KARACHI: A book titled I Saw Myself — Journeys with Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai by Indian authors Shabnam Virmani and Vipul Rikhi, reprinted by the Endowment Fund Trust (EFT) for Preservation of the Heritage of Sindh, was launched at the Arts Council of Pakistan Karachi.

Dr Ayoub Shaikh welcomed the guests on behalf of the council which had collaborated in organising the event on Sunday evening. A presentation on ‘Sassui’s Route’ was then given by Gul Hassan Kalmati and Dr Rakhman Gul Palari.

The keynote addressed was delivered via video link by Fakir Syed Aijazuddin, OBE. He said like the two authors of the book he cannot speak Sindhi nor read Shah Latif’s kalam in its original script. Nor can he differentiate between the various ragas, which provide the rhythmic structure to his poetry. But he hoped that he had the sensibility of what the authors describe as the orality, the feeling behind words of our unique inheritance.

Fakir Aijazuddin said Shah Latif’s poetry travels at the speed of sound, the sound of the human heartbeat, the sound of breathless love. Poets such as Shah Latif and his spiritual guide Rumi and Kabir do not belong to one specific area or one measurable standard time. The message that they give through their poetry is as much for their own time as for the future.

The dates that we have of Latif’s life are 1689 and 1752. When he was born in 1689, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir had been on the throne. By the time the poet died in 1752, the Mughal throne had suffered six incompetent emperors and was occupied by Ahmed Shah Bahadur, the son of the infamous Mohammad Shah Rangila. It was a period of political and social turmoil. The authors mention that the latter period of Shah Latif was spent under the rule of the Kalhoras. They describe it as a period of comparative stability.

Fakir Aijazuddin said little is known of Shah Latif’s personal life. His spiritual inheritance stems from his great grandfather Shah Abdul Karim. The authors tell us that he was a man of languages; being proficient in Persian, Arabic, Saraeki, Urdu besides his mother tongue Sindhi. But they do not explain how and where he mastered this linguistic expertise. Shah Latif fell in love with a girl but he had to wait until his father’s death before he could marry her. But his young wife died childless. From then on, poetry became Shah Abdul Latif’s emotional companion.

The keynote speech was followed by the formal launch of the book by Syed Khawar Hussain Shah Latifi (Sajjada Nasheen).

After that a lecture was given by Dr Sahar Gul on how Shah Latif’s protagonists walk from the preliminary stages to the supreme level of consciousness in their pursuit of ishq or love.

She then engaged in a conversation with the co-author of the book, Shabnam Virmani, who spoke via video link from India. Ms Virmani, who before her book on Shah Latif had made documentaries on Kabir, said she’s grateful to the EFT’s Abdul Hamid Akhund for considering the book worthy of getting launched in a province where there are devotees and lovers of Shah Latif. Even the researchers’ work on Kabir did not seek a singular voice. All of their work is to do with moving away from those who create differences (tafawatein) and celebrate our common culture, history and heritage.

“People who point out differences, who are beholden to the project of seeking originality, purity, uniqueness… these are all problematic projects. They may carry some worth, but it is the Sufis who taught us, who had the courage to keep bringing us back to the recognition of our porosity — the porosity of our borders… We are not individuals. ‘You are therefore I am.’ The Sufis made us realise this aspect of inter-being. While discovering Kabir we discovered many such people. Be it Gorakhnath, Mirabai, Shah Hussain or Bulleh Shah. The ordinary people in India and Pakistan who sing [Latif] and deeply love his poetry, they do not create differences.”

Apart from that, the programme included speeches by Ayaz Latif Palejo, Noor-ul-Huda Shah and Dr Fahmida Hussain, followed by live music.

Abdul Hamid Akhund moderated the launch.

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2022

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