Saturday, January 18, 2003
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L


Farid Shakarganj of Pak Pattan
by Khushwant Singh

IT is foolish to ascribe precise dates to the births of languages and their literatures. Languages are not born, they evolve over the centuries. It is the same with their literatures. At first they evolve as oral traditions which have no documentary proof of their existence till writing material becomes commonly available and a corpus of literature begins to build up. The first person whose works gain recognition is often described as the founding father of that language and literature. As far as Punjabi is concerned that honour is usually given to Baba Shaikh Farid (1173-1265) of Pak Pattan. He was a disciple of the Sufi Saint Qutb-ud-din Bakhtiyar Kaki who lived in Mehrauli (Delhi). Over 130 of his compositions were incorporated into the Adi Granth by its compiler Guru Arjan Dev and he was thus accorded a status equal to those of the ten Gurus of Sikhs. However, there has been some controversy among scholars that the Farid in the Adi Granth is not Farid Shakarganj but his successor many generations removed named Shaikh Ibrahim Farid who was a contemporary of Guru Nanak. The controversy has been revived by the recent publication The Mystic Melodies of Shaikh Farid by Pritipal Singh (Mohit Enterprises). The author rubbishes the claims of the second Farid and firmly states that what is in the Sikhís sacred scriptures is undoubtedly from the pen of Farid senior. Pritipal Singh who has many books on Punjabi literature and Sikh religion to his credit has translated Faridís compositions with admirable skill. Readers interested in the subject would do well to acquire his latest publication. Meanwhile, he has given me an excuse to re-air some of my own renderings of the Sufi saint.

EARLIER COLUMNS
Who is responsible for the plight of our daughters?
January 11, 2003
The not-so-great Churchill
January 4, 2003
Pritam Singh: Bhapaji of the Punjabi literary world
December 14, 2002
Rarest of the rare
December 7, 2002
Begums and their sahibs
November 30, 2002
A policeman who is a poet too
November 23, 2002
The power of silence
November 16, 2002
Cultivating the art of conversation
November 9, 2002
Thus spake Sant Kabir
November 2, 2002
What is the strongest thing on earth?
October 26, 2002
Have you seen God?
October 19, 2002

The first time I was attracted to Faridís poetry was on hearing Ragi Santa Singhís rendering of Jal jasee dhola hatth na laeen kusumrey (Beloved, do not touch the kusum flower, it will burn your hands). It is a somewhat obscure poem warning people of wasting their lives in futile pastimes.

When it was time to build your bark

You did not try.

When you see the ocean angry and the waves lash,

For help you cry.

Touch not the kusum flower, Beloved,

It will burn your fingers.

You are tender

And the Masterís words are harsh.

As milk taken returns not to the udder,

So a wasted life is without meeting with the Master.

Says Farid: Sisters, when our husbands sends for us, go we must.

Our souls like swans fly away, our bodies come to dust.

A great favourite of Faridís is admonishing those who hold back from their tryst with the beloved on flimsy grounds:

O Farid, the lane is slushy with mud

The house of the one thou lovest is far away,

If thou goest, it will soak thy cloak

If thou stayest, it will sunder thy love.

Iíll let my cloak be soaked.

íTis Allah who makes the rain come down in torrents.

I will go forth to seek my beloved

The bonds of our love will not sever.

We are not the only ones afflicted with sorrow, Farid reminds us:

Farid believed he alone was stricken with sorrow

But sorrow is spread over the entire world;

I climbed my roof and whichever way I turned

I saw that every one is sorrow burned.

Nishkam karma

One morning when I woke up, it was broad daylight. I was not sure if I was getting up after my siesta or the nightís sleep! I looked at my bedside clock and saw it was after 7 a.m., nearly three hours after my usual schedule. Instead of six or seven hours I was accustomed to, I had slept for 10 hours. I should have had a sense of guilt; I had none. I felt more rested and relaxed. Perhaps my body needed these extra hours of rest which I had denied it. Then I worked out that if I added an hour or more I slept in the afternoon to the ten at night, it would mean that half my life would be spent in doing nothing besides snoring; some more time spent on bathing, eating reading the papers, answering my mail, watching TV and idle gup-shup (chatter), playing or taking some exercise: it would leave barely three to four hours of what can safely be described as "creative work". What a criminal waste of time? Is this all one owes to life? It got me thinking. A reader Bakhshish Singh Arora of Jalandhar worked out further details of my existence ó 1044 months, 4524 weeks, 31755 days, 76210 hours, 2825354 seconds. How much of this was spent doing something worthwhile?

We work to earn our bread, butter and creature comforts. That does not take much doing. We work harder to outsmart others, live better than they do or gain recognition hoping that something we have done in life will live after us. Is all work vanity? I donít think so. There are many things one can do which give one a feeling of fulfilment in oneís life time. The one element in all these things we can do is doing things not designed to give oneself, oneís kith and kin more comfortable living but which are meant to better the lot of those less privileged than us. It is the moral of the fable of the old man planting a mango three which would bear fruit a long time after he was dead: he would never taste one but only others who came after him would. Such is the kind of work which men and women like Mother Teresa, Bhagat Puran Singh of Pinglwara, Ela Bhatt of Ahmedabad, Abdul Sattar Idhi of Karachi and thousands of others across the globe did and are doing. Whatever self satisfaction comes out of this kind of work comes from the feeling that if it is done for others ó whether it be taking care of the poor or the destitute, looking after stray animals, planting and taking care of trees, its effect will be ever-lasting: its essence is to give without expecting to be rewarded, nishkam karma. When I look back at my life, I realise to my dismay I have very little reason to feel that I did anything for which anyone was grateful to me or will live after me.

Shadow-boxing

Praveen Togadia tells the BJP

"VHP garnered for you the Hindu vote.

We are your real saviours

Follow our agenda or lose our support."

BJP chief strongly differs with him.

Says Venkaiah Naidu, "Let us be frank.

Key issues are governance and development

Hindutva is not our poll plank."

What an artful shadow-boxing!

Donít think they are at war.

Can you separate flesh from nails?

Arenít they members of the same Parivar.

(Contributed by G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)

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