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.

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Meet a Peoples’ Poet Laureate – Baba Najmi in Surrey July 7

Baba Najmi, a Pakistani Punjabi poet who has gained the stature of a Peoples’ Poet Laureate in the Punjab, is visiting the Diaspora this July.

Baba Bashir Husain Najmi was born in Lahore in 1948. He has published three poetry books: ‘Akhran Wich Samundar’ Ocean in Words (1986), ‘Sochan Wich Jahan’ World in Thoughts (1995) and more recently, ‘Mera Naan Insaan’ My Name Human. He is a labourer, a trade unionist and a poet who distinguishes himself from others by challenging regressive laws, rules, cultural values and political entities. He is revered by many Punjabis in India, Pakistan and the diaspora. He has won many award. A statue of him has been installed in Jalandhar to recognize his poetic peace efforts between India and Pakistan. Visit Baba Najmi’s Facebook page: facebook.com/PoetBabaNajmi. Below are the details of his July 7th appearance in Surrey

Beyond the boundaries; An event with Great poet Baba Najmi
When: SATURDAY. JULY 7, from 1.30 – 4.30 pm
Where: Crossroads United Church 7655 – 120 St, Delta, BC
Tickets: Only $10.00

Organized by
The Committee of Progressive Pakistani Canadians (CPPC), Vancouver Chapter.

Program presented in Association with
The Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature, Centre for India and South Asia Research UBC and Tarksheel (Rational) Society of Canada.

Supported By
Indo Canadian Workers Association (Brampton & Vancouver), Punjabi TV Show, ‘Mehak Punjab Di’, Progressive Arts Club, Surrey.

Facebook event page
facebook.com/events/

For more information and RSVP, contact:
Saif Khalid at 604-889-0233
Avtar Gill at 604-728-7011

Additional Events: Updated July 4, 2018

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No Ordinary Sufi

shah hussain

“If you want your life, die before your death” (Shah Hussain).

This is my summary of Fauzia Rafique’s presentation on the life and poetry of Shah Hussain. The presentation was part of the Dead Poets Reading Series which took place at the Vancouver Public Library (Central) on May 6, 2018.

Shah Hussain (1538-1599) was a Punjabi poet from Lahore. He wrote 163 poems in Punjabi and introduced the kafi genre into the language.[1] His collected works remain among the top selling books of all time in Punjabi.

When he was thirty-six years old, Shah Hussain had a dispute with his religious teacher over the interpretation of the following verse:

“duniya khel tamasha hai” (‘the world’s a play and spectacle’).”

For the teacher, the verse meant the renunciation of the fleeting material world. For Shah Hussain, it meant that life is to be enjoyed. With that, he laughed, donned himself in a red cotton robe and became a dancing mendicant in the streets of Lahore.

Shah Hussain was a “malamti” Sufi, one who took pride in the “malamat” or “shaming” he was subjected to. He stood against the the political and religious establishment in support the common people. He identified himself with the julaha (weaver), the chuhra (sweeper) and the faqir. He associated with rebels like Dulla Bhatti who stirred peasant rebellions against the Emperor Akbar. His poetry reflected the folk rhythms and idiom of everyday Punjabi.

Shah Hussain was a rebel in another way. Unlike the male poets of his day who used the feminine voice (rekhti) to express the “feminine” emotions of grief and anguish, Shah Hussain wrote in the feminine voice to acknowledge and express his own self as a gay man.

If Shah Hussain’s love was transcendent, it was in the earthly sense of overcoming distinctions of class, gender, creed and sexual orientation. He belonged to no sect or lineage other than humanity’s.

Kafi 131

Swaying in ecstasy play on in the inner yard, all is near to those meditating
Rivers flow in this yard, thousands of millions of boats
Some are seen drowning, others have reached the shore
This yard has nine doors, the tenth is locked shut
No one needs to know, from where my lover comes and goes
This yard has a pretty curve, a hollow in the curve
I spread my bed in the hollow to love my lover at night!
A wild elephant in this yard, is struggling with the chain
Says Hussain the Beggar of His Beloved, (the elephant) is teasing the awake

(Trans. Fauzia Rafique)

Jhume jhum khaid lai munjh vehRay, japdeyaN nooN hur naiRay
Vehray de vich nadiyaN vagan, baiRay lakh hazar
kaiti iss vich Dubdi vekhi, kaiti langhi paar
iss vehRay de nauN darvazay, dusswaiN qulf chuRhai
tiss darvazay de mehram nahiN, jit shauh aaway jai
vehRay de vich aala soohay, aalay de vich taaqi
taaqi de vich sej vichaawaN, apnay pia sung raati
iss vehRay vich makna haathi, sangal naal khahaiRay
kahe Hussain Faqir SaeeN da, jagdeyaN kooN chehRay

 

 

[1] A kafi is a lyric poem of four to ten lines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Danish Punjabi Sufi Singer & Music Therapist Pervaiz Akhtar in Town – March 9


Singer, Composer, Music Therapist Pervaiz Akhtar sings Punjabi Sufi poetry and Urdu Ghazals. He has issued five albums featuring poetry of Khwaja Ghulam Farid, Madhulal Husain and Bulleh Shah, among others; and, his repertoire as a composer includes works of Rumi, Hafiz, Saadi and Amir Khusrow in Farsi. His Jazz fusion concerts have been held in Pakistan, Europe and the USA. For more information:

Visit Pervaiz’s blog
pervaizakhtarblog.wordpress.com
Contact Pervaiz
pervaiza@gmail.com

Pervaiz is visiting from Copenhagen and he will stay in Vancouver till the middle of March. This presents us with a rare opportunity to listen to him in a public event. Details are below.

