Ishq Nama Shah Hussain: Tasawuf,
Malamat, Sangeet, Kalaam
By Farrukh Yar
Book Corner
ISBN: 978-969-662-516-2

Farrukh Yar is a well-known name in contemporary Urdu literature, establishing himself as a poet of nazm with a unique style. Lately, he has moved to prose writing that is immersed in the love for his land and language.

His first book of non-fiction prose was Dorahey (Maktaba-e-Danyal, 2021) that revolved around belief systems and mythology rooted in the Subcontinent, mostly in Punjab. Dorahey set the stage for his second venture into a more detailed study of Sufi mystic Shah Hussain under the title of Ishq Nama Shah Hussain: Tasawwuf, Malamat, Sangeet, Kalaam.

There is no dearth of writers trying their hand in fiction and poetry in nearly all languages of Pakistan, but one can hardly find insightful pieces of writing in non-fiction. This is mostly a neglected area, as it requires in-depth knowledge, based on vast reading and analysis. Farrukh Yar’s Ishq Nama immerses the reader in a wide historical background that is necessary to understand the evolution of Punjabi poetry.

The author displays his deep-rooted grasp of history with an impressive diversity of topics covered in this volume. The research that underpins Ishq Nama goes back to at least a thousand years of mystical literature, including various schools of Sufism that enlightened this region.

Farrukh Yar’s tribute to Shah Hussain is an impressive feat of in-depth knowledge, research and analysis about the evolution of Punjabi poetry

As our younger generations are moving away from their cultural heritage, this book tries to present a picture of our civilisation that is gradually receding into oblivion. Cultural ingredients that have shaped the history of this region are quite distinct from the political history that our state-approved textbooks have been imparting. The one-dimensional discourse that has promoted alienation from our cultural roots in the name of religion and ideology, is anathema to Farrukh Yar.

The main thrust of his argument is that South Asia — or the Subcontinent as you may call it from Kabul to Kolkata — is a continuum of cultural diversity that we cannot arbitrarily slice out. This spectrum we need to keep intact, or at least connected, despite the contrary wishes of the establishments on both sides of the borders.

Farrukh Yar looks at the evolution of common heritage from several angles and makes it easier for the reader to glance at it with interest. Though ‘unity in diversity’ has almost become a cliché, it is a useful expression that encompasses the multifarious aspects of culture and linguistic heritage.

Shah Hussain was a 16th-century poet who played a crucial role in the development of Punjabi language and poetry. His compositions have become an integral part of the local folklore that the people of this region cherish.

Malamat is a recurring theme in the book as it is in the poetry of Shah Hussain. The concept of malamat is hard to translate, it can assume a variety of meanings, ranging from accusation and animadversion to criticism and stigma. The book under review traces the origin of this concept with its denominational and mystical nuances in popular culture for centuries.

This malamat or stigma that the Sufis carried with them from place to place not only invited the ire of the rulers but also endeared these Sufi poets to the common folk. This malamat became an insignia that the Bhakti and Sufi poets put on with pride and never hesitated to show it off.

In a way, the Bhakti and Sufi poetry for centuries flourished under stigma across the Subcontinent, and left indelible marks on cultural and ethnic groups that intermingled without much friction. The very purpose of this type of poetry was to reduce that friction rather than intensify it, as some vested interests did in the 20th century. The arts and crafts of local people received inspirations from poets such as Shah Hussain who was one of the best examples of this hybrid culture that had already taken shape in the previous centuries.

The world of Shah Hussain that Farrukh Yar presents is entirely different from the one we live in the 21st century. Ishq Nama introduces us to an era that is full of dynamism, not in the sense of material entities but in the realm of spiritual and soulful dialogue with one’s surroundings. Intricacies of language is something that interests the author who wants to share this enthusiasm with his readers. Shah Hussain appears to be a master player of language, and his play with words inspires readers too. The content and form of his poetry move in tandem.

The book delves deep into the concept and history of Tasawwuf that we may loosely translate as mysticism. The first chapter spans nearly 100 pages and discusses fatoot (chivalry or knighthood) and malamat as the root of the creative streak that we find in Shah Hussain.

The second half of the 16th century in Punjab we can easily attribute to this poet of immense significance. For long, a book called Haqiqatul Fuqaraa by Pir Muhammad was the sole source of information about Shah Hussain. It appeared in 1660, nearly 60 years after the death of Shah Hussain; it was replete with fanciful descriptions that Farrukh Yar has discussed in detail.

The second chapter of the book deals with the sangeet (melody or music) of the South Asian tradition that Shah Hussain enriched with his mystical compositions. The third chapter qualitatively analyses the texts of Shah Hussain, whereas the last 200 pages of the book present the kalaam of Shah Hussain in various genres, such as the kaafi, dhola and ashloks.

An extraordinary quality of the book is Farrukh Yar’s command of the Punjabi language of that era. He analyses each line and every word of Shah Hussain and gives appropriate Urdu equivalents for the readers unfamiliar with Punjabi.

The title of Ishq Nama by Ali Abbas Syed is in consonance with the subject matter and the overall production is impressive, with a readable font and negligible typographical errors, apart from some dates that the writer should have rechecked.

For example, on page 33, Imam Shafii’s lifetime from 1058 to 1111 is not correct; in fact, this is Imam Ghazali’s. On the same page, Nizamul Mulk Tusi’s year of birth should not be 1064, as it is 1018. Similarly, on page 37, Hazrat Ameer Hamza (568-625) should be just Hazrat Hamza. Ameer Hamza is a fictional character of Dastaan-i-Ameer Hamza. There are numerous other oversights too, that need corrections in the next edition.

The reviewer is a columnist and educator.
He can be reached at
X: @NaazirMahmood

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, December 10, 2022



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