It’s November, and the air seeps in through cracks in the windows. I’m bundled up in my blanket, listening to songs from my half-broken handsfree. I hear my parents talking in Punjabi in the living room. They’re discussing the photos they’ve put up on the walls; my late grandfather and a six-month-old me.
I smile. The house is otherwise quiet. I’ve tucked the moment in a warm corner of my memories, and I revisit it whenever I want to be reminded of the warmth of a home.
The more I think about it, the more I realise that my memories of home are marked by the distinct sound of Punjabi—my mother tongue. The language our parents didn’t teach us. The burst of emotions is always translated in this language, the jokes hit a little harder and the songs sound sweeter—the poetry, however, takes no mercy and pierces right through the heart.
چڑھدے سورج ڈھلدے ویکھے، بجھے دیوے بلدے ویکھے
ہیرے دا کوئی مُل نہ تارے، کھوٹے سکے چلدے ویکھے
chaṛhday suraj ḍhalday wekhay, bujhay devay balday wekhay
heeray da koi mul na taary, khoṭay sikay chalday wekhay
I’ve seen the rising suns, setting in. I’ve seen the fading lanterns, flaming on.
I’ve seen diamonds, seen as worthless. I’ve seen counterfeit coins, seen as diamonds.
It’s one of the difficult nights of one of the difficult years. I can feel the sadness leaking out of baba as he sits on his sofa. He’s about to tell a story; I’ve deciphered the tells. He read Bulleh Shah’s poetry on a wall today that mirrored his soul. He recites it with a mournful tone and loudly wonders about the realities of life and that of God.
The recitation still sits fresh in my brain, and when I hear people reciting poetry, I’m always reminded of the fact that there is a wall in this city, somewhere buried under the heavy pollution and congested streets, that contains the words of Bulleh Shah that he wrote centuries ago. And if the people who walk past it takes a moment to look at it, they’ll resonate with a couplet of it.
I wonder how many broken hearts and spirits it has consoled including my Baba’s. I wonder if I’ll ever walk past such a piece of art.
جنہاں دا نہ جگ تے کوئی، اَووئی پُتر پلدے ویکھے
اوہدی رحمت دے نال بندے، پانی اُتے چلدے ویکھے
jinha da na jag tay koi, o vi putar palday wekhay
oh’di rehmat day naal bandy, pani uttay chalday wekhay
I’ve seen abandoned ones, raising up.
I’ve seen people by divine grace, walking on water
There’s something magical about the people of this land and their relation with centuries-old poetry. They roam around with rhymes and couplets engraved in their minds, of people and places whose ashes are forgotten; the words still resonate with their souls.
I have a theory that the tragedies of a language remain the same through history. Because why else those poets’ words are still relevant today?
It’s been a year since I graduated. My Urdu teacher’s words pop in my head from time to time—something that surprises me very much. I’m looking down on my book as she continues to teach, my body still hounds hope. She asks to pay attention to the next line.
لوکی کہندے دال نہی گلدی، میں تے پتھر گلدے ویکھے
جنہاں قدر نہ کیتی یار دی بُلھیا، ہتھ خالی او ملدے ویکھے
loki kehnday daal nahi galdi, mein tay pathar galday wekhay
jinhan qadar na kiti yaar di Bulleh-a, hath khali o milday wekhay
The folk says pulses are hard to tender. I’ve seen stones, melting like water.
The ones who don’t value friends. I’ve seen them, regretting in vain.
I’m still paying attention to it.
My school’s wall had a lot of quotes painted on the walls; red, blue, green, yellow—the recurring pattern that engulfed the whole building. Behind the plants in the ground, اے ابنِ آدم (aye ibn-e-adam) was written. It was at such a place that when you leaned against the railings of the first floor, thinking about what would happen if you jumped from there, you could read it from there.
I have read it through tears and smiles; idling down during lunch, running past it to get to the class on time, staring at it for a moment too long and wondering how did the writer even think to write that.
It’s الہام (il-haam); I hear a voice whispering from my shoulder. It’s my mother’s; telling me how writing is a god-given talent, or maybe a god’s talent.
I’m reminded of my Urdu teacher again.
اے ابنِ آدم – O Son of Adam
الہام – Revelation