A confident Veer Sipahi, the convener of Heer Night, promised at the onset that Waris Shah’s spirit will come. The great Punjabi Sufi poet did not let him down.
The works of Waris Shah have taken some time getting to Islamabad. But on Tuesday, one of his malangs (disciples), Riffat Boda, popularly known as Saieen Boda, took stage to recite one of Punjabi literature’s most famous works, Heer.
Boda’s exhilarating voice brought Heer — the protagonist from the epic romantic tragedy of Heer-Ranjha — to life. Every heart was touched.
Five of Waris Shah’s disciples from his shrine in Jandiala Sher Khan, Sheikhupura recited Heer, but the unique voice of Saieen Boda outshone the others. The disciples were invited specially for Heer Night, an event organised by the National Book Foundation (NBF) as part of its ongoing Book Mela.
“He does not just sing Heer, he is an expression of Sarkar’s (Waris Shah’s) love story,” said Sipahi of Saieen Boda.
Even before coming to Islamabad, Saieen Boda was already a YouTube sensation, with over half a million hits on a cell phone video of him singing Heer at Waris Shah’s shrine. Search for “A SaiN Sings Heer at Pir Waris Shah’s Darbar” on YouTube search.
“This Malang has a great voice and so pure a Punjabi accent that your heart misses beats listening to him singing Heer,” said NBF Director General Mazharul Islam, the man behind the idea of inviting the malangs to Islamabad.
Islam said he first developed the love for Heer on a visit to the Punjabi Sufi poet’s shrine in Jandiala, the place where Heer was written.
Many Sufi poets wrote their own versions of the Heer-Ranjha story, both before and after Waris Shah, but none could put their soul into it. Waris Shah’s disciples believe that his soul, even today, comes to listen whenever someone quotes his words.
“These mystics truly are engineers of soul. To find the meaning of the soul, they preach love and peace,” added the NBF chief.
Islam said he witnessed the tradition among Waris Shah’s disciple of singing Heer at his shrine every night. Once it starts, the mehfil (gathering) goes on for the whole night. He said he decided to invite them to Islamabad to show people the value of literature and the hidden charm of reading.
“No book but Heer Waris Shah could demonstrate it,” said Islam.
The chief of the group of malangs, Veer Sipahi, said the traditional concept of singing and listening to Heer was attached to the Bohar Tree of a village in Punjab, where youngsters would gather and provide an audience.
The others in the group — Taimoor Afghani, Saieen Shabir Qadeemi, Irfan Ansari and Muhammad Salman on flute — also sang excerpts from Heer.
Sipahi said it was their first appearance at a national function anywhere in the country. However, some of them had made multiple trips to perform in India.
The audience kept growing till the performance ended.
While the performance was exhilarating, the organisers, it appeared, did not think through while sending out the invites.
Young children accompanying their parents were completely disinterested in the epic story. Waris Shah’s soul had yet to make an appearance before those children, and many of their parents, had disappeared.
Saieen Boda and his colleagues, however, showed that with proper marketing and technical support they would be more than able to attract thousands to their shows.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2012.