If you stopped me on the street tomorrow and asked, "What's the proudest day of your life?" I wouldn't hesitate a second before answering, " 30th October, 2010. "
It's not the day I got admission into Med School, it's not the day I graduated, or the day I started my professional life, or the day I got to talk to Mushtaq Ahmed Yusfi Sb (although come to think of it, that's a very close second). It's the day almost exactly two years ago when I ended my five day exploration of South Punjab with a visit to the shrine of one of the greatest Sufi poets in the history of the subcontinent, Hazrat Khwaja Ghulam Fareed Sb (RA).
I think I've written about it before but I'll give a quick recap. During the disastrous floods of autumn 2010, I went to Dera Ghazi Khan in Southern Punjab for a month of flood relief duties. Towards the end of my spell, I was given five days leave. Since my one month tour of duty was almost ending, I decided to use these five days to explore South Punjab; traveling more than 2000 kilometers over the course of five days and visiting Multan, Bahawalpur, Cholistan, Derawar, Ucch Shareef and various other places east of the river Indus. On the final day, when I was to return to DG Khan, I crossed the Indus and travelled a further 120 miles to the southernmost tip of Punjab, a little town called Mithan Kot. I was there to pay my respects at Khwaja Sb's mazaar.
Before going on to describe what happened that day, I'd like to take a few moments to explain the reason of my visit. My fascination with places of spiritual and historical significance had started during that one month of flood relief duty, yet my visits to various shrines and mazaars weren't motivated by any spiritual reasons. Of course I had the proper respect for them, but I wasn't going there as a pilgrim, merely as a tourist. With Khwaja Sb's shrine however, the motivation was different. I was going there out of spiritual and emotional affinity.
The reason for my "spiritual and emotional affinity" was that since earliest childhood, I had been exposed to Khwaja Sb's poetry via some of the greatest voices of Pakistani history. The names of Pathanay Khan and Zahida Parveen - especially Zahida Parveen - were not just familiar to me, their voices were part of my childhood. My grandparents listened to them - my Daada had me play Zahida Parveen's Kafis to him in his last days - my parents listened to them and in turn, I listened to them. The voices were filled with the sights, sounds and scents of the deserts of the "Rohi". Their tones depicted longing and hope, optimism and regret, love and heartbreak all in the same breath. It was much later when I started to better understand Seraiki that I really began to appreciate what was being sung by these amazing artists.
I think no other subcontinental Sufi poet has better expressed the feelings of longing and separation better than Khwaja Sb. Drawing from Punjabi romantic epics as well as the folk idiom of Seraiki, Khwaja Sb created a distinct language based solely on the concept of Love. Love in Khwaja Sb's poetry, whether spiritual or temporal, is a source of fulfillment and completion, while at the same time leaving one unfulfilled and incomplete. It's hard for a layman like me to explain the nuances of his kalaam, suffice to say that Khwaja Sb is the only poet whose verses have made me burst into tears.
What happened on that October day two years ago was described by me in a previous post as follows;
Qawwali performers have mined the rich veins of Punjabi Sufi poetry for centuries, drawing from the inexhaustible well of poetry by the likes of Baba Fareed Ganj Shakkar (RA), Baba Bulleh Shah (RA), Hz Waris Shah (RA) and others, and although they have used Khwaja Ghulam Fareed Sb's Kafis in Qawwali too, the use hasn't been very widespread. His Kafis are mostly used as girahs, or as Dohas at the start of the performance, but relatively few Qawwals have performed Khwaja Sb's kalams as a separate piece. This may be due to a reluctance to use the lesser understood Seraiki dialect or due to the unusual Rubai-like quatrains of Khwaja Sb's Kafis which pose some difficulties when it comes to arranging and performing them in Qawwali settings. Yet the few Qawwals who have performed Khwaja Sb's Kafis, and the fewer still who have performed them well, have managed to rival the likes of Zahida Parveen, Pathanay Khan, Hussain Bash Dhaadi, Jumman Khan, Abida Parveen and other folk singers in elucidating the spiritual power of his kalaam.The obvious step after paying my respects was to ask around for anyone who might sing one of Khwaja Sb's immortal kaafis for me. Somebody directed me to a group of Fakirs sitting in a corner of the shrine courtyard, one of whom was the current Khalifa of the shrine. I introduced myself and expressed my desire to listen to some of Khwaja Sb's kalam and the Khalifa Sb graciously consented to sing some for me, albeit making excuses for his voice. As I brought out my cellphone camera and he started singing, goosebumpy silence was quickly followed by a sudden gush of emotion as tears came to my eyes. I looked around and realised that I wasn't alone, very soon the entire circle of Fakirs was gently sobbing (some of which can be heard on the recording). This in itself would've been enough to make this an unforgettable experience, but somehow I plucked up the the courage to ask the gathered audience if I could sing something too. they graciously consented and there, right next to Khwaja Sb's resting place, in the company of a group of Fakirs, I sang one of my favorite (and my parents' and grandparents' favorite) kaafi. When I ended, the teary-eyed assemblage very kindly appreciated me and we prayed together for a while before I took my leave. Nothing, and I mean nothing has come close to the sheer spiritual and psychological elation I felt that day.
The following collection comprises of some of my favorite Qawwali recordings of Khwaja Sb's Kafis, accompanied by renditions of the same kalaams by the pre-eminent Folk and Classical singers of their day. Three of these recordings have a very special place in my heart for various reasons, and all of them are very dear to me, as indeed are all renditions of Khwaja Sb's kalam.
Pathanay Khan and Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal - Aa Mil Maroo, Mararroo
Ustad Salamat Ali Khan-Nazakat Ali Khan and Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal - Ishq Anookhri Peer
Zahida Parveen and Akhter Shareef Aroop Walay Qawwal - Itthaan Main Mutthri Nit Jaan Ba Lab
Abida Parveen and Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal - Yaar Sipahiya Aa Wass Mandray Kol
Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal and Miandad Khan Qawwal - Bandi Te Bardi, Taen Dilbar Di O Yaar