Category Archives: Punjabi

The Gay Faqir

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Shah Hussain was a gay Punjabi poet of the 16th century. He loved a young man, Madho Lal. The two are buried next to one another at Shah Hussain’s shrine in Lahore. They are known to eternity as “Madho Lal Hussain.”

As a gay Punjabi-Canadian man, reading Shah Hussain‘s poetry gave me a sense of pride and belonging to a culture I’d long grown alienated from. I was then (not so) surprised 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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Filed under Uncategorized, Sexuality, Poetry, Pakistan, Punjabi

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The 70th Anniversary of the Partition of India

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Seventy years on, there’s still hope.

On October 6, Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmad spoke on the 70th anniversary of the Partition.[1]

Ahmad’s argued that the truth about the Partition must be known before there can be any meaningful reconciliation between India and Pakistan. Only if Indians and Pakistanis confront and accept what happened in 1947, can there ever be light.

For instance, many Sikhs revere the Maharaja of Patiala, Yadavindra Singh (1914-1974) as the icon of a bygone age. Some have suggested that he even gave sanctuary to Muslims during the violence of the Partition.[2]

 

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Ahmad’s research in the The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed (which includes eye-witness accounts from Patiala including from members of the Sikh community), shows a Maharaja who planned to cleanse his kingdom of his Muslim subjects.[3]

This was a shock even for some of my better educated friends in Patiala to learn. Maybe it’s time to pierce the veil of lies and illusions both India and Pakistan have woven these past seven decades. The Partition has scarred the subcontinent. Now it’s time to heal. Seek the truth. Study extensively, inquire carefully, sift clearly, and practice earnestly.[4]

 

Notes

[1] The lecture was part of a conference presented by the South Asian Film Education Society and the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy presented at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University between October 5th to the 8th.

Dr. Ahmad is a now retired professor who taught Political Science at the University of Stockholm in Sweden. He was also a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

[2] This last point is suggested by filmmaker Sara Singh in The Sky Below.

[3] Ahmad’s research has also been cited and excerpted in magazines and editorials like in the Hindustan Times, Frontline and Caravan.

[4] The words of the Chinese philosopher, Zhu Xi (1130-1200)

 

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Filed under India, Muslims, Pakistan, Partition, Punjabi, Sikhs, Uncategorized, Violence

Punjabi Poetry: Ustad Daman

daman

Written by Randeep Purewall

Ustad Daman (né Chiragh Din) was born in Lahore in 1911. As a boy, he worked at his father’s tailoring shop while also attending school. Daman learned classical Punjabi poetry at home and was educated in Urdu. He also learned Persian and English including Shakespeare, Keats and Hardy.

Having participated in school poetry recitals, Daman began attending musha’ara in the parks, fairs and bazaars of Lahore as a teenager during the 1920s. The movement for India’s independence had already begun. In 1929, the Indian National Congress made its Declaration of Independence from Lahore. The city was also home to Marxist groups like the Kirti Kisan and anti-colonial and revolutionary groups like the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.

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Daman recited his own revolutionary and anti-colonial poetry at the musha’ara. While attending one such gathering, Jawaharlal Nehru referred to Daman as the “Poet of Freedom.”

‘In China the Chinese are grand,
In Russia they do as they have planned.
In Japan its people rule over its strand.
The British rule the land of England,
The French hold the land of France,
In Tehran the Persians make their stand.
The Afghans hold on to their highland,
Turkmenistan’s freedom bears the Turkmen’s brand,
How very strange is indeed this fact,
That freedom in India is a contraband’
(Trans. F. Sharma).

Daman remained in Lahore upon the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The riots of the Partition had consumed his shop and library and he lost his wife and son to illness. His first act of political defiance came in 1958 when he made fun of Pakistan’s first military coup under Ayub Khan. Daman’s arrest however did little to temper his criticism of Pakistan’s military dictatorships and the corruption of its civilian governments in his poetry.

Daman wrote in Punjabi and the form, rhythm and metaphor of his poetry bears the influence of the classical and folk Punjabi tradition. If he could be sober and thoughtful in writing on the Partition, he could also adopt a more comic and satirical note in criticizing General Zia. He maintained a friendship with poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, but lived unassumingly in an old apartment in the precinct of the Badshahi Mosque.

Daman died in 1984. His poetry was published after his death by his friends and followers. The room he lived in near the Badshahi Mosque has since become an academy in his name.

