Sufi and the Beloved

Farzana Moon

[Sufi and the Beloved" takes place in the city or village of Kohlu in the present-day Baluchistan. The culture of Baluchis at that time (1825-1885) was open, festive and colorful. Even the everyday dresses of women were stitched with mirrors, and the men's caps and vests were embellished with the same decorative threads and mirrors.]

Mast Twakkuli was not only a poet, but a mystic and a philosopher. He was born in Baluchistan at the time when Shirani clan was at its peak. Shirani clan was a literary establishment at its glory in early nineteenth century, cherishing music, poetry and mysticism with the love and reverence of saints. Mast Twakkuli in his youth was to excel in all those three spiritual aspects with the prophetic wisdom of a saint and a mystic. His poems, when recited, had the quality of windchimes, delighting all with the scent of rhythm and wisdom. In music, he appeared to soar toward the divine, as if the melodies danced on the very strings of his heart, striving toward perfection. As a mystic, his very soul and psyche sang, where Truth stood rapt, naked, shuddering. When Mast Twakkuli's fame reached a crescendo, the hands of fate caught him by the heels and dragged him into the very ocean of chaos and conflict. The Shirani settlement was attacked by a neighboring tribe, causing ruin and devastation with their pillaging and plundering. The senior members of the clan were outraged, recruiting all males old and young, and urging them to fight the war of honor and vengeance. Young Mast Twakkuli, too, was herded into this machinery of rage and pride, but unwilling to engage in carnage and bloodshed until the daggers of Reason were blunted. Unsheathing the sword of Reason, he was striving toward truce and justice, and pleading with the men's intellect rather than with their emotion.

"Knowing the cause of enmity and warfare, and then dealing with it peacefully is the true measure of valor and honor!" Mast Twakkuli was heard declaring during the fever of war and vengeance. "Befriend your enemies with the fruits of wisdom, and you can conquer even the roots of evil. The flames of revenge smolder forever generations after generations, but the fire of love warms, embracing peace, not conflagration," his appeals were unheeded, and he was forced to fight in a succession of wars he could neither avoid, nor extinguish.

Barely a youth of twenty-five, Mast Twakkuli had known both war and fame in the profoundest deeps of his soul and psyche. Swallowing the former with disgust and revulsion, and the latter with bitterness. Before he knew, the wars were spreading like a murrain. Even the British were taking advantage of the rift amongst the Baluch, the Pathan and the Brahui, the three ethnic groups of Baluchistan who were rising against each other, wearing the armor of zeal and vengeance. The upper highlands, northeast highlands and the date-palm groves were caught in the conflagration of war, driving the British away, but remaining at war with each other in the ethnic struggle for supremacy. Shiranis were in forefront once again, marching toward the Tori mountains as if pressed by fate.

The year was 1876, the British had retreated to their early posts without claiming a victory. Shiranis were still marching ahead, wearing the blemish of zeal on their sleeves and of vengeance in their hearts. Mast Twakkuli could be seen plodding after them with no will to fight, but to seek oblivion. During one of those campaigns, the night was descending quickly, dark and ominous. And the Shiranis had decided to encamp on a nearby hill, overlooking the moats and shrubs. Suddenly, the sky was lit by the bolts of lightning, the claps of thunder following in their wake. Mast Twakkuli was so moved by the fireworks in the heavens that he left his tent, more so to escape his ennui and fatigue than to embrace the fury of the night.

This wandering soldier had straggled far into another encampment, drunk with the wine of beauty and solitude in the night. The night air was cool, and the fury in the sky had abated. The poet, the mystic and the philosopher in Mast Twakkuli was awakening after a long, long rest of months dissolved by years. There was complete darkness in the entire encampment with the exception of one sliver of a light escaping one tent, and he was lured toward it. Now only his heart was thundering, and for some nameless, astonishing reason he was feeling exhilarated. He thought he had entered a paradise where houris dwell, instead of a small tent pitched on the face of this insignificant earth. Before his sight sat a Baluchi girl swathed in a colorful dress embossed with mirrors. Her small, white face was aglow with the purity and innocence of youth, as if carved in marble. To him, she appeared ethereal, bathed in Light of her own perfection! Some dream, drifting and expanding, which could be never touched or possessed. Her eyes were blue and radiant, sparkling like the diamond-stars in the bluest of nights. A beatific smile was alighting on the girl's poppy-red lips, as Mast Twakkuli stood there mute, rapt, dazzled. This beautiful girl was Sammo, the wife of a valiant soldier who had routed the British invaders, and was now trekking after their ammunition abandoned or concealed. Well schooled in the etiquettes of Afghan wars, this young bride was to treat this soldier with kindness and hospitality. In a flash, she had boiled a pot of tea, talking all the while about her husband and his victories, mistaking Mast Twakkuli's silence as some mantle of fatigue and shyness. But Mast Twakkuli's heart was lost, and so was his speech. He was in love, terribly and maddeningly in love. His heart was torn and bleeding, its wounds carving rills of agony and despair inside the very depths of his mute and suffering soul, for he knew his love was hopeless. He was a prisoner to his own code of honor, where Afghani soldiers, whether Baluchi, Pathan or Brahui, dared not covet or possess the wives of other soldiers, even if they were the kins of foes and heathens. So Mast Twakkuli drank his tea in silence, feasting his eyes on Sammo as if sinking deeper and deeper into some tomb of grief and despair. Suddenly, he leaped to his feet, and ran out into the night like a madman, the rivers of agony inside him exploding forth in couplets divine.

"Have you seen my Sammo?" Mast Twakkuli would ask under some spell of frenzy and delirium in response to his friends' inquiries as if he had gone mad.

The mad Lover in quest of his lost Bride! His friends had abandoned him, heeding the call of their own Duty, and leaving him alone to explore the pools of his own insanity. He was intoxicated by his own pain and love, wandering from city to city, and oblivious to the warring world all around him. Whirling like a dervish in ecstasy and singing verses to himself, he was transported to another world, as if wedded to Love and Poverty both. Receiving alms only, when they were heaped before him, and people urged him to eat, hoping to hear more divine verses from his parched, hungry lips. If they asked him any question, he would respond with the same cry of agony which was the root of his madness.

"Have you seen my Sammo?" this cry had become so popular that it was on everyone's lips along with his verses, of which he himself had no recollection. Mast Twakkuli had gone insane, the fire of love blazing from his eyes, and the volcano of agony pouring forth on his lips. He had become a wild spirit, tormented and restless. Wandering aimlessly, and pressed by mad inspiration to sing to his Beloved. Asking everyone on the way, "Have you seen my Sammo?"

The mad lover! Mast Twakkuli's fame had reached far and wide, his verses throbbing on the lips of others as some exquisite morsels of jest or pleasure. One day in the town of Dera Ghazi Khan, he was caught in a whirlwind of jeers and ridicule, a throng of villagers laughing at him, and the children daring to pelt him with stones. One Leghari Nawab, who had heard about his poetry and madness, happened to pass that way where Mast Twakkuli stood reciting in rapt surrender to his own torment and oblivion. Leghari Nawab alighted from his horse, ordering his guards to disperse the loutish crowd. While the people were being hurled away, Mast Twakkuli's agonized cry thundered aloft. "Have you seen my Sammo?"

"I would fetch your Sammo, if you recite a verse for me," Leghari Nawab assured him kindly.

"I have known life Brimming with vengeance More so The tales of love and longings Of lonesome valleys And the gardens Ravished by lust Laments of the lovers In murmuring cataracts Joys despoiled Grief high as a mountain Love! Oh, such divine sin My torment supreme," Mast Twakkuli hugged himself laughingly.

Leghari Nawab commanded his own beautiful daughter to step forward. Drawing the mad poet's attention to this young bloom of a princess, the Nawab murmured, "here's your Sammo."

Mast Twakkuli lowered his gaze, reciting fresh verses as if sinking deeper into the waters of despair. "Pain and surcease Both friends and foes Abide with me Moon Bride With stars in her eyes Has stabbed me With the daggers of her Beauty Sorrow wails in the night And grief awakens To kiss the lips of dawn Beloved is no more Lover is stricken blind,"

Mast Twakkuli raised his eyes, fleeing, as if pursued by the demons. "She is not my Sammo," one echo of a lament was following Mast Twakkuli at his heels.

Mast Twakkuli's madness took him to the road to Mecca, and he participated in the annual rites of Haj. He had become a pilgrim of Love, not Madness. Seeking Truth, not Fulfillment. He was singing verses again, fully aware of his quest to be united with his True Beloved. "My path to love Strewn with tears Summons me back Weeping willows My guide and shadows Soul on fire The fever of Hope Such terrible longing Light upon Light,"

Mast Twakkuli was leaving Mecca. Scattering the jewels of his verses on the way.

"The Art in Living, painted by the ink of blood...that is Love, Soul, Sammo," Mast Twakkuli was heard chanting. Wandering, wandering, always wandering. Desire! one serpent of a flame, holy and eternal," he couldn't hear the new epithet, A Wandering Saint!

Mast Twakkuli had grown old, not even knowing that four decades were left behind in the Memory of Sammo, which was still young. He was back in the same town where he had lost his heart and his youth. He was wedded to his poetry and inspiration, it seemed. Old friends recognized him, and were moved by his despair and madness. They even revered him, applauded his verses, and sought means to appease his sorrow. Mast Twakkuli knew not them, nor any, not even his own self? One evening, he sought one polished rock as his pillow and began to sing with anguished glee. The evening hush was his only companion, for he courted only Silence. He didn't even notice, that an old lady had crept closer, and was crouched at his feet, stealing the nectar of his divine love. "The hour of Union is nigh In the eternal cup of joy The heart awaits in self-surrender The soul too in oblivion Lover with Beloved Bride with bridegroom Life wedded with Death Welcomes Sammo Have you seen My Sammo Beloved..." his inspiration was cut short by the cry of an old lady, kissing his feet.

"I am your Sammo," Sammo lifted her tear-streaked face. Her glorious blue eyes gazing into the very windows of his insanity.

Mast Twakkuli sat there rapt and stunned. A sudden wave of joy washed over his old features, and his eyes were holding the lamps of worship.

"Sammo, my Sammo! My Love Divine..."Mast Twakkuli's whole face was lit up with the light of love. An imperceptible shudder passed through his emaciated frame, and his body fell limp in one peaceful heap.

"Twakkuli!" one heartrending lament escaped Sammo's lips, and she fell dead at the feet of her Lover.

Sammo and Twakkuli are buried side-by-side in Kholu in the Sibi district of Baluchistan. Even in this age and time, the pilgrims flock to their graves, which have become the holy shrines for the lovers and mystics alike.

Pakistan OV

Last modified 18 May 2001