By: Najm Hosain Syed
From his book: Recurrent Patterns In Punjabi Poetry
In the new Lahore lies buried Shah Husain and with him lies buried the myth of Lal Husain. Still, at least once a year we can hear the defused echoes of the myth. As the lights glimmer on the walls of Shalamar, the unsophisticated rhythms of swinging bodies and exulting voices curiously insist on being associated with Husain. This instance apparently defies explanation. But one is aware that an undertone of mockery pervades the air - released feet mocking the ancient sods of Shalamar and released voices mocking its ancient walls. Husain too, the myth tells us, danced a dance of mockery in the ancient streets of Lahore. Grandson of a convert weaver, he embarrassed every one by aspiring to the privilege of learning what he revered guardians of traditional knowledge claimed to teach.
Then again, fairly late in life, he embarrassed every one by refusing to believe in the knowledge he had received from others, and decided to know for himself. He plucked the forbidden fruit anew.
The myth of Lal Husain has lived a defused, half-conscious life in the annual Fare of Lights. The poetry of shah Husain which was born out of common songs of the people of the Punjab has kept itself alive by becoming a part of those very songs. In recent past, the myth of Madhu Lal Husain and the poetry of Husain have come to be connected. But the time for the myth to become really alive in our community is still to come.
Husain s poetry consists entirely of short poems known as "Kafis." A typical Husain Kafi contains a refrain and some rhymed lines. The number of rhymed lines is usually from four to ten. Only occasionally a more complete form is adopted. To the eye of a reader, the structure of a "Kafi" appears simple. But the "Kafis" of Husain are not intended for the eye. They are designed as musical compositions to be interpreted by the singing voice. The rhythm in the refrain and in the lines are so balanced and counterpointed as to bring about a varying, evolving musical pattern.
It may be asserted that poetry is often written to be sung. And all poetry carries, through manipulation of sound effects, some suggestion of music. Where then lies the point in noticing the music in the "Kafis" of Shah Husain? Precisely in this: Husain s music is deliberate - not in the sense that it is induced by verbal trickery but in the sense that it is the central factor in the poet s meaning.
The music that we have here is not the vague suggestion of melodiousness one commonly associates with the adjective "lyrical : it is the symbolic utterance of a living social tradition. The "Kafis" draw for their musical pattern on the Punjabi folk songs. The Punjabi folk songs embody and recall the emotional experience of the community. They record the reactions to the cycle of birth, blossoming, decay and death. They observe the play of human desire against the backdrop of this cycle, symbolizing through their rhythms the rhythms of despair and exultation, nostalgia and hope, questioning and faith. These songs comprehend the three dimensions of time - looking back into past and ahead into future and relating the present to both. Also, these songs record the individual s awareness of the various social institutions and affiliations and clinging to them at the same time - asserting his own separate identity and also seeking harmony with what is socially established.
By calling into life the voice of the folk-singer, Husain involves his listeners into the age-old tension which individual emotions have borne it its conflicts with the unchanging realities of Time and Society. But then, suddenly one is aware of a change. One hears another different voice also. It is the voice of Husain himself, apparently humanized with the voice of the folk-singer, and yet transcending it. The voice of the folk-singer has for ages protested against the bondage of the actual, but its fleeting sallies into the freedom of the possible have always been a torturing illusion. The voice of the folk-singer is dragged back to its bondage almost willingly, because it is aware of the illusory nature of its freedom and is reluctant run after a shade, fearing the complete loss of its identity. The voice of Shah Husain is transcending folk-singer s voice brings into being the dimension of freedom - rendering actual what had for long remained only possible:
Ni Mai menoon Kherian di gal naa aakh
Do not talk of the Kheras to me,
At first , the little "Kafi" deftly suggests the underlying folk-song patter. The usual figures in the marriage song - the girls, the mother, the perspective husband and the perspective in-laws are all there. And the refrain calls the plaintive marriage-song address of the girl to he mother on the eve of her departure from the parents house.
