to an extent to remind us of a history much deeper, before religion divided people. Specifically this is dealt with in Channi Palivaan’s story, an old wrestler content not to participate in the rat race and very aware of the Punjab where Muslim, Hindu and Sikh lived together as Punjabis.

Other poignant characters include Shaboo the dancer, dressed as an ape, mixing with a transgender dance troupe. Ditta Saini the labourer representing his trade throughout the ages. There is also Sham Gopal Verma, Mauji Khan the musician who gets to walk with a Fakir whose philosophy inspires a modern Punjabi religion now made world famous with the men supporting flowing beards and wearing turbans. To make it more blunt will ruin the plot. We then see the horrific experience of Bhashkoo, the Ghummar, vividly showing the Indian Subcontinent’s backward attitude since feudal times towards the many lower castes of India. A backward culture which has become the modern Hindu religion. Yet its practices are from a world where the Gods of Olympus, Asgard and the like would be comfortable. The key act of horror something akin to what drove Mel Gibson’s interpretation of William Wallace to take up arms. A courage that the Indian population talks of but in practise is too disintegrated, uneducated or cowardly to do. If they did, then all the upper classes of both India and Pakistan in today’s climate may face the modern equivalent of the guillotine. This won’t happen because the culture and religious belief system has become more than an opiate, suppressing the masses. Then there is the Actor himself, or rather the Romeo. Finally Samad try’s dressing up and living in the skin of a woman that has to live in India / Pakistan. He soon learns how terrifying and distressful that actually is, even in this day and age. The true misogynistic nature of Punjabi, and in general South Asian society is laid bare. Sarmad has to deal with understanding what it means to be a woman in a country where raping women is not a real crime, unless the western media choose to tell the world about it. I can not say too much else without giving away the plot, other than that this alludes to the dark story of Somi, a woman in a man’s world.

So through all of these experiences the plot is simply about Sarmad deciding which part he is capable of playing. However the real story can be divided into two things. Firstly the true social history of the Punjab, most of which is unknown to the Punjabi population of modern Pakistan. That is why Bashir has chosen, I think to write this novella. Secondly this is really about the beauty of the Punjabi language. And does he use beautiful sentences and imagery? Yes. Only the other day I spoke to a young British Pakistani girl, who though proud of her Punjabi roots made it clear that in her mind Urdu was the high language. This falsehood has brainwashed too many Punjabis on both sides of the border, and I feel in the end Bashir’s book is all about addressing these very issues.

If there are any weaknesses in Bashir’s book, it is that he, like Mr Benn, all too briefly steps into their lives. All of them could have been explored in greater depth, which could have made it into a longer novel. That said, this makes it a perfect book for tenth graders to study at school , as it briefly explores all these lives and could bring the discussion into a classroom.

I think anyone who can read Punjabi should go out and get hold of this story and read it. It will open your eyes to these issues and also for those Punjabi readers who are used to the usual fare of village life, property stealing, feuds, immigration woes and remembering 1947, as if 1984 and Zia Ul Haq never happened, it will be new and refreshing. To those who are familiar with the Neil Gaimans, David Mitchells and Haruki Murakami, this will show even Punjabis can on occasion reach world standards.

Indeed this is why the book has won second prize from Dhahan in 2019. There is an English translation being worked on and a Gurmukhi transliteration for the Indian market is already out in Shabad magazine, soon to be followed up by a book version.

There will be a limited edition Gurmukhi version published through a Print On Demand provider, published by Khushjeevan Books London, in the near future for the western market. Of course there is the original version already available in Punjabi in Shahmukhi. Which ever version you read , this is truly aesthetically pleasing writing you will want to experience.

Buddhist Political Philosophy

buddha and flower

I first began studying Buddhism in 1999 while living in Canada. Having lived and grown up in the West, I saw how Buddhism was adopted and adapted by the West in terms of science, psychology and the art of living.

I have always been interested, however, in Buddhism as a philosophy and, in particular, as a  political philosophy. For me, this involved thinking about the world and political phenomena from a Buddhist philosophical and ethical perspective.

