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Remembering Shahbaz Bhatti, an unsung hero of Pakistan

Fate connected me to Salma Peter John – the widow of Pakistan’s slain Christian Minister Shahbaz Bhatti who was assassinated by violent extremists. I cried then and cried yesterday after speaking to brave Salma and watching this video. I share your grief and stand by you. There is no reason that Cammy […]

October 27th, 2014|Blasphemy, Extremism, Love, Pakistan, terrorism|0 Comments

The Night Has A Thousand Eyes

The mind has a thousand eyes, And the heart but one; Yet the light of a whole life dies When love is done

July 30th, 2010|Love, Personal, Poetry|3 Comments

Lovers have nothing to do with existence

The lover’s food is the love of the bread;
no bread need be at hand:
no one who is sincere in his love is a slave to existence.
Lovers have nothing to do with existence;
lovers have the interest without the capital.
Without wings they fly around the world;
without hands they carry the polo ball from the field.
That dervish who caught the scent of Reality
used to weave baskets even though his hands had been cut off.
Lovers have pitched their tents in nonexistence;
they are of one quality and one essence, as nonexistence is.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ […]
March 3rd, 2010|Love, Poetry, Rumi, Sufi poetry, Sufism|3 Comments

The Romance of Raja Rasalu

By Raza Rumi

Story telling has been a primordial urge, never quite expressed in its fullest measure, but always lingering and floating like life. There was a sub-continent before the colonial interaction that brought in its wake an aesthetic hardened by the industrial revolution and its uniformity of life and space. This was a world rich with myriad identities, of whispers and tales all interlaced in a peculiarly complex kaleidoscope. Since the 19th century that particular aspect of folk story telling and transfer of generational accounts gave way to what is now known as education and knowledge – instruments and reflections of power and a linear world view set elsewhere but adapted awkwardly to the local context.
This is why Simorgh Women’s Resource and Publication Centre in Lahore, under the leadership of Neelum Hussain, have undertaken the challenging task of reclaiming the rich heritage that lies in our folklore especially that of the Punjab. “The Romance of Raja Rasalu and Other Tales” is a stunning compilation of the romance of Punjab’s legendary hero, Raja Rasalu and, while it draws heavily on the colonial storytellers, the book twists the narrative in a manner that brings us closer to the origins of our cultural sensibilities. The tales are sheer magic. The romance, the intrigue, the bravery and the integrated nature of human existence where it finds communication even with birds and trees comes to a full life throughout the narrative.

It is one thing to produce an admirable compendium but it is another matter to ensure that the purpose and spirit of the tales are adequately reflected in the illustrations. This particular touch of originality is provided by the eminent artist Laila Rehman whose breathtakingly attractive illustrations add a new layer of meaning and sensibility to the folk stories. It is, therefore, as has been rightly stated in the introduction, a book for pleasure: a pleasure that moves beyond the immediate and the momentary and merges into the real or imagined pleasure of living. Laila’s paintings and sketches are evocative enough to generate a parallel story within the larger narrative. It is as if the reader is traversing into several worlds. One minute you are locked in the words with imagination rescuing the linearity of the printed letters and another minute imagination and its scope are enlarged, tossed over and often chastened by the sheer colours and experiments of the palette. The sketches, graphics and canvasses become alive and converse with the reader.

The compilation of stories works in a twofold manner whereby the first section deals with Raja Rasalu’s entire legend. Rasalu was the son of Raja Salwahan of Sialkot and a descendant of Vikramjit. The epic narrates high romance and Rasalu’s grand deeds with tons of magic and comedy. It is said that Rasalu’s legend corresponds to 800 A.D. even though there is no evidence to confirm it. But the tales of his life have been preserved by the circle of story tellers in the Punjabi settlements. Rasalu is embedded in our part of the Punjab; for instance, Tilla Jogian (where he meets the legendary fakir) is close to Jhelum city, the location where Rasalu defeated the giants is located in today’s Attock and so on. However, the tales are not geographically specific or fixed in any moment of time for, like any other folk narration, these tales deal with essential urges and imperatives of human existence-the need to live, seek and attain.</div>
<div>The second collection of stories pertains to shorter versions of particular tales invoking magic, romance and comedy. These are particularly delightful for many of them are funny, sometimes bawdy and amazingly pertinent even in the fissured and depressing globalised world we live in.

Neelum Hussain provides an erudite introduction that compares the various versions, elaborates on their nuanced differentials and sets the context for the lay and specialised reader alike. For instance, she mentions how the Punjabi wonder tales, not unlike South Asian in general, twist gender identities and play with the fixed notions of personal identity. For instance, Rasalu’s “betrothed” teases him:
“Ho rider of the dark grey mare
Did you forget to bind your hair?
Like some girls’ all loosely tied
It flies about from side to side”
But the wonderland does far more than just such wordplay. It also blurs the differences between heroes and villains and urges the understanding of the villain. Such fluidity in these tales also confirms their egalitarianism and focus on the human. Above all, as Neelum Hussain, aptly puts “There is no room for any dogma in the comic tale.” This is why the folk and fairy tales and the world they weave are beyond the confines and oppressive structures imposed by the clergy and the establishment.
The lived experience of ordinary people or the common folk, as we often call them rather brutishly, is what that makes these tales universally accessible, understandable and enjoyable.
The three sources of the book’s materials are: Flora Annie Steel, R.C. Templeton and Charles Swynnerton, the colonial researchers who so painstakingly transcribed these tales from the Punjabi language through primary sources i.e. the bards and story tellers. Notwithstanding the warnings given by Edward Said in accepting colonial Orientalism, one has to ruefully admit that such an incisive and thorough labour of love was only done by the “white masters.” South Asia’s repugnant ruling classes remain bickering pygmies to date. And, about the scholarship and originality of knowledge production, the less said the better for the two centuries old drought refuses to go away. Specifically, this is truer for Pakistan than perhaps the other South Asian countries. For the Pakistani establishment and intelligentsia, increasingly becoming inseparable, have discarded and trashed their heritage in the pursuit of power, be it the Oxbridge brigade or the US mainstream lackeys, their intellect, alas, remains subservient and refuses to leave the dome like a trapped pigeon.
Hence my boundless excitement and absolute pleasure to have encountered the  ‘The Romance of Raja Rasalu and Other Tales’ that defies obscurantism and our collective inertia. I only wish that this book could become more accessible to a wider array of readers, children and students across Pakistan. More importantly, it should be published in Urdu language for a broader audience within the country. Some day we have to rescue our rich secular and egalitarian heritage. I think a great beginning has been made by Simorgh Women’s Resource and Publication Centre. […]

