Saturday, April 30, 2011

Is May Day just another holiday?

Ammar Aziz

The traffic signal turned red and the drivers, who were desperately accelerating to get through that, stopped their cars. A main boulevard of Lahore – that was surrounded by a few people who were gathering outside a factory – was blocked by them. The mob consisted of women, men and children who were vigorously chanting the slogans. It was one of the hottest days of summer and the gentlemen were waiting dreadfully for the clearance of road. The people who never criticize the usual VIP protocol seemed so offended when those few workers had blocked their way. However, the children, sitting in those cool cars, were curiously watching that crowd. A kid innocently asked her mother, ‘Mom, why are they wearing and holding red fabrics? Is it color day today?’ She was one of those thousands of kids who are merely taught grammar in schools, the "So Cools" which prefer language over everything else, including humanity ––– That was May 1st, 2010.

It has been a year! But the story is older than that! The story is more than a hundred years old. But this story, unlike the fairy tales, has never been told to our well-mannered children. That was a similar day of May in 1886 when the oppressed workers were gathering at the Haymarket square of Chicago. Those hunger-stricken, frail workers were demonstrating peacefully, demanding for basic human rights and against working for more than 8 hours per day. They were holding white flags to depict peace. Until, the state police force violently opened fire, killing several peaceful demonstrators. They fell down one by one and their blood painted the white flags red. Since that day, their sacrifice became a metaphor for all the oppressed people of the world who are still following their footsteps, continuing the struggle for their rights. They are still holding the red flag which is getter redder with their sweat and blood. The exploitation hasn’t stopped yet, neither the struggle.

Life is not so ideal in this ‘global village’ we live in. The workers face the same ancient and vicious circle of exploitation around the world. The word ‘poverty’ –which sounds so clichéd - is still the biggest problem . According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death”. Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen. Every year six million children die from malnutrition before their fifth birthday. More precisely, one third of deaths - some 18 million people a year - are caused by poverty. According to another research, Americans spend $ 8 billion a year on cosmetics -- $2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide basic education for everyone in the world.

So the world is still not the ideal place to live in for most of the people! Their struggle is carried forward in every era by the vanguard of revolutionaries who sacrifice their own lives for the cause. Bhagat Singh was hanged for the same cause for which Che Guevera and Hassan Nasir gave their lives for in another time, another space but for the same cause of the liberation of mankind. The people who wear Guevara on their costly attire should know the reason why a medical doctor became a martyr! I have realized that reason and I shall join the crying oppressed people of our country this May Day! But I can’t do it alone. Each one of you will have to come and join in. So if they kill me- kill us - you come forward, hold our flags and move on till the day when the life would be a beautiful dream for everyone.

The author is an independent filmmaker and activist. He has graduated with distinction in film studies from the National College of Arts and currently works as a faculty member there. He can be reached at

Thursday, April 7, 2011

From Lahore to Delhi

Wagah , Lahore

On a bright sunny day and sky crystal-blue.. I along with some other friends was touching the road of a suburb area of Punjab, when little dots of light touched my eyes. Then I saw a young girl, adorned with jewelry and bangles, wearing a traditional, glittering dress of sky blue colour that was shimmering under the sun. That was actually where the light was coming from, I thought. I took a closer look, she was wearing sun glasses as well while a duppatta (scarf) wrapped around her head. She was coming from an opposite side driving a lovely pink colored scooty (bike) at some 40 km/hr speed, I guessed.

It was something new and surprising for me! My heart boomed “Welcome to India!”

It was the last week of March 2011 when I was invited as a delegate to attend the Festival of SAARC Writers and Literature being held in New Delhi, where I went with Ali Akbar Natiq (from Islamabad), Ajmal Kamal, Nayyara Rehman, Kiran B. Ahmed (from Karachi), Wajahat Masood and Ammar Kazmi(from Lahore). I crossed the Wagah Boarder with them and stepped in to the land of ‘Hindustan’. We were travelling on foot. Soon after crossing the border, we reached on the other side called Attari.