I will be speaking more about Buddhist political philosophy here in Uddari. For me, it is something that means a lot to me as a South Asian living in the diaspora. Buddhism not only originated and developed in South Asia but it has also become an increasingly influential philosophy in the Western culture in which I have grown up.

India’s Moment of Reckoning

TOPSHOT-INDIA-POLITICS-RIGHTS-UNREST

In 1938, a Nazi law forced German Jews to register their property and assets with the government. In 2001, the Taliban forced all religious minorities in Afghanistan to wear distinctive marks on their clothing to distinguish them from the country’s Muslim majority.

Now, in 2019, the BJP government of India has passed a law which, in effect, will decide whether Indian Muslims are citizens or not on the basis of their religion.

On the face of it, the Citizenship Amendment Act (the “Act”), states that (non-Muslim) illegal migrants who have fled religious persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are eligible to apply for Indian citizenship.

When read in conjunction with the National Register of Citizens (the “NRC”), however, the Act threatens to render almost two million Muslims in India (who migrated to Assam from Bangladesh) stateless.

By making religion a condition of citizenship, the Act and the NRC throw the very idea of India as a secular state into question. Will the law apply only to Muslim migrants and their descendants (even if born in India)? Will it be used against those poorer Indian Muslims who have lived in the country since time immemorial but who have no documents to prove their citizenship?

In 2018, Republicans in Georgia threatened to blacklist African-Americans from voting because they could not prove their identity. Will disenfranchisement hang over the heads of Indian Muslims if they cannot show the right kind of documents if any at all?

Historically, citizenship in India (like elsewhere) was acquired by the citizenship belonging to one’s parents (the jus sanguinis or ‘right of blood’ principle) or by naturalization if the person has been resident in India for more twelve years. Descent and residence on Indian territory were sufficient for the sake of claiming Indian citizenship, not religion.

In protest of the law, India has witnessed some of its largest demonstrations in decades with public figures like Ramachandra Guha and Shabana Azmi expressing solidarity with the protestors. The Supreme Court of India has issued notices to the Government of India on petitions challenging the constitutionality of the law.

I hope that these protests are an illustration of the Daoist principle that when things reach one extreme, they revert and start moving back in the opposite direction. Just like we saw with the “wake” movement in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter, the demonstrations in India have the potential to crystallize into a mass-movement that challenges Hindu Nationalism if they are given the right direction and organization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Classical Indian Literature: The Southern (Tamil) Tradition

tamil love poem

Like the classical Western tradition, the classical Indian tradition has two classical languages: Sanskrit and Tamil. Most histories of classical Indian civilization, however, focus on the Sanskrit literary tradition to Tamil’s neglect.

Both traditions, I argue, are integral to our understanding of classical Indian literature. The Tamil tradition is classical not only in the sense that it is ancient (dating its earliest poetry back to the 100 BCE to 200 CE), but in that it constitutes the foundation of an entire tradition that continues without a break to the present.

Early classical Tamil literature was written in a society that recalls Italy during the Renaissance. Southern India during the turn of the Christian era was a confederation of states (the Pandya, the Cheras and the Cholas) which were continually warring and trading with one another.

The Tamil states grew wealthy from sea trade routes that connected India to the West (including the Roman Empire which sought peppers, indigo, cotton and pearls from South India) and South East Asia. Classical Tamil poetry tells the stories of wealthy merchants, warehouses bulging with goods and ships from many different countries meeting at palm lined ports along the east coast.

Classical Tamil poetry is said to have been composed in academies or assembles called the Sangam during which time the principles of poetics, rhetoric and prosody were outlined in the Tolkapiyyam, the first grammar of the Tamil language.

Classical Tamil poetry can be classed broadly into poems on the interior landscape (love, emotions) and poems on the exterior landscape (war and heroic poetry).

