BHITSHAH: Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s poetry is rich in not just its content but also for its impact.
The speakers at the Second International Latif Literary Conference, held on the second day of the 269th Urs celebrations of the famous Sufi poet, discussed how Bhittai’s poetry held elements of love, peace, tolerance, resistance, music, history, and even the status of women.
“Latif’s work is often compared with his contemporaries, such as Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah, Sachal Sarmast, Mir Taqi Mir and others,” said Dr Manzoor Aijaz, a US-based scholar on Eastern poetry. He explained, however, that there is a difference of style that places Bhittai’s masterpieces above all those.
“Bhitai starts his poetic dastaan [stories] from the point where the others conclude - the tragedy and the most mesmeric parts.”
He gave the example of Sur Sohni in which Bhittai chose the drowning of Sohni in a river that she was crossing to meet her beloved, Mahiwal, as the beginning of the story. “The reader suddenly knows that the story has opened with a sad occurrence but it eventually leads to unity with the beloved,” he said, explaining it in the context of tasawwuf [mysticism].
Aseer Mengal, a poet and scholar from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, spoke on the thread of strong characters of women that Bhittai has described in his poetry. Bhittai’s characters, he said, are strong women who resisted oppression for love. “Marvi rejects the leisure of palaces and the honour of being wife of a king, Umer Soomro, and struggles to go back to her gypsy family only for the love of a man and his nomadic people.”
Noori, a fisherwomen, who attracts the ruler of her time, not by her beauty or ancestory, but through her simiplicity and humility, is also another of Bhittai’s characters. Urdu poet Zahida Hina pointed out that the seven queens in Bhittai’s poetry are the epitome of love, sacrifice, steadfastness and simplicity.
On the socio-political narrative in his poetry, she said that Bhitai seems to be a proponent of nationalism, socialism and democracy. “But he doesn’t like capitalism, imperialism, war and pan-Islamism.”
“He travelled with jogis [snake charmers] and gypsies to every corner of Sindh and many parts of Balochistan to compile his risalo [poetry collection] which is a guiding light for us,” said Hina.
An icon of revolution
Bhitai’s poetry can be interpreted in diverse ways, said Sindh Language Authority chairperson Dr Fehmida Hussain. “Ishq [love] is the soul of his poetry. Some associate it with rebellion and others with peace and tolerance.”
The two speakers after her showed, however, how differently they construed Bhittai’s poetry. “Bhittai is considered a Sufi in Sindh, but in Balochistan he is revered as a revolutionary,” said Abid Mir, who teaches poetry at the University of Balochistan.
Agar wo hakim jin ke saye main maroo rehte hain
Agar wohi rahzan banjayen to maroo Thar main kya karain?
[The rulers under whose shadow the people of Thar live, if they become ruthless what should the people of Thar do?]
According to Mir, this stanza is relevant to the prevailing situation in Balochistan.
Writer and poet Agha Saleem, who has translated Bhittai’s poetry in English, drew attention towards the imaginative quality in his poetry by reading aloud stanzas from different verses that conjure up the imagination.
Saleem urged all the scholars to undertake the task of preserving the intangible heritage of Sindh, which is its music, instruments and melodies.
Sindh Culture Minister Sassui Palijo stressed on the need to follow Bhittai’s poetry to combat terrorism. “We can’t respond to a bullet with a bullet, a gun with a gun … what we need is to make the poetry of Bhittai and Rehman Baba as our weapons to win hearts, instead of defeating the mindset.”
You can view a slideshow of pictures from the 269th Urs celebrations here.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2012.
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