Amir Khusro has always held a special attraction for me. His poems have a rustic beauty, embellished as they are with liberal borrowings from Arabic, Farsi and most importantly, Braj Bhasha. In many ways, Khusro, though a life long Delhi-wallah, is the spiritual ancestor of poets like Quli Qutub Shah of the Deccan. Linguistic purity held little attraction for both of them. Their compositions are rich in their earthiness.
I chanced across a clip of the Sabri Brothers rendering Khusro’s immortal ‘Chhap Tilak Sab Chheeni‘ on Youtube. It made a deep impression on me, for various reasons. For starters, there is the poem itself. It is written in honour of Khusro’s spiritual mentor, Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi. In the best traditions of Indian love poetry, Khusro writes as a young maiden who cannot take her eyes off Nizamuddin. As he says, ‘Mohay Suhaagan keeni rey mosey naina milaike’. While the Mongol hordes were ravishing the rest of Asia, here was a man, intoxicated in love, writing about “gori gori bayyan and hari hari choodiyan”. And he was just a second generation Indian! Perhaps there is something in the very soil of India that contributes to this.
Cut to the performance. Post Zia Pakistan. Some 10 years of forced Islamisation. And what do the Sabri Brothers sing of? Mohe panghat pe Nandlal Chhed Gayo rey! The audience is ecstatic-they whistle and clap. It is a scene possible only in Hindustan; an all Muslim audience in Lahore exclaiming Mashallah as scenes from Krishna’s Raas Leela are recounted before them. The glue that binds the Indian people is not the might of the Indian/Pakistani state, it is not the chest thumping patriotism of the kind that Sunny Paaji espouses in all his movies. It is something much more simpler and much more human. An acknowledgment of the other’s faith and the sheer force of a culture that has been shared since the last one thousand years.
While Khusro could wax eloquent over Krishna’s Ras Leela in the 13th century, the 21st century has a different tale to tell. Gone are the Muslims who could quote the Mahabharata. Gone are the Hindus who were more comfortable with Islamic lore than their own. We have shut ourselves up in our secluded poultry pens and spend all our time demonizing the ‘other’. Culture had to be the first casualty, as seen in the barely lamented death of what was the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb’s best product, Urdu. While the Indian version is on life support system, the Pakistani version has been cleansed of all its ‘unclean kafir’ words to the point that it sounds more like a bastard of Farsi and Arabic than the product of four hundred years of synthesis. In Urdu’s demise, we are not only witnessing the death of a language but the passing of a way of life.