Landscapes and emotions are carefully interwoven in classical Tamil poetry and each poem is assigned a tinai (‘place,’ ‘region,’ ‘site’) in which the five particular landscapes or regions of the Tamil country with their accompanying seasons, flowers, waters, inhabitants, wild life and time of day correspond to the emotions of the lovers in the poems:[1]

  1. Mountains: union (clandestine); kurunji flower; midnight; winter; waterfall;
  2. Forest: expectancy; jasmine; evening; late summer; rivers;
  3. Fields: irritation; marudam; before sunrise; late spring; ponds;
  4. Seashore: separation; water lily; sunset; early summer; sea;
  5. Desert: impatience; noon; summer; dry wells or stagnant water.

In classical Tamil poetry, nature and landscape symbolize the various moods and experiences of lovers. For instance, a love poem may follow the kurinici convention where the theme is the surreptitious meeting at night of an unmarried woman and her lover in the mountains.

tamil nadu mountain.jpg

The puram poems also have their thematic situations which deal with the warfare and exploits of kings as well as ethical instruction in the form of lyrics, panegyrics and hymns. The puram poems of classical Tamil poetry tell us about the kings, chieftains, battles, political and social life of ancient Tamil kingdoms.

The secular, sensual and naturalistic tone of the early Tamil poetry makes for a refreshing change to the religious and mythological tone of much of classical Sanskrit poetry. Here are some English translations of classical Tamil poetry by A.K. Ramanujan.

 

Sources:

Ancient Indian Literature: An Anthology (Volume Three), New Delhi : Sahitya Akademi, 2000.

Encyclopedia of Indian Literature (Volume 5), New Delhi : Sahitya Akademi, 1987-1992.

The Four Hundred Songs of War and Wisdom: An Anthology of Poems from Classical Tamil (New York : Columbia University Press, 1999), Translated by George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz.

Poems of Love and War from the Eight Anthologies, and the Ten Long Poems of Classical Tamil (selected and translated by A.K. Ramanujan).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sangam_landscape#Poetic_Attrib

Being Punjabi – Fauzia Rafique Collection at the Museum of Surrey

My stuff gets a wholesome exposure at the Museum of Surrey’s community curated exhibition titled ‘Being Punjabi: Unfolding the Surrey Story’ (October 2 – February 23). The above showcase includes the original poster released by Sanjh Publications in Lahore at the launch of Punjabi Shahmukhi edition of Skeena in 2007, a flyer that lists Lahore Press Club as the venue for Skeena’s first launch that was disallowed by the Club’s administration a day ahead of the event, the complete audio of Skeena in Punjabi recorded in my voice by Lahore Chitrkar in 2007 that has never been released, and a letter-size poster of Skeena’s 2011 English edition by Surrey Libraries.

Among the installations showcasing different items from sixteen local Punjabis, the above are some things i like and use. The item on the top left is a wall hanger i made for my son when he was younger. It uses very desi Punjabi feeta trimming from a worn out set of pillow covers my mother gave me, leftover green susi cloth from Sindh, a patch of black with red and white embroidery from an Indian skirt i bought from India Bazar in Toronto’s East end, and, it uses ceramic and glass beads from Lahore, Toronto and Vancouver.

A passage from Skeena, in English and Punjabi Gurmukhi.

‘The first Punjabis came to Canada in 1897. Today Surrey is home to over 100,000 Punjabis. This exhibit presents a selection of local Punjabi voices using written word, audio recordings, video, artifacts, art and images. Being Punjabi is the first exhibition in Canada to highlight Surrey’s Punjabi community, showcasing stories of both struggle and success. It is meant to begin a conversation.’ surrey.ca/culture-recreation

Fauzia Rafique
October 6, 2019
Photos by Hafsah Durrani

Uddari Weblog operates on the unceded Coast Salish territories of the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.
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Tomorrow in Surrey: Women Who Named the Unnamed: Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

pakistani women

What inspires me most about this program is the courage of the women it honours. Through their art, their activism, their poetry and their writing, they have dauntlessly challenged institutionalized systems of patriarchal, racial and religious authority, making the world a freer place for all of us regardless of who we are …

Tomorrow, Surrey Muse Arts Society (SMAS) presents “Women Who Named the Unnamed: Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes” (Sept 28, 6 – 9 PM, Centre Stage, Surrey City Hall). It’s a groundbreaking three-hour stage show which recognizes, for the first time in Greater Vancouver, the contributions of 15 distinguished Pakistani, Punjabi, South Asian, Muslim and women of colour from Pakistan, Surrey and Vancouver to the development of our communities through literature, art, scholarship and activism.

