It was some time ago, when work related to community development would take me regularly to Multan, Bahawalpur, Layyah, Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and other cities in southern Punjab. I became better acquainted with the works of some fascinating poets of Seraiki and Urdu during my travels, Dr Ashu Lal, Shakir Hussain Shakir, Raziuddin Razi and Qamar Raza Shehzad to name a few.

I attended mushairas in places such as Chowk Azam, Kabirwala and Kot Addu, in addition to the bigger cities mentioned above. Multan used to be my base during these visits. I was also lucky to meet eminent academics and writers such as Dr Anwaar Ahmed, Dr Rubina Tareen and Dr Najeeb Jamal, who were still teaching at universities in Multan and Bahawalpur.

The hotel where I used to stay was close to the Multan Press Club and at a walking distance from a restaurant called Taj Hotel, a haunt for the local literati and academia. I remember meeting the late Arshad Multani there besides others.

When journalist Mazhar Arif visited his native Multan from Islamabad and I happened to be around, he would gather another set of people, such as the late Razu Shah, the late Prof Shamim Arif, Dr Akhtar Rizvi and Prof Akram Mirani. They used to recall the days of their struggle, first under the martial rule of Gen Ayub Khan when they were students, and then during the times of Gen Ziaul Haq, when they had entered into their professional lives.

From Masood Ashar to Asghar Nadeem Syed to Hafeez Khan, all writers and journalists who came from Multan or spent time there, were remembered in those meetings.

It was a misty morning in early winter more than 18 years ago when Shahnawaz Khan and I left Multan for Kot Addu, the place I had never visited before. There, I was introduced to the poetry of the late Bayaz Sonipati, who was Khan’s uncle. Since Sonipati subscribed to the Naqshbandi-Chishtiya order of Sufism, he had also written a book on mysticism, titled Anwaar-i-Azizya.

Besides literature and music, pottery and embroidered clothing, the famous shrines of Sufi saints and history oozing out of every brick in the old parts of Multan and Bahawalpur, these are the places to be if you are into relishing desi food. Since I was known to my friends as a foodie, they would take me to some of the best places, both old and new.

A friend from London, who had spent his childhood in Multan, once asked me to specifically go and check if the quality of the chickpea curry sold outside the Muslim High School is still as good as it used to be when he was a student there. I never asked him how I would have known what it was like when he used to eat it.

It was a misty morning in early winter more than 18 years ago when Shahnawaz Khan and I left Multan for Kot Addu, the place I had never visited before. There, I was introduced to the poetry of the late Bayaz Sonipati, who was Khan’s uncle. Since Sonipati subscribed to the Naqshbandi-Chishtiya order of Sufism, he had also written a book on mysticism, titled Anwaar-i-Azizya.

But listening to his poetry from an earlier collection was a rewarding experience. After so many years, it was a pleasant surprise when I recently received a selection of Sonipati’s poetry, compiled by Khan and published by Gird-o-Pesh Publications, and titled Bayaz Ki Bayaz Se [From the Notebook of Bayaz]. Here, the wordplay in Urdu cannot be translated, as Sonipati’s nom de plume was also Bayaz.

Along the Yamuna river, Sonipat is a small, historic town in the state of Haryana in India. It was a part of Punjab in 1947. Its references are found in the epic Mahabharata as well as in later Mughal and Sikh history. Under the 1947 partition plan of British India, the majority of Muslims from East Punjab had to migrate to Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs from West Punjab were to move to India. During that year of chaos and massacres, Sonipati, who was 18 years old then, moved from Sonipat to Kot Addu, a sub-division of district Muzaffargarh in Pakistan.

While Sonipati has written multiple poems about the beauty, seasons, terrain and warmth of the people of Kot Addu, he has also written in the memory of Sonipat. He writes for Kot Addu: “Tu arz-i-pak ki sari zamee’n se barrh kar hai/ Nazar mein apni tu khuld-i-baree’n se barrh kar hai [You are greater than any other piece of land/ In my view, you are a better place than the garden of Eden].” And he remembers Sonipat thus: “Mujh ko reh reh ke yaad aatay hain/ Tere lail-o-nahaar Sonipat [I yearn, the remembrance never ceases/ Your nights, your days, Sonipat].”

Sonipati has also translated Surah Fateha in verse. Another beautiful poem whose language somehow falls between the dialects of Haryanvi and Purbi is written in reverence of Sufi Muhammad Ali of Wadi Aziz Sharif, Chiniot.

The real poetic talent of Sonipati gets realised in his naats [odes to the Prophet (PBUH)] and his ghazals. One of his naats begins with the couplet: “Jab tasawwur mein nabi ka rukh-i-zeba dekhoon/ Abd ke roop mein mabood ka jalwa dekhoon [When I imagine the beautiful face of the Prophet/ I see the Creator in the creation].”

His ghazal is delicate in a traditional way. He says: “Soch ki har teh mein hain mauhoom andeshay Bayaz/ Khauf anjaana hai ghar ghar aaino’n ke shehr mein [Suspicions and doubts reside in each layer of thought Bayaz/ Unknown fear is everywhere in the city of mirrors].”

In 1992, Sonipati passed away at the age of 63 and was buried in Kot Addu.

The writer is a poet and essayist. He has recently edited Pakistan Here and Now: Insights into society, culture, identity, and diaspora. His latest collection of verse is Hairaa’n Sar-i-Bazaar.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, October 22nd, 2023

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