‘Kahe Fakeer’ by Pervaiz Akhtar
7pm, Friday, March 9, 2018
Punjab Banquet Hall
8166 128 St #215, Surrey
(604) 598-7611

$30 per person (dinner included), $50 for two.
To book your ticket, call: 604-780-0164

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Thinkfest Promotes ‘gutter literature’ in Punjabi

Thinkfest 2018 chose to promote a sub-standard work on the life of Punjabi author, radio artist and arts activist Nasreen Anjum Bhatti. There was an intense demonstration of solidarity with the late author by people who were there to protest against this choice.

Nasreen Anjum Bhatti reads from her first collection of poetry ‘Neel Karayaan Neelkan’.

The aware Punjabi writers and artists have described the story as ‘yellow journalism’, ‘tabloid literature’, and, of course, ‘gutter literature’.

The text proceeds to carry out ‘character assassination of progressive Punjabi writers such as Nasreen Anjum Bhatti, Shaista Habib, Zubair Rana and Fauzia Rafique’, and it does so in a misogynistic, homophobic and degrading manner. The story is penned by Nain Sukh aka Khalid Mahmood in his book called ‘ayi buray de wa’. The so-called story is a collection of inaccuracies where there are as much as FIVE factual mistakes in FOUR lines of text- about one of the writers attacked who, incidentally, is still alive to point them out.

Uddari fully supports Naeem Sadhu, Lahore’s Feminist Collective, and other individuals and organizations that are getting together to stop this attempt to legitimize yellow journalism as literature, and to resist this onslaught of conservative patriarchal mindset that demeans and degrades women, lesbians, gay men and religious minorities.

Down with the erstwhile ‘friends’ who are promoting and supporting this abusive and filthy text, and who are insisting that it should be accepted as Punjabi literature.

Fauzia Rafique
https://gandholi.wordpress.com/
frafique@gmail.com

Also view
‘Nasreen Anjum Bhatti Ke Leeye – For Nasreen Anjum Bhatti’ a poem by Amna Buttar
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Welcome UK Punjabi Poet Mazhar Tirmazi to BC

Poet Mazhar Tirmazi is visiting Canada to stage his acclaimed Punjabi play on 1947 partition of India at the University of Fraser Valley (UFV). The event is scheduled for this Sunday, October 8 from 2-3:30pm, as part of the UFV College of Arts Postcolonial Theatre Festival.

The play is titled ‘Umraan Langhiya Pabhan Bhar / A Lifetime on Tiptoes’. For details, view the links below:
UFV-MAzharTimazi-8 Oct
facebook.com/events/164035090817738

Mazhar Tirmazi will also present his poems at a reading on October 5th, 3-6pm, with local poets.

For information, contact:
Prabhjot Parmar
Associate Professor, Department of English
University of the Fraser Valley
33844 King Road
Abbotsford BC V2S 7M8
Tel: 604-504-7441 x 4472
Email: Prabhjot.Parmar@ufv.ca

For more information about Mazhar Tirmazi, visit his blog:
https://mazhartirmazi.wordpress.com/
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‘My SUFI GHUTI’ by Sana Janjua

I clear my goddamn throat
with organic, saffron-shaded, Sufi Ghuti-

its superfood ingredients hand picked
from indigenous, stolen territories
by migrant workers and undocumented laborers,
patiently turning their ethanol-dusky sweat
into plastic-protected fruits I peel labels off from
– a brew of California apples, BC berries
reddened, like desire, with local beets-
which I lick as a concoction to give my
goddamn chest a birth-inducing thrust

to say “ALLAH!”,

as I gurgle out the news of a
“bomb nearly as nuclear as a bomb can be”
-thrown acid-facedly on Afghani soil-
into a pale sink turning blight and spongy
like my own mindless mind.

Some native informant,
I contemplate,
capture the scene of this acid faced-ness

-Phallic Pentagon: the imperial center
of rape, and rupture-

and make an award winning documentary,
so I could applaud
with all my limbs in limbo,
like a freak unleashed.

Every night, as a narcotic balm,
I turn to my Sufi Ghuti
– licking it-
to assuage my guilt of seeing too much suffering
with a tradition
set aside for balancing the worse with the good
-a tradition that a few good men
(residing in an hypoxic,
upper class intellectual wardrobe)
curated to get past the thorny delirium

that organizing and agitating,
and losing one’s mind happens to be-

because the oppressor ambushes from
“both sides now”, as Joni Mitchell sings.

Adrift on a low sail and high moon,
I soften the edge of the Ideological
with the narcotic mirth of my Sufi Ghuti,
and whirl into misty obscurantism

-the throttled misery of a child in echolalia-

as I ponder if it’s Marx or Bakhsh,
that makes me more air-lifted?

To my lover,
I write: I will fight for the visa
regardless of the contradictions-
so dialectical it sounds that I,
feeling enough ghuti-ized,
hum my forlornness
into the lungs of the daylight.

But, the night descends, you know,
and, I get lonely.
It feels like the end of days, as Syrians tell us,
and frankly speaking,
the Promised Messiah isn’t coming to town this year either.

(April 14, 2017)

Sana Janjua is a poet, performer and playwright who is a Founding Member and the President of Surrey Muse. She works as a Registered Psychiatric Nurse, and enjoys working in the field of mental health.
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