Our distinguished guests for the evening are Sunera Thobani, Harsha Walia, Surjeet Kalsey, Darshan Maan, Indigenous scholar/historian Deanne Reder, and, Katheren Szabo. We will also recognize a Surrey Woman of Courage.

You can find out more about our program here:

https://pakistanswomenheroes.wordpress.com/2019/07/15/women-who-named-the-unnamed-pakistani-local-women-heroes-saturday-28-sept-2019-centre-stage-surrey-city-hall/

We look forward to seeing you tomorrow!

 

 

Indian Mythology

Kurukshetra

In a country like India, where every fact is infinitely malleable and where every interpretation is politicized, the need to distinguish between history and mythology is more important than ever.

Myths were created by human beings to explain previously inexplicable phenomena such as how the universe was created and where thunder and lightning came from. Unlike history, myths are not meant to be verified.

Myths are thus associated with the religious and cultural beliefs of a people. They do not inquire into the past the way history inquires.

They are valuable nonetheless for helping to create a sense of a common origin among people and in explaining the basis of their religious and cultural values and institutions.

Mythology is the means by which most Indians (Hindus) have sought to understand the past. The mythology of the Vedas, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Puranas, are thus as, if not more, important to the Indian than the legend of King Arthur is to the English or the Kojiki is to the Japanese.

Here are some key myths from Hindu mythology in context:

  • The origins of humanity: the first man is Manu from which the Sanskrit word for man (‘manava’) is derived. Manu saves the world’s animals from the Great Flood (Adam and Noah in one!) and is the father of the first kings and queens in Indian mythology.
  • Dynasties, Kings and Sages: ancient Indian dynasties typically claim descent through lines traced back to one of Manu’s two children (Ishvaku and Ila). The hero of the Ramayana, Rama, traces his ancestry to the line associated with Ishvaku, [1] while the Pandvas and the Kauravas of the Mahabharata trace their descent from the line associated with Ila.[2]

The Puranas contain genealogical lists of kings and sages (e.g. Kashyapa, Atri, Vishvamitra, et al) in a manner reminiscent of the list of patriarchs, prophets and progenitors in the Old Testament (e.g. from Abraham to Ham, Shem, Canaan and Rachab).

  • Bharata: The word for “India” in Sanskrit, “Bharata,” derives from the eponymous mythical emperor. Bharata is believed to have united much of what we now call India stretching from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin.

The “Bharata” were also an ancient clan mentioned in the Vedas which emerged victorious in battle over other Indo-Aryan tribes and clans.[3]

  • The Class (Caste) System: in the Vedas, the cosmic man (Puruṣa), is said to have been divided into four parts. From his head came the Brahmin class (priests and teachers), from his arms and torso came the Ksatriya (warrior), from his legs came the Vaisya (farmers and merchants) and from his feet came the Sudra (servants).

These are just some of the myths which Indians and Hindus look to in understanding themselves and the origins of India.

 

Notes

[1] The Sūryavaṁśa (solar dynasty).

[2] The Candravaṃśa (lunar dynasty).

[3] The Mahabharata also takes its title from this clan.

 

 

The Aryans of India

 

aryan migration

During my mid-twenties, one of my aunts told me that we (ethnic Punjabis) were descended from the Aryans of ancient India.

I first learned about these Aryans while studying Indian history during my undergraduate degree. I learned that that the Aryans had originally migrated into India from the north-west and that they first settled in the Punjab around 1500 BCE. I also learned that their religious beliefs and lifestyle were recorded around 1200 BCE in a literature known as the Vedas.