Setting foot into India was indeed a unique experience for me. The feeling I had right then was something I never felt before in my entire life. I saw typical TATA trucks and a lot of ‘Men in blue’ (in blue-coloured dresses) there. They were the caretaker (qoolies) in their blue dresses and as most of them were Sikhs so they were wearing different colored turbans.

Moving onward with each step I felt like I am walking into some scene of a Bollywood film where I have walked in right from my home. Most of the things I saw were pretty similar back home, like trees, roads, sky, sun, even temperature. But the difference was there, I felt it. Different characters were written on sign boards. And it was not just the hording boards, the people also seemed different. The way they were talking, behaving, reacting and their gestures seemed so unusual.

We waited for a while at Attari, at a Dhaba for other delegate members to join us who arrived in a while. Most of them were strangers to me, but they introduced themselves as writers, poets and song-writers. Anyways, we hired a WaganR (a vehicle) and started moving towards Amritsar which is about 30 odd KM from Attari. We reached there within half an hour and, took lunch at local hotel. And just loved the taste of Paalik Paneer which I had there for lunch!

Everyone seemed fresh with a smile on their face and was also cracking jokes at one another in the meanwhile. Cutting it short, it was a pretty nice beginning of a long journey.

Departing Amritsar, we moved towards G.T road. The lush green fields of Punjab, the beautiful Gurdawara, and the local architectures were some of the eye catching scenes of the place. The scene of the suburbs of the Indian Punjab looked a lot like Pakistani Punjab. In fact it looked almost similar with little or no difference.

We reached Jalandhar just before the sunset and stayed at a famous tourist place named ‘Haveli” which proved to be a really nice place to take a short tea break.

Moving away from Jalandhar, we crossed Ludhiana and reached Ambaala and had dinner there.
That was the time when everyone started getting exhausted. The G.T road was under-construction process, and we were compelled to travel only at the speed of just 60-70 KM/Hr and thus the amusing jokes turned into a depressing discussion.
Punjab, India

Everyone was waiting to arrive at Delhi, but someone right said that “Dilli Duur Ast” [Delhi is far away] and we virtually felt that it was rightly said.

There were no signs of Delhi till 10 PM. We then had another tea break at Sonepat, at a truck hotel type of Dhaba, where there was a young driver named Aman who shocked us when he told that Delhi was still 3 hours away from us. Oh God! I thought,
“Dilli bohat (too) Duur Ast”

Passing through different small and big cities of Punjab I saw cycle-rickshaws, auto-rickshaw, liquor shops, temples, gurdawaras and females driving scooty-bikes, a scene that was new for us Pakistanis as I never saw a woman driving bike on a Pakistani road with such confidence. Put aside the confidence, I never witnessed such scene back home. But I was impressed by the self-confidence of these Punjabi girls, who were driving bikes on the main road without any sign of panic on their face which signifies their freedom and self-confidence.

Haveli, Jalandhar 
Finally! The moment arrived and we reached Delhi around 3 AM in the morning.
After a frenzied effort the driver was able to locate the place, where we were supposed to stay. Nearly at 4 AM, we reached at Sai Dham Dharamshala (The Guest House) and found our rooms.

It seems that the journey was over as we have reached our destination, but it was just a start…. Delhi was waiting for me. And I was waiting to explore the city.
But then I just fell on to the bed and tried catch some sleep. But despite of the long tiring journey, I was feeling so much energetic that I could not sleep.

I was living in a dream.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sufis - the envoys of peace:

Sufism in present times can help cure the disease of hatred and spread love

In a world divided by geography, religion, culture, tradition and conflicting viewpoints, one universal idea which could bridge all the differences of class, faith and color could be – Sufism.


Sufism is not a religion or philosophy in itself; it is a state of mind in which the man forgets his/her self in search of divine love and Sufis are the truth seekers who devoted their lives in search of truth. The ideal of almost all the mystics was to find God in all His creation and thus attain union with Him. But the message of all the Sufis is simple; it is the message of peace, harmony and tolerance.