Selected Poems (Trans. F. Sharma)

We may not say it but know it well
You lost your way. We too.
Partition has destroyed us friends.
You too, and us.
The wakeful have quite plundered us.
You slept the while, and we.
Into the jaws of death alive
You were flung. We too.
Life still may stir in us again:
You are stunned yet, and we.
The redness of the eyes betrays
You too have wept, and we.

What a house, this Pakistan!
Above live saints, down thieves have their run
A new order has come into force
Up above twenty families, below the hundred million.
Other people conquered mountains,
We live under the divisions heavy ton.
Other people may have conquered the moon.
But in a yawning precipice a place we’ve won.
I ran and ran and was aching all over,
I looked back and saw the donkey resting under the banyan.


Two gods hold my country in their sway
Martial law and La Illaha have here their heyday.
That one rules there over in the heavens
Down here this one’s writ runs.
His name is Allah Esquire.
This one is called Zia, the light of truth in full array.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Ecstacy does my land surround
All around the Army is to be found.
Hundreds of thousands were surrendered as POWs.
Half of the land was bartered away in the fray.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

On TV you give recitations from Quran
With fables and traditions you go on and on.
Here we are engulfed in a brouhaha
While up there you are still there, my Allah
A pretender has staked his claim today
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Thankful are some if they can chop wood
The others, on them, their orders bestow.
Why have the people lost their mind?
For every one the Almighty has a loving glow.
People are the real masters of this world
Orders do not from the handle of a sword flow.
The ones, Daman, who have forsaken God,
Those Nimruds are laid low at the very first blow.

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Filed under India, Literature, Pakistan, Poetry, Punjabi, Randeep Singh, Uncategorized

Confucius in Punjabi

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Translated and compiled by Randeep Singh

These are translations of Yasir Javid’s Urdu translations into Punjabi, with Hindi and Urdu alternatives added where necessary.

Thank you to Sadhu Binning and Ajay Bhardwaj for their help.

Kee eh khushi dee gall nahin ki tu jo vee sikhya os da amal kitta jaave?

Kee eh vee khushi dee gall nahin ki dooroN toN tain nooN dost miln aave?

Je lok main noon na pahnchaan te main noon nahin takleef hundi
kee main ek vadhiya insaan nahin haan?

學而時習之、不亦說乎。有朋自遠方來、不亦樂乎。人不知而不慍、不亦君子乎。

Isn’t it a joy to apply what one has learnt?
Isn’t it also a joy to have friends come from afar?
If people don’t  recognize me, and this bothers me not, am I not a sage?

(1:1)

Main har roz tin nuktiaN bare khud nu parakdha haaN
Kee main dujiyaan dee madad le khud nu smarpit/waqf kita hai?
Kee main apne dostaan de naal gallaan de vich bharosa da qaabil si?
Kee mere amal mere qaul de mutaabiq nahin san?

 

吾日三省吾身、爲人謀而不忠乎。與朋友交而不信乎。傳不習乎。

Everyday, I examine myself on three points
Have I been devoted in helping others?
Have I been worthy of trust in what I say to my friends?
Have I not acted according to my word?

(1:4)

Oh gall karan to pehla amal karda te baad de vich amaal te mutaabiq gal karda
子貢問君子。子曰。先行其言、而后從之。
The noble person acts before speaking and then speaks according to his action

(2:13)

Sikhna sochna to beghair bekaar hain te sochna sikhna to beghair khatarnaak hai
攻乎異端、斯害也己。
Learning without thinking is useless. Thinking without learning is dangerous.

(2:15)

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Filed under China, Chinese, Punjabi, Randeep Singh, Translation, Uncategorized

Don’t Cry For Punjabi

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Written by Randeep Singh

We hear about the “loss” of Punjabi, the “tragedy” of how Punjabi is not taught in schools in West Punjab, of how Punjabi youth speak only Urdu, Hindi or English in Lahore or Chandigarh. “Imagine the sound of Punjabi and the rich cultural heritage it boasts,” writes Affan Chaudhary, “lost forever.”[1]

If there’s a tragedy, it’s the idea that the demise of Punjabi has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more one believes it, the less likely one will do anything to reverse it and the less likely that anything will change in any positive respect, least of all the feelings of doom and gloom.

I am not denying Punjabi faces challenges, but the circumstances suggest a more balanced view on the question.