Like me, most peoples of the subcontinent (particularly northern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) claim to be descended from the (Indo) Aryans. The term Indo-Aryan refers not only to an ethnic group (which is religiously, culturally and regionally diverse), but also to a family of languages spoken by this group, including Punjabi, Hindi/Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati.

Of course, not everyone believes that the Aryans migrated to the subcontinent from the outside. Few are more outspoken in their opposition than the Hindu Nationalist who believes that the Aryans were indigenous to India.

This is, of course, really just a political claim. To claim that the ancestral religion of Hinduism (in the Vedas) is native to India is to claim that it “belongs” to India in opposition to those Indians belonging to “foreign” religions (i.e. Muslims and Christians).

Fantasizing about purity of race and origin, however, turn deadly. We can think of Hitler’s ideas about the Aryan Race as German, the Ku Klux Klan theory of the Teutonic Race or the Japanese idea of the Yamato Race during World War II.

Over the past nearly thirty years, Hindu Nationalism has stirred up pogroms, vandalism and attacks on India’s minority groups (especially Muslims, Christians and Dalits or lower-castes). Its pogroms, including the Gujarat “riots” of 2002 against Muslims has left thousands dead and their homes and places of worship vandalized or destroyed.

Hindu Nationalism basically seeks to rationalize and politicize an emotional need: the need to belong and to know oneself. Mythology is a human institution that fulfils that need by giving us a sense of where we come from. Mythologies like those in the Vedas are Puranas, like those in the Bible or King Arthur are valuable in giving us a sense of who our ancestors might have been without needing to be factually verifiable.

To that extent, I have read the Puranas and the Mahabharata.  I am fascinated, as someone of Indian origin, about where I come from and how my ancestors thought of themselves as a people and about my origins. But my fascination is much the same as someone who reads old genealogies of the Bible or of a Han Chinese taking pride in his descent from the Yellow Emperor.

So, I will call myself Indo-Aryan, Punjabi, Sikh, British, Canadian and Buddhist. I can have a sense of where I come from in terms of mythology without proclaiming it as history for political purposes or otherwise. Living on the land of the Coast Salish People in British Columbia, I realize that they too were like the ancient Aryans in migrating across territories rather than being bound by them.

Drums of Change: A Review of Fauzia Rafique’s The Adventures of SahebaN

‘Want a book that’ll change you? Let me be the first to recommend @RafiqueFauzia ‘s “The Adventures of SahebaN” an incredible tale that had me laughing until I wept. Read my review at the link below and you’ll see what I mean.’ Jessica Barrett

An amazing out-of-the-blue review by Jessica Barrett of my novel ‘The Adventures of SahebaN’ posted to twitter this morning. Thank you @JessicaBarratt
“SahebaN is the feminist warrior I hadn’t realized I was missing.”
“Rafique has succeeded in creating a feminist commentary that no audience is safe from.”

WordsofHers

Being a Canadian woman writer of European descent, I came into Fauzia Rafique’s The Adventures of SahebaN without background knowledge of the role (Mirza) Sahiba plays in much of traditional Punjabi culture. The beauty of Rafique’s text however, is how my lack does not impact my understanding of how the narrative turns a cultural model for perfection (Sahiba) on her head to showcase the flaws of that very perfection, and (in particular) to show that a woman can be honourable, and pure, and loyal, without bowing to the restrictive ideas and expectations that society and religion place upon her.

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The Gay Faqir

shahhussain.jpg
Shah Hussain was a gay Punjabi poet of the 16th century. His love for a young man, Madho Lal, is legendary. Shah Hussain and Madho Lal are buried side by side at Shah Hussain’s shrine in Lahore. They are known to eternity as “Madho Lal Hussain.”

When I read Shah Hussain for the first time, I felt like I was looking back at myself five hundred years ago. Reading his work, as a gay Punjabi-Canadian man, gave me a sense of pride and belonging to a culture I’d long grown alienated from. I was then recently put off to see Naveed Alam trying to deny Shah Hussain’s sexuality in Alam’s introduction to his translation of Shah Hussain’s verse.

