Roundabout | Again to the legend of all legends: Waris Shah to Heer and her Ranjha - Hindustan Times
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Roundabout | Again to the legend of all legends: Waris Shah to Heer and her Ranjha

ByNirupama Dutt
Apr 07, 2024 07:33 AM IST

He loves to walk, this young man, sometimes searching for Shiva or accompanying Guru Nanak or chasing the white trail; and now, he delves deep into the legend the Punjabis love the most

There is no getting away from this fitness freak called Haroon Khalid when it comes to walking and talking. He takes upon himself unfeasible walking marathons and one starts wondering if he walked all the way from the Lahore University to the University of Toronto. Well, that is his choice for he is young enough to walk as much as he chooses to. But he doesn’t stop at that. He then gets down to the task of telling tales about all his walky-talky journeys. That is when the trouble starts and an old woman like me is drawn to join this business with her aching knees. It had happened when he was imagining the Lahore that once was and once again when he decided to play a Mardana of sorts and chase the difficult trails of Guru Nanak by foot. Now, it is said that the Guru was the second most travelled man of the world after Ibn Battuta, of the ‘bagal mein jutta’ fame who had walked by foot some 75,000 miles!

Painting of Heer-Ranjha by Abdur Rahman Chughtai. (HT Photos)
Painting of Heer-Ranjha by Abdur Rahman Chughtai. (HT Photos)

Well, I did my best to hobble a bit with Khalid in the past but this time, he wants me to travel with my mind, that is just a wee bit away from ‘Mr. Alzheimer’s, through a legend of love told in fiction. I had already known of Heer through the city historian Ishwar Gaur, who took upon himself to study patriarchy through folklore and of course the best place this could be found was in the Kissa of Heer as penned by Waris Shah and came out with an acclaimed book of research: ‘Society, Religion and Patriarchy: Exploring Medieval Punjab Through Hir Waris’.

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And now the young and adventurous Khalid decides to build a world of fiction through the much-revered Kissa, crying out: ‘I am the story of perennial lovers Ranjha and Heer’. This is so like the legendary Heer, who claimed that crying out for Ranjha she had become Ranjha. Khalid adds that he is the story of Heer and Ranjha being written by Waris Shah and his search is through the eighteenth-century Punjab and a timeless Punjab. Now when the lure be so great, one cannot but join the flow. The novel is dedicated to his ‘Nani’, ‘Dadi’ and the personification of Punjab in its stories. So, one becomes the indulgent grannie.

The author makes it clear that this work of love is not just about love but a layered narrative that dwells on the political. He says just talking of love, would be a disservice to Waris Shah. (HT Photo)
The author makes it clear that this work of love is not just about love but a layered narrative that dwells on the political. He says just talking of love, would be a disservice to Waris Shah. (HT Photo)

Not just a legend of love

The author makes it clear that this work of love is not just about love but a layered narrative that dwells on the political. He says just talking of love, would be a disservice to Waris Shah. The narrative begins with Bhai Mani (Singh), a scholar and a childhood companion of Guru Gobind Singh, who was executed by dismemberment in 1753 on the orders of Zakaria Khan, then Governor of Lahore. As soon as Bhai Mani’s finger was chopped, the author finds poet Waris Shah fleeing the city with nausea and disgust thus establishing Waris Shah as the divine and empathetic metaphor. He finds himself one with all rebels be it Damodar’s Ranjha or Shah Hussain’s Madho. “Our journeys, our destinies, are intertwined. Like Waris, I too was displaced over land and property. Just as in the time of Waris, when communities that had lived together for centuries turned against each other, so did my brothers, with whom I had spent my lifetime”.

Thus flows the intense poetic narrative and then come the words “I will scale the walls of Jhangh and steal the heart of Heer, just as Raja Rasalu conquered the fort of Rani Kokilan, just as Punjab lost its peace and Waris lost Jandiala, I lost Takht Hazara”. In exile, the narrator meets Bulle Shah and many others as ‘the Ranjha of Takhat Hazara becomes Ranjha the wanderer’. There is a beautiful encounter with Heer, who exhorts Ranjha to run away with her just like dervishes who had found their divine companion. Khalid’s is yet another way of looking at the legend that Punjab just cannot do without. The amazing rhythm of the language lights the path. In this delightful read, the past meets the present and the poet meets the story, finding Khalid at his creative best.

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