Culture

I Have to Go – A Kafi to Be Sung at Rohith’s Urs

The celebration of the union of the soul of a deceased pīr with the beloved

File photo of V Rohith, who was found hanging in a hostel room in the University of Hyderabad.

File photo of V Rohith, who was found hanging in a hostel room in the University of Hyderabad.

Pathanay Khan, a wandering singer from the Thal desert of Pakistan, sings this ‘kafi’ by Shah Hussein in raag Des with such affection and feeling that even I can understand Punjabi with the music and the bareness of the lyrics.

I was led to this song a day ahead of Rohith Vemula’s birthday, and it felt like Rohith was speaking in the Punjabi Sufi tradition of the 13th century poet Baba Farid, whose abode is known as Farid’s Pāk Pattan, the Holy Ferry that will get you to the other side. In this lineage comes the 16th century weaver Shah Hussein, who so loves the brahmin boy Madho Lal that he weaves his name into his disciple’s, and calls himself Madho Lal Hussein, and both the murshid (master) and the murid (disciple) lay buried together in Lahore. Like Jamali and Kamali in Delhi, and that’s another story.

In my version, I improvise, just like Pathanay Khan improvises the kafi, and we see Rohith invoke the 16th century tanner from Benares, Raidas, who sang of Begampura, the place beyond sorrow, which is the annihilation of caste that later Ambedkar thundered about.

Rohith and his outcasted friends pitched their anti-caste tent in the most frequented of places in the university—the shopping complex, known as shop-com—where irrespective of fictitious affiliations like department, region, language, religion and caste everyone met for a chai and smokes, samosa, haircut or to make photocopies. In this open-to-all place, Rohith and friends demonstrated how alone and ghettoised they were, just like they had been back in their villages where an untouchable must not access any of the ‘common’ spaces. Hence the Veli Wada, a segregated ghetto, in a place open to all. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt, said Rohith, but he did not stop loving even when love hurt him badly.

Keen to explore the subtext behind some of Madho Lal Hussein’s phrases, I called my writer friend in Jalandhar, Des Raj Kali, who when asked what he was up to on a Sunday afternoon, said he was just loafing and took me on a walkthrough of Sufi anti-caste poetry and history and unknotted some of the Multani inflections of Hussein’s Punjabi in Pathanay Khan’s voice. As I marvelled at the iterative rhyme scheme and the simplicity of the original, Kali said ‘it is such Punjabi that even a Madrasi like you can understand easily’.

And thus we arrive at this urs for Rohith after he has left for the place of no-caste:

main vi jaanan jhok ranjhan di
naal meray koi challey
main vi jaanan, main vi jaanan
main vi jaanan jhok ranjhan di

I too have to go, reach my beloved’s abode
Go to the place where we all have to go
O wayfarers, I too must lose my way
To find myself where love abides
Even if no one walks by my side

While I walk alone, will you all stay behind?
But I know you’re headed there too
I just have to get there early
I have to see my beloved, I must hurry

pairan pawondi, mintan kardi,
janan tan peya ikallay
main vi jaanan jhok ranjhan di
naal meray koi challey

I cleaved to their feet, said prayers for them
Some wished me well, some spoke firmly
So it’s only my feet that now carry me
I must lose my way to find my vagrancy
The way toward love is lonely
But I’ll find my way, Begampura’s easy

It’s the place where saints and sinners rest
Where we all shed caste completely
This is where Hussein merges with Madho truly
A world where no compass works, no measure is true
Where I’m your only measure and I have a measure of you
True, it has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt

I too have to go, reach my beloved’s abode
Even if no one walks by my side, I must go

nain bhi doonghi, tulla purana
sheenhan pattan mallay
ay kui mitran di khabar ley aavey
hath dey dey-diyan challey
main vi jaanan jhok ranjhan di
naal meray koi challey

The river runs deep, the bridge is creaky
A pride of lions haunts the ferry
People use it all the same to get to Farid’s shore
I’ve heard from my love, I must go urgently
Even if no one walks by my side, I’m ready

ratain dard, deenhan darman di
ghao mitran de allhay
main vi jaanan jhok ranjhan di
naal meray koi challey

Long nights are a torment, and the days show no mercy
These wounds are raw, and there’s no sign of a remedy
Worn thin by longing, I string my soul to my body
I have to go too, seek my share of love’s body
Even if no one walks by my side, I do not worry

ranjhan yaar, tabeeb suneenda
main tan dard awallay
main vi jaanan jhok ranjhan di
naal meray koi challey

My love, you are the cure, they tell me
This madness is unique, love is the only fix
In this ghetto I sing a unique melody
Behind the veli, my wada is beyond boundaries
Even if I have no one by my side, I have arrived

The fakir-poet Hussein told me, earnestly:
Make annihilation of caste sound good in poetry
God sent me this message, and I followed simply
I am more powerful dead, living was too messy
Even if no one’s by my side, I must not tarry

I too must go, reach my beloved’s shade
Go to the place where we all have to go
O vagrant ones, I too must lose my way
To find myself where my love abides
Even if no one walks by my side, I must leave

(To read more kafis—‘rhymed compositions, generally consisting of a single stanza of five or more lines’—by Madho Lal Hussein in English see Naveed Alam’s recent volume of translations, Verses of a Lowly Fakir)

S. Anand is publisher, Navayana. For the past three years, he collaborated on the Pardhan Gond artist Venkat Raman Singh Shyam’s autobiography, Finding My Way (forthcoming 2016)