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The bard of northern India

columns Updated: Mar 20, 2011 01:33 IST
Khushwant Singh

If Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya is regarded as the patron saint of Delhi, his disciple Amir Khusrau would well be regarded as the bard of Northern India.

Even in his lifetime he was known as Tuti-yi-Hind, the parrot of India. He composed songs in Farsi (Persian) and Hindavi, spoken around Delhi. To this day he is the top favourite of Qawwals of India and Pakistan.

Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) must have been a most affable person. He was the court poet of a succession of Sultans of Delhi as well as was loved by Nizamuddin Auliya.

One verse in Persian sums up his affection for his Sufi mentor
Man tu shudam, tu man shudi; man jan shudam, tu tan shudi; ta naguyad kasi pas az-in; man digaram u tu digari

I have become you, you have become me. I have become life, you have become body. From now on, let no one say that I am other and you are another.

A legend goes that when Nizamuddin was dying, Amir Khusrau was not in Delhi.

Nizamuddin asked his followers to advise Khusrau not to come and touch his grave lest he rose to embrace him and thus break the ordinance of Allah that no dead person should rise from his grave. Consequently, when Khusrau arrived back, he was kept at a distance from Auliya's grave.

He composed these lines in Hindavi:
Gori sove sej par, mukh par dare kes; Chal Khusrau ghar apne sanjh bhain sau des.

My fair one sleeps on the bed scattered, her hair across her face. Khusrau it is time you also go to your home. Shades of evening have spread over the land.

Lovers of poetry will welcome the publication of In the Bazaar of Love: The Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau translated by Paul Losensky and Sunil Sharma (Penguin Books).

It gives lots of information about Khusrau's life but the translation could have been improved.

Outpourings of Father
Dr S P Bakshi, now 98, comes from my part of the Punjab and is almost of the same age and like me obsessed with thoughts of death and dying. His short verses make good reading.

I quote the first few verses from his compilation The Quest (Pilgrims):
Ah, who can tell what lies across
The vale of life, beyond the pass
Of death, where all must go, alas
But none returns.
We do not know when tolls the bell;
For whom it tolls, we can not tell;
There is no warning when all hell
May come on us.
When death comes knocking at our
We have to go, and come no more.
We cross but once the unknown shore
Of the great beyond.
The breath that comes, it
comes and goes;
But will the next one come,
who knows:
Is this the last ? If so, what follows
The End of Life ?
What is today, is not tomorrow;
Our present joys may end in sorrow
There is no peace which one can
In the best of times.

In Praise of Karunanidhi
A long and hard penance have I done
I may not be a Sanyasi, but I'm
nearly one,
No disciple of mine can any wrong do
And Raja especially is a stranger to
I am a patriarch and it is my duty
To see that every member of the family - Past, present and yet to be born-
Becomes a Minister or an MP
And thus carry forward my glory
So Sonia and Manmohan Singh beware
If you invite my displeasure
I'll shake your government at the Centre.
In my hand I hold your fate
Because I am Lord Murgan
(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, Delhi)