These young actors from Mumbai are indeed on a love trail; rather, a love legend trail that Punjab is so famous for. The curiosity is about the abundant love legends played out by the banks of the Chenab river and how deeply these are a part of the Punjabi ethos, with Heer-Ranjha being the most iconic, followed by Sohni-Mahiwal, Mirza Sahiba and Sassi-Punnu.
The goal of this foursome is to put together a play with a lot of Punjabi music. Suruchi Aulakh, who has roots in Punjab but was born and brought up in Mumbai, made this journey recently to Delhi, Chandigarh and Patiala interviewing people from different fields to build a perspective and then a script. Founder of the Jhoom theatre group, Suruchi says: “I am planning on doing a new play on the music of Punjab rendered through its four love stories. We thought we could incorporate different aspects of the love stories, traditional and modern, and use the many genres of music in them. However, we mostly know only the popular versions of these stories. We hope to dig a little more to find out different versions of the stories.”
Suruchi and her team, comprising Raghav, Bhushan and Gagan, who met resource persons in the city, are required to do more than just digging deeper. They are to immerse themselves deeply into the lore because the world of the love legends while being alluring on the surface is very complex as one delves deeper. Sohail Abid, a writer and folklorist based in Lahore, says: “The love legends of Punjab represent several of the contradictions the people of Punjab have been living with; caste, religion, social status and ‘honour’ have kept lovers apart for centuries and this saga has not ended. These legends are representative of the social and geopolitical contradictions.”
Little wonder that parents have traditionally shied away from naming their daughters Heer. Only in recent times some brave-hearts have named their girl children Heer.
The Jhoom team met, among others here, music aficionado Kamal Tewari, who says: “My suggestion to them that they should turn to the poetry of Sufi poets because they have celebrated the love legends most evocatively.” True enough one of the most exalting examples is in a famed verse by the 16th century poet Shah Hussain: Ranjhan Ranjhan kookdi mein, appe Ranjhan hoi/Ranjhan mainu sub koi aakho, Heer na aakho koi (chanting his name I have become him/ So address me as Ranjha and not Heer). Thus Heer becomes a symbol of the greater spiritual journey traversing the path from the finite to the infinite.
Cultural activist Ishwar Gaur, who has done valuable research on Heer as the iconic protagonist in his book ‘Society, Religion and Patriarchy: Exploring Medieval Punjab through Heer Waris’, says: “My first suggestion to the young team was that they read the texts and if they cannot read Punjabi they should do it in English translation. I feel that greater work on love legends has been done in Western Punjab and for that one must listen to the musical renditions by Nusrat Fateh Ali, Tufail Niazi, Pathane Khan and Reshma. These legends are absolutely sacred there.”
Sacred of course, but even in Punjab, across the border, there are some who will nevertheless poke a bit of fun at the great loves in the present context like humourist poet Anwar Masood who says: Heer de boohe vekh ke aashiqan da gharhmas/ Ranjha Takht Hazare tur gaya pharh ke pehali bus (Seeing the chaos of lovers at Heer’s doorstep/ Ranjha made for Takht Hazara catching the first bus).
Laughter or tears, the legends are an indelible part of Punjabi psyche and one waits for the Jhoom take on it.