The simple lives and pure hearts of the Sufi saints inspired the people of the South Asian region in greater ways, so much that even after many generations have passed the love for the Sufis remain in the hearts of common men in the same spirit. The reason why the message of the mystics directly appeals to our mind and soul is because it is the universal message of truth. Since simplicity and truth is considered as the only source happiness for a human soul.

Though Sufis’ message of love reached almost every corner of the world, it was particularly in the specifically the Indo-Pak sub-continent where it became familiar among the common folk as well as the nobility in the times of Sufis.

South Asian region has always been a land of great saints and free thinkers, which has helped in amalgamating various cultures and thoughts from time to time. It is the land of ancient wisdom, where Sufism in its true spirit has flourished from time immemorial. Indian sub-continent happens to be the rich land of numerous Sufi saints, the envoys of peace who helped the people of different faiths come under the umbrella of humanity, of commonality. Sufi saints of the Indian sub-continent lived a simple, pious life, and dedicated their lives to spread the message of love and spirituality beyond the barriers of caste, creed and religion.

The great pioneers of the 13th century Sufi movement in the areas of present-day Pakistan were the four friends known as ‘Chahar Yar:’ Hazrat Fariduddin Masud Ganj Shakar of Pak Pattan (1174-1266), Hazrat Syed Jalaluddin Bukhari of Uch, Bahawalpur (1196-1294), Hazrat Bahauddin Zakaria of Multan (1170-1267) and Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar of Sehwan (1177-1274).

Illustration of Baba Farid
Sufis, known as the envoys of the truth, peace and love devoted their lives in search of divine love. This is evident from the following verse of Baba Farid Ganjshakar:

“Farid, when there is greed, what love can there be? When there is greed, love is false.”

Hazrat Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar (1173–1266), was the first great Sufi saint to visit India (undivided). He was a 12th-century Sufi preacher, recognized as the first major poet of the Punjabi language. Revered by Muslims and Hindus, he is also considered one of the fifteen Sikh Bhagats within Sikhism as his selected works (112 couplets and four hymns) were included in the Sikh Holy Book, the Guru Granth Sahib in 1604.

Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai as a Sufi scholar, mystic, saint, poet, and musician is widely considered to be one of the greatest poets of the Sindhi language. He settled in the town of Bhit Shah in Matiari, Pakistan where his shrine is located. The major themes of his poetry include Unity of God, love for Prophet, religious tolerance and humanistic values. He says:

"Sufi is not limited by religious bounds,
He discloses not the war he wages in his mind,
Helps and assists those who with him fight."

Punjabi Sufi Poet Waris Shah (1722–1798) is known as symbol of love. His contribution to Punjabi literature and is best-known for his seminal work Heer Ranjha, based on the traditional folk tale of Heer and her lover Ranjha. Waris Shah is also called Shakespeare of the Punjabi language because of his great poetic love story, Heer Ranjha. Some critics say that through this story of romantic love, he tried to portray the love of man for God (the quintessential subject of Sufi literature).
Many verses of Waris Shah are widely used in Punjab in a moral context. One of the more popular is

"Waris Shah; Naa adataan jaandiyan ne, Bhavein katiye poriyan poriyan ji"
(Waris Shah says: A man never abandons his habits, even if he is hacked to pieces)

The pioneer of Kafi form of Punjabi Poetry Shah Hussain (1538–1599 is famous for his notable verse ‘main nahin, sub tu’ (I am nothing, All is you) and has left behind 50 pearls of wisdom in the form of Kafi. Most of Hussain’s poetry revolves around spinning of wheel which he compared with the circle of life. It is interesting to note that Shah Hussain who is also known as “Madho Lal Hussain” is called so because of his affection for his dedicated disciple, “Madho Lal” a Hindu boy and Madho’s tomb lies next to Hussain’s in the shrine. Outside the walls of the Shalamar Gardens in Lahore, there is held an annual festival at the time of spring harvest called “Mela Chiraghan” or the Festival of Lights, close to the grave of Lal Hussain. In the songs of the village minstrels and the dancers’ movements, the myth of Lal Hussain once again is reborn.
One of the famous verse of Shah Hussain is:

Rabba mere haal da mehram tu (You are the only one who understands my feelings)
Ander toon hia bahir too hai (You are inside me, you are outside of me)
Room room wich tu (You are in every bit of me)
Tu hai tana tu hai bana, Sab kuch mayra tu (You are my everything)
Kahey Hussain faqir nimmana main nahin sub tu (Helpless Hussain can only say, All this is your energy, not mine)

Another sufi saint, Mian Muhammad Bakhsh is known as the youngest saint the Sufi order of Punjab. His most famous work entitled ‘Safar-ul- Ishq’ (Journey of Love), is better known as Saiful Maluk. The verse which became Baksh’s identity was ‘Rab dilan vich rehnda’ (God lives in the heart) which gives the message to not to break anyone’s heart.

Sultan Bahu, like many other Sufi saints of South Asia, Sultan Bahu was a prolific writer, with more than forty books on Sufism attributed to him. Sultan Bahu written in his book Risala-e-Roohi (Book of Soul) for truth seekers:

He is playing the game of love by Himself, He Himself is the sight,
He Himself is the seer, He Himself is the seen,
He Himself is Love, He Himself is the lover, He Himself is the beloved
If you lift the veil, (you will see) that in reality, there is only One,

Bahu explains the divine love in following verses (translated in English from Punjabi):
For my friend I made my body into a city,
Where I built for him a special home in my heart.
When the one Lord took abode in it,
I was blessed with profound peace.
I now hear his Voice echoing in everything,
Even in voices other than his own.
Only those who suffer the pangs of love,
Can realize this divine secret;
Others will be rebuffed from the Lord’s court.

Towards the later part of seventeenth century AD, a great Sufi saint Bulleh Shah took the message of love and spirituality beyond the barriers of caste, creed and religion.

Bulleh Shah (1680–1757), a Sufi poet of the Punjab is still equally popular among all communities because of his pure life and high spiritual attainments. Sufi scholars gave him the title of "The Sheikh of Both the Worlds" and "The man of God” and his admirers compare his writings and philosophy to those of Rumi and Shams Tabriz.

Our great Sufi saints are also known as humanist and philosophers who remained calm and quiet most of the time in order to attain the highest level of spirituality. Baba Bulleh Shah was a beacon of hope and peace for the citizens of Punjab during the time which e was marked with communal strife between Muslims and Sikhs. Bulleh Shah through his poetical eloquence reached the heart of the common people. He is considered to be one of the most famous and revered Sufis of India, who realized the Truth through the love for his Master.

One revolutionary Sufi saint was Maulana Fazl Ahmad Khan (Hujur Maharaj) born in 1857 at Raipur, Uttar Pradesh who made the practice of Sufi way extremely simple through his boundless spiritual awareness and liberal approach and bestowed the priceless spiritual knowledge to all, including non-Muslims. People from all classes and belonging to all religions including Hindu, Muslim and Christians used to visit him and Maharaj used to tell them:
‘You have come to me to seek spiritual knowledge, do that and live in accordance with the requirements of your religion. Your relation with me is not worldly but spiritual.’
He distinguished the religion (the outer or the material form of religion) from spirituality and held that for gaining spirituality religion is no bar.

Two great Sufi Masters of the twentieth century were Mahatma Radha Mohan Lalji and Thakur Ram Singhji, both belonging to the chain of Naqshbandi Sufis and Dr. Chandra Gupta, who received their blessings and carried their mission forward. Thakur Ram Singhji used to say that his condition after his first meeting with Mahatma Ram Chandraji was explained by a couplet sang by the tongawala on his return in a tonga:
(I see a strange effect of your love that the pain of love in my heart is ever growing. Ever since I have seen you, wherever I see, I see you alone.)

At the highest level of spirituality, the saints do not distinguish between their disciples and others; they do not discriminate on grounds of caste, creed or religion. The spring of love flows inhibited, even a drop of which adrenches one completely who has the fortune of getting it on him.

