The crow while Sahiban hangs leaves the tree and flies straight to Dhun. It enquires after Pilu in the town and is guided to a graveyard where it pays him its salutation. It conveys Pilu Sahiban’s greetings with the request that “he should narrate her tale so that it reverberates across the world”.

Pilu replies: “after having renounced the worldly paradise, I live in seclusion / go to Barkhurdar and extend him my greetings / tell him it’s my instruction that he builds a compelling narrative of Sahiban’s woes”. The crow that has already covered a long distance from Jhang, the area where both the lovers got killed, is tired and exhausted but musters its strength to take yet another trying journey.

“The crow carrying Pilu’s message takes flight / in the woods on the way it feels underneath there is a cool place / exhausted it lands finding the place comfy and rests / suddenly it jumps up startled as if hit by a hammer/ Hafiz, how this poor bird has been weighed down by such a wrangling at a strange place”! The bird is in a hurry to get the message done with. It’s perhaps the intensity of the unusual happening and urgency to make it known to those who matter that drives the bird.“The crow with sobs and cries reaches Bucha [Barkhurdar’s village] / It enquires about Hafiz Barkhurdar’s mosque / Perched on the minaret it pays its regards/ [and says] ‘Instructed by Pilu I have come to you”. Barkhurdar responds: “Your eyes seem moist and you are in a bad shape / tell me truthfully what did happen to you? / In the name of God, I would earnestly consider your entreaty”.

What seemingly arouses bird’s anger is a feeling that the message it carries is being perceived by Bakhurdar as its personal request. So the crow curtly concludes the dialogue: “Pilu, the poet, has sent me to your place / it chanced that I visited your mosque / otherwise what have I to do with humankind? / Hafiz, compose truthfully Sahiban’s tale”.

We have at the moment scant material on Pilu’s life and work, and it comes from two sources; Hafiz Barkhur‘s composition and R.C Temple’s ‘Mirza and Sahiban’. Barkhurdar’s narrative about Pilu is expressed in a mythical manner. What we get from Temple is fragments of Pilu’s text transmitted orally which he got collected in Jalandhar. No other worthwhile information is given on Pilu’s life and achievement. But still it’s a remarkable retrieval; no other text by Pilu has hitherto been discovered.

What Barkhurdar says in his written text about Pilu in a mythopoeic fashion clearly establishes three things: 1, Pilu was the poet who first composed the tale. 2, He was an inhabitant of Dhun area of the Punjab. [His grave is still intact in his village which close to scenic Kallar Kahar district Chakwal]. 3, Pilu’s composition was popular and it immensely inspired Barkhurdar and he wrote the tale afresh. He revered his predecessor for his creative contribution.

Barkhurdar earlier in his text portentously talks of Pilu when Mirza enters an almost impenetrable jungle of Sandal Bar on his way to his beloved’s town Khiwa in Jhang.

He uses an aside. “Since ages the skull has been lying midst the graves / seeing the writing on its forehead Pilu picked it up / hair rotten, teeth fallen out and mouth without tongue/ Hafiz, if Pilu wasn’t around who would have deciphered what was the writing that vision carried”?

It obviously shows Barkhurdar’s apprehension; were poet Pilu not around, the lovers’ tale would have been lost. It shows Barkhurdar’s cultured nature and generosity of heart that he has no hesitation at all to acknowledge a debt of gratitude he owes his predecessor. It’s quite reasonable to infer from what is mentioned above that Barkhurdar in his times had access to the Pilu’s complete written text which couldn’t survive the ravages of time. What survived of it was the fragments or certain portions popular with the minstrels and singers who transmitted them orally from generation to generation. But it was a huge literary and cultural loss.

What was transmitted was not only incomplete but also got loaded with interpolations in the process of transmission. Our orality-ridden society has little respect for written text. So much so that our literati fails to realise the value of the written text and many literary critics simply try to disparage it in the name avant-gardism or people’s oral traditions. But Barkhurdar being a highly educated poet could never underestimate the power of the written word and underrate the composed text. He is in fact emphatic regarding the written word.

See his original verse: “Pilu kol na Hafiza, likhiyakiwahi”. Its literal translation would be: “if Pilu wasn’t around, [who could know] what the vision or revelation had got written inside it”. The vision is formed by the sight of the skull and what it reveals regarding the killing of young lovers.

Barkhurdar inherits his imaginative view of the tale from Pilu and builds on it in way that it becomes a vehicle of his creative expression. His characterisation is so unique that the main protagonists Sahiban and Mirza emerge as an epitome of human predicament facing modern male and female who with their democratic disposition and conflicting loyalties are torn apart as a result of having multiple choices. But Sahiban and Mirza as precursor of modern individual are equally misunderstood by people and critics. The main reason is the uncritical acceptance and assimilation of folk version of the tale which is substantially different in terms of characterisation from what we find in Barkhurdar’s written text.

Barkhurdar’s appreciation of Pilu’s composition can be gauged from the fact that in some of his stanzas he repeats former’s verses with slight changes. Barkhurdar’s opinion of Pilu is shared by several other prominent poets. “No one can compete with Pilu. His verses have a unique pathos”, says classical poet Ahmed Yar Muralvi [18th century].

Mian Muhammad Baksh [19th century] talks of Pilu’s brevity in his magnum opus ‘Saiful Maluk’ thus: “what he says is unalloyed but good / one has to traverse long distances on the earth to find someone like Pilu”. Pilu, etched in Punjab’s imagination, was himself well aware of the ravages of time. Concluding his tale he says:” Pilu asks a poet: how does the world run on? /Councils and assemblies pass away”. — soofi01@hotmail.com

(Concluded)

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2020

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