Chero Hath Na Murli by Ashoo Lal Faqir

چھیڑو ہتھ نہ مرلی – اشو لال فقیر

(First published 1989; Language: Saraiki)

A fascinating collection of poems in Saraiki, the language spoken in central Pakistan*. I was unprepared for the immense referential scope of the poems which, despite their modern dress-up, are steeped in the classical metaphor of Saraiki poetry. Many poems are peppered with folkloric and mythological references, which demands a good knowledge of the Indic classical world to fully comprehend them.

Most strikingly, there are many poems referencing and modeled on characters and stories from the Hindu mythology, linking the troubles of the present to that of the past, tied to the terrestrial scope of the land where today the language is spoken, the land which once was a very important part of the ancient Hindu civilisation. Multan, the old cosmopolitan Mulsthana , was the city where the famousSun Temple had stood in ancient times, on whose imaginary ruins still lie the ruins of another, latter-day, temple. Although it is no more than a mound today and archaeologists have failed to unearth any historical evidence of the lost temple, it is alive in the collective lore of the city, through the legends that have come down to us.

I digress, but Ashoo Lal Faqir, our poet, by bringing the past into the present socio-political milieu, seems to position himself as a keeper and reminder of the tradition which has all but forgotten under Muslim influence, and particularly after the Partition of British India. In that respect these poems represent a unique and lone voice in modern Saraiki poetry and one that I cherished as I read these poems with great relish, understanding some metaphors and missing others, under the grip of a newborn nostalgia for the past long lost.

*Indo-European language, today written in Persian-derived script, although a small number of speakers in India also use Devanagri. I’m a native speaker of the language.

Re-read and rewritten the review July 2016

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