First, Punjabi is neither an “endangered” nor a “vulnerable” language.[2] While it may not enjoy national or official status like Hindi, Urdu or French, neither is Punjabi an endangered or vulnerable language like Basque, Corsican or Gaelic all with less than one million speakers.

Punjabi is in fact one of the world’s most spoken languages with its number of speakers ranging from 80 to 110 million.[3] The total number of Punjabi speakers moreover has been increasing, not decreasing, since 1951.[4]

Second, rather than compare Punjabi to Urdu and Hindi, it would make more sense to compare Punjabi to languages like Gujarati, Pashto and Telugu with which its shares a similar legal and official status. What does the experience of these languages have in common with Punjabi? What initiatives have such languages taken in promoting awareness and education in one’s mother tongue in ways which can help Punjabi?

Third, few languages have proved so culturally vibrant in India, Pakistan and in the diaspora as Punjabi. Punjabi has historically dominated the film and music industry in Pakistan thanks to icons like Noor Jehan. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan raised the profile of Punjabi poetry through his musical performances. And Punjabi MC’s bhangra/dance track “Mundiyan To Bachke Rahin” topped charts in the UK, Italy and Germany and crossed over into hip-hop collaborations with Jay-Z and Timbaland.

We could add the growing popularity of Punjabi through Sufi Rock, Coke Studio and Bollywood. The point is that any discussion on Punjabi needs to count its achievements and opportunities along with its setbacks.

So don’t cry for Punjabi just yet.

[1] Affan Chaudhary, “I Speak Punjabi but My Kids Might Not,” in Express Tribune (March 16, 2012): International Tribune: :://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/10622/i-speak-punjabi-but-my-kids-might-not/

[2] UNESCO defines an endangered language as one which children no longer the language as a mother tongue in the home; and a vulnerable language as one which is spoken by most children but whose use is restricted to certain domains like the home.

[3] Ethnologue lists Western Punjabi (Lahnda) and its various dialects as the 11th most spoken language with 82.6 million speakers with an additional 28 million speakers of Eastern Punjabi. The Swedish language million speakers, the Swedish language encyclopedia, Nationalencyklopedin (2007) lists Punjabi as the 10th most spoken language in the world with 102 million speakers.

[4] http://www.statpak.gov.pk/depts/pco/index.html

 

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Filed under Culture, Diaspora, India, Language, Pakistan, Punjabi

Book Review – Punjab: A History From Aurangzeb to Mountbatten

title-rajmohan-gandhi

Written by Randeep Singh

Punjab: A History From Aurangzeb to Mountbatten (Rajmohan Gandhi, Aleph Book Company, New Delhi: 2013).

Gandhi’s Punjab surveys the history of the region from the decline of the great Mughals to the invasions of Afghan rulers and Nadir Shah to the reign of Ranjit Singh and the British Raj to the creation of independent India and Pakistan in 1947. The book is engaging, commendable for its scope and brings to the foreground figures like Adina Beg Khan, Ganga Ram and Fazl-i-Hussain who are otherwise passed over in Indian histories on the region.

From the outset, Gandhi underlines the importance of understanding a common Punjabi identity (‘Punjabiyat’) through centuries of foreign invasion and colonial rule. Unfortunately, his history, coloured by colonial and nationalist historiography, produce a distorted picture of the Punjabi.

In categorizing Punjabis before the 19th century as either Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, Gandhi replicates the colonial-era practice of classifying Punjabis (and Indians at large) solely by their religious identity forgetting that Punjabis before the colonial era typically defined themselves by their clan, village and caste. Such a categorization overlooks the diversity amongst and overlap between Punjabis and the extent to which they cooperated with one another across religious lines as under Adina Beg Khan, Ranjit Singh or in the Punjab’s Unionist Party.

Gandhi’s chapters on independence and partition moreover largely follow the contours of the Indian nationalist narrative. He adopts a critical tone towards the Muslim League in the making of the Partition without questioning in the same breadth the politics of the Indian National Congress and the British. Such a filtering of history is unlikely to advance understanding between Punjabis of India and Pakistan.

All this despite Gandhi’s reminder to us throughout of  a Punjabiyat symbolized by Farid, Waris Shah, Amrita Pritam and Shiv Kumar. His own history could have contributed greatly to that Punjabiyat and to Punjab studies. One can only hope that Gandhi’s Punjab will inspire more balanced histories on the region in the years ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

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