September 30th, 2009|Arts & Culture, books, Culture, History, India-Pakistan History, Love|1 Comment


Truly,  LOVE  is  the  sole  universal  experience. In modern times, we all  know  Human Love, but can we cross over to  Divine Love, as the Sufis seemed to do?
A song ,i wrote….(Surya Rao Maturu)


 FRIENDS,  I sing you the Song  of Shiva
 The  ancientest   God on Earth.
 Who dances the Nat, dusk to dawn
 Atop Mount Kailasa,every night;
 Night after night.
 He cannot  stop ,now or ever.
 He dances on the Dance of Shiva.

 Yonder back in time,
 When the Devas and Asuras,
  churned the Ocean of Desires, for Nectar,
 Out came Hemlock Primieval,
 Deadlier than the deadliest Death.
 All fled,
 No one to save life on earth,
 But for Shiva, the Tribal God. […]

Four poems by Bulleh Shah (new translations)

Who I am

I know not who I am,
I am neither a believer going to the mosque
Nor given to non-believing ways.
Neither clean nor unclean,
Neither Moses nor Pharaoh.
I know not who I am.

I am neither among sinners nor among saints,
Neither happy nor unhappy,
I belong neither to water nor to earth.
I am neither fire nor air,
I know not who I am.

Neither do I know the secret of religion,
Nor am I born of Adam and Eve.
I have given myself no name,
I belong neither to those who squat and pray,
Nor to those who have gone astray.
I know not who I am.

I was in the beginning; I’d be there in the end.
I know not any one other than the One.
Who could be wiser than Bulleh Shah
Whose Master is ever there to tend?
I know not who I am.

Come my Love, take care of me

Come my Love, take care of me,
I am in great agony.
Ever separated, my dreams are dreary,
Looking for you, my eyes are weary.
All alone I am robbed in a desert,
Waylaid by a bunch of waywards.

The Mulla and Qazi show me the way,
Their maze of dharma that is in sway.
They are the confirmed thieves of time.
They spread their net of saintly crime.

Their time-worn norms are seldom right,
With these they chain my feet so tight!
My love cares not for caste or creed.
To the ritual faith I pay no head.

My Master lives on yonder bank
While I am caught in the gale of greed.
With his boat at anchor, He stands in wait,
I must hasten I can’t be late.

Bulleh Shah must find his love,
He needn’t have the least fright.
His Love is around, yet he looks for him
Misled in the broad daylight.

Come my love take care of me,
I am in great agony.


Strange are the times!

Crows swoop on hawks
Sparrows do eagles stalk
Strange are the times!

The Iraqis are despised
While the donkeys are prized
Strange are the times!

Those with coarse blankets are kings;
The erstwhile kings watch them from the ring.
Strange are the times!

Its not without reason or rhyme,
Strange are the times

Says Bulleh, kill your ego
And throw away your pride.
You need to forget yourself
To find Him by your side.

It’s all in One contained

Understand the One and forget the rest.
Shake off your ways of an apostate pest.
Leading to the grave to hell and torture,
Rid your mind of dreams of disaster.
This is how is the argument maintained,
It’s all in One contained.

What use is it bowing one’s head?
To what avail has prostrating led?
Reading Kalma you make them laugh,
Absorbing not a word while the Quran you quaff.
The truth must be here and there sustained,
It’s all in One contained.

Some retire to the jungles in vain.
Others restrict their meals to a grain.
Misled they waste away unfed
And come back home half alive, half dead.
Emaciated in the ascetic postures feigned,
it’s all in One contained,

Seek your master, say your prayers and surrender to God,

It will lead you to mystic abandon
And help you to get attuned to the Lord.
It’s all the truth that Bulleh has gained.
It’s all in One contained.

Bulleh Shah, a renowned Muslim spiritual leader of the sub continent of Indo-Pakistan, was a Punjabi Sufi poet. His spiritual master was Shah Inayat Qadiri of Lahore and because of this Bulleh was referred to as a saint or spiritual leader. Bulleh’s real name was Abdullah Shah, but he was known as Bulleh to his family and that was the name he chose to use as a poet. […]

Dumbfounded by Love

Dear soul, Love alone cuts arguments short,
for it alone comes to the rescue when you cry for help against
Eloquence is dumbfounded by Love: it dares not wrangle;
for the lover fears that, if he answers back,
the pearl of inner experience might fall out of his mouth.

Rumi – translation by Camille and Kabir Helminski
“Rumi: Jewels of Remembrance”
Threshold […]