Bulleh Shah

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More Than “Just” a Footnote

A year after gunmen attacked his car, killing his young driver, I mourn the loss of Mustafa


mustafa2Mustafa – associate, companion, employee, friend

It has been a year since I lost a close associate, an employee, a friend. After I miraculously escaped a carefully planned dénouement, there was much to celebrate: the chance to live, the experience of having defied death. But this living has come with a death at its very centre. Young Mustafa, who had still to experience life, was deprived of that. What can it be called? An accident? An assassination? Crossfire? Or the sheer randomness of death?

In 2008, on returning to Pakistan after a stint with the Asian Development Bank, I hired Mustafa. Another candidate, who could not work full-time, referred him to me. I was a little hesitant to hire someone so young but during the various tests, he proved to be a responsible driver and immediately endeared himself to my family, including my young children, who later became his friends.

An image that has become too common in an increasingly violent Pakistan An image that has become too common in an increasingly violent Pakistan

He shared my enthusiasm for old buildings, random signs, rickshaw posters and pop art

Mustafa, a resident of Kasur, was the eldest child of a landless, working-class family. They had to stock wheat after every harvest, lived in a house that sustained damage after every monsoon, and faced the brutal marginalization of being who they were in the essentially classist rural society of Punjab. Mustafa’s venturing out to the city, therefore, added a bit of pride in addition to financial support for the family. He was choosing not to be a manual labourer, but opting instead for better-paid “high”-skill-based employment. I found out about all these nuances as we spoke about his village and the dynamics therein. […]

What if Bulleh Shah were alive today?

Another tragic day. A mob attacks a Christian couple after accusing them of desecration of the Holy Quran and then burn their bodies at a brick kiln where they worked. Religion, class, bigotry and exploitation all mixed up.
Reminds me of another piece that I wrote in 2012 on the burning of a blasphemy accused and the inability of law/state/police to salvage the situation.

The chilling news of a man burnt alive in Bahawalpur on alleged charges of blasphemy has escaped the national media as well as our collective conscience. Other than a token condemnation by President Asif Ali Zardari, no major political leader has bothered to talk about this ghastly incident.

After the brutal assassination of Salmaan Taseer in January 2011, we had given up the hope of even holding a debate on man-made colonial laws on blasphemy. The voices that were asking for a review of the legislation had to retreat as the majority Sunni-Barelvi interpretation captured public discourse. Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri was defended by the same lawyer who viewed ‘rule of law’ as an articulation of a personalised, anti-democracy and Sharia-compliant version of justice. The fact that a former chief justice of Lahore is Qadri’s lawyer reflects the inherent biases and indoctrination that have spread in our society. If a billionaire, liberal politician could be murdered on the streets of Islamabad, what hope does a supposedly deranged man in the deep south of Punjab have?

The rise of vigilantism is also indicative of state failure. Not long ago, we witnessed the inhuman lynching of two young men in the Sialkot district where the state machinery stood by and extended tacit support to ugly scenes of dead bodies being paraded around. A few months later, I was invited to a television talk show where, to my surprise, I was surrounded by a lawyer and a so-called aalim (religious scholar). During the show, the cheerful aalim continued to find obscure and irrelevant references to justify mob-lynching as a kosher form of justice. […]

On Kabir, Bulleh Shah and Lalon Shah

Not a great recording of my talk at Kuch Khaas, Islamabad.

Kuch Khaas_ Raza Rumi on Kabir, Bulleh Shah and… by razarumi1


October 22nd, 2011|Arts & Culture|2 Comments

‘Throw Away the Books’ – Bulleh Shah

Bulleh Shah (1680-1758) of Kasur in Central Punjab is an extraordinary voice that provided a mystical message beyond caste, institutionalized religion and ideologies of power. Born in 1860 and named Abdullah Shah in a Syed family, he found a Murshid (spiritual master) in Shah Inayat who was an Arain

June 19th, 2010|Culture, Poetry, Published in the Hu Magazine, Sufism|6 Comments

Chal Way Bullehya Chal O’thay Chaliyay – Let’s go where everyone is blind

Chal Way Bullehya Chal O’thay Chaliyay
Jithay Saaray Annay
Na Koi Saadee Zaat PichHanay
Tay Na Koi Saanu Mannay
O’ Bulleh Shah let’s go there
Where everyone is blind
Where no one recognizes our caste (or race, or family name)
And where no one believes in us
Ab to jaag Musaffir pyare
Raeen gayi latke taare
Kar le aj karni da weera
Mod na ho si aawen tera
Awake, dear traveller, you’ve got to move on.
Trailing its stars, the night is gone.
Do what you have to do, do it today.
You will never be back this way.
Your companions are calling.
Let us go.
Awake, dear traveller, you’ve got to move on.
Trailing its stars, the night is gone.
A pearl, a ruby, the touchstone and dice
With all that you thirst by the waterside.
Awake, dear traveller, you’ve got to move on.
Trailing its stars, the night is gone.
Below a modern rendition of these verses by the inimitable Meekal Hasan Band. They have been instrumental in reintroducing Sufi poetry among the youth of our country. […]
February 7th, 2010|Poetry, Sufism|7 Comments

Baba Bulleh Shah’s gift

Dr Manzur Ejaz writing for the TFT

According to myth, if perfectly sung by a master, the classical raga Malkauns can set a river on fire. And if you want a description of Malkauns personified, it would be the tall red-eyed jogi or Ustad Chote Ghulam Ali Khan. In a freshly laundered, blazing white and starched kurta-pajama, Khan Sahib was a well dressed and handsome man even in old age. Despite his appearance, Khan Sahib was at heart a jogi who had wandered and meditated in the limitless jungle of classical music his entire life.

Both Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Chote Ghulam Ali Khan belong to this gharana. They were cousins with identical names but because one was older he was known as precisely that, Bade, and the younger as Chote. The classical singers of the Qasur gharana are sometimes called “Qasur kay qawwal bankay” (children of Qasur qawwals) because their forefathers were traditional qawwals at the shrine of Baba Bulleh Shah.

Khan Sahib worked hard to enhance Samina Hussain Syed’s skills in classical music because she had a very powerful, deep and melodious voice that constitutes the core of a classical singer. In fact, she had more potential than anyone else in the world of music at that time. Khan Sahib knew her potential and that is why he would come daily for her training; it was never just for the money.

Akhtari Bai Faizabadi, whom Khan Sahib romanced […]

November 1st, 2008|Poetry, Sufism|7 Comments

Bulleh’s virtuous thoughts-

Shahidain has sent these couplets

Main NeevaaN Mera Murshid Uccha
Main UcchiyaaN naal sang laayee

I am lowly my spiritual guide is lofty!
I have tied my fate to such lofty ones!


Bulleh naaloN chullaah changaa
jis te ann pakaaee daa
ral faqeera majlas keetee
bhora bhora khaaee daa

A stove is better than Bulleh
because at least you can cook food on it
Saints sit […]

September 11th, 2008|Sufism|2 Comments