Bulleh aashiq hoyo rabb da huyi malaamat lakh
Tenu kaafir kaafir aakhde tu aaho aaho akh!
Bulleh you became god’s lover and for this were disgraced
They call you, “Infidel, infidel”, you reply to them, “Yes, yes!
Over the years we have seen a growing identity crisis in Pakistan. Small wonder – since the only Pakistani identity left to us, without it turning controversial, is our national anthem, which hardly anyone understands; saluting our national flag, on which the green symbolises Islam, and the white which has the pole running through it, symbolises religious minorities; the image of our founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah on our bank notes, devoid of his ideology; and the brooding profile of our national poet Allama Iqbal.
Now, I wasn’t around during partition or the birth of Pakistan. I was born in a country already created, and I refuse to believe that it’s impossible for this country to survive or prosper because of some irreparable ideological defect during its inception. In fact, an objective study of the history of this land leading up to partition is required, not so that we hold our heads in dismay, but so that we may learn from the past and be wiser about our future.
Born as a Pakistani, it is my birthright to learn about and celebrate all that makes up the diverse cultural identity of this land. One of the basic mistakes that our leaders of the past made was to try and artificially create a homogenous culture around the Urdu language and what was perceived as mainstream Islamic culture, at the cost of the indigenous rich languages of this land with the wisdom that has flourished here for centuries.
Learning about real cultural heritage is about much more than simply preserving our past. It’s about learning how to live, about being aware of basic human values and aspirations in the context of what is today Pakistan.
The annual three-day Urs festival of the great poet-saint Baba Bulleh Shah was held at his shrine in Kasur a week ago. During the festival, one TV channel called me on their show and gave me all of eight minutes to sing and speak about the poetry of the saint. Another channel wanted to invite me for an hour-long program on Michael Jackson, which I politely declined. Granted that Michael Jackson, like Bruce Lee is a folk legend even in Pakistan, but have we lost touch with our indigenous folk heroes to the extent that we need to import icons to make up for our own cultural ignorance?
You can hardly blame the mainstream media for giving negligible airtime to one of the greatest poets of the subcontinent, if not the world. After all, they’re just trying to run a business and cater to the popular tastes of the disconnected and disenfranchised youth of Pakistan – the youth that have gone through better or worse educational institutions and never been taught about what poetry has been composed in Punjabi by Baba Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain, Baba Fareed, Guru Nanak … or in Sindhi by Shah Abdul Lateef Bhittai, Sachal Sarmast, Sheikh Ayaz … or in Siraiki by Khwaja Ghulam Fareed … or in Pashto by Rehman Baba or Khushal Khan Khattak … or in Balochi by Mast Tawakali … And we are not even aware of our cultural heritage in the languages of Northern Pakistan, in Shina, Burushaski, Balti, Wahi etc.
It was during the time, when I set out in search of the source of my own personal faith, and studied the teachings of various traditions, that I discovered that the same universal message of humanity exists in the very fabric of my land. Even though my Punjabi was poor, it was initially Baba Bulleh Shah’s poetry that made complete sense to me and opened the lids of this cultural treasure chest.
Parh parh aalim faazil hoyo kadi apne aap nu parheya hi nai
Ja ja andar mandar maseetaa kadi man apne vich varheya hi nai
Aiwein roz shaitan naal larhda kaddi nafs apne naal larheya hi nai
Bulleh Shah asmaani urhdi pharda, jerha ghar bettha onhon pharheya hi nai
You read and read and call yourself a scholar but you never studied about yourself
You keep visiting temples and mosques but you never entered inside yourself
Every day you fight against Satan but you never fought against your own ego
Bulleh Shah, you grasp for the flight of heaven, yet you never grasped what is within your own house
Baba Bulleh Shah, who was born in 1680 in the town of Uch in Punjab, was loved for his character and the truth that he uncompromisingly expressed in his poetry. Even during his lifetime, his verses were picked up and spread far by local bards. But he was also reviled and feared by the powerful clerics of his time who saw in his message, a threat to their own claims of sovereignty.