The Pakistan I love, the Pakistan I loathe
Before the first word of this essay is written, let a prophecy be made: Blinkered nationalists may accuse me of writing a puff piece on Pakistan, something far from the truth.
That said, let’s now proceed. I have a ‘split personality’ when it comes to Pakistan.
A banana republic of kangaroo courts and of savage society that swears by medieval values: Pakistan — to me — isn’t about all this. There is a Pakistan I adore and one that I abhor.
I loathe the way Pakistan has not just injured India but also itself over the years. Most of the wounds have been inflicted by its reckless military. (The smugness of Pakistan’s politicians, such as its foreign minister SM Qureishi, is also part of the Pakistan story I have an aversion to.)
But what could be so great about a country that often disregards democracy, is kept afloat by international aid, and concentrates more on destabilizing India than stabilizing itself? The answer lies in such men as Sadat Hasan Manto, Bulley Shah, Waris Shah and Tufail Niazi etc. Much of the legacy risks being wiped out by the Taliban and neo-Islamist outfits.
Those aware of the cultural treasure trove Pakistan’s blistering borders hold within themselves will always be more saddened by that country’s descent into chaos.
On Delhi’s GT Karnal bypass the other day, I found the state-owned Delhi-Lahore bus speed past my car. It was being escorted by a siren-blaring police car and tailed by another one.
In its journey spanning 12 hours and 540 km, the bus connects not just two countries, but two Punjabs cut into clean halves by the Partition of British India. What has remained intact, however, is Punjab’s cultural heritage – utterly secular and unsullied. Music and poetry are its two high-points.
The uninitiated can only see Punjabi culture as crude and crass — and not as subtle, superb or sparkling.
For Bengalis who think no other language could be as sweet or North Indian Muslims who think Urdu is God’s gift to poetry, the best of Punjabi poetry and songs can sober them down.
When I hear such greats as folk singer Tufail Niazi, I can feel a rush that only youth can offer, despite not being so young anymore.
Tufail is Keats to me, Nusrat is Shelley, Bulley Shah the Milton and the great Waris Shah the Shakespeare of Punjabi. Waris Shah, by the way, immortalized the Heer-Ranjha saga, the immortal epic of doomed love.
Punjabi folk music has such rich mines of gold that its lustre can never be scraped by time. My appreciation of music is restricted largely to American country music and Punjabi folk, not necessarily in that order. It certainly has no place for most of the current crop of Bollywood music makers, with a few exceptions.
Secularism is at the very heart of Punjabi folklore. Tufail Niazi was born in India in 1916, near Jallandhar, and died in 1990 in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Tufail is said to have been born in the only Muslim family of a Sikh village of Jallandhar. His ancestors were traditional musicians, who played the pakhawaj; hence were called Pakhawajis. The pakhawaj is a key accompaniment in the Dhrupad style of Hindustani vocal music that originated as temple music. During the Mughal period, it is said to have evolved into the more ornate north Indian classical, vocal-music form of khayal (literally “thoughts”).
Tufail’s family members were also “Rubabis” who sang Gurbanis in gurdwaras (Sikh temple). His father, Haji Raheem Buksh, is said to have taken him to a gaushala (community cowshed) in Gondwal near Taran Taaran, a district of present-day Indian Punjab. Here he joined the Gaushala troupe, singing songs of Hindu scared devotion to cows.
The Partition forced many East Punjabi Muslims to move out and Tufail landed in Multan. He was the first singer to perform on Pakistan Television, or PTV, when it was launched in 1964.
Tufail’s “Main Naheen Janaa Khereyaa De Naal (Don’t Want to Come to Khereyaa)” is haunting. In Punjabi folklore, Khereyaa was Ranjha’s home town. This song often carries me away to a blissful neverland.
Baba Farid, after whom Faridkot in Pakistan is named, was a Muslim Sufi generally regarded as the “first major Punjabi poet”. Sikhs revere him as one of the 15 Sikh Bhagats and his select works form part of the Guru Granth Sahib.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, his gruffly voice, vigour and pith, is rather well known to us because Bollywood has showcased his talent. Whenever I remember God, I remember Nusrat’s song Wohi Khuda Hai. It has one of the most apt definitions of God:
Dikhayi bhi jo na de, nazar bhi jo
aa raha hai, Wohi Khuda hai
(Not visible, yet apparent, That is what is God)
Guru Nanak Dev, the supreme Sikh saint, was himself a great poet. Everybody knows how well loved he was by Muslims and Sikhs both, so much so that when he died, Sikhs wanted to cremate him, while Muslims wanted a burial.
Now, if Pakistan fails to protect its Sikhs, it will fail to protect its own heritage.
Famous Punjabi tragic romances, which continue to inspire India’s Bollywood movie industry, include Heer-Ranjha by Waris Shah and Mirza-Sahiba by Peelu, who was a Muslim Jatt said to be from Majha, the midlands between Ravi and Beas rivers of the Punjab.
Pakistan’s Punjabi folk culture has had an enduring, alluring aura. It embodies something beyond politics, beyond war-mongering and stuttering conflicts. Something beyond the border.