According to Alam, Shah Hussain couldn’t have been gay, because:

  1. Shah Hussain’s poems make no overt references to homosexuality;
  2. Shah Hussain’s love for Madho Lal was platonic;
  3. Shah Hussain wrote in the feminine voice in keeping with Sufi tradition (where God’s devotee refers to himself in feminine terms).

Alam’s first point makes no sense. He claims that a poet like Shah Hussain cannot be gay unless he overtly expresses his homosexuality in his poetry. By this logic, a poet cannot be heterosexual either unless his heterosexuality is overtly expressed in his poetry.

In any case, Shah Hussain probably didn’t express his sexuality overtly in his poetry for good reasons.

According to the platonic love theory, Shah Hussain and Madho Lal were master and disciple respectively and their love should be seen in that context.

The problem is that there is no proof that Madho Lal (a Hindu Brahmin) was even a follower of Shah Hussain or that he was part of a Sufi order. In fact, had Madho Lal been a disciple, then it would’ve been he who was expected to write poems in praise of his master, not the other way around.

Shah Hussain wrote otherwise:

My lover grabbed my arm
Why would I ask him to let go?
Dark night drizzling, painful
The approaching hour of departure
You’ll know what love’s all about
Once it seeps into your bones…
(trans. N. Alam)

Hagiographic accounts also tell us about Shah Hussain’s love for Madho Lal:

When he looked at Madho, he signed painfully and said: ‘Friends, take heed. This boy has set my heart out of control. With one look he has made my heart restless. With one look he has taken away my heart. Taken the life out of my heart, and the soul out of my body. What should I do, friends? What should I do to make him fall in love? Friends, I’ve become a prisoner of his love. I shall not find peace till I see him” (Haqiqat al-Fuqra (‘Truth of the Saints’), c. 1660).

In another account, one of Shah Hussain’s followers spies on Madho Lal Hussain:

You [Hussein] are taking a glass of wine from Madho and kissing Madho on the forehead and the Madho is also kissing Hussein’s forehead … Madho again gives a full glass to Shah Hussein, stands and greets him respectfully. Hussein also gets up and greets Madho respectfully. The two friends remained busy in this matter, and kept kissing each other like milk and sugar … and then the two friends become one.

As for the feminine voice, Shah Hussain uses it even when not speaking to God. Shah Hussain refers to himself in feminine terms when sitting at the spinning wheel, taking part in women’s folk dances and sharing secrets with his girlfriends. This feminine voice is Shah Hussain’s soul speaking as a gay man.

In Shah Hussain, Punjabi and Pakistani gay men can hear their own voice, songs and verses singing back to them. The light and passion in his poems is smothered by people foisting their own culturally acceptable interpretations onto it. Shah Hussain’s love for Madho Lal comes alive when we embrace it fully for what it is.

Russia is a threat … or is it?

Putin Threat

Why does the United States perceive Russia as a threat?

Powerful countries like the United States have always viewed other powers (or rising powers) as threats. Athens felt threatened by the rise of Sparta. The United Kingdom and France historically viewed one another as threats, and both countries viewed a rising Germany as a threat on the road to World War I.

The threat of the “other” nation is also a matter of perception. Like individuals, nations find it difficult to perceive reality objectively. Their perceptions are instead processed through and conditioned by their own historical, nationalist and cultural beliefs and biases. The resulting distorted perception is taken as reality.

The United States’ perception of Russia is obscured by the shadow of the Cold War. The Soviet Union not only challenged the United States politically and militarily but was seen by the U.S. as ideologically threatening and unassimilable. Russia today is seen as openly defiant and dangerous. Whether it’s facing off against Washington over Syria, interfering in the U.S. election or refusing to democratize, Russia is large, powerful and plays by its own rules.

Is Russia a threat to the United States? This is largely a question of perception. Perhaps it’s only natural for the United States to view powerful countries like Russia (or rising powers like China) as threats to its own power. In Russia’s case, however, America’s perceptions are further clouded by memories, beliefs and assumptions arising from the Cold War. The result is a distorted view of Russia, the so-called threat.

– Thanks to Marco, a dear friend; and Bilal, a beloved nephew