Pakistan Observer

Afghan love poetry

Book Review

Hamid Alvi

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 - Name of the book : The Sufi’s Garland

Author : M S Maasoom (From Afghanistan)

Reviewed by : Hamid Alvi

Published by : Roman Books Kabul

Pages : 400

Pakistanis were first introduced to contemporary Afghan literature during the Afghan war emanating from soviet occupation of the country. Like all wars it uprooted millions of Afghan forcing them to seek refuge in Pakistan. This scribe whose journalistic involvement with Afghan political leaders and court writers was deep and lasting was amazed to find men with long flowing beards writing fantastic love poetry.

Many also attempted resistance poetry exposing the soviet barbarism and encouraging the insurgency of the Mujahideen. But by and large wrote love poetry and in that they faithfully followed the Persian (Farsee) and Pashto tradition. Farsi is the mother tongue of many of them and provides a link with Iran and recently freed Muslim States of central Asia

Like their central Asian brothers Afghans accord high place to Sufi outlook in their daily life as well as in their literary endeavour. The popular order in eastern Afghanistan is Mujadadi with some mix of Chishti and Gillani. The former is more Shariat bound and conservative (recall the argument between Mujadid Alaf Sani and Mughal Emperor Jhanghir). Other popular Sufi orders are known as Nakasbandia and Suharwardia. In the context of current upheaval many Afghans seek solace in Tassawuf or Sufism. Poet Maasoom has based his poetry on Sufis Concept of love and compassion. We may therefore be permitted to save few more words about Tassawuf. The many ingredients of the concept include omnipotent God; belief in pantheism which allows worship of all gods of different creeds and cults. It insists upon toleration of worship of all gods and lastly renunciation of self. Poet Maasoom welcomes the existence of multiple gods and pantheistic view that in fact they are all one. In Persian language it is called Wahdatul Wajood.

Maasoom Says. And when I learned that the mosque, the mandir, the chuch, the shrine are all homes of God and not of the priest inside, I lost my fears, my fears of not knowing how to pray…and entered freely. And when I learned that the reservoirs of man, the inner reservoirs of man to take it, to take it in have no limits, I lost my fears, my fears of not being, of not being able to brook it… and took in freely. The Western writers influenced by Sufism generally highlight two points of the doctrine. Those are toleration and love of fellow beings. Both are noble acts but both are invisible activities. There is a lot of talk in the Subcontinent about Sufi role in the conversion of Hindus to Muslims through the magic of love. However the large-scale communal riots which accompanied the independence tend to give a different verdict. The blood bath in homeland of Rabindranath Tagore could not be stopped by the love song of Gitanjali.

We have indulged in Sufism only because Mr.Maasoom has termed his tribute to three poets ie Emily Dickinson, Antonio Parclia and Rabinranath Tagore as “ The Sufis Garland” which is also title of the book. Maasooms poetry is an excellent combination of the east and west. His medium is English but he sounds like talking to his readers in Persian or Farsi. The essence and flavour of his poetry, designated as“ Love poems” more than meets the requirements of such an undertaking.

The expectations of the readers however escalate when the subject is ISHIQ(Love), the style is Persian and the writer speaks with a dip in the cultural capital of the United States. Maasooms Persian style is highlighted by the following in the early part of the book. He says Dear Lokiyan: You seemed to me, In the opening, Hour of the morning, The embodiment!, Of all that is, Beautiful, And again: Love is known in an instant…. And realized over a lifetime.

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