Another characteristic of the followers of Sufism is their fondness for devotional music. It is said that the Sufi practice of listening music first took place in the Indo-Pak subcontinent and then passed on to rest of the Muslim world. Our Sufi poets such as Baba Farid, Shah Hussain, Sultan Bahu, Shah Latif Bhitai, Bulleh Shah, Sachal Sarmast, Khwaja Ghulam Farid, Mian Muhammad Bakhsh and Maulvi Ghulam Rasul continued the finest tradition of poetry and music which is still prevailing at the shrines of these Sufi saints.

Every year many such festivals are celebrated all across Pakistan as well as India to pay rich tributes to the saints. These festivals are held at the birth or death anniversaries of the Sufi saints.

Involvement of common men in paying tributes is so fervent that these festivals have taken the form of ecstatic celebrations, which have almost acquired the form of carnivals. During such festivals, the shrines are packed with thousands of pilgrims and devotees who are eager to make their way to the shrine to commune with the saint, offer their tributes and make a wish.

Most of the people present garlands and a green chadar (a cloth used to cover a tomb) with holy verses inscribed in silver or gold threads. Humming of verses, singing and dancing in praise of the saint continues till late at night. A devotional dance known as ‘dhamal’, being a frenzied and ecstatic swirl of the head and body is a special ritual that is performed at the rhythmic beat of the dhol (a big barrel-shaped drum), some of them being of giant size and placed in the courtyard of the shrine.

At the shrine of the Sufi saints, one can find people of different sects who otherwise may not offer prayers alongside each other, but in Sufi shrines at a particular Urs they would not only celebrate but dine, sleep and, pray together. Such is the force of Sufis’ following: these people feel themselves like children of same father. Before partition, at such celebrations the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims all joined these celebrations with same enthusiasm because they believed the message was equally applicable to all of them.

Abida Parveen
Another popular genre of Sufi music is qawwali, the most important and widespread in the Khusrau tradition, which has remained alive for more than seven centuries.
Sufi poetry has a special place in Pakistan’s national music, which has helped in promoting the message of Sufis in every age. From humble street-singers to renowned singers like the Waddali Brothers, Sain Zahoor, Abida Parveen and Pathanay Khan, and rock band Junoon have integrated Sufi poetry in their music. In the 1990s Junoon, rendered "Bullah Ki Jaana" and "Aleph" ("Ilmon Bas Kareen O Yaar").

The Wadali Bandhu, a Punjabi Sufi group from India, has also released a version of "Bullah Ki Jaana" on their album “Aa Mil Yaar... Call of the Beloved”. Another version was performed by Lakhwinder Wadali and entitled Bullah. In 2004, Rabbi Shergil turned the mysterious poem "Bullah Ki Jaana" into a Rock/Fusion song that became popular in India and Pakistan.

Bulleh Shah's verses have also been adapted and used in Bollywood film songs including "Chaiyya Chaiyya" and "Thayya Thayya" in the 1998 film “Dil Se”. While in 2007 the Pakistani movie “Khuda Kay Liye” includes Bulleh Shah's poetry in the song "Bandeya".

Recently three documentaries focusing on the lives of three eminent Sufi poets Shah Hussain, Bulleh Shah and Mian Muhammad Bukhsh who are truly known as the envoys of peace were screened in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. The purpose of the production of the documentaries is to promote the Sufi Poets’ message of humanity, love and peace in the society and to portray the Pakistani nation as a peace-loving nation.

Rabbi Shergil
After glancing back into the glorious past of Sufism, it becomes evident that Sufism is not something of forgotten past; in fact the message of tolerance, love, brotherhood – which is the message of the Sufis, can help cure a society shrouded with the disease of chaos and conflicts. As the devotion of the people at the shrines of Sufi saints proves that the saints of the Sub-continent are held in great esteem by the common people.

It is the need of the time to disseminate the traditional and original message of peace and harmony through the latest media of film and music to help unite the people of Pakistan and India who share common history, culture and heritage. The message of truth if resounded through different media of film and music can bring peace in the sub-continent and happiness to the frenzied lives of the people of the 21st century.

The message of Sufi saints, the envoys of peace which helped the people of different faiths come under the umbrella of humanity, of commonality in the subcontinent many years ago can certainly facilitate us to create a society based on love and spirituality beyond the barriers of caste, creed and religion.