But the folk-song pattern remains at the level of an underlying suggestion. The mother and the daughter in the folk-song were both helpless votaries of an accepted convention, bowing before the acknowledged power of an unchanging order. Here in the "Kafi" the daughter assumes the power of choice and rejection. She stands outsides the cycles of time and society. The mother continues to represent the social order and the accepted attitudes according to her convictions, the Kheras offer the best possible future for her daughter because they assure mundane security and prestige, within a decaying order. But the daughter I snow determined to go beyond this order and seek further inner development. To her the Kheras, her unacceptable in-laws, represent the tyranny of the actual forced on the individual. To her, Ranjha, the socially condemned cowherd, represents the consummation of her revolt, promising a union which is the real inner fulfillment. The accepted attitudes are based on a superficial vision,
which takes appearance to be the only reality. Ranjha, who always hides his real self behind the shabby garb of a jogi or a cowherd can never be understood and can never be preferred to the wealthy Kheras. His real identity is a mystery that can be realized only in Heer s individual emotions. And for such a realization, a conscious break with the order of appearances is a prerequisite. Husain s triumph is achieved, not by evading the bondage s of the actual but by suffering them and finally transforming them. The mother remains a part of the daughter s consciousness - in addressing her she addresses herself. But this part of her consciousness is now subjected to more vital individual self. In the refrain:
Ni Mai menon Kherian di gal naa aakh
there is a tone of confidence - a mixture of earnest protestation and assured abandon.
Here is a "Kafi" presenting a different emotion:
Sujjen bin raatan hoiyan wadyan
Nights swell and merge into each other as I stand a wait
The slower tempo of the refrain sets the mood of the "Kafi." The voice of the singer stretches in an ecstasy of suffering along the lengthening vowel sounds. The vowel sounds initiated by the refrain are taken up by rhythms and several other words.
The Heer-Ranjha motif is used here in a different emotional background. The intense loneliness here contrasts sharply with the confidence of fulfillment shown in the earlier "Kafi." Here people s preoccupation with appearances is not treated with indifference;
Ranjha jogi, main jogiani, kamli kar kar sadian
instead it adds to the plain. But in the notes of suffering, there is a strange quality of single-mindedness. One is not aware of any fidgety second thoughts. The plain does not evince any desperation: in fact there is an air of contemplative pose, born out of the awesome finality of commitment.
In another "Kafi" using the Heer-Ranjha motif, we are taken back to a still earlier stage of the poet s emotional Odyssey:
Main wi janan dhok Ranjhan di, naal mare koi challey
Travelers, I too have to go; I have to go to the solitary hut of Ranjha. Is there any one who will go with me? I have begged many to accompany me and now I set out alone. Travelers, is there no one who could go with me?
The River is deep and the shaky bridge creaks as people step on it. And the ferry is a known haunt of tigers. Will no one go with me to the lonely hut of Ranjha?
During long nights I have been tortured by my raw wounds. I have heard he in his lonely hut knows the sure remedy. Will no one come with me, travelers? <
The folk-song locale is present here in the shape of a river, a ferry and a batch of travelers. The travelers gather to set off to remote places for business, duty and other reasons. And there is the self conscious girl who comes daily to hear some chance gossip drop a word about her friend. The river for centuries has flowed between desire and fulfillment. No one knows where it goes; it has no beginning and no end. The river is ancient and unfathomable - holding mysterious dangers. It causes both life and death but shows a fascinating indifference that compels awed men and women to kneel and worship the river. There is another reason for this homage. The river bounds the village. It limits and defines the known and tried capacities of humanity. The girl s father has no possessions beyond the river. What she was born with lies placidly marked this side of the river. What is beyond, is vaguely threatening. But this hazardous unknown fascinates the girl and seeks to lure her out of the complacent peace she was born with.
But the girl in the "Kafi" differs from the girl in the folk-song in one vital respect. The girl in the folk-song has for ages, waited on this side of the river. She visits the ferry and moves among the travelers with questioning looks. But in her words and looks there lurks the knowledge of perpetual impossibility, the acknowledge that desire is never more than a wish is often less than it. The girl in the "Kafi" is prepared to bridge the gap between desire and attainment. She too is aware of the hazards of her ways but for her he imperative need to set out has become the supreme fact.
The image of a patient, desperately looking for a last remedy contains subtle implications. When Heer fakes illness in the house of her in-laws, Ranjha the fake jogi was approached for some magic cure. Heer was cured in a way the people did not foresee and her illness turned out to be of an unexpected nature. Those believing in appearances as the only reality were given a dramatic lesson. Here in the "Kafi", the metaphorical background is recreated. The girl earnestly wishes to align herself with ordinary motives and measures. But the uncommon purpose of her journey and the uncommon destination still stand out among the group of travelers. Her request for some one to accompany her only throws into stranger relief her unique loneliness.
The ecstatic rhythm brings to the refrain a tone of finality, a finality comparable to that of death. The journey across the river is a transition as radical as death. The two worlds of experience are as different from each other as the familiar life and the unknown beyond. (1959)