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February 6, 2016

Marriage and women’s plight as Khusrau saw it


February 6, 2016


“It seems as if Khusrau was not a man but a human,” said Kausar S Khan, the moderator of a session titled “Chap Tilak: Amir Khusrau’s harvest of folk songs”, quoting poet and panellist Zaheda Hina while discussing the poet laureate’s accurate yet painful description of a woman’s marriage travails.

Otherwise impossible to have summarised the voluminous works of the subcontinent’s most celebrated Sufi poet in an hour, the session focusing primarily on his folk wedding songs drew a massive crowd on the first day of the Karachi Literature Festival 2016 on Friday.

Comprising a panel of Pakistani literature and Sufi devotional music’s finest intellectuals including Zaheda, singer and social rights activist Talat Hashmi and Ustad Saami of the Amir Khusrau Gharana, the session started off with Talat’s rendition of Khusrau’s Kajri - semi-classical genre of singing, “Kaisay Khelan Jaon Saawan Ma Kajaria” followed by Coke Studio’s version of the poet’s song, “Hare Hare Baans”, composed over Raag Khamaj.

Written in Persian, Zaheda walked the audience - provided with a printout of the lyrics - through the songs by translating the words in Urdu, and elaborating over their usage and context in order for them to be understood by those unfamiliar with the language.

Drawing a connection between Khusrau’s portrayal of a woman’s happiness, stemming from the notion of her being ‘completed’ after the union, and her grief of leaving her family behind and settling down in an entirely new environment, Zaheda noted that his wedding songs were more of a wail than a celebration of the event.

“Whether a Harvard graduate or one hailing from a village, every woman has to bear through the taunts of her in-laws,” she remarked over how the practice of only the woman having to leave her home naturally weakened her position.

Having received training from one of the finest maestros of classical singing, Ustad Umrao Bundu Khan, Talat said she had started singing Khusrau even before she could make out the meaning of his work.

“Every time I sang ‘Kaisay Khelan Jaon’, my female cousins who were older than me would cry since they understood the complications associated with marriage,” she said, adding that Khusrau wrote about every part of a woman’s life.

Noted Qawwal Ustad Saami - of Khusrau’s lineage – shed light on his life and his association with Khawaja Nizamuddin Auliya. “Besides having a marvellous hold on poetry himself, Khusrau’s fame was also partly attributed to his association with Nizamuddin Auliya.”

Khusrau himself was not a music composer; it was Saamat Bin Ibrahim – also a disciple of Khusrau - who fused his poetry with Arabic music. “The fusion was what came to be known as Qawwali,” Saami explained.

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