Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Bulleh Shah

Back in the day when I was beginning 9th grade, in April 1995 to be precise, I was debating the decision whether to pick Punjabi or Hindi as my first language for Class 10 Board exams. Board exams, or Boards for slang, was the most dreadful thing you could mention to a 13 year old 9th grade student. Our teachers in school would use the term 'Boards' as a 'boogieman' or the more-fearsome 'maaun' reference to strike fear in our innocent student hearts and get us to pay attention to school. Doing well in Board exams was one of the several several several times our parents and teachers told us was the 'last' time we needed to study hard and do well.

Anyway, the choice was between Hindi, the Indian national language (I have to point that out, to the irk of some Southern Indians) and Punjabi, my mother tongue. It should have been a no-brainer to choose Hindi as I had studied it for 8 years (grade 1 to grade 8) versus Punjabi which I had only studied for 2 years, and that too at a basic primary-school level. But it was well known that Hindi was a tough subject and hard to score good points in. My elder sister had also been in my position earlier and taken up Punjabi and had been happy with that decision. Reluctantly, I took up Punjabi and just because of that I am the happiest person in the world today. And the reason is Punjabi poetry.

I have rediscovered Punjabi poetry, a very beautiful thing, and my focus is on Bulleh Shah. What that man wrote is truly what the best poet in the world could ever write. His non-religious and non-biased poetry questions and answers great spiritual dilemmas. The most pious of men have tried to look into these issues over the years and not one could come up with such beautiful and simple-to-understand words. To my limited knowledge of Punjabi poetry, Bulleh Shah is the epitome of transcendental spiritualism. His poem 'Ki Jaana Main Kaun', recently sung by Rabbi Shergill and previously by Wadali Brothers, Junoon, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen and others, may just be the best example of what I am trying to say about him as a person and his poetry. I can't keep myself from posting the lyrics and their translation thanks to Suman Kashyap at APNA.
Bulha, ki jaana maeN kaun.
Na maeN moman vich maseetaaN,
Na maen vich kufar deeyaaN reetaaN,
Na maeN paakaaN vich paleetaaN,
Na maeN moosa na pharaun.
Bulha, ki jaana maeN kaun.

Na maeN aNdar bed kitaabaaN,
Na vich bhaNgaaN na sharaabaaN,
Na vich riNdaaN masat kharaabaaN,
Na vich jaagan na vich saun.
Bulha , ki jaana maeN kaun.

Na vich shaadi na ghamnaaki,
Na maeN vich paleeti paaki.
Na maeN aabi na maeN khaaki
Na maeN aatish na maeN paun.
Bulha, ki jaana maeN kaun.

Na maeN arabi na lahori,
Na maeN hindi shehar nagauri,
Na hiNdu na turak peshawri
Na maeN rahinda vich nadaun.
Bulha, ki jaana maeN kaun.

Na maeN bhet mazhab da paaiya
Ne maeN aadam havva jaaiya,
Na maeN apna naam dharaaiya
Na vich baeTHan na vich bhaun.
Bulha, ki jaana maeN kaun.

Avval aakhir aap nu jaana,
Na koi dooja hor pachaana.
MaethoN hor na koi siyaana
Bulha shauh khaRa hai kaun.
Says Bulha, what am I?
I am not in the mosque of the believer,
Nor in false rites.
I am not in the pure or the impure.
Neither Moses nor Pharaoh.
Says Bulha, what am I?

I am not in the vedas or holy books,
Not in drug or wine.
Not in the drunkards wasted intoxication,
Not in wakefulness or sleep.
Says Bulha, what am I?

I am not in sorrow nor in joy,
Neither in clean nor unclean.
I am not water, I am not earth,
I am not fire, I am not air.
Says Bulha, what am I?

I am not from Arabia or Lahore,
Not from India or Nagaur.
Neither a hindu or a muslim from Peshawar,
Nor do I live in Nadaun.
Says Bulha, what am I?

I cannot be unearthed in the mysteries of religion.
I was not born of Adam and Eve.
I am not the name I assume.
I am not in stillness, not in movement.
Says Bulha, what am I?

In the final analysis, I can know only myself.
I cannot know any other.
No one can be wiser than I,
Who then, asks Bulha, is the master?
Says Bulha, what am I?

There. Let that sink in. The man's trying to answer the question 'Who am I?'. I don't know if he manages to answer that, but he does answer pretty unequivocally who he is not. And thats where most of the men of the world attach themselves to - in religion, places of worship, places of residence, substances, Earth...? Given that he was around from 1680-1758, he was way ahead of his time in questioning the root cause of today's turmoil in the world, probably caused by this globalization where people find themselves not attached to nothing anymore and 'cling' to whatever they can (Barack Obama reference).

And thanks to Rabbi Shergill who's attempted to bring Bulleh Shah's poetry to mainstream music, and he's done that wonderfully.

Thank God for helping me choose Punjabi in 9th grade so today I can really enjoy and appreciate the thoughts and musings of people like Bulleh Shah. Here's one more poem with great philosophical meaning but with an easy to understand face. This one's titled Kutte(dogs).


Raatien Jaage Karien Ibadat
Raaton Jaagan Kutte
Tainkun Utte

Bhonkanon Band Mool Na Hunde
Jaa Rudi Te Sutte
Tainkun Utte

Khasam Apne Da Dar Na Chad De
Bhavein Vajjan Jutte
Tainkun Utte

Bulleh Shah Koi Vast Vihaj Lai
Nai Te Baazi Lai Gaye Kutte
Tainkun Utte

Wow! Thats all I can say! Here's the video with Nusrat's rendition of several of Bulleh Shah's kafis including Kutte. Enjoy!

1 comment:

rajeshwar sharma said...

we knew navi and now bulleh Shah through a blog. Sufism and blog ? What is common between the two? May be , I will think over it.....
and yes the Chhalla of Gurdas Mann. Enjoy all these beauties of the Punjabi language. Thanks to Nitric Oxide.
Rajeshwar ( Chandigarh )