Saturday, January 17, 2004

Farid was the first to use Punjabi in poetry
Khushwant SinghKhushwant Singh

IT is generally acknowledged that the first person to use Punjabi as a language of poetry was Sheikh Farid (1173-1265 A.D). His full name was Sheikh Fariduddin Masud; the title Shakarganj (storehouse of sweetness) was one of the honorifics conferred on him by his numerous admirers. He was a disciple of Qutub-ud-din Bakhtiyar Kaki, whose mausoleum is in Mehrauli near Delhi's Qutub Minar and was one of the sufis of the Chishti order. Farid lived in Pak Pattan (now in Pakistan) and wrote in the Multani dialect: 134 of his shlokas are incorporated in the Sikh's holy scriptures, and thus a Muslim saint is accorded equal status with the Gurus.

Zahid Abrol (b.1950), a banker and an Urdu poet, has translated Farid's shlokas from Punjabi to Hindi and Urdu in accurate and readable verse in the recent publication Faridnama (Ajanta). Although he has reproduced tributes paid to him in all three languages, he has neither translated his preface in Urdu, which gives a brief summary of Farid's background, nor ventured to translate any of the hymns in English. I take the liberty of supplementing them with a few examples.

Like the Buddha, Farid was obsessed with dukh (sorrow):

Farid believed he alone was striken with sorrow

But sorrow is spread over the entire world;

I climbed my roof and whichever way I turned

I saw that every home in sorrow burned.

He believed that everyone should prepare himself for the inevitable and during his lifetime not waste his years on earth in futile pursuits:

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, Belowed,

It will burn your fingers.

You are tender

And the Master's 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 husband send

for us, go we must

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

Like many of our saint poets, Farid equated the longing for the loved one with the yearning for God:

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,

I'll let my cloak be soaked,

Tis 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.

Cricket mania

It has spread like the flu epidemic across the subcontinent. From Lata Mangeshkar down to lallu-panjus of Lajpat Nagar, they waste, precious working hours watching cricket matches on TV sets, and listen to Bishan Singh Bedi, Gavaskar, Bhogle, Navtej Sidhu and their likes making learned comments on the pitch, new balls, spin, googlies and yorkers. Then they read about all they have already seen in newspapers, and discuss strategies that should or should not have been adopted. Whereas other games like football and hockey take only an hour to play and a round of golf takes a little over two, cricket test matches go on for three long days.

When their heroes Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Laxman, Yuvraj Singh score centuries, they are full of gratitude; if they go out for ducks, they are dumped in the garbage. They treat bowlers the same way. One day they applaud Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Pathan, Ajit Agarkar and Nehra because they took wickets; if they fail in their endeavours, they are cursed and want their hands to be put in plaster the same way as that of their yesterdayís hero Harbhajan Singh. Have we nothing better to do than watch bowlers hurling balls and batsmen hit them around ? Have we gone crazy ? Cricket is no longer a game; it has become a craze.

Not all people are cricket crazy. There was Lawis Carroll who mourned greens being flattened into cricket grounds with pavilions and stands for spectators. He put his lament in verse:

Amidst thy bowers the tyrantís hand is seen,

And rude pavilions sadden all thy green;

One selfish pastime grasps the whole domain,

And half a function swallows up the plain...

Sank are they mounds in shapeless level all,

Lest aught impede the swiftly rolling ball;

And trembling, shrinking from the fatal blow,

Far away the hapless children go.

Iqbalís biting wit

Mohammed Iqbal, known to his admirers as Allama Iqbal, was undoubtedly the greatest poet of Urdu of the past century. Though he was a barrister, he made his mark not as a lawyer but a poet. He had a sense of humour and could laugh at himself. When the knighthood was conferred on him, he assumed that the Governor of Punjab had read his works before recommending his name to the Viceroy for the honour. He went to thank the Governor only to discover that the Laat Sahib knew neither Urdu nor anything about Iqbal except what his Indian councillors had told him.

Arjan Singh of Chandigarh has sent me an anecdote about Allama Iqbal and Choudhury Shahbuddin, practising at the Lahore High Court. Choudhury Sahib was a huge, fat man and as swarthy as the blackest African. One day as the Choudhury Sahib came to a meeting dressed in a black suit and took his seat next to Iqbal, the poet pretended not to know him. "Donít you recognise me any more now that you have become a Sir ?" demanded Shahbuddin. "Forgive me, Choudhury Sahib," replied the poet, "you looked invisible in your black suit."

A few days later the two found themselves in Anarkali Bazar. This time the Choudhury Sahib was dressed in spotless white. Nevertheless the poet feigned not to recognise him. "You still donít recognise me," reprimanded the lawyer.

"Forgive me Choudhury Sahib," replied the Allama. "I thought it was a kala bhainsa in a kapass kheit (a black buffalo grazing